10 Things Mission: Impossible: III Can Teach Us About JJ Abrams Star Trek

We still have to wait until the Summer of 2009 to see the new Star Trek movie and Trekdom continues to sort through the few tidbits and comments from the film makers to try and figure out what we have in store. But there is actually a big statement from JJ Abrams and his team that is already out there — the summer 2006 film Mission: Impossible: III.

Mission: Impossible: III was the first feature film to be directed by JJ Abrams. Although the film was produced by star Tom Cruise, it was very much a JJ Abrams movie. Cruise gave Abrams a lot of creative control and Abrams brought many of his collaborators into the project who are also now working on Star Trek, most notably Alias writer/producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Other M:I:III /ST09 crossovers include production designer Scott Chambliss, composer Michael Giacchino, editor Mary Jo Markey, cinematographer Daniel Mindel, casting director April Webster, visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett (along with his ILM team), and many more. From department heads to crafts services, Star Trek is almost like a class reunion for the M:I:III crew.

Of the three films in the series, Abrams’ M:I:III received the best reviews (based on Rotten Tomatoes averages) and is generally considered to be the one that honors the original 60s series the best. Mission: Impossible: III had a budget similar to the new Star Trek and ended up making around $400 million world-wide at the box office (plus around another $200 mil in ‘home sales’). While the domestic sales came short of Paramount’s hopes, most of that was attributed to bad press for Cruise in 2006. This was most evidenced in the months after the film’s release when Paramount opted to not renew Cruise’s production deal while signing Abrams to a multi-year production deal (with Star Trek being the first major film).

And when one looks at M:I:III in context of the other work of the team (like Alias and Lost), along with what has been said about Trek to date, some things appear to become clearer about the team’s approach. Below are 10 things that M:I:III may be able to teach us about JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, along with clips and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

1. Frenetic, complex…and non-linear
Mission Impossible: III starts off the film right in  the action with an intense exchange with the hero, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the villain Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). The story soon resets to a quiet party scene sometime in the recent past. These kinds of flashforwards are typical of Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof when one looks at their work on Alias and Lost. The film then alternates between sometimes quiet simple character moments to fast-paced action shot with a lot of hand-held and camera putting the audience right into the action.

From looking at Abrams directing work with M:I:III and his work on TV, most notably the pilot for Lost, you can see that he has a very modern sensibility. So it is likely we can expect a much faster-paced type of Trek film to go along with what is likely to be a very complex story. Plus indications are that the Star Trek film will also be non-linear and will jump around in time, both backwards and forwards.


2. Character counts
Probably the biggest difference between the previous M:I films and M:I:III is balance between action and character, with much more exploration of the character of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in M:I:III. JJ, Bob and Alex give Hunt a life, complete with a house, a fiancé, and a romance that is at the heart of the film. They also transform Ving Rhames’ rather two-dimensional Luthor (seen in M:I and M:I-2) into Ethan’s conscience, with a number of thoughtful scenes between the two that explore both characters…in a way they made Luther into Hunt’s Yoda.

Again expect the new Star Trek to take this same approach with a heavy emphasis on the characters of Kirk and Spock. The origin story format of Star Trek will explore what it is it that makes these two iconic figures the heroes we know from The Original Series. Expect to see both Kirk and Spock go through their own arcs in the film and ‘grow into’ the characters we know and are familiar with.

FEATURETTE: M:I:III…this time it’s personal

3. Lower tech high-tech
A staple of M:I films (and spy films in general) is the high-tech gadgetry. For M:I:III Abrams decided to tone that element down in an effort to make the film feel more ‘real.’ Just compare the ‘mission briefing’ segments from M:I-2 to M:I:III. In the second film, Ethan gets his briefing on the top of a desert mesa with super cool sunglasses that beam the mission into his eyes and then are flung off in a slow-mo explosion. In M:I:III Hunt gets his briefing from a disposable Kodak camera that he picks up at a 7-11 and is destructed with a simple puff of smoke. That isn’t to say that Abrams doesn’t do tech, but he likes to take a different angle. For example he uses the masks with are famous in the M:I series on both TV and film, but for the first time shows you how one is being made. Possibly the biggest example of this lower tech approach would be the films maguffin, the ‘rabbit’s foot.’ Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman never even explain exactly what it is, and in the end it really didn’t matter since the focus of the story was on the characters.

Now don’t worry, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek will not be low tech. However, Abrams and his team have done everything they can to make it seem real. And although all the ‘technobabble’ terminology of Star Trek is there (warp, phasers, transporters, etc), do not expect for there to be technology solutions to the dilemmas. Also we are likely to see new twists on how these high-tech devices are used and shown. In addition, expect the look of the new Star Trek to be realer than any other Trek film or TV show yet. It is very important for the team that people feel the future of Trek is a real extension of our present and not some Star Wars-like fantasy future.

CLIP: Maggie Q uses some tech to help build the Davian mask

4. A complicated villain
There is very little to like about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian. He is a ruthless arms dealer who seems to have only a single agenda: himself. But he is still far more than a mustache-twirling villain. Davian’s many facets make him possibly the most interesting character in M:I:III, and certainly a worthy adversary for Ethan Hunt. In addition to Davian there are other villain twists in the plot, with characters living in the grey areas between protagonist and antagonist. These ‘is he a good guy or not’ type of villains are common in the ‘Abramsverse,’ with prime examples being Ben in Lost and Sloan in Alias

The Abrams team have expressed their interest in having Star Trek’s Nero be a ‘memorable villain’ in the same pantheon of Khan. So expect Nero and his cohorts to be just as realized and even possibly sympathetic to an extent. And with the Trek team’s past projects in mind, it is always a good idea to keep your eye out for twists and turns with the bad guys.

CLIP: Even strapped to a chair, Davian still in command of the scene

5. Strong women
With shows like Xena, Lost  and Alias, the various member of the Star Trek team (Orci, Kurtzman, Lindelof and Abrams) have shown they like to write strong women into their projects. M:I:III is no exception with strong roles for the spies Zhen (Maggie Q) and Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), both of whom show smarts and the ability to kick butt. And even though Hunt’s romance with Julia (Michelle Monaghan) is at the heart of the movie, she still shows that she is no damsel in distress.

For the new Star Trek, there are a quite a few women in the cast. The most notable will be Uhura played by Zoe Saldana who is said to have a substantial role and will be doing much more than just answering the space phone. The cast also has Winona Ryder (Amanda Grayson), Jennifer Morrison (Winona Kirk ), Rachel Nichols (Orion at Starfleet Academy), Marlena Forte (Enterprise Transporter Chief), Lucia Rikjer (Romulan Communications Officer), Sonita Henry (Starfleet Doctor) and others…all of whom are said to have key roles in the film. In fact it was JJ Abrams’ wife Katie McGrath who was one of those who talked JJ into directing film and one of things she was most impressed with in the script was the female characters. 

CLIP: Julia knows something is a bit off with her man

6. Respect for the franchise
Although the M:I series of films are all star vehicles for Tom Cruise, M:I:III came the closest to bringing back the ensemble feel of the original Mission: Impossible TV series from the 60s. Some segments, especially the elaborate Vatican break-in, feel like the complex schemes of Mr. Phelps, Paris, Barney and the old crew. There were also several continuity moments and homages to the previous two M:I films as well.

From everything we hear coming from Abrams and his team, there is clearly going to be a lot of respect for the continuity and history of Trek. It is said that there will be a lot in the film for the fans, including many ‘continuity nuggets’ — especially from the Original Series and Next Generation.

CLIP:The IMF team work on an impossible plan

7. A few laughs along the way
Even though M:I:III is an action-packed spy movie, it still injects humor to break up the intensity. The most obvious ‘comic relief’ would be comedic actor Simon Pegg who plays the frazzled IMF tech-head Benji. Ving Rhames is also put to good use for a quip here and there.

Humor has always been a key element for Star Trek on both film and TV, especially with The Original Series. The new Star Trek movie should be no exception and with Abrams again casting Simon Pegg, this time as Scotty (who has always been good for a good laugh). So we should expect some chuckles in May 2009.

