By Mandi Bierly
Updated March 26, 2010 at 06:02 PM EDT
Credit: Stephen Vaughan; Disney/Pixar (2)

Image Credit: Stephen Vaughan; Disney/Pixar (2)This week, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Heat Vision blog reported that Brad Bird, director of theanimated Oscar winners The Incredibles and Ratatouille, has emerged as a contender to helm Mission: Impossible IV. I chatted with Bird in 2007, whenEW ranked The Incredibles No. 25 on our list of the greatest action films ever. Read a few of his comments and tell me if you’re not rooting for him, too:

• “People think that the explosions are it, but the greatest special effect is caring about the character that’s going through the explosions. That’s the one that people don’t spend enough energy on,” he said. “Many movies have giant explosions, but very few of them have characters that you worry about. The best action heroes are more often than not ones who show a little bit of fear.” Bird talked about Sean Connery as James Bond — when he got in trouble, you could see his life pass before him. Same thing with Bruce Willis as John McClane in the first Die Hard, and Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. “They let you know that they’re mortal even while they’re doing completely amazing things,” he said. “He’s not gonna die, but it’s gonna hurt.”

• Why am I confident that Bird could get us to care about Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt again? Because he got us to care about animated superheros, which is quite the feat when you think about it. “One of the hardest things to do in animation is jeopardy, because people are used to the coyote falling a quarter of a mile off a cliff and then just dusting himself off,” Bird said. “Because the language of animation is ‘if a bomb blows up, you’re ashy for five seconds, then you shake it off and you’re fine,’ it’s hard to get the audience to worry about the fate of a character. You have to be really careful in what you show and don’t show because very quickly, the audience is ready to click over into that other way of thinking — then we can’t get them on the edge of their seat because they know everybody’s gonna be fine. And then add on top of that the invulnerability of superheroes, and it’s very hard to get the audience worried about them. That was one of our main challenges, amping up the suspense and getting things like the scene with Helen on the jet to feel like they were genuinely in jeopardy and things were not gonna go well.”

• What would he bring to a franchise on its fourth picture? A fresh perspective, just like he brought to the characters in The Incredibles. “When you have a superpower, you tend to bypass them and present them very plainly because they have seen a lot. But what you don’t see often is someone saying, ‘Wait a minute. What if you were able to run really fast? How would that feel? And what would the problems be? If you run fast, your reaction time also has to increase. And if you trip, the consequences are a lot greater if you’re moving really quickly than they are if you’re walking down the street. What if you run through a little patch a bugs? All these other things start to come into play if you start thinking about it in terms of everyday life, and the only extraordinary thing is this superpower. Once you start going into, ‘How would it practically start affecting you?’, then you can start building those things into a sequence. Then people find themselves getting very drawn into it, because it touches on a reality that they know, even though it’s touching it while presenting a reality they can only imagine.

• He’s a thinker. He understands how to pace an action film, like a ride: “It’s like accelerating to 150 mph is more exciting than being at 150 mph.” He also knows how to spook us: “I learned from watching films by guys like Spielberg and Cameron, and I tried to apply some of those things in my action sequences [in The Incredibles],” he said. “There’s a moment where Bob is looking at a footprint in the ground, and everything is really silent and then suddenly the trees kind of rip apart behind him and it’s the Omni-Bot. That always got a good jump out of the audience, which was particularly satisfying. I think it’s because they’re all focused on Bob’s face, but the canvas of the trees is filling the screen behind him. And to have that canvas suddenly move made people jump. I was happy about that.”

• Finally, there are action movie clichés he’d like to retire: “Cutting to slow motion for no reason at all, just to stretch out an explosion. And showing an explosion from 25 different angles to stretch it out.”

What do you think? Brad Bird for M:I IV?

Mission: Impossible

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 110 minutes
  • Brian De Palma