Thoughts on Mission: Impossible Fallout's Musical Score (Lorne Balfe)
Updated: Jul 16, 2019
[Original publication: July 31, 2018]
Mission: Impossible is a storied franchise not only in the world of television and film, but in the world of soundtracks as well. The television show began in the 1960s, ran into the 70s, was revived in the 80s, and was ultimately continued with the start of the Mission: Impossible film franchise in 1996. The film franchise has been very successful, with Tom Cruise starring as lead character IMF agent Ethan Hunt and giving the series its current reputation for exciting spy stories and outrageous stunt work.
Equally notable and famous is the series’ music, which was first conceived for the television series and has been carried on through the film series into the twenty-first century. Lalo Schifrin became well-known for his truly iconic Mission: Impossible musical theme and subsequent motifs for the original television show. His timeless music has been transcribed and injected into all six entires in the film series by composers such as Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, Michael Giacchino, and Joe Kraemer. The film series has grown to be an immense entity, and the sixth film, Mission: Impossible Fallout, was released on July 27th.
Lorne Balfe is the newcomer composer to the series for this film. The franchise has risen to huge proportions, and Balfe’s score is no different in that case.
One could say that Lorne Balfe’s compositional style is markedly different from the composers who have made their mark on this film series in the past. He definitely brings his own sensibilities to the Fallout score, but it is also clear that he understood the musical history of Mission: Impossible, when he took on this project.
Balfe’s Fallout score is orchestrated significantly thicker than past Mission scores, and it’s clear in many moments that the producers of the score added a bit of a filter to the recording in a few moments to achieve an engrossing or thrilling impression with audiences. Balfe also includes many of the motifs originated by Lalo Schifrin in his score, most importantly the main theme. I’m not sure he could have gotten away with not including those things.
All that being said, Balfe’s score undoubtedly melds with and fits the scenes in Fallout very well. It’s clear that he wrote this score purely to fit the motion picture and not to satisfy any perceived notions about Mission scores. The score is ultimately a good fit for the film that was made. Balfe is perhaps a little heavy in the use of his personal musical style, but includes a great amount of the classic Mission spy music to drive home the core themes of the entire franchise.
One of the best decisions Balfe made when composing this score was to include Joe Kramer’s main motif from the Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation score, the film to which Fallout is the direct sequel. The motif is a chilling chord progression built on top of a portion of the classic Mission: Impossible musical theme, and it wonderfully exudes the nature of a spy in the midst of a mission. This creates refreshing musical continuity for audiences familiar with the films and the franchise.
Tracks like the opening cue of the film, ‘A Storm Is Coming’, as well as the ‘Good Evening, Mr. Hunt’, ‘Free Fall’, ‘We Are Never Free’, ‘The Last Resort’, and ‘The Syndicate’ cues showcase Balfe’s personal musical style heaviest of his score. In a score that is extremely percussive as a whole, these cues make frequent use of bongos and other deep drums to create a driving aesthetic from the first frame of Fallout. Musically, the other portions of these cues are built on this percussive base. Swelling brass, sawing strings, and the previously mentioned audio effects combine to create what is often a wall of sound or an underscore that is overwhelming and truly locks viewers into the suspense of this film. While these cues are a bit different compositionally and aesthetically from past Mission scores, they are very high quality compositions that fulfill an important function of film music: pairing with scenes and aiding in audience excitement and tension.
In other cues, such as ‘Your Mission’, ‘Fallout’, ‘Stairs and Rooftops’, ‘Escape Through Paris’, ‘Cutting On One’, and ‘Mission: Accomplished’, Balfe is relatively true to the Mission: Impossible musical motifs and reputation. These cues are orchestrated to function a little more melodically and to bring out the music that all audiences will recognize when watching a Mission film. The sawing strings stick around, built on top of much softer percussion, to accompany jazzy, intrusive brass stating and tossing around the Mission: Impossible theme and a couple of Lalo Schifrin’s motifs in dangerous and enthralling moments for Hunt and his IMF team. These cues interject some upbeat, exciting, and quintessential spy music into the sixth entry of a franchise that is certainly known for it. They underscore the twists and turns of their respective scenes well. They also balance and round out the score stylistically. These cues are an aid to the score, as they help it fit in to the series for audiences and listeners.
Overall, Lorne Balfe does a fine job with his score for the latest entry in the Mission: Impossible series. It would be difficult to argue that he did not make it his own and compose something fresh and new for the franchise, whilst concurrently utilizing the iconic music that has made this franchise famous to thrill audiences like any Mission story should. The score is certainly a different, yet ultimately worthy addition to the scores of the Mission: Impossible series.