MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III – Michael Giacchino
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
It’s not so long ago that JJ Abrams was just another budding writer/director in Hollywood, and Michael Giacchino was a promising young composer writing music for video games. However, following the huge success of Abrams’ TV shows Alias and Lost, and Giacchino’s work on the box-office blockbuster The Incredibles, the pair of them are now cinematic hot properties, working together on one of summer 2006’s most-eagerly awaited and high-profile action movies: Mission Impossible III. The third film based on the classic 1960s spy thriller show, Mission: Impossible III once again stars Tom Cruise as special agent Ethan Hunt, trotting around the globe to all manner of exotic locations, on a secret mission to thwart the nefarious plans of the film’s arch-villain, Owen Davian, played by recent Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. Along for the ride is a big name supporting cast which includes Ving Rhames, Laurence Fishburne, Billy Crudup and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and by all accounts the film is a spectacular, gadget-filled, explosion-laden thrill ride which pushes all the right blockbuster buttons.
In scoring Mission: Impossible III, Michael Giacchino had some serious music boots to fill. The series is of course renowned for its famous, slow-burning signature theme by Lalo Schifrin, but in addition to that, the previous two instalments of the franchise were scored by Hollywood music heavyweights Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. Giacchino, though, is the hot new kid in town, and most were confident that he would rise to the occasion. Virtually everything Giacchino has written to date, from his Medal of Honor video game scores, to his TV work on Lost, and his feature score for The Incredibles, has been lavishly praised from all sides. I suppose his spectacular run of total success had to come to an end at some point – and, unfortunately, Mission: Impossible III is the score which has stopped it.
It’s not that there is anything greatly wrong with Mission: Impossible III as a whole. It’s loud, bombastic, energetic, propulsive, and makes good use of Schifrin’s theme, both in full statements and in small textural fragments. The orchestra is large, the percussion section is powerful, and some of the instrumental performance choices are interesting. There are quieter moments, too, to temper the action movie onslaught, most of which have a nice, introspective touch to them. All the elements would seem to be in place. The problem, really, is that they never seem to be in quite the *right* place. In fact, they’re all over the place, and it’s this apparent lack of cohesion, combined with a niggling feeling of things not quite flowing together properly, which gives the score its problems.
As one might expect, action music makes up the bulk of the score’s running time, and more often than not it’s based around a repeated piano ostinato, which is then aggrandised with all manner of orchestral touches and flourishes, often incorporating a modern percussion section complete with 70s-style cymbal ticks, metallic tinkles and breathy bass flutes. The underlying rhythmic parts of the opening pair “Factory Rescue” and “Evacuation”, are actually quite similar to some of his Medal of Honor action music, notably the “Taking Out the Railgun” cue, and have the same breathless sense of relentless forward motion.
However, my problem with the action music lies with the fact that it changes direction, changes tempo, and alters its momentum with such frequency that, before long, the switches seem jarring, and eventually become downright frustrating, to the detriment of the score as a whole. It’s almost as though Giacchino couldn’t figure out the internal tempo of Abrams’ action scenes, and so he decided to score it as some of the most flamboyant action mickey-mousing ever heard. As the score develops, through cues such as “Helluvacopter Chase”, “IMF Escape”, “Shang Way High”, “The Chutist” and “Hunting for Jules”, you wish that Giacchino would just pick a direction and stick with it, instead of going from point A to point B via points E, L, Y, back to E, and then Z. One exception to this is the rather exciting “Bridge Battle”, which features a tour-de-force brass performance, but it’s one of the too-few high points.
The sneaky spy music in “Humpty Dumpty Sat On a Wall” and “Masking Agent” is actually quite good, with its ragged-sounding brass performances and genre-typical orchestrations featuring bongo drums and more low woodwinds. Giacchino judiciously works in several statements of both Schifrin’s famous main theme and his less-well known ‘Plot’ theme into several cues, most notably in “See You in the Sewer”, and the spectacular finale “Schifrin and Variations”, but again these moments of thematic cohesion are sadly few and far between. The more low-key moments – “Special Agent Lindsay Farris”, “Ethan and Julia”, “Reparations” – feature some tender and expressive string and piano writing, and even a plaintive horn solo, to underscore the depth of feeling Cruise’s character has for his kidnapped girlfriend, and provide some welcome down time from the otherwise overwhelming onslaught.
It is perhaps unfair to place so many expectations on the young shoulders of Michael Giacchino, but the trajectory of his career to date has so meteoric that you almost expect everything he writes to be as good, if not better, than the last. I suppose it was almost inevitable that he would stutter once or twice on his way to the top, and it’s just a shame that, when it finally happened, it was on such a big movie. Mission: Impossible III does have its fair share of exciting moments, along with snippets of orchestrational genius and several stand-out set-pieces noteworthy for their complexity and sheer, raw power. On balance, though, the score is just too ‘everywhere’ to be a truly satisfying listening experience, especially when compared to the brilliance of his earlier works. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s loud, and fans of Giacchino’s flamboyant style will love it to bits, but I personally found it needing a touch more unity.
- Mission: Impossible Theme (0:52)
- Factory Rescue (4:14)
- Evacuation (2:46)
- Helluvacopter Chase (3:12)
- Special Agent Lindsey Farris (2:45)
- Ethan and Julia (1:23)
- Humpty Dumpty Sat On a Wall (5:53)
- Masking Agent (3:38)
- Voice Capture (2:40)
- See You In the Sewer (1:42)
- Davian’s Brought In (2:04)
- Bridge Battle (4:10)
- Davian Gets the Girl (2:41)
- IMF Escape (2:42)
- Disguise the Limit (3:21)
- Shang Way High (3:37)
- The Chutist (1:58)
- Hunting for Jules (3:53)
- World’s Worst Last 4 Minutes To Live (4:08)
- Reparations (3:33)
- Schifrin and Variations (3:05)
Running Time: 65 minutes 00 seconds
Varèse Sarabande VSD-6733 (2006)
Music composed by Michael Giacchino. Conducted by Tim Simonec. Orchestrations by Tim Simonec, Larry Kenton and Chris Tilton. Mission Impossible Theme written by Lalo Schifrin. Recorded and mixed by Dan Wallin. Edited by Paul Apelgren, Stephen M. Davis and Alex Levy. Album produced by Michael Giacchino.