Mission: Impossible III

Mission: Impossible IIILike the resurrected Superman franchise — for which J.J. Abrams wrote a controversial, unproduced script a few years ago — Mission: Impossible III struggled through a long and abortive pre-production history.

Veteran directors David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club), Joe Carnahan (Narc), and Frank Darabont (The Green Mile) all spent time in producer-star Tom Cruise’s offices, trying to figure out how to continue the adventures of IMF superagent Ethan Hunt.

So how did Abrams — the TV strongman who created the teen drama Felicity, the sci-fi spy serial Alias and the castaway blockbuster Lost — get to make his big-screen directorial debut on a $150-million Paramount tentpole?

Abrams, who wrote and directed acclaimed pilots for both Alias and Lost, traces the opportunity to the distribution of freebies. I met Tom with Steven Spielberg during ‘War of the Worlds,’ he recalls. I wasn’t available, because I was working on a version of ‘Superman’ which never happened. It was a great meeting, but I had to tell him I couldn’t do it, and I thought, ‘There goes my opportunity to work with these guys.’

Flash-forward several months. I was shooting the Lost pilot, and I got a call from Tom. When he left my office, my assistant gave him the DVDs of the first two seasons of ‘Alias’ as, um, swag — and he actually watched them, which is miraculous. And he loved them. He wanted to hang out when I got back.

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III

I thought ‘Mission III’ was going swimmingly [without me]. He never brought up any issues, but I guess things just weren’t working out. And he asked me if I was interested in directing it. I told him I couldn’t start for about a year — because I was working on Lost and Alias — and I told him I’d want to start over with the story.

You know, the odds of that happening were zero. The whole thing was impossible. In Focus spoke with Abrams for almost an hour, about Mission: Impossible III, Alias and related matters. (Be sure to marvel at how carefully he dances around M:I III character and plot details.)

The first M:I 3 teaser trailer seemed to echo the very underrated On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — what with the agent’s significant other in peril, plus a bulky, well-spoken villain. The story — while in no way based on that, and in fact being incredibly careful to avoid Bond comparisons — definitely has similar themes. I think you’ll watch Mission: Impossible III online a side of Ethan Hunt that hasn’t been in the films before. Tom gives an unbelievable performance.