CLIP: Pegg lightens the mood in M:I:III

8. Locations, locations, locations
Any decent spy movies is going to have lots of international locations and M:I:III doesn’t disappoint with shots from Shanghai, Berlin, Rome and many other locations in the US and around the world. But in addition to those we also see the use of a lot of real world locations instead of just using studio sets, such as in the warehouse fight during the rescue of Farris. The film actually doesn’t use a lot of stages at Paramount, but when they did they created new locations not seen in the franchise before, such as IMF headquarters.

It has already been reported that JJ Abrams’ Star Trek used more locations than any other Trek film. Although they didn’t travel the globe, they did utilize a number of spots in Southern California to stand in for both interior and exteriors. Abrams is very concerned about things seeming real and so he prefers to use real locations even though he had the budget to create almost any set he wanted either at Paramount or via ILM. We can also expect to get a first or much closer look at famous Star Trek locations.

FEATURETTE: Abrams explains why he likes location shots

9. Effects blending real and virtual
M:I:III is a big budget summer movie with lots of effects, including lots of CGI effects, but they are often subtle and blended with the practical. In what is the most elaborate sequence, the attack on the bridge, Abrams and visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett seamlessly mix 2nd unit shots from the real Chesapeake Bay Bridge, with shots of a recreated bridge with practical effects of cars exploding along with additional CGI effects from ILM. 

In the new Star Trek Abrams has brought back both ILM as well as Roger Guyett, who is both the effects supervisor as well as the 2nd unit director. Although all the space shots will be CGI, there is still an effort to make these as realistic as possible (including bringing on board a NASA space imagery consultant, Dr. Caroline Porco). But there will also be a number of practical scenes that will combine the real with CGI. Abrams has made it clear that he does not like the Star Wars prequel-like style of actors worked on green-screen stages interacting with tennis balls. Abrams always uses something ‘real’ whenever possible. 

CLIP: The real and the fake blended together in M:I:III

10. A modern soundtrack that respects the past
For M:I:III Abrams brought in his long-time musical collaborator, the Oscar-nominee Michael Giacchino. The film’s fast-paced soundtrack is on one hand the most unique for the franchise, and yet at the same time, best integrates stings and homages from the famous Lalo Schifrin M:I score. Giacchino created his own sound for M:I:III, filled with his trademark percussions along with a 112-piece orchestra, while still honoring the original TV show.

Giacchino is again on board with Abrams for Star Trek and has said all the right things about his respect for Trek’s past. However when one looks at his body of work, including this summer’s Speed Racer soundtrack, it is clear that Giacchino’s work will stand on its own, while still bringing back the nostalgic moments of past Trek scores.

FEATURETTE: Abrams and Giacchino on scoring M:I:III


M:I:III on Amazon

available in SD: (Standard, Widscreen, and 2 disk collectors set)

and in HD (HD-DVD and Blu-ray)


More of our Abrams Team series:
What can Alias Teach Us About Star Trek XI

up next, we will take a look at Lost


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Of course, both TV shows starred (at one point) Leonard Nimoy – therefore we can conclude that Abrams will only make features based on Nimoy properties.

In Search Of — THE MOVIE!!

^ hehe

Anthony, thanks for a very well done article. We needed this to keep the nay-sayers on here in check. I have a lot of high hopes for the coming motion picture.

nah says me , oh wait the movie will be great !

Season 4 and 5 as the Great Paris.

I have to say, Anthony, that you guys really do a good job of keeping this site interesting without new info trickling. I’d rather read stories like this than more articles about actors praising one another or talking incessantly about how great the film will be.

I hope that doesn’t sound snide, I’m just getting antsy, and its good to read something interesting that doesn’t rely on new info that we can’t have yet.

