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  • Writer's pictureToby Ellis

Mission Impossible-ing Part 2: Cinematic Musical Vitality Analysis: How Non-Verbal Gestural Energies

Updated: Jul 18, 2019


The Theme – Keeping the DNA

To bring this passion for the music into a sense of academia, I wanted to first look here, using the aid of Mark Durrand’s peer related research of the music within the Mission franchise, and onto the significance of “Cinematic Vitality” and ‘theorising the singular effects of well-known musical themes that are deeply linked to particular longstanding cinematic franchises’ (2018. P.53). He discusses how Schifrin’s theme even after the span of fifty years ‘ –always and inextricably fused to other media threads running through a given cinematic expression – gives rise to an embodied gestural sensation unique to the Mission: Impossible franchise’ (2018. P.53). And how the concept of Vitality ‘enables a way of addressing Mission: Impossible’s reflexive relationship to other members of the film series’ (2018. P.53).

What I firstly found most interesting about his analysis is that he unboxes and identifies the Mission Impossible theme as first and foremost, a system. That is, as he here explains the theme unlike popular practice is ‘not simply one modal gesture among other modally differentiated gestures each working out their isolated programmes only coincidentally alongside gestural threads appealing to the other sensory modalities. Instead, Schifrin’s theme is part of a fully integrated gestalt giving rise to a multi-modal performativity, a meta-gestural effect which the audience internalises, and to which it responds’ (2018 P.54). By this he means the theme is written in such a way that it aids in creating such a strongly unified relationship or a sense of wholeness within the series, that in inducing characteristic performance, using what seems a so far inexplainable phycological engagement of the human body, his music is absorbed uniquely and effectively by the audience.

He also argues an interesting point in that ‘Schifrin’s theme, particularly within the latter series of films, enjoins with other elements to perform a Mission: Impossible-specific gestural vitality, unique to the Mission: Impossible universe, that provides moments of embodied affect, and a very specific mode of attunement between the filmic expression and the embodied life-world of the viewer’ (2018. P.55). A point which I totally agree with. The main theme, aside it’s grand introduction in the always spectacular ‘Light the Fuse’ opening credits moment of every film, when injected into the score in the later films such as Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation is more likely than not signifying at the point when something in the visuals that either the audience feels is so close to impossible that there is no way of the characters working their way out of it; or when an unanticipated event occurs that leaves us as the audience in an utter and complete state of such satisfying impossibleness.

My Favourite Moments & Interpretations of the Lalo Shifrin Theme

  1. Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)

Mission: Impossible 2 – 2000.

Musical Score Composed By Hans Zimmer

In Mission: Impossible 2 my favourite reincarnation (as you may well call it here) of the theme is at the point in the film, towards the middle end where the bad guy played by Dougray Scott suddenly realises after multiple satisfying gun shots in punched into this man before him, shot the wrong Ethan Hunt. Tension music in the form of operatic choral layers builds until we see the body unmasked and the villain screaming. Hunt then running down the end corridor, ripping off his face mask to reveal his true appearance triggers probably one of the most climatic uses of the theme in all its time across the entirety of the franchise. The theme now played straight in 4/4 time signature on a whole host of straight and warped heavy electric guitars, and driving us is a offbeat kick and snare pattern that remains consistent with the liveliness of the scene and what comes to follow a motorcycle chase of epic proportion.

  1. Mission: Impossible 3 (2005)

Mission: Impossible 3 – 2006.

Music Composed By Michael Giacchino

In Mission: Impossible 3 my favourite scene where by composer Michael Giacchino uses the theme most effectively is known either as ‘The Vatican Scene’ or ‘The Kidnapping Scene’ set the middle to first half of the film. In this set piece, Ethan (Tom Cruise), Luther (Ving Rhames) and two other IMF agents must abduct the man Davian and acquire the briefcase containing a mysterious object known only as the “Rabbits Foot”. As Giacchino himself states in the video discovered below in the research of this topic, it is the perfect point to have Shifrin’s theme suave and as front and centre as it helps to bring (as the visuals do with the re-use of the iconic face masks) back the familiarity of the franchise and as its the only point in the movie that really builds and builds to the impossible.

  1. Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (2011)

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol – 2011.

Music Composed By Michael Giacchino

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol has many stylish and astonishingly cavalier uses of the theme that just work superbly well within the score. From the entry in the title cue that references in the best possible way to the original TV series probably in the entirety of the franchise in all its 60s swagger, to the cues on Ethan and Benji’s (Simon Pegg) trip infiltrating the kremlin hacking their way through security, Ethan running down the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the grand finale where the nuclear missile system is stopped right at the last minute before it collides into a New York City skyscraper. Michael Giacchino again harnessing the best out of the odd time signature and 60s orchestral secret agent ‘mission’/’bond’ style to give more of a sense of nostalgia and epic finality in his work on this franchise. Here’s his theme in all its glory:

  1. Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (2015)

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation – 2015

Music Composed By Joe Kramer

In Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, again we have some incredible interpretations of the Lalo Shifrin theme. I would comment that the thematic variations in this score by Kramer are a lot less busy in terms of notation than its predecessor, but are just as equal if not more impactful. Kramer showcases a smart, complex and robust spy score that I adore and its easy to see why. We can see this from the beginning of the film where ‘the package is on the plane’, all looks impossible… in steps hunt and in steps the theme to save the day. Adding brass and string trills to the end of the main melody line emphasises the tension and uncomfortable gut wrenching awesomeness of what Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt) is going to do next E.g Jump on the side of a plane and ride it with his legs strangling in the air for a good 5 minutes.

Cues crop up here and there until the end of the film where we finally catch villain Solomon Lane and we get our big orchestral notes in full song, building dynamically as an extension of the begging of the Shifrin theme to add anticipation for what Lane and we the audience discover, to be him trapped inside a glass box. My favourite use of the theme however is used in one of the more pinacle and unexpected parts to the movie, where in one scene Ethan defeats villain Atley, clears Ilsa, convinces Huntly and gets the info to help save Benji and defeat Lane all in one fail swoop. The music applies suspense until the big reveal and we get the grand descending da, da, daaaa. da, da, dummm as Ethan reveals his true identity before Alec Baldwin delivers a priceless reaction:

  1. Mission: Impossible Fallout

Mission: Impossible Fallout – 2018.

In Fallout, what composer Lorne Balfe and two time Mission: Impossible Director Christopher McQuarrie have achieved through the presence of audio is a culmination of ever so slightly referencing the old to give a sense of familiarity and bringing to the table at the same time a completely fresh take of what can be done with the title whilst still communicating all of the key aspects of thrill, danger, romance, mystery and most importantly of all IMPOSSIBLENESS.

The ‘London Running Scene’ as it is below referred, showcases the the theme at the hight of its existence within the movie. In this scene, we see Ethan chasing down Walker with great flame and motivation as he has just witnessed the death of the IMF secretary (portrayed by Alec Baldwin), killed in a heated gun and knife battle in the London underbelly by Walker, whilst running up stairs and across rooftops from Apostle goons and CIA agents. Composer Balfe in this scene picks his moments well for the use of Lalo’s theme, after Ethan skips a couple of the rooftops on the rooftop run and jump stunt he implys all the right characteristics to give a sense of building anticipation using tonality, timbre of big drums and rasping thick brass only getting higher and higher, loader and loader until the moment of the jump. The most distinctive suave version of the theme appears only at the “I’m jumping out a window” segment. Emphasising the ridiculousness of the situation but almost saying ‘well…if the theme implies for me to jump, I must jump’.


  1. DB Film Scenes. (2016). Mission Impossible 2 – Chase Scene. [Online Video]. 20 February 2012. Available from: [Accessed: 11 November 2018].

  2. Durrand, M. 2018, “Mission: Impossible-ing : Towards a Theory of Cinematic Vitality”, Music, Sound, and the Moving Image, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 53-73.

  3. Farma2006. (2012). Michael Giacchino scoring Mission Impossible III. [Online Video]. 20 February 2012. Available from: [Accessed: 12 November 2018].

  4. Max Chan. (2018). Mission Impossible London Running Scene. [Online Video]. 22 September 2018. Available from: [Accessed: 10 November 2017].

  5. Njits 1992. (2012). Light The Fuse… – Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol intro. [Online Video]. 26 March 2012. Available from: [Accessed: 12 November 2018].

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