It’s been suggested that Mission Impossible 3 film suffered at the box office due to Tom Cruise’s sofa bouncing antics on Oprah Winfrey’s show when he was in the throes of romance with Katie Holmes. However the fourth film revitalized the franchise setting a bench mark for stunts with the Burj Khalifa climb in ‘Ghost Protocol’. So with writer-director Chris McQuarrie on board and working closely with star Tom Cruise many people thought the opening stunt of Mission Impossible Rogue Nation was so outrageously impossible, it could only be created digitally.
In the sequence, Ethan Hunt gets on a plane – not in a plane, but quite literally gripping on to the outer skin of an in-flight A-400 military transport plane. It’s the kind of fantasy – or nightmare – pilots have but would never entertain in real life. “When I’m in a plane I’m always thinking what would it be like to be out on the wing,” Cruise admits. True to the “Mission: Impossible” spirit, the stunt was pulled off 100% live, giving the audience a wild ride that cannot be imitated.
Discussions began and the major concern was debris on the runway or bird strikes. According to Cruise the production spent days clearing the grass near the runway of any birds. But Cruise was also concerned about something no one else was bringing up: fuel. “You have jet fuel coming right out of the back at me because I’m on the wing of the engine,” he said. “Even when we were taxying I was also inhaling the fumes and [it] was going in my eyes.”
Just getting the clearances to use an authentic A400 was a major coup. But then rigging it for Cruise’s audacious flight was a whole other massive challenge. The wind shear alone on him was so great that in order to keep his eyes open he had to have sclera lenses fitted over his eyes. Engineers worked around the clock to calibrate every element. Cruise was strapped to the side of the plane from the moment the engine started to the moment it landed and the engine shut down.
Cruise admitted, “I couldn’t sleep the night before. I was going through it all in my mind. I knew that once we took off, if something went wrong, no one could do anything. But on the day, I felt very confident with our team, with the pilot, with Wade (Eastwood, the stunt co-ordinator) … and when I got on the side of the plane I was very excited. I was thinking only about the audience, about the shots we were going to get, about the performance. We started taxiing and I remember we were at the end of the runway and I’m hanging on saying to Chris ‘let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.’ And suddenly, boy, that throttle goes and we are hammering down that runway like ‘holy s**t’ – the force of it! But then I was thinking ‘Now do I say my line? Is my lighting good? Am I in shadow?’ So all these other things started occupying my mind.”
Though each flight raised the risk and chilled Cruise to the bone, he repeated the gravity-defying stunt 8 times to assure McQuarrie would have all the coverage he needed. Stunt co-ordinator Wade Eastwood said, “It’s one of my favorite film sequences of all time – but what you don’t see is how much work went into it logistically. It started with our unit production manager, Tom Hayslip, fighting the battle to make sure we could even make this happen with a real A400. Then, we had a legendary crew from Airbus who we convinced to do this. Then, from my side it started with doing a ton of drawings and pre-engineering work to get Airbus to trust that we wouldn’t damage their plane. Yet once we had their trust, it came off absolutely flawlessly.”
…….and that was just the opening scene of Mission Impossible Rogue Nation!