I know exactly where I was at 9 pm on Saturday, September 17, 1966. I was 11 years old, my parents had gone out for the evening, and they'd given me permission to watch the small black-and-white television in their bedroom while my younger siblings watched the slightly larger black-and-white television in the living room.
There was a show premiering that evening that I wanted to watch: "Mission: Impossible."
And, now, almost 57 years later comes Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning, Part One, the latest in the Tom Cruise-fueled film series that has generated billions of dollars in box office receipts since the first one debuted in 1996.
I've been a fan of "Mission: Impossible" since that night in September 1966. Even as a kid, it struck me as something different, and it is possible that the black-and-white TV sets on which I watched the first couple of seasons even heightened the experience. There was an ingenuity about the way each mission was crafted, a sense of respect and collaboration in the ways the agents interacted, and I loved the Lalo Schifrin theme music and the pacing. For an 11-year-old boy, it was deeply and abidingly addicting. (I won't even delve into how, during the first episode, Barbara Bain as the alluring agent Cinnamon Carter sashays onto the screen in a skimpy towel - allegedly to distract enemy agents but definitely distracting me.)
I've mentioned here before that I was not initially a fan of the Tom Cruise film versions. In the beginning, they seemed to be all about Cruise's Ethan Hunt character, and less about the team, which had always been the heart and soul of the concept. But, starting with the fourth movie in the series, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, that changed. Not only did the members of the team - played by the likes of Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson - get more attention, but the films became more playful, and Cruise (now 61 years old, his visage having lost some of its sharp angles with age, which somehow makes him a little more human if no less vigorous) developed a sense of humor even as he ratcheted up the stakes with more and more outlandish stunts largely performed without computer graphics. The movies were fun.
That pattern persists in Dead Reckoning, which, while they started writing and shooting the film more than three years ago, is prescient enough to make AI the big bad. Dead Reckoning isn't just a puzzle, but our heroes are legitimately puzzled about how to do battle - which only makes them more resourceful and more committed. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie returns, and he has turned out a whiz-bang of a movie that speeds through its 163-minute running time, taking place on numerous continents and featuring not just some amazing stunts but also a few close-quarter fights that are extraordinarily well staged.
I won't tell you any more about the plot, though, fair warning, this is Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning, Part One. Part Two is scheduled to be released on June 28, 2024, and I can't wait to see it.
While originally the two parts of Dead Reckoning were said to be Cruise's finales in the series, he recently was quoted that he'd like to continue doing Mission: Impossible films until he's 80 - perhaps inspired by Harrison Ford's return at that age to his iconic Indiana Jones character.
I won't lie. There are moments when Indian Jones and the Dial of Destiny plays like a greatest hits film, dangerously close at some moments to fan service. But I liked it a lot - Ford is genuinely touching as the now aged Indy, teaching archaeology in 1969 to a bunch of Hunter College students who are thinking more about the future than the past. Of course, Indy gets involved in a race to recover a priceless artifact - the Antikythera, built by Archimedes in 212 BC, which is reputed to be able to create ripples in time. And, naturally, there are Nazis with whom to do battle. (With Indiana Jones, it always comes down to Nazis. And snakes.)
The supporting cast is excellent, especially Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Indy's godchild (and heir apparent?) This is the first in the series not directed by Steven Spielberg - James Mangold takes the reins, and keeps the trains (and plans and horses and boats) running; if he is not as playful as Spielberg, it may be because Jones is in a less playful period of his life.
To be fair, the critics have not been kind to Dial of Destiny. But I think it is far better than most have given it credit for being - not a great movie, but a good time with a character that many of us think of as old friend.
There are two great Indiana Jones films - Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade. Temple of Doom is good, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is generally pretty awful. I'm glad they made another one so Indy could go out on a relatively high note, and so we could see Harrison Ford yet again in the role that really defined him. The Indiana Jones films always have been about the hunt for some treasure or another, but in the end, the real treasure has been Harrison Ford - gruff, curmudgeonly, a bastion of integrity and ironic humor, and one of our generation's great movie stars.
Two notes from my travels this week.
And second, I must say that one of my favorite things to do in Monterey is wander down to the Dust Bowl Brewing Company, order up some tacos from the Wedo's food truck parked on the property, and then enjoy them along with a beer - in this case, appropriately enough, a Taco Truck Lager - while sitting outside or at the bar.
Because I'd be foolish not to.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.