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Behind The Biggest Stunts of Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

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Mission Impossible Rogue Nation hits cinemas today and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It features some fantastic set pieces, but the two that standout are the giant A-400 cargo plane sequence as well as an incredibly tense underwater sequence.

In the first 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.  Now he would have a chance to find out.  



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 says the night before he couldn't sleep.  “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 … 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.  
Says Eastwood:  “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.”  



Abrams says that the sheer reality of a stunt like that is priceless in movie-making.  “It’s beyond believable because Tom really did fly on the side of this plane,” he points out. “It’s an exciting idea because we live in such a world of artifice. Everything you see these days is hard to believe is real, so there's something about Tom actually doing these stunts -- without the visual effects anyone else would likely use -- that makes the movie feel even more like a big event.”  

David Ellison explains the feeling generated by capturing such a moment of adventurousness on film: “I think the A400 may be the single most ambitious set-piece that has ever been built,” he offers.  “I’ll never forget watching the dailies of that sequence for the first time: you see the plane take off with Tom hanging on the side of it … and the camera doesn’t cut.  You wait for it to cut but it never does, giving you a feeling deep in the pit of your stomach like nothing else can.”  

Simon Pegg had a different perspective on the sequence, playing Benji who’s communicating with Ethan, aghast, from a runway field.  “The A-400 sequence very much cuts to the essence of our relationship in this film:  Tom was strapped to the wing of the airplane, while I was lying in the grass in a furry, green suit,” Pegg quips.  “But really, it was pretty insane to watch what Tom did. For me, it even surpassed the Burj Khalifa sequence in ‘Ghost Protocol,” because in that he was high up but he was still attached in some fashion to the ground.  In this scene, he’s even higher but he was not attached to anything. He was on the outside of a plane!  It was kind of mind-blowing and ridiculous. I don’t know what he’s going to do next to top that.  Maybe he’ll go into outer space …”  

As breath-taking as the A-400 sequence is, it's the Torus underwater sequence that will have audiences literally holding their breath. Cruise is no stranger to underwater work, but decided to literally go to new depths in his training so as to make the sequence as lung-bustingly real as possible.  

“My big question about this scene was:  how can we make it even more tense for an audience -- and have them experience what it’s like to hold your breath for that long, long period of time?  We had this great design for the Torus that Jim Bissell came up with and these great ideas Chris had, and I felt the performance had to stand up to that,” Cruise comments.  

To get that kind of performance, Cruise began in intensive apprenticeship in free diving – sometimes called the “world’s most dangerous sport” – in which elite athletes dive to depths greater than 200 feet with no mechanical equipment or oxygen, risking hallucinations, blacking out, dreaded “lung squeezes” and getting the bends.  Despite the peril, the true masters of the technique have turned it into a meditative art form, carefully calibrating their internal metabolisms and learning to slow their heart rates to the point that they can survive at depths many used to think was indeed impossible.  



Cruise trained diligently on both timed breath-holds and underwater maneuvers with veteran athletes in Florida and the Cayman Islands, building up to a 40-meter free dive.  But his aim was different than most.  Rather than simply learning to relax in an oxygen-less state, he needed to learn how to carry out a complex action sequence without air. 

“I have to say physically, it was without a doubt the most challenging aspect of this film,” Cruise states.  “We were doing long shots and when your body is moving that much it is burning oxygen much faster so there was just a lot of physical stress. Physically what it did to me was quite interesting … what I went through doing that -- it took me much longer to recover from than any other sequence.”  

Cruise admits that the stunt team had to be convinced that such prolonged breath-holding wouldn’t be too grave a danger.  “They didn’t feel comfortable initially because typically in movies, an underwater sequence might involve someone holding their breath for 10, 15 seconds max,” the actor explains.  “So I had to prove to everyone that not only is this safe, but it’s far better that I’ve learned these techniques for long breath-holds because now, I’m going to be very relaxed about it.  In terms of the breath-holding, everything was always under control, but physically it was very grueling.  I had pain in my tendons from doing so many takes like that.  But it was also really fascinating to me. I learned so much about my body and how it works.”  

Ultimately, Eastwood says Cruise’s demonstration of what he could do won over the stunt team. “Like everything Tom does, he really went for it in this field and he could actually do a 6 minute static breath hold, which requires a very, very Zen state,” the stunt coordinator notes.  

The sequence summed up what has made Tom Cruise and Ethan Hunt an inseparable pair. “Tom makes movies for audiences. He doesn't make them for himself,” explains Granger.  “So when you see him pushing himself, working 20-hour days on the underwater Torus sequence, getting out of the tank everyday just shattered from holding his breath again and again and again … he's doing it because he loves the idea that audience will be holding their breath with him.”  

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The Movie Bit: Behind The Biggest Stunts of Mission Impossible Rogue Nation
Behind The Biggest Stunts of Mission Impossible Rogue Nation
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The Movie Bit
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