Good work :)

MI3 was pretty good, and I would expect the Trek movie to conform closely to this film in style. I liked the action, in MI3, particularly the bridge scene. I’m not sure the teamwork angle matched the TV show , but Cruise is a big star and had to get the most screen time. Time will tell if this kind of style will work for Star Trek TOS, which is a special animal. The TOS movies , except maybe the first and last, were pretty much all about Kirk. They even turned Picard into Kirk (with Data as Spock) for the TNG movies. I’m not sure how much the public cares about what makes the characters tick; most of that can be inferred by the series and six movies. Some details are better left imagined. So Trek 11 could go either way, but they’ll probably make money.

This is a very insightful article, and very much meshes with my feelings about how the new Trek feature will turn out.

Listening to M:I:III and Lost told be that Michael Giacchino is exactly the right man for the job.

This, combined with the teaser, tells me so much.

Of course, it also tells me nothing, as the proof will be in the pudding :-)

Thank you for this one.

Cool article! Mi3 is definitely an underrated movie, and reading this makes me want to see it again.

The only real mark against it, as many have stated before, is that it often feels like just a big screen version of Alias, with the same music, dialogue, and frenetic pace.

But still, there’s no denying that the style WORKS. I definitely wouldn’t have a problem if more action movies were made to that standard.

2. Character Counts

Very interesting analysis overall! Just wanted to react to #2. I really hope that they won’t just concentrate on just the Kirk-Spock dynamic, because what made the original series work for the most part was the Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic. It is the relationship of those three characters that was the heart and soul of TOS.

Sounds good. I especially like “6: Respect for the franchise.” I also like “8: Locations, locations, locations” and the idea of “…expect to get a first or much closer look at famous Star Trek locations.” Like Starfleet Academy, perhaps? I have not seen MI:III but I intend to. Based on the above information, I am definatly looking forward to “Star Trek” in May 2009!

Anthony, thanks for this very well thought-out article. I’m not sure if it will make people more apprehensive or less about the Star Trek movie, but I thought it was a great analysis.

Mission Impossible III SUCKED! It was the WORST of the 3 films and it had NO STORY LINE! It did not respect the original 60’s series which I use to watch and enjoy. The first film was by the far the best of the three. Sorry as far as I am concerned JJ is way too overrated, no director deserves such praise unless he has at least a few Academy Award films under his belt.

6 Respect for the franchise

I’ll court controversy since I loved the series deliberately ommitted in the article. Nevermind TOS (that’s obviously this film’s meat & potatoes) and shoehorning TNG/DS9/VOY references will make no sense. It’ll be “continuity nuggets” to do with Enterprise that I want to see the most. Archer & co never got as far as the Earth/Romulan War onscreen. Cancelled just a year shy of that epic storyline. With the war-like chessmasters being main protagonists here, drop a few hints about how they lost or at least establish that Earth NX ships lead the vanguard.

12, it makes me less apprehensive about the Star Trek movie. I hope that it will be a blockbuster because Star Trek desperatly needs one. I have been “cautiously optimistic” about this film and remain so. With that said this article made me less apprehensive about the new film and I’m hoping that the film will be a great film.

I also thought that it is an excellent article. Good job TrekMovie.

As a side note, Wil Weaton said he was “cautiously optimistic” when he was asked how he felt about the new Trek film in an interview held a while ago. I felt that there is no better way to put it than that.


…he records his compositions LIVE in the studio, with little or no overdubs added later! You can really feel and hear the difference in his soundtracks. They really seem to come alive, and his version of STAR TREK, I’m sure, will completely bury the “sonic wallpaper” mandated by Rick Berman!

14, yes it would be nice for ENT to be referrenced in the “Respect for the franchise” bit. If you read Shatner’s latest Trek fiction “Star Trek: Academy: Collision Course” you will notice that the entire book is filled with ENT references. From “Archer Hall” at Starfleet Academy to the emblem of Starfleet still holding the phrase “Ad Astra Per Aspera” and many more. Such little touches would be nice to see in the Academy scenes in the new film but I don’t expect it. After all, ENT is the most underrated Trek show.

13. I totally agree. Until Scorcese won for “The Departed” I had no idea whether or not “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” were good movies. Fortunately I had the Academy Awards to tell me what to think.

This article was a very good “think piece”. As a fan of the original Mission:Impossible series, I have to agree with Anthony that MI:III was the best of the three M:I films, and the closest to the original series. I think that bodes very well for Trek.

