I'm staggered how many people can't figure out Brian DePalma's big screen version of the cult TV spy series. The double crossing laced plot is clearly explained and has the kind of twist that you don't see coming. It's certainly a lot closer in spirit to the original series than any of its sequels, while adding the kind of extra machinations required for a big screen treatment. Whether Lalo Schifrin was approached to score the feature is not clear, but Alan Silvestri originally got the assignment, but only wrote a handful of cues before his music was rejected. Having heard it, it's a surprisingly uninspiring effort and its rejection is unfortunately no great loss. That it is so different from Danny Elfman's score makes one wonder whether maybe DePalma started out with a different type of score in mind, but quickly realised that his original concept wasn't quite what the film needed.
From the outset, it's obvious that Elfman is in tune with Schifrin's sound world, and his updating of the indelible theme is terrific; a little extra bass and some overblown John Barry style brass push it up a notch or too without overdoing it. Elfman makes occasional use of the theme, plus the Plot motif as well as some short ones of his own, all of which work together terrifically well. The first half is surprisingly low key, but the edgy, ticking percussion and bass flutes may perfect homage to the original style but are unmistakably Elfman's own. Some witty touches to the percussion section, such as a cuckoo clock, only add to the atmosphere. In amongst the suspense, there are some equally wonderful moments of drama, especially the brief but utterly beguiling Love Theme? demonstrating his ability to pitch the quieter moments at just the right level.
For all the evident qualities of the first dozen cues, the score really starts to hot up toward the finale, particularly Train Time as the showdown is set up. However, despite a portentous opening to the cue, Elfman still plays with restraint, weaving the motifs around each other, layering them with precision and retaining a clarity in the orchestration that so many composers fail to achieve. If the tension is wound up throughout the entire score then the release is as fine as one could hope; Zoom A is merely an exciting prologue to Zoom B which goes down as one of the most riveting action cues of all time. True, the aforementioned clarity starts to be lost, but Elfman is merely building the dissonance and musical anarchy to preposterous proportions before letting go with a blazing fanfare and a barnstorming reprise of the main theme. One almost wishes for a two minute epilogue cue to calm the nerves but its an explosive and memorable way to conclude.
Elfman's Mission: Impossible seems to have divided opinion and I must admit that originally I found it a little baffling and low key. That it was one of the points at which Elfman's style noticeably evolved during the mid 90's is possibly part of the reason; the fairground theatrics of Batman were being replaced by a different kind of edginess and Elfman's increasingly expert use of percussion and a more minimal approach. Having grown accustomed to his current style, I can't help but feel that, in retrospect, it's one of his most brilliantly conceived works, capturing all the spirit of Schifrin and so beautifully underplayed until the climax rather than beating the listening about with orchestral pyrotechnics every step of the way. This really is a score that does need a little time to appreciate but is well worth the investment and if that's not reason enough, I'd own the album just for the final cue alone. Brilliant.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad