Brad Bird is thinking big with his first live-action feature film: A deal is being finalized by Paramount Pictures that will open “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” five days early at more than 200 IMAX theaters. The goal, according to the Oscar-winning writer-director of “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” is to bring back a “level of showmanship” to the opening of a big-budget Hollywood film. Bird is so enthused about the plan that last week he brought footage from the film to Rave Motion Pictures 18 to show it as preamble to his interview with Hero Complex lead writer Geoff Boucher. The elaborate, high-adrenaline sequences (part of the 25 minutes of the film that was shot with IMAX cameras) took the action to the top of the tallest building in the world and into the face of a blinding desert sandstorm.
GB: There’s been intense interest by studios to release films in the stereoscopic 3-D format, but we have heard filmmakers like Christopher Nolan champion IMAX as the better path to follow. How would you frame all of that?
BB: The default question with all the studios — and even more so a few years ago — is “Do we go in 3-D?” To me, 3-D is really interesting, and there’s been some good films. I’m as big a fan of “Avatar” as anybody, but what is not discussed often is the power of a really, really, really big screen. Part of the pitch of 3-D has always been “It’s more immersive.” And I agree that added depth perception is immersive, but you dim the image down and now I’m taking a step back. You put on glasses and now I’m taking another step back. The two things that movies have that you can’t get anywhere else are really big screens and an audience. … I feel like multiplexes and the shutting down of the grand old theaters have taken a lot of the showmanship out of presenting movies. There used to be a thing such as “first run.” The meaning of “first run” is gone now because on opening day you can see a brand new movie on a good screen but it’s more likely you’ll see it on a crappy screen. And it can even be a small, crappy screen. It used to be that when a movie opened, if you wanted to see it early, you had to see it great. To me, the best example of showmanship now is IMAX. I pushed to shoot in IMAX, and Paramount went along with me, so we filmed a good chunk of this movie in IMAX, which is a pain in the butt. The cameras are big and they’re noisy. But the image quality — you can’t get that any other way … you really feel it when it’s in IMAX. Maybe one of these days I’ll get to do a whole film that way.
GB: So the plan is “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” would open at 3,000 or so theaters on Dec. 21 but on Dec. 16 it will open at IMAX theaters as well a smaller number of “prestige” movie palaces. How difficult was it to make that happen considering the reflexive rigidity of the industry and the protective temperament of theater chain owners?
BB: Man, when you try to change things in the film industry, they do not want to deviate from what the well-worn paths are. We were able to get five days. Every studio likes to have bragging rights to the biggest opening numbers, and the problem is what that does is it perpetuates the approach of getting a zillion prints out there so your opening number is the biggest. But to me that is an intellectual thing. The average viewer doesn’t experience how much money is made on opening weekend. What they experience is their experience. I wanted the first people that see the film to see it big with a sharp image and great sound systems, so when they went out and talked about the movie they saw, we would know that they had seen it at its best.
GB: When you looked at the three previous “Mission” films and you looked at Tom Cruise in them, what were the things that you saw that you liked the most?
BB: One of my favorite moments acting-wise were the scenes he did with Vanessa Redgrave. He kind of came alive in a slightly different way. You could tell he had a lot of respect for Redgrave and knew that he had to be on his game because she was going to get every drop out of her part of the scene so he better get every drop of his. There was a playfulness to those scenes together that I really liked. When you see the film, it’s a little more playful than the other “Mission: Impossible” films — hopefully without undermining the suspense or action. You guys did a thing recently on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” turning 30, and that’s a film that is one of my favorites and I cited it as a really good balance between humor and action. The humor is there but it’s not done in a self-conscious, wink-wink, Roger-Moore-as-James-Bond way, and it doesn’t undercut the action. That’s a tone I was inspired by and wanted to get to some extent in this, but without making it the oddball “Mission: Impossible” that doesn’t feel like it could sit alongside the other ones.
— Geoff Boucher
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