Nice job. I thought it was very well thought out and it gave some good comparisons.

I am also “cautiously optimistic” about the new movie. I am not a fan of the MI series but I am a big LOST fan. If JJ and company can tell a story and develop the characters as well as they have done in LOST, then the new movie will be worthy of the name Star Trek.

great idea for an article….and well executed, Anthony!

The bridge attack scene im MIIII is one of the most impressive action scenes I’ve ever seen.
Hopefully we’ll see something as impressive in Star Trek.

Anthony- This was one of the best articles I have ever read on Trekmovie. Thank you for the time, research and effort you obviously put into it. Learning more concerning Abrams directional style, especially focusing on MI:III as a template, makes me all the more excited for Abrams, Orci and Hurtzman’s vision of ST.

Compassionate Romulans are key. Mark Lenard and the Joanne Linville were compassionate, emotional characters. Bring the Romulans back properly, JJ.

Anthony, thanks for the analysis. You’re trying hard to keep us here, that’s for sure!

16: SPB: I have no problems with Jerry Goldsmith’s latter-day Trek scores. I even got misty yesterday when I watched the latest “Rambo” film, and there is heavy and respectful use of the original Goldsmith motifs.

I’m excited, however to hear what Giacchino (SP?) will come up with. I get a spine-tingle from the music every time I watch The Incredibles with the kiddies, so I’m sure it will be wonderful despite his fear of writing it.

I do agree that this is an excellent analysis. Will we be getting any more of the reviews of the old Trek movies, which included insight into possible lessons for the upcoming movie? I looked at the tags for this one to see if it would fall under the same category. I loved those as well.

AJ#25- You are correct, sir.

MIII was good – was the best of the series. It had 3 or 4 moments that really hit the tone of the original series. Tom Cruise was a big turnoff at the time – and still is to be honest.

However, the ending REALLY sucked and almost spoiled the movie for me. Girlfriend back in with all the IMF crew, everyone happy, just expecting Tom to jump and and click his heals into a freeze frame.

And don’t forget, this IS the same dude partially responsible for “Gone Fishin’ ” ….

As for Giachinno(?) … no problems there at all, best of the best at the moment.

I thought MI:III was rubbish – I remember just laughing in the cinema at the end- especially the final scene (if i remember correctly, kinda vague now) when the film went slow mo and the actors walked towards the camera, and everyone in the film started clapping or somthing. I half expected the camera crew and technicians to come into shot and start clapping too, it was so bad it was funny. I can’t remember it clearly as it was so long ago, but I remember sitting there thinking, my god that was a shit film. I hope to god ST is not!

Michael Giacchino did a fantastic job with the retro-cool score for “The Incredibles”. I can’t wait to hear his Trek riffs.

Anthony I completely disagree with low tech. Please see Alias for any decent example of high tech. I think it would be safer to say that Abrams is more interested in mythology and developing than a movie which was filled with tech. Mission Impossible 3 did not lack in technology, it just utilized it in a different way.

AJ, your points are usually palatable for me but you may be the first person in history to admit being teary-eyed over any Rambo flick–unless you count them being made at all :)

“In addition expect the look of the new Star Trek to be realer than any other Trek film or TV show yet.”

It will be interesting, if that turns out to be true. However, of the few smuggled and partial images available so far, none strongly support the “realistic” slant. Splashing a little dirt on what looks to be an MDF shuttlecraft doesn’t make it look particularly real, and while the Enterprise shown in the teaser trailer is certainly *detailed* I was less sold on its reality as an object than I was regarding, say, the Millenium Falcon in the original “Star Wars” film – and that was a long time ago.

The plots of recent Trek ventures have been buried in technobabble. Good stories–even Sci-fi ones– are about people. Abrams understands that, I think.

#18–LOL. Perfect.

The second movie was the worst of the three. It’s supposed to be “Mission: Impossible”, not “xXx” (you know, with Vin Diesel). I almost walked out of the theater. And I’ve never watched it since. Bad, bad movie.

32: Captain Dunsel:

The movie was a gorefest, for sure.

But I am a fan of the original First Blood, and I really enjoyed Jerry Goldsmith’s music for the original 3 films. I actually got misty over the early end-credits as the character returns home, and Goldsmith’s music flowed through the speakers.

Long-time first-time. Agreed on all of the above praise, Anthony. Thanks so much for your contributions, and keeping our appetites satisfied (though a hi-res of the new Enterprise wouldn’t hurt!). I never miss a day on the site.

Another great article. We’re in good hands – both on the web and next year at the local cinema.

Nice story AP, agree with the #6 comment. The truck from nowhere on a clogged street killing the bad guy seriously dented an otherwise enjoyable movie experience. Watch your continuity JJ.

Anthony… well written, thanks… although I don’t think “realer” is actually a word.

Dennis Bailey… I don’t think anyone here has seen enough “finished product” visuals to get worked up over. Time will tell.

…. and Tom Cruise ads on the site?WUWT?

8 Locations, locations, locations

Does anyone know if there was filming done in Iceland? I know it was reported that they were scouting locations there before shooting.

43. Anthony Pascale – June 9, 2008
“some of the ads, specifically any served by google, are contextual.
….it is just how the internet works”

So I suspected. Big Brother did it. ;-)

Great article Anthony!

And food for thought since you said your article is based on published and unpublished spoilers.

…the adventure continues…

That was a great article, Anthony.

I have to totally disagree with the people who thought MI:III was the worst of the three movies. If you watched Mission:Impossible when it was on TV, JJ’s movie was the closest to capturing the “essence” of the original series. Including the typical upbeat clapping for the hero ending. Woo’s Mission was not good. Crouching Cruise Hidden Wire stunts. Matrix: Impossible. Bleah. I thought the writing in MI:III was fairly tight, true to character, and moved the story without too much wasted movement. The bridge sequence was great and had me wondering how they were able to blow up cars on a bridge. I bought it. And Giacchino is a gifted film score writer. His work here was respectful of the original and exciting in it’s own right. What he did on The Incredibles is enough to earn him any pass he wants with me. THAT was a brilliant film score.

Again, well done AP.

*Lots* of typos in the above article. Proofreader?

Great article! I’ve always been enthusiastic about this film: indeed, I’m perfectly happy for them to play fast and loose with continuity in this ‘revitalisation’ of Trek. M:I:III was a peculiar beast. I love it to bits, but it certainly was very ‘Alias.’ Laurence Fishburne, for example, reminded me of Jack Bristow, Simon Pegg of Marshall and so on.

Tom Cruise’s press outside the film damaged it, I reckon. The M:I series has been a peculiarly messy one, effectively rebooting itself with each movie. M:I:1 had a convoluted mess of a script and Brian De Palma’s stylised direction called far too much attention to itself . . . in a bad way. It’s a very uncomfortable film to watch. John Woo’s film (M:I:2 was taken away from him by the studio and hacked down by editing supremo Stuart Baird, as Woo’s more daring, longer film was deemed unacceptable by Paramount bosses.) I’d love to see a longer cut.

JJ Abrams’ film hit the mark very nicely, with Michael Giaccino even using bits of music from the original series. My big complaint up to the arrival of M:I:III was that the movies paid the barest lip-service to the original show. M:I:III sorted that somewhat.

Now that the Cruiser’s gone from Paramount, I’d love to see Mission: Impossible given a proper revamp. Bring back Jim Phelps, Rollin and the original gang and update the concept to the present day, as they infiltrate terrorist agencies and the the governments that fund them. If anyone can finish the revitalisation of M:I, it’s Abrams and his gang! The whole evil Jim Phelps bit was barmy!

But I concur that M:I:III is definitely a realistic loose guide to what will come in the new Star Trek film. Can’t wait! :)

Good to know he doesn’t like to screw up a film by using ALL CG now…if only someone could convince him to use a studio model ship and not a CG ship.

Glad he doesn’t get a hard on putting all his actors in front of green screen interacting with nothing, *COUGH LUCAS>* No wonder the acting in those SW prequels was so shocking.