TOM CRUISE GETS BACK TO PRAGUE
The Mission Impossible franchise, which at present is ready to unleash the seventh movie since 1996, has long ago adopted a few of the most favored features of the 007 series, from which it of course took inspiration. While Ethan Hunt is a more grounded character than a cartoon-like hero-lover and is very much dependent on his team and friends to a much more extent than on a suit and an English charm, the journeys around the globe are omnipresent in both franchises. We may go even further in such parallels to include the movie series about Jason Bourne, whose story anyway started the last among the three. While in the first three Mission Impossible movies, the stories focused on two to three main locations, the ‘Ghost Protocol’ seems to be the most global story when it came to life in 2011. The fourth movie in the series was filmed mainly in the province of British Columbia in Canada, Dubai, and Prague, with more minor visits to Hungary (for a few panoramic shots), India, and the United States. The principal photography of ‘Ghost protocol’ lasted six months between September 2010 and March 2011, with a release date in December of the same year.
The return of Tom Cruise to Prague was symbolic if you consider the routes of the MI franchise, which closely tied the very first film with the capital of the Czech Republic. While in 1996 Prague was still ‘terra incognita’ for Western movie production, particularly for Hollywood, toward 2010 it had become the heart of relocation for big-budget projects in Europe. Of course, saving money has always been reason number one, yet Prague has a unique specter of locations, which may be depicted as Paris, Budapest, Vienna, Zurich, London, Warsaw, and even cities in the United States (Miami in ‘Casino Royale’). Apart from the location variability for the open-air filming, the Barrandov Studios in the suburb of Prague shares the status of main production facilities in Europe along with Babelsberg Studios near Berlin and Korda studios near Budapest. When it comes to ‘Ghost protocol’, it is important to recall that back in 1996 the studio sets were created in the Pinewood studios near London, not in Barrandov. In 2010 the filming crew took advantage of the closer production facilities in Prague itself, but mainly for the imitation of the sets made for training for stunts, and for light calibration for cameras. As the movie director Brad Bird stated, the locations were real and preferred to be in the city instead of studio premises.
The filming crew of the ‘Ghost protocol’ took full advantage of Prague, the heart of the Czech Republic to depict scenes supposed to take place in both Budapest and notorious Moscow. Apart from the Czech capital itself, Tom Cruise and the crew used the old Czech prison, known as Mlada Boleslav Prison, about 40 kilometers Northeast of Prague to depict the custody facility from which Ethan is taken out in the opening sequence. In reality, the location had been abandoned for years and it demanded some restoration and improvements to present it as an active prison. Other unobvious movie locations could be found beneath Prague inside the old sewage cleaning station, which was used to depict the tunnels under the prison: another proof of the director’s choice to use real locations when possible instead of the studio sets.
BUDAPEST RAILWAY STATION
When it comes to the opening scene, any cinematic journey to Budapest is unimaginable without its most recognized landmark: the building of the Hungarian Parliament on the bank of the Danube. The upcoming panoramic bird-eye view includes an aerial perspective over Budapest Keleti Train Station, one of the two major railway stations in Hungary. For those who have never been to Budapest, it should be taken into consideration that the show was digitally edited with CGI, particularly to add an old and high tower in the left part of the scene. The camera makes its way to the red roof of a building next to the railway depot. In fact, the whole sequence with Joshua Holloway was filmed on the roof and around an art center called ‘MeetFactory’, which is located in the Southern part of Prague. This non-profit art center was founded back in 2001 in another location and moved here in 2005. When the agent jumps from the roof we can see another panorama of the old buildings between the highway and a railway line with no glimpse of a large Budapest railway hub nearby.
Later on, a retrospective analysis of the failed mission would let us see in detail the last minutes of IMF agent Trevor Hanaway inside the railway station. In reality, the whole sequence was filmed inside Hlavni-Nadrazi, Prague’s main Railway Station, not in Budapest. First, we see the protagonist of the scene at the railway platform waiting for the arrival of his target. On that day of shooting, the filming crew had known the train schedule, yet without precise details about the exact platforms they arrive at and depart. In addition, the passengers who arrived at the station that morning were in fact amazed by the presence of the Hollywood filming crew on site. The art department successfully converted Hlavni-Nadrazi into supposedly Budapest Keleti by placing Hungarian signs and schedules over the Czech one. Back in 2002, we could see this very arrival platform in ‘Bourne Identity’ with Jason Bourne, who arrived as it was said to Zurich. In 2004 the same platforms were converted to look like the Parisian station in ‘Eurotrip’.
When Hanaway intercepts his target at the entrance to the waiting hall, we have a few seconds to see the inside premises of the Prague Main Train Station. The far background reveals the passage to the older part of the station, which had been depicted as the Vienna train depot in ‘Hitler: The rise of evil’ (2003), and later appeared in ‘The best offer’ (2013). In actual terms, the main and largest station in the Czech Republic is made of three parts from different periods, two of which found their way into ‘Ghost protocol’. The station, created in neo-renaissance style, welcomed its first passengers as far back as 1871. The first major renovation took place between 1901 and 1909 and this modern-style part of the station nowadays faces Wilsonova street and is well recognized as the station’s landmark. Another less remarkable and more practically used section of Hlavni-Nadrazi emerged in the 1970s with an entrance to the maestro and commercial space. Throughout its long history, the railway heart of Prague changed its name several times. Initially, it was named after Emperor Franz Josef, then between 1948 and 1953 bore the name of American president Woodrow Wilson (Wilsonova street is an obvious reminder) and since 1953 it has been known as Praha Hlavní Nádraží. In 2014, three years after a visit by the ‘Ghost protocol’ filming crew, the station served 27 million passengers in one year, which made it one of the busiest in Europe.
SNEAKING INTO ENEMY LINES
Followed by an escape from the prison, Ethan and his crew determine their next target, particularly obtaining secret documents from the ill-fated Kremlin. The shots of the notorious and odious ‘Red square’ were taken by the secondary unit of the filming crew for a few panoramic angles and the famous destruction of the place (which brought satisfaction to millions of people worldwide) was added by means of CGI later by the specialist of ILM (Industrial Light and Magic). Once we see the balloon flying over the large courtyard, the movie takes us actually to Prague, where the sequence was mainly filmed, both exterior and interior. We see Ethan and Benji walking across a large inner courtyard and the scene was actually filmed in the ‘Second Courtyard’ of the Prague Castle in the heart of the Czech capital. The Prague Castle from the IX century has been the heart of the Czech country for more than a thousand years. The ‘Ghost protocol’ filming crew chose it not accidentally: it is one of the largest castle complexes in the world with a total space of 45 hectares. Despite the popularity of the tourist excursion inside Prague Castle and the free-of-charge accessibility of the courtyards, at least a part of the place is inaccessible to a wide public as being at present the official residence of the President of the country. In 2016 some exterior shots of the Prague castle would be used for the ‘Anthropoid’ WWII movie.
The complex is huge and includes three large inner courtyards: První nádvoří, Druhé nádvoří, Druhé nádvoří. The second courtyard (Druhé nádvoří Pražského Hradu) shown in the movie was created as far back as the second half of the XVII century on the site of the old ditch. We could see a magnificent Kohl’s Fountain made in baroque style in 1686. It is known for the sculptures of the four Roman mythical gods: Neptune, Mercury, Hercules, and Vulcan holding the middle tier on their mighty shoulders. Ethan and Benji enter the castle and make their way through several magnificent halls: Hall of columns, Rothmayer Hall, and Spanish Hall. The latter was created during the reign of Emperor Rudolph II in the XVII century and was once used by the ruler to store his luxury collection of sculptures. The Spanish hall is not generally open to the public and is used for ceremonial occasions, particularly concerts and receptions of the President of the Czech Republic. Being 43 meters in length, 21 in width, and with a ceiling twelve meters high, it has slightly changed since 1836, when eight huge mirrors had been installed into the walls: they are clearly seen in this scene.
ETHAN BREAKS OUT OF THE HOSPITAL
The mission becomes impossible with the interference of Kurt Hendricks known as ‘Cobalt’ and after finding himself in the middle of the explosion, Ethan loses consciousness for some time to wake up in the hospital. He is medically treated, yet Ethan is as well handcuffed and suspected of the act of terrorism. At the same time, he loses no time to free himself and try to escape. The location of the hospital is Prague of course and it was a hostel called at the time of the production ‘Chili Hostel’ on Pštrossova street number 7 in the center of Prague. It is interesting to note that the location is across the river from one of the filming sites from the original 1996 Mission impossible when Ethan made a call from a phone booth after the failed mission in the American Embassy. A cozy Pštrossova Street was named after the Prague burgomaster František Václav Pštross. With the exception of the years 1940-1945 with the German naming of Wanka-Gasse, it bore the same name since 1869.
The behind-the-scenes materials give us a glimpse of the understanding of how ambitious the preliminary work was. The filming crew installed complex equipment with moving cranes to shoot out of several windows from different angles. Tom Cruise traditionally did his stunts personally with piton-belay of course. Back in September 2010 the local citizens from the neighborhood as well as the students of the nearby Prague Film school could witness Cruise doing his stunts once and once again until perfection which was demanded by director Brad Bird. The building of the Film school, a small red-roofed building near which Ethan lands, is one of the oldest in the area, it was reconstructed a number of times and at present bears the neoclassical style. Pražská filmová škola is a private institution, which offers courses in the fields of cinematography, film directing, screenwriting, editing, and film acting, and provides future filmmakers with training for the film industry, both theoretical and practical. It is oriented towards international students /attendees, the teaching takes place in English.
MAKING A PHONE CALL
Followed by his escapade from the hospital, Ethan ‘borrows’ a jacket, boots, and a cell phone to make a call on the failed mission. If we take a closer look at the map of Prague, the distance between two locations (the hospital and the site of a call) is at least 1.5 km which would take Hunt fifteen to twenty minutes to cover. The exact place of the supposed street cafe is the intersection of Haštalská and Kozí streets in the Old town. Haštalská is one of the oldest known streets in Prague with the first written mention of the site dating from 1234. ‘Kozi’ (goat) was initially known as a place of the large coal market and since the XVIII century has got its current naming, also devoted to the market. As a matter of fact, there is no street cafe in this intersection and there was no either in 2010 at the time of the shooting of the ‘Ghost protocol’. The building on the left part of the screen is the Czech Mining Office (Státní Báňské Správě) with the double address Kozí 4 / Haštalská 2. While the current office building was created in 1899, the Czech Mining Office had probably been located here at least since 1830.
Once Ethan picks up a cell phone he walks further to the North in the direction of Bilkova street. This part of KOZI becomes ‘cozy’ as Hunt enters its narrowest part. In the background, we may see the supposed bookstore with the Russian letters, while in reality, the building accommodates a meat store called ‘Masna Kozi (Meat Kozi). This little square, squeezed between Kozi, Haštalská, Vezenska, and U Obecního Dvora streets had previously made its appearance at the ‘GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra’ (2009) as a location in Paris. If you make a few steps along U Obecního Dvora, you may come across the ‘Manchester pub’ location from ‘Eurotrip (2004) and if to go further in the North direction along Kozi, Ethan could pass by a filming location from ‘Hitler: The rise of evil’ (2003): minister von Papen gets into a car in the nighttime.
A LONE CAR IN THE NIGHT
Followed by a failed mission and probably some inner injuries due to being near the explosion, Ethan anyway makes a respected cardio walk across the streets of Prague. The point is the distance between the intersection of Kozí / Haštalská and the location where Hunt is being picked up is another 1.6 km and conventionally takes around twenty minutes of a walk across one of the busiest parts of Prague in fact. The exact spot with the car may be found at the intersection of Sokolovska and Prvního Pluku streets in the Karlin district to the East of the city center. The neighborhood is not so welcoming at night which in fact fits perfectly with the notorious city where Ethan is supposed to be. In fact, the location is less known due to this short sequence of ‘Ghost protocol’ and is conventionally recognizable for ‘Blade II’. In Guillermo Del Toro’s movie, the site was depicted as ‘Pariska’ street in Prague, with drug dealers, prostitutes, and vampires in the nighttime. It is interesting to note that for just a few seconds of Mission impossible the art department hired a graffiti master, who spent three days covering the walls of the Negrelli viaduct with temporary fake graffiti to match the gloomy appearance of Moscow.
FALLING INTO THE RIVER
As it finds out, Ethan finds the Secretary (Tom Wilkinson) and top analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner) inside the car. The two inform Hunt that his team has just been made outlawed by the so-called ‘Ghost protocol’ procedure. In an unexpected gun attack a few minutes later, the Secretary is being killed on the spot and the car with Hunt and Brandt plunges into the river. The shooting of this scene took several nights to be finished and demanded actors spend hours in the cold water of the Vltava river. The exact location is easy to be found near Mánesův Most (Manes Bridge), approximately 2 km distance from the site where the car picked up Ethan. While we could hardly identify the Jan Palach square behind the bridge, it is, in fact, a famous and frequent filming location in Prague. The square itself and the well-known Rudolfinum concert hall made their place in movie history in such movies as ‘XXX’ in 2002, ‘Hitler: The rise of evil’ and ‘The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ in 2003, ‘Eurotrip’ in 2004, and ‘The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian’ in 2008.
The Manes Bridge is the tenth bridge among the eighteenth in Prague if to count from the North and is next to the famous Charles bridge. It was built back in 1912-1914 in the style of the later modern with the elements of Czech cubism. It was erected on the location of the much older ferry crossing, which had been used to take people to the other bank of Vltava to the old fish village at that time. The Manes Bridge was made of concrete and has a length of 186.4 meters and a width of 15.55 m. It is interesting that the local citizens of Prague appreciate the bridge as one of the favored viewing points on the Vltava river, which provides an ideal perspective for both banks. In the evening the Manes Bridge is illuminated by means of old romantic-kind street lights.
In the final sequence in Prague, we in fact come back again to one of the early locations: Praha Hlavni Nadrazi Railway Station. There is a memorable scene with Ethan and Brandt trying to get into their secret train car in the cargo backyard of the station.