"You're a rumor, recognizable only as deja vu and dismissed just as quickly. You don't exist; you were never even born. Anonymity is your name. Silence your native tongue. You're no longer part of the System. You're above the System. Over it. Beyond it. We're "them." We're "they." We are the Men in Black."
Come on, you remember when you were first exposed to Men in Black. If it wasn't the comedy or science fiction, both of which firmly set in the present day, it might have been the song of the same name, sung by its star Will Smith. The song was so catchy it ultimately became overplayed. The film was clearly a hit and was such a success that it grossed over $250 million domestically, and if it weren't for some movie about a boat hitting an iceberg, Men in Black would be the highest grossing film of 1997. As it stands, Sony brings Men in Black back, not only in time with Smith's latest film Hancock, but also as another in an impressive next-generation effort.
For the few who haven't seen it, what exactly are you waiting for, the apocalypse? Adapted from Lowell Cunningham's comic book by Ed Solomon (Charlie's Angels) and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty), these "Men in Black" I speak of are part of a secret group of agents, reporting to no government agency, and whose only purpose is to prevent the reality of aliens on Earth from being revealed to the people of Earth because, well, what would you do if that guy in the house or apartment across the street was an alien? That's what I thought you'd say. Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones, No Country For Old Men) is perhaps the best agent among them, and he finds out about a New York City detective named James Edwards (Smith), who perhaps might have the potential that K thinks will be integral to being a MIB. K decides to take Edwards through some previous unforeseen sights of the city in order to discover the alien behind a plot to destroy the world. The culprit is, in fact, an alien bug who kills and then inhabits the skin of a farmer named Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio, Full Metal Jacket). Will K and Edwards, along with the help of a medical examiner, played by Linda Fiorentino (Dogma), stop the bug before the world ends? Well, the answer to that lies in the fact that there was a sequel to this, so there you go.
What I enjoyed about Men In Black when I first saw it, and what I still like about it now, is the way that Sonnenfeld lets things unfold with an wink and a nod, in such a way that you want to go along for the ride. Jones took on the "K" character after playing a hard-nosed Marshal in The Fugitive, and takes on much of the mission-centric properties of Sam Gerrard while losing the loose and semi-confrontational humor that came with him. Ironically enough, losing that trait made K funnier in the process, a surprising change of character for the Academy Award winner. And as far as Smith goes, well, the guy was bound to say a one-liner or two. After all, this is a summer movie, where he cuts his teeth the most. The story debunks the myth of the "black helicopters" and "dark government forces" in a hilarious way, almost serving as a recruiting film of sorts while keeping the specter of extraterrestrials in New York and making it as realistic as possible without becoming ludicrous. All of this helps to persuade the viewer into suspending the required disbelief. Besides, the film is barely more than 90 minutes with end credits, so it comes in and goes out rather quickly, like you were exposed to a neuralizer.
As it happens, I was watching Men In Black on TV shortly before I received it for review, and it's certainly a film worth revisiting from time to time. As opposed to other films that contain a dated reference or two, there's very little I saw (aside from a Dennis Rodman joke) that doesn't hold up after the decade since its release. It's not a landmark film by any means, but it's pure fun, unabashedly so. It was fun walking down memory lane with the boys in black one more time.
The Blu-ray Disc:
If I remember correctly, Men In Black was touted as a jewel when DVDs where all nice and shiny and new. This release doesn't have the same kind of anticipation that it did years ago, but in looking at this AVC MPEG-4 encoded 1.85:1 widescreen presentation, it looks nice. Due to the aspect ratio, you're not liable to get the same level of image depth compared to other big budget action films, so bear that in mind. Otherwise, film grain is present through most of the image, blacks are pretty deep and provide a good contrast, and overall this is a quality transfer. The thing I was most impressed with is the work of creature creator Rick Baker. Sure, I know his labor is all over the place here, but at times it was legimately hard to tell which was a latex creation and which was the work of Industrial Light and Magic.
A Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track graces Men in Black, and the result isn't too bad. For the obvious reason, subwoofer activity is constant through the picture, and you can really feel it during the scenes where Edwards uses the ironically-named "Noisy Cricket" weapon. But just when you think things aren't topped, there's the final battle in Queens, so be prepared to get the neighbors mad if you turn this up. With all that said, and considering the film was part of its short-lived "Superbit" series of standard definition releases, the surround and directional activity wasn't as vibrant as I was anticipating. It's almost as if the Sony folks took the existing work and translated it over without a remaster of some sort. With that said and considering what came before it, this Blu-ray release of Men in Black is a solid upgrade.
All of the extras from the previous standard definition versions of the film appear to have been carried over to this BD-50 dual layer beauty, including a couple of new enhancements for this release. First off is a multi-player trivia game, featuring a chance for as many as eight players to answer anywhere from 10 to 20 questions on the film, with a mix of text and video-based questions during the quiz, with your score being based on how early you answer the questions. I went through the quiz a couple of times and didn't see any immediate redundancy. You might see the same video clip, but the questions will be slightly different each time, so kudos to Sony for this inclusion. The subtitled track in an alien language is the next option and it's ok, but by far the weakest one is "Ask Frank the Pug!" which really isn't much more than a present day Magic-8 Ball of sorts, where you can ask a yes or no question in several different topics (Career, Health, Romance, etc.), and Frank will give you a yes or no answer, without the inconvenience of an "Ask Again Later" response.
Moving onto the other extras, we've got two commentaries, the first with Sonnenfeld and Jones. You can play it with or without the telestrator feature, but a cautionary word for those of you with PS3's; the telestration can hang a little bit, like something akin to a skipping CD, so if one of the parties gestures somehow, it's gets a little suggestive. This problem seems to be limited to the PS3 though, for what it's worth. As to the track itself, it's fairly deadpan in humor and is quiet in some parts, and aside from Jones' revelation that he would like to do something on Sesame Street, there's not much to miss here. The second track is with Sonnenfeld, Baker and some of the boys at ILM, and while this one is a little drier in nature, it's got a bunch of information in it, and Sonnenfeld is easily more open and frank in this track than the other, even there there is a little overlap. Both of the tracks complement the film, to be sure.
After that, we've got five deleted and extended scenes (4:21), which don't really contribute anything of worth, followed by a making-of piece called the "Metamorphosis of MIB" (23:12), in which the cast share their thoughts on the material and on the stuff that Baker put together, and another extended segment where the visual effects gurus talk about what they did for the film, along with the production and set design too. It's a decent piece, and the film's original EPK is also here (6:38) to remind you how saccharine these things are I guess. The next several extras are a little more interactive in nature, all accompanied by Sonnenfeld's participation. Visual effects breakdowns on several key scenes are shown where the viewer can examine the storyboards, computer animation, blue screen footage and finished product. You've got a section on character animations where you can see the initial sketches, skin and texture on the characters, the whole shebang. The creature animations and concepts follow, much in the same point of view, and a scene editing workshop where you can put together cuts of several of the film's scenes and compare them to the final cut, and all of these sections include an introduction by Sonnenfeld. An extensive stills gallery follows, along with a section where the storyboards and film sequence are being compared. Smith's video for the song is next, along with the teaser and trailer (both in 5.1 surround, a nice surprise). Previews for 21, Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, First Sunday and Vantage Point round out a full disc.
Men In Black is fun without being too hammy and action-filled without being excessive. Combining mind-dazzling effects work with solid acting performances, this has always been a fun flick to watch, all the more so now that it's in 1080p. I like the directions Sony took in advancing the BD-Live content, not to mention the fact that they've held over an already loaded release worth of bonus materials. As it happens, the technical qualities of the film are a solid upgrade, so whether you're buying it to replace an existing copy or buying it for the first time on high definition, Men In Black is a keeper. And if you're not watching films on high definition yet, this should be another reason to take the plunge.