For all the hype, for all the amount of ink spilt about Dubai’s role in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which will open the Dubai International Film Festival, cynics would be forgiven for perhaps assuming that, in the end, the city might get just a few minutes of airtime.
In actual fact, Dubai plays a rather impressive part in the film, with scenes shot at the Deira side of Dubai Creek (on the boat of a Russian arms dealer), at the bridge leading to the Meydan Racecourse in Nad El Sheba (for a rather thrilling car sequence), in DIFC (for a huge shamal sandstorm), in Satwa (for further shamal high-jinx), at the Zabeel Saray hotel (which plays the role of a glittering Indian palace) and, of course, the Burj Khalifa.
And again, for all the talk about Tom's antics on the world's tallest tower, the action is near heart-stopping to watch. He clambers numerous floors using special suction gloves. He falls at least 10 storeys down after a technical glitch. He even charges down the side on a rope and swings into an open window, banging his head on the way in. Viewing it on IMAX should be attempted by only the steadiest of stomachs.
Cruise came clean about what it was like to swing around mid-air outside the world's highest building. "The first moment on the Burj, when I saw the rope, I remember just thinking this is – this is – the moment of truth," says Cruise. "There's one thing seeing it and another thing trying to accomplish that. I remember that I didn't quite make it the first time and came slamming into the building."
For director Brad Bird, who was watching the proceedings from inside, this was a worrying moment. "Suddenly, we saw this body hurtling around, and then it went out of view and we heard a bang," says Bird. "And I thought 'Oh my God, we've lost Tom'. And then we heard laughing." Bird also admitted that Cruise's wife Katie Holmes and daughter Suri came to watch some of the Burj stunts, in particular the scene where he drops several floors from the outside. "They saw him do two takes and said 'OK, we're done, we're going to go shopping. See you tonight dear'."
But should anyone doubt the individual actually on the end of the rope the whole time, Bird has confirmation. "All the stunts there are Tom. He did pull out of two stunts elsewhere, and in both those occasions the stuntman got hurt. He's takes things very seriously."
For Simon Pegg, who plays the IT specialist-turned-field agent in Cruise's team, his time in Dubai was perhaps slightly different from those involved in the daredevil stunts. "I was here for about four weeks and spent two days shooting, so I had a great time," jokes the British actor. "I went indoor skydiving, I went go-karting, shopping, lots of shopping." However, he did go up the Burj one day to see the main star at work. "It's one of the few times in my adult life that I've thought, 'Thank God I'm not Tom Cruise'."
Anil Kapoor, who plays a billionaire Indian playboy and hosts a glittering party at the Zabeel Saray hotel (which is supposed to be in Mumbai), says he was astonished with how Dubai looked on film. "I've been coming here for over two decades and every time I see it transform. But I've never seen it look so phenomenal than in this film."
Dubai residents will notice a few geographical issues in the film. The Burj Khalifa appears to stand next to the Dubai International Financial Centre, which is a mere sprint from the neighbourhood of Satwa (clearly ignoring the rather large Sheikh Zayed Road in between). Also, Cruise's undercover spy team arrive via the desert and find themselves having to cope with a giant herd of camels on the road. Finally, the shamal is unlike anything Dubai has every experienced, and sees a makeshift souq blown to pieces and traffic brought to a standstill. But these are quickly forgotten as the action takes hold, and the writers can be forgiven for such minor nuances.
And Cruise, who claims he's always wanted to shoot in Dubai, is convinced the city will soon be providing a backdrop for other major film productions. "I know that already people have said they want to come here and shoot. People have asked us what it was like and are very interested."
For producer Bryan Burk and for actor Simon Pegg, one of their next major productions will be the follow up to 2009's Star Trek. It was actually while promoting this film that Burk and JJ Abrams (who is also a producer of Mission: Impossible) came to Dubai and decided they wanted to shoot here. "When JJ was asked if he would produce Mission: Impossible 4, he instantly said 'Yes, and we can shoot it in Dubai'," says Burk.
Could the city's futuristic skyline perhaps provide a location for the crew of the USS Enterprise next? We'll just have to wait and see.
* Tom Cruise and Company will be walking the red carpet tonight at the opening of the Dubai International Film Festival, before the world premiere of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. YouTube will be offering a free live-stream of the red carpet gala opening of the Dubai International Film Festival tonight, and of the closing ceremony awards on December 14. If you want to see Tom Cruise without being elbowed in the face, make sure you log on.