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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Men in Black (Superbit Collection)
Men in Black (Superbit Collection)
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // May 13, 2003
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted May 30, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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The movie

We all know that the headlines about aliens in the supermarket tabloids are nonsense, right? Of course... complete nonsense. We all know that humans are the only intelligent species living on the planet Earth. And even if the truth is entirely different, well, the average person just isn't ready for it. Enter the Men in Black: the ultra-top-secret government agents who deal with aliens each and every day... all without the average Joes of the world knowing anything about it. Saving the world from alien scum? Sure, no problem... it's all in a day's work for Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) and his new recruit Jay (Will Smith).

Men in Black has a number of characteristics of that familiar beast, the "summer blockbuster." Over-the-top action sequences! Dazzling special effects! Excitement! Humor! Coolness! The question is, can these elements be made to fit together into a film that actually stands firmly on its own as entertainment? The answer, in this case, is a firm "yes."

This was actually the second time I'd seen Men in Black, and I was impressed by how well the film held up to a repeat viewing. It's a fun film; it's a film with loads of cool visual effects; it's a funny film; it's also a very well-made film, with many little details dovetailing to create the overall effect. I'd hazard a guess that director Barry Sonnenfeld, scriptwriter Ed Solomon, and the rest of the filmmakers knew exactly what they were aiming for. Either that, or it was a very happy accident; in any case, Men in Black is a deftly constructed film that hides a lot of polish and style underneath its fast-paced action and humor.

Men in Black is intelligently written; not only do extremely funny one-liners abound (many delivered in a great deadpan performance by Tommy Lee Jones), but the inherent absurdity of the film's premise is richly mined over the course of the film. It helps tremendously that, in making a film that's both a comedy and an action movie, that the filmmakers didn't forget about plot (the one thing that tends to get thrown out the window in large action flicks). The plot is actually quite clever, refreshingly so; the different pieces of the story, including Jay's recruitment, are woven nicely together and all make sense as they fit together. I also appreciated the way the film avoided certain clichéd plot turns; Linda Fiorentino is given a solid supporting role as Dr. Weaver, and contributes nicely to the action plot without any obligatory romantic sub-plot (hurrah!).

The overall tongue-in-cheek style is exceedingly well done. I couldn't really put my finger on it, but something about the humor reminds me of the kind of absurd humor in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (In fact, the filmmakers slid in a little homage to Adams: the song sung by a group of aliens passing through one scene is the "Betelgeuse Death Anthem" from the Hitchhikers' TV show.) It's a deadpan style of humor that presents the viewer with a world (and a universe) full of utterly ridiculous things that are taken entirely seriously by the characters.

To top it off, Men in Black is exactly as long as it needs to be, at 98 minutes, and not a minute longer. It's refreshing to see an action film that's paced so well: the action sequences are used but not overused, and the plot moves along at a brisk pace. Along the same lines, the special effects and fantastic aliens are used with exactly the right amount of restraint: often enough that we have many moments of "Oooh" and "Ahhh" and laughter, but not so much that we ever get used to their presence and take them for granted. The scenes in the MIB headquarters are effectively precisely because they combine the blasé attitude of the staff, routinely managing alien affairs, with our own goggle-eyed wonder.

The DVD

This single-sided, dual-layer DVD is packaged in a keepcase, which is then (annoyingly) surrounded by a cardboard sleeve with exactly the same cover art and technical information as the keepcase. The sleeve is a generic Superbit sleeve with Men in Black labels slapped on; the only thing it does is waste paper.

Video

Men in Black appears in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is anamorphically enhanced. The bit rate on this DVD is, indeed, "super," clocking in at an impressive average of 11.3 mb/s, and it's amply demonstrated in the high level of detail in the transfer, and the overall attractive appearance of the film. The only fault that I saw in the transfer was a very small amount of noise in one or two scenes. If there was any edge enhancement here, it was minor enough to completely slip past me.

All in all, the transfer offers a very attractive presentation of the film Colors are superb, looking bright and vivid but also very clean; black levels are solid and always look appropriately rich and dark; contrast is handled very well throughout the film. The print is in extremely good condition and free of print flaws.

Audio

The soundtrack choices here are a Dolby 5.1 and a DTS track. The sound overall is very good, with dialogue and effects always being crystal-clear. Danny Elfman's entertaining musical score is nicely balanced with the rest of the track, backing up the action but never overpowering it. Those viewers with the luxury of not having any neighbors will be able to appreciate the full-blast audio power of some of the action scenes; even the loudest parts of the soundtrack remain correct-sounding, with no distortion. Those of us less lucky folks, who don't want to scare the wits out of the nice elderly couple on the other side of the wall, might have to turn down the volume a notch during those scenes, but will be able to appreciate the fullness and balance of the soundtrack overall.

The score for audio isn't quite as high as it could have been, pretty much because the surround sound isn't used quite as extensively or effectively as