Technology Thoughts

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol at the IMAX

Yesterday I went to a 20 minute preview of the new Mission Impossible film at the BFI London IMAX.

One of the biggest releases this Christmas season, it will only be the third mainstream release to have significant portions shot natively in the IMAX film format.

It appears Paramount see this as a long running franchise in the same way that United Artists saw the Bond series in the early 1970s.

The analogy isn’t precise as we are 15 years on from the first Mission Impossible (one of the big summer blockbusters of 1996) and there had been many more Bonds from 1962 to 1977 (9 to be exact).

But it seems like a flexible enough franchise to incorporate different characters and plot lines.

But if this one is a big hit, Tom Cruise will probably return, but the studio reportedly wanted Jeremy Renner (fresh off his Oscar-nominated turn in The Hurt Locker) as he was an actor could eventually extend the franchise.

Deadline reported last year that he was hired because he:

…potentially carry the series on his own down the line, should Cruiseโ€™s Ethan Hunt character not continue to be the emphasis.

This is the first film in the series not to open in the summer, but that’s probably wise as not only do you avoid the logjam of releases but films like Avatar, and Sherlock Holmes have been huge hits during the busy Christmas period.

Its principal rival will be David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but is something of an unknown quantity – despite being based on a massive novel, will the R-rated violence be off-putting to mainstream audiences?

Then there is the choice of Brad Bird as director.

As one of the key key filmmakers at Pixar, he has been part of arguably the most creative and commercially successful movie company of the last decade.

Like his colleague Andrew Stanton, just finshing up on the big-budget John Carter, this will be his first live action film.

Certain people have expressed surprise when I’ve told them that the director The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille (all excellent) is making this.

But if you’ve seen those films or ever heard him talk about movies, this is clearly a talented and experienced pair of hands with a formidable film knowledge (listen to him talk about Dr. Zhivago at the AFI here)

The other fascinating aspect is the decision to shoot certain sequences natively in IMAX as this is only the third major studio release to do so after The Dark Knight and Transformers 3 (which featured 9 mins compared to The Dark Knight’s 28 mins).

Although plenty of films have been shot on 35mm and blown up using IMAX’s proprietary DMR system (Digital Media Remastering), not many films have used the cameras.

The main problem is that the cameras are big and bulky and the actual cost of the film stock is high.

This means at the moment only certain sequences – usually action set-pieces – are shot natively in IMAX.

But the upside is that it looks absolutely extraordinary when you see it projected with the enhanced resolution and sound on the squarer screen of an IMAX cinema.

I remember seeing The Dark Knight inside the BFI IMAX and when the opening helicopter shot of the building came on some audience members gasped at the image that filled the screen.

Some near me also reached out as if they wanted to touch the image, as the resolution was so good, it almost seemed tactile.

When the camera lurches over a window ledge, it also produced a feeling of vertigo.

David Keighley, the IMAX executive who oversaw post-production with Nolan and his team on The Dark Knight, has said that eleven of the prints screened in select cinemas – including London – were OCNโ€™s (original color negatives) and that these were:

“the best projected versions of any film in history”

Maybe this quote deserves to be on the poster for upcoming The Dark Knight Rises?

So the appeal of IMAX is clear to see and for a major action picture it is a seductive alternative to 3D, because the image isn’t dimmed by wearing glasses.

Which brings us to the two preview scenes in Ghost Protocol.

The story sees Ethan Hunt and his IMF team disavowed after a Kremlin bombing and they have to go to Dubai to find out who is behind it.

The first sequence involved the team trying to break in to the world’s tallest building in Dubai – the Burj Khalifa.

Not only was it a treat to see an action sequence shot with amazing clarity in bright sunlight, but it had been carefully planned to make the most out of Cruise doing his own stunts.

The second was a chase sequence set during a sandstorm, which involved Ethan and a mysterious man.

During this sequence a different visual approach was adopted – with the sand making the scene intentionally darker – but it seemed this was to enhance the sound, which is often an overlooked feature of IMAX.

Not only do you really feel the crashes and bumps but the audio texture of the whole film is considerably enhanced by the speakers being behind the actual screen and around the auditorium.

Obviously you can’t judge a whole movie from a preview footage screening but from a technical point of view it was interesting to see another live action film shot and projected in IMAX.

Major studios are perhaps feeling that 3D wasn’t quite the box office saviour they expected in the heady days of early 2010 when Avatar was smashing records in the format.

But even though IMAX versions of movies will only play in selected cities, it increases the resolution for when it comes to mastering the Blu-ray, and also keeps the flame for theatrical exhibition burning.

Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol is released at cinemas on December 21st

> Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol official site
> More on IMAX at Wikipedia