WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
When I first heard that pre-production work was beginning on a film called Men in Black, my expectations sky-rocketed. I salivated over the prospect of a kick-ass adventure flick involving UFOs and government conspiracy. It would certainly be a heart-pounding film full of dark mystery and X-Files paranoia. Then I heard that Barry Sonnenfeld was the director and Will Smith was the star. It would be a comedy.
Although it's tough for me to get past a certain feeling of dashed potential (particularly considering how juvenile and silly the final product is), Men in Black is a fairly entertaining concoction when you take it at face value. Smith stars as J, a new recruit at a secret INS division charged with monitoring the Earth-bound presence of extra-terrestrials. J's partner K (Tommy Lee Jones) is the veteran agent who shows J the decidedly odd ropes of his new profession. Together, they attempt to save the world from a slimy otherwordly assassin portrayed by Vincent D'Onofrio, and along the way they get into all sorts of trouble that involves wild, cartoony special effects.
Fueled by a peppy soundtrack by the always-reliable Danny Elfman, Men in Black is a lightweight popcorn flick that also has a sharp wit—probably the result of its Marvel comic origins. It flies through its 95-minute running time, somewhat to its detriment. The first two acts have a fun comic momentum, but the third act seems choppy and a bit too short. The ending is abrupt and unsatisfying. I would have enjoyed 10 or 15 additional minutes of saving the world from intergalactic scum.
The casting for Men in Black is particularly fine. Watching Jones straight-face his way—Fugitive-style—through these silly proceedings is truly a pleasure. And this may be Smith's most enjoyable performance. They make a fine oddball team, the straight man and the comic. Vincent D'Onofrio is hilarious in his assassin role, embodying the giant-insect-in-human-guise with aplomb. Linda Fiorentino, however, seems stuck in a thankless role.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Columbia/TriStar presents Men in Black in a very sharp anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. It's the same transfer that you'll find on the previous releases. Detail is impressive, reaching into backgrounds. Colors are accurate and vibrant. There was no need to clean up the previous transfers; it's really quite solid.
If you want to view a bastardization of the director's framing intentions, you can watch the awful full-frame transfer that's also included. I'm still wondering why this chopped version is included on this Deluxe Edition.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is the same as that of the previous releases. With wide dynamic range and enveloping surround activity, this track is a delight. The front soundstage is expansive, and fidelity is strong. Elfman's score comes across clean and rich. Dialog is accurate at the center.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
You might be wondering why Columbia is releasing this Deluxe Edition of a film that has already received superior DVD treatment. I'm wondering the same thing. With some exceptions, this disc is the same as the Limited Edition that you probably already have on your shelf. This set, however, offers a couple new items that might demand a repurchase. (Or, more likely, the idea of repurchasing infuriates you.)
Here's what's ported over from the previous Limited Edition:
—Scene-specific video commentary with director Sonnenfeld and star Jones. A wonderful feature that lets you see the silhouettes of the participants as they gesture and speak.
—Technical Commentary. This scene-specific commentary features Sonnenfeld, Rick Baker, Eric Brevig, John Andrew Berton Jr., and Rob Coleman, who talk in great detail about the film's visual effects. The participants have been edited together; in fact, Baker sounds as if he's been recorded over the telephone. This is a fun, informative track if you're a special-effects nut.
—Visual Effects Scene Deconstructions. Here, you watch the evolution of two visual effects by viewing the scenes in different stages of composition
—Metamorphosis of MiB. An in-depth 23-minute documentary that talks about origins and features on-set interviews with Sonnenfeld, stars Jones and Smith, makeup artist Rick Baker, and ILM staffers.
—Extended & Alternate Scenes. You get five scenes that aren't particularly interesting, though the Bouncing Ball (without SFX) is entertaining as a pre-effects sneak-peak.
—Character Animation Studies. This entertaining feature walks you through the creation of three characters (Mikey, Jeebs, and the Worm Guys).
—Creatures: Concept to Completion. Here, you can view the evolution of five aliens Edgar Bug, Jeebs, Mikey, Mr. Gentle, and Farmer Edgar). Fascinatingly, as you press your arrow button, the still images morph into progressive stages, allowing you to smoothly view the entire creation process.
—Conceptual Art Gallery. This is a collection of additional art that apparently didn't find its way into the Creatures: Concept to Completion feature.
—Storyboard Comparisons. These cover three scenes (the saucer crashing, birthing the baby alien, and Edgar becoming a bug).
—Storyboard Gallery. More storyboards.
—Scene Editing Workshop. I had a lot of fun with this supplement, which lets you try your hand in the editing room with three scenes from the film. You have a collection of scenes/shots that you can splice together in different ways. You can then compare your work with the scene in the finished film.
—Production Photo Gallery. These photographs are separated into three sections: Visual Effects Team: ILM, On The Set With Talent, and Make-Up & Puppet Team: Cinovation.
—Talent Files. These provide information about the director, producers, writer, stars, visual-effects staff, and make-up personnel.
—Music Video. This is Will Smith's music video for the title song.
—Original Featurette. A 6-minute piece of fluff.
—The MiB Recommend. This area includes the original Men in Black teaser trailer and theatrical trailer, as well as a Men in Black II teaser. Also included are the Stuart Little 2 teaser and the Spider-Man theatrical trailer.
And here's what's new to this Deluxe Edition:
—MIIB Secret Files. This "classified" featurette is a bit of a letdown at only 3 minutes in length, but it has some enticing shots of a bare-midriffed Lara Flynn Boyle.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
This release exists only because of the impending release of Men in Black II. Also, considering the rarity of the Limited Edition, this is a happy rerelease for those who missed that one. But if you've got the Limited Edition already, there's little here to impel you to repurchase.