How Tom Cruise and Wolf Blitzer Pulled Off the Biggest Twist in Mission Impossible History

Inverse talks to the team behind Mission: Impossible — Fallout’s unforgettable opening sequence.

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The Blockbuster Issue

Would you believe Tom Cruise if he told you the world had ended? What about Wolf Blitzer? That’s the question audiences faced in 2018’s Mission: Impossible — Fallout. But just like in any good Ethan Hunt adventure, the truth is never what it seems.

The Mission: Impossible movies know how to pull off an opening. Whether it’s Tom Cruise hanging off a rust-red mountain, or Tom Cruise pulling off a mask to reveal his true identity, or Tom Cruise… you get the idea, this is a franchise whose fans expect to be glued to their seats from the moment the Paramount logo appears on the screen.

Fallout is no different. A Mission: Impossible audience is never entirely sure that any character onscreen is who they say they are. Being tricked is the name of the game. And for the sixth film in the franchise, Cruise and company decided to fool the audience with a delicious trick involving one of the most famous newsreaders on the planet. As the film’s production designer, Peter Wenham, tells Inverse, “The Wolf Blitzer of it all was a bit of a coup.”

Anatomy of a Scene

We won’t be recapping the entire scene with all its twists and turns here (for that, just watch the video above), but here’s a rapid-fire synopsis: Fallout opens with Hunt, Luther (Ving Rhames), and Benji (Simon Pegg) facing off against a terrorist who’s got his hands on some nuclear warheads. The meeting goes sideways, but after capturing the nuclear scientist in a fight that leaves him unconscious, the Impossible Missions Force hatches a plot: trick the villain by making him think he’s already won.

To pull it off, they build a fake hospital room (and a fake CNN anchor desk), put Benji in a super-realistic Wolf Blitzer mask, and somehow record fake footage of the Vatican smouldering in the aftermath of a nuclear blast. It works, of course, and as the good guys celebrate and the bad guy’s jaw hits the floor, that familiar music begins to play. Roll opening credits.

Tricking the Audience

Wolf Blitzer confirms the worst possible news.

Paramount Pictures

As editor Eddie Hamilton points out, when the audience is by Ethan at the television, “We’re starting to fool the audience a little bit about the fact that these attacks may have happened; people are like, ‘Blimey, this movie got dark really quickly.’” Because editing is all about point of view, it was crucial to ensure that from this moment on, the audience saw the scene almost entirely from Delbruuk’s perspective, so they were as oblivious as he was about the illusion. “As you’re editing, you’re constantly making sure you’re cutting back to his reactions, so you feel everything that he is feeling.”

The scene was filmed at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, just outside London. Hamilton remembers seeing Gal Gadot walking out in full Wonder Woman costume at one point. “I remember just stopping in awe at this Amazonian goddess in front of me and just staring at her for 10 seconds,” he says. “And she smiled at me and waved and walked off. It was the most astonishing sight.”

“It’s fun to feel the villain realize that he’s been fooled and also the audience has been fooled.”

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The faux hospital room was designed by Wenham and his team. He estimates that the whole thing, including the fake CNN set in which Blitzer sat, took around 50 people four weeks to make. When the Impossible Missions Force reveals that the room was purpose-built to deceive Delbruuk, the four walls collapse, unveiling the truth to the scientist.

“You don’t need that in the story because you’ve got the information,” says Hamilton, “but it’s fun for the audience to have that reveal, and it’s fun to feel the villain realize that he’s been fooled and also the audience has been fooled.”

As the walls had steel frames, they needed to fall onto dampeners because they weighed at least 400 pounds each. During filming, they only needed to do it twice, having rehearsed it a good deal before.

Assembling the Team

“Every second of every frame is valuable.”

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Blitzer was “completely thrilled to be invited,” Hamilton says. “He thought it was a hoot.”

As Wenham points out, the anchor’s involvement lent credibility to the whole idea — both to the audience and to Delbruuk. This isn’t an anonymous presenter, so the assumption is that it must be real news footage. Blitzer arrived on a jet, did his lines impeccably, and, according to Wenham, was gone within about 24 hours. After the film, Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie organized for the Blitzer mask to be delivered to his CNN office in a purpose-built glass cabinet so that he could display it.

The whole scene took around seven-and-a-half hours to film, according to Hamilton. Actors will often give between 50 and 70 variations of each line, and he and McQuarrie spent more than a day looking at every single nuance of every performance.

“We did modulate how angry Ethan got, ranging from very angry and absolutely manic to much less angry, and we kind of found a medium ground. It wasn’t Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon.” The first assembly of the footage was around two minutes longer than the five minutes it would eventually become. “Every second of every frame is valuable,” Hamilton says.

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As for music, composer Lorne Balfe remembers that McQuarrie wasn’t far off, singing to him in order to communicate what he had in his mind.

“There’s a lot of information being given,” says Balfe, “and we tried lots of different rhythms and more melodic ideas, but he felt like it was clashing significantly with the dialogue.” They settled on what Balfe describes as two chords repeating back and forth — simple so as not to affect the dialogue — and gradually building in intensity.

As the reveal happens, the audience begins to smile, and Delbruuk begins to turn white. Hamilton reveals that Delbruuk’s final line — the confused “The attacks didn’t happen” — was recorded after the scene was filmed. This was because “people weren’t 100 percent clear that the attacks hadn’t happened,” and the film couldn’t continue with the audience not being absolutely sure.

Just before this, Lalo Schifrin’s infamous theme music slowly begins to come in.

“It starts off with one bongo player,” says Balfe, “and then another one joins in, and then another one, and then another one, and another one. The way we recorded was that it was in a half-moon shape, so the sound goes from left to right, so that in the cinema, you hear it the way we recorded it.”

In the end, says Balfe, around a dozen bongo players were involved in the drumroll, with the strings contributing their notorious interjections.

“It basically just starts giving the audience permission to have fun.”

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