Why doesn’t Ethan Hunt have to wear identification?

Date:May 9, 2006 / year-entry #161
Orig Link:https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/oldnewthing/20060509-38/?p=31253
Comments:    51
Summary:Whenever there was a scene in Mission: Impossible III that took place at the agency offices, I was repeatedly bothered by the fact that all the people in the building are wearing their identification badges clipped to their jackets or shirts. Except Ethan Hunt. He gets to walk through the halls like a cologne advertisement....

Whenever there was a scene in Mission: Impossible III that took place at the agency offices, I was repeatedly bothered by the fact that all the people in the building are wearing their identification badges clipped to their jackets or shirts. Except Ethan Hunt. He gets to walk through the halls like a cologne advertisement.

Why doesn't he have to wear identification? His boss has to wear identification. His boss's boss has to wear identification. But Ethan Hunt gets to just wander around in black looking cool without any unsightly identification tag that would ruin the look of whole outfit.

I was also somewhat off-put, as was Bob Mondello, that the producers thought it necessary to identify cities on-screen as "Berlin, Germany", "Rome, Italy", and "Shanghai, China". Do they think we're so stupid that we don't know where Berlin is?

(And keep an eye out for the American-style fire alarm during the chase through Shanghai just as Ethan Hunt turns a corner. At first glance I thought it said "REEB", but upon further reflection I believe the last two letters are more likely to be "FD"—"fire department". I don't know what the first two letters stand for, or even if I remembered them correctly.)

Comments (51)
  1. Dan says:

    If you want this kind of coherence, go see some other film and not a stupid movie like MI3.

    Also the average viewer of such a movie doesn’t know where Berlin is.

  2. SR says:

    I have no problem with City, Country – it may not be necessary (it’s probably clear that they are not in Rome, TX, USA), but it makes it less ambiguous. Think of it as FQDN for cities.

    One think that bother me, is the explosion in the trailer (I haven’t seen the movie – and won’t until it comes in a red envelope). The explosion is strong enough to pick Ethan Hunt into the air and throw him againt a car, but the car that is no more than 1 meter further from the explosion moves neither from the explasion, nor from the impact of Hunt landing on it. Now even a little sway in the suspension – that’s just sloppy FX. I’d expect more from a film with this kind of budget.

  3. TaGoH says:

    To what i see on cnn that US kids don’t know where is Iraq…

    I whouldn’t be so sure that everybody know where is Berlin or Rome :)

  4. John Klepack says:

    It’s so that the astute movie-goer does not think they’re about to take action against Berlin, Connecticut or Rome, New York.

  5. Agents are RFID chipped.

  6. Raymond Chen pointed out a few mis-steps on the road to a movie that was researched properly for accuracy…

  7. Vik says:

    Do they think we’re so stupid that we don’t know where Berlin is?

    Unfortunately, Yes.  And they’re right.  See: <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/05/0502_060502_geography.html">http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/05/0502_060502_geography.html</a&gt;

  8. Chris Jefferies says:

    Do they think we’re so stupid that we don’t know where Berlin is?

    Well, YOU do, but the average American doesn’t. The average American thinks Berlin is somewhere in Russia. And can’t point to Russia on a map anyways.

    Don’t forget that outside of the large computer companies, most people can barely use a scroll bar.

    I quit looking for accuracy in movies about 20 years ago. Except for "Serenity", I haven’t BEEN to a movie since Toy Story.

  9. Correction says:

    Ugh, that link was: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/05/0502_060502_geography.html

    John: your blog should note that URLs are automagically hyperlinked.

  10. Adam Hill says:

    JJ Abrahms probably hired the same editors that do Alias. That show always titles that way.

    Thus pointing out it is not always good to separate style from content :)

  11. James Schend says:

    You think that was insulting to your intelligence, I guess you skipped MI:2.  Hello, moviemakers:  The guy’s finger got injured only like 10 minutes ago in the movie, we REMEMBER IT!  You don’t have to flash back to something that happened 10 freakin’ minutes ago!

  12. Dave Harris says:

    It’s partly for consistency. There may be some obscure – even fictional – town names that the viewer can’t be expected to know. You need to add the country name to those. If you don’t then add it to all the towns, you get an inconsistent look, plus a can of worms over where to draw the line.

  13. Alun Jones says:

    Maybe it’s time that movies started using sub-titles like "Paris, Texas, USA", or "Boston, England", "Amsterdam, Holland, NOT the Holland in New Jersey".

  14. Rex Exitium says:

    "5000 miles east of America" perhaps?

  15. Daniel says:

    REFD, the RE could be a city abbreviation like NYFD for New York Fire Department, maybe.

  16. Boris Zakharin says:


    Actually thre is a Berlin, NJ very close to where my parents live.


    The New York Fire department goes by FDNY. REFD stands for Rocking E Furniture and Design (or maybe not in this case)

  17. Ray Trent says:

    The real problem is that people that truly understand security prohibit badges entirely, at least ones that indicate access privileges.

    So, the question isn’t "why does Ethan get a free pass?", it’s "why are all those people wearing badges?". :-)

  18. kbiel says:


    Think of it as Tom Cruise strutting around without ID.  It makes a whole lot more sense that way.  Honestly though, I have a hard time forgetting that it’s Tom Cruise, as opposed to his character, when I see him in a movie.

  19. Mike Hearn says:

    If that’s the worst complaint you have against the movie then wow, what can I say but awesome :)

    I watched it with some friends, it was a lot of fun. Even though they appear to have achieved the impossible in re-using the same plot 3 times, and a friend joked that it’s called MI:3 because that’s how many minutes of dialog there are, you don’t watch Mission Impossible for the script. You watch it for the explosions, the stunts, the babes etc.

    Anyway the whole "City, Country" thing doesn’t bother me, it’s just for effect. Lots of movies/tv shows do the whole over-specified location. It looks cool.

    If you want real problems with the film try the fact that they began their stealthy penetration of the Chinese tower by launching golf balls at it, alerting all the guards for no well explained reason.

  20. Jay B says:

    I look forward to seeing MI:3.  Just about every movie has consistency issues, and many many good movies have factual inaccuracies.  If I’m watching a documentary, I care… if not, I just sit and enjoy the movie.

    Yes, you’d like to think that they wouldn’t make the mistake of using an american fire alarm with a specific american fire dept moniker shown, when the scene is in a different country (especially given the unbelievable budgets these movies have), but things get missed… C’est la vie.

  21. Frederik says:

    It should say "Berlin, Germany, Europe", which is more likely to help people out. Or just "Berlin, Germany, Overseas". I’ve talked to quite some people from the UK and US and have consistently been astonished by where on the map they would locate various, well-kown European cities/countries.

  22. The fire alarm in "Shanghai" was one of these: http://chicagouncommon.com/photography/hydepark-019.jpg

    I assumed that the CSI question in the geography quiz was for comparison purposes. "X% of Americans don’t know where Iraq is, but Y% know where CSI is based" where Y >> X.

  23. Boris says:

    The main problem is that the movie is a "Mission: Impossible" story in the first place. Statistically speaking, the first movie is sufficiently odd and the other movies shouldn’t have made the mistake of not adhering to the following requirements:

    1) No character development whatsoever. All characters are simply acted by the team members whereas their real personalities remain a mystery.

    2) There is one mission per show, it is accepted without question, and the good guys defeat the bad guys after a couple of unplanned crisis situations that under no circumstance reveal their identities or cast any doubt over their "roles".

    3) The mission must be reasonably impossible in the minds of the viewer, but nevertheless resolved with intelligence and as quietly as possible so that the viewer does not lose faith in government forces. The villians shouldn’t have a clue as to how they were beaten in the first place.

    4) The mission is a team effort. There is a team leader, but even the team leader is only an actor among actors in the sting operation.

    With that in mind, the movie must be rewritten approximately as follows:

    Ethan Hunt finds the disposable camera with the assignment to capture the Rabbit’s Foot (if he’s coming from a party and is planning a marriage, we don’t want to know about it). The team travels to Shanghai and masquerades as terrorists wishing to use the weapon. The supplier agrees in return for a demonstration of the terrorists’ commitment. Secretly, the IMF team plants faked incriminating evidence in the supplier’s pockets, then fakes the test terrorist attack using an almost fantastic method. Finally, they are provided with the weapon to use on a real target, and as the team leaves happily with the captured device the supplier is stopped by the police and arrested using incriminating clues. The IMF team watches righteously from the van as we end the movie.

  24. Leo Petr says:

    Iraq is the capital of Saudi Arabia.

  25. mikeb says:

    I guess movie makers have the opposite problem that the recent Winter Olympics had.  They purposely used "Torino" instead of the anglicized "Turin" becuase no one in the US would immediately think of the "Shroud of Torino".

    I guess they felt that they didn’t want olympic activities and marketing possiblities overshadowed by the legends of the cloth.

    Actually, I made all that up.  But, deciding whether or not to use Torino or Turin seems to have caused at least some controversy:



    Also, I’d bet that if they *had* tied the Winter games more closely to the Shroud story the dismal TV ratings in the US would have improved.

  26. woongiap says:

    the only meaning of wearing identification should be letting others know his identity. ever since he’s completed mission impossible one and two, i doubt there’s anyone who doesn’t know who he is.

  27. Mike Hearn says:

    Vik – that survery is a bit weird. I thought I’d take it but gave up in confusion half way through: it can’t decide whether it’s a test of US geography, world geography or random trivia. Example questions include:

    * Where was CSI: Crime Scene Investigation set

    * What was not a contributing factor to the New Orleans disaster?

    * What percentage of US population growth is due to immigration

    Quite what these have to do with geography I don’t know, they’re more like current affairs …

  28. Say What says:

    Actually the letters were PEPS which stands for Placenta Eating Psycho Scientologist

  29. ::Wendy:: says:

    "He gets to walk through the halls like a cologne advertisement"

    Tee hee.  That’s a cologne I wouldn’t want to buy or warm to.  I didnt spot the badge thing,  I was too busy giggling at the psuedo-Bond stylism without the humour of the Bond execution.  That boat in Venice,  Italy.  Tee hee.  And the ‘quirky’ British specialist (xref:  M).  

  30. Tom doesn’t have to wear a badge because he’s a field agent.

    The city-comma-country thing is intentional for a variety of reasons… take your pick:

    * Educate younger members of the audience

    * Consistency with M:I:4 where action takes place in Portland (Oregon or Maine?)

    * Movie screens are wide and short, so horizontal space is not at a premium

    Chinese fire alarms do, and should, look like fire alarms in any other country.


    The English labeling is not so easy to explain.  But IIRC several episodes of the TV show had pseudo-English signs in nondescript foreign countries (POLITZ, GAZ, etc.)

  31. Jason Spence says:

    "sys-sys" is next best (since the motherboard can shuffle memory around within itself, though it’ll cost you CPU cache space)

    On the x86, processors that support the SSE instructions allow the programmer to say that some of the data they’re moving around shouldn’t be cached.  See the PREFETCH and MOVNT* instructions.  Please use these when cache pollution is a possibility.

  32. Horst says:

    "Do they think we’re so stupid that we don’t know where Berlin is?"

    Not necessarily, they are just being explicit.

  33. Raymond,

    >> "Berlin, Germany", "Rome, Italy

    well, i guess for a lot of americans, this is certainly a helpful hint.

    and btw – just take a look at virtual earth and search for "berlin", "or "rome". looks like both places are located in the us exclusively… :-)



  34. JerryVienna says:

    Just check this out – from CNN – the newssource nearly all americans trust:


    This hurts not only the Swiss – but this one is my favorite: http://liberalserving.typepad.com/liberalserving/images/worldusa.gif

  35. John Greenan says:

    There is always that bit with a distinguished voice (I think it was Sir Anthony Hopkins in the 2nd film) saying "your mission, should you choose to accept, is blah-blah".

    What happens if Tom and co. say "I’m not accepting this, it presents far too much of a risk to my wellbeing and will greatly upset my karmic balance".  Who goes and saves the world then?  Do they call the some even more secret, even tougher outfit?  

  36. CL says:

    In "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" they have a car chase in Venice!

  37. Daniel says:

    I read somewhere that average US kids can’t even point to some well-known countries on a map so, yes, I think it’s a good idea to use the "city, country" format.

  38. Meh says:

    There is one mission per show, it is accepted without question

    Actually the phrase "should you decide to accept it" suggests there is at least one question :)

  39. asdf says:

    If Ethan Hunt is anything like Richard Stallman, he wraps his badge in tin foil and puts it in his pocket.

  40. Stephen Jones says:

    Ethan gets in without a badge because he’s cool. That is simply realistic. There are few places you can’t get into if you look as if you belong. The trick is to look at the security guard as if you’re doing him a favour by not asking for his badge.

  41. kokorozashi says:

    Ethan Hunt doesn’t need a badge while at HQ for the same reason Steve Jobs doesn’t need a badge while at Infinite Loop. The two men share wardrobe hue perferences, too.

  42. kokorozashi says:

    Or even preferences.

  43. Cooney says:

    Honestly though, I have a hard time forgetting that it’s Tom Cruise, as opposed to his character, when I see him in a movie.

    Lol, his <i>character</i>.

    > There are few places you can’t get into if you look as if you belong.

    You’d hope that Langley would be one of them, but noooo…

  44. RegDwight says:

    Hi Raymond,

    you will be surprised by how many Americans don’t even know where Washington, D.C. is. I’m not joking.

    Sadly (or thank God), this is nothing specific to the US. Many Germans can’t point to Berlin on a map (and some 30% don’t know the name of their current President). Many Russians have no idea where Moscow is. And if I remember correctly a recent survey showed that as many as 50% of Australian pupils *can’t point to Australia* on the map, let alone Canberra. I mean, come on, it’s a *freaking continent*!

    Now, do you expect all these people to be able to point to Rome? Do you expect them to know that Shang-huh? is a city in the first place?

  45. teebee says:

    well – given that US kids don’t know where Iraq is – how does giving the country with the city actually help kids know.  Maybe they should spin up Google Earth and do a cool animation showing where the US is and then where the target city is.

  46. I worked in the defense industry for many years, so if you REALLY want to know, intelligence agents generally *don’t* carry badges. After all, it is a stunningly ignorant idea to carry something identifying you, your agency, and whatever else goes on your particular facility’s badge.

    Usually, an agent gains access to the facility with a properly badged escort. Once you get through the door, everyone just assumes you must belong there… and since security in these places is definitely no joke, that’s a reasonably safe assumption.

  47. brij says:

    Leave it "yaar" / "PAL" – MI movies are not for people who are there to understand them, it’s for BOOM Boom ACTION…Bikes, Cars just grab whatever u like, enjoy and leave it there in the theater itself.

    come back home, like a HUMAN being… :)

  48. Xenu says:

    Scientolog zealots are prevented from wearing badges.

  49. Yaytay says:

    Given the train they chose as the setting for the end of the first film I think any MI film has an obvious detachment from reality and geography.

  50. A few years ago, I met the head of physical security at a very large bank. He was wearing a woman’s badge. She was wearing a red dress. It had his name on it. He had a collection of 20 or so fake badges in his briefcase which he wore depending on who he felt like that day. He had never been pulled up by the security people at the front desk in over three years.

    So I tried it out. I put my (ginger) cat’s photo on my badge and walked around with it like that for two weeks until the photo looked manky and obviously fake. I work in another very large Australian bank in a building with "high" security – ie, mantraps to get into the building, etc. I was never stopped or hassled by security and they certainly do not know who I am.

    Badges do not work. If I had my way, we’d get rid of them and substitute better security guards who are on the lookout for unusual behavior or simply make smaller offices so we know exactly who everyone is.


  51. For the same reasons that ‘The Matrix’ has american-uniformed policemen patrolling Sydney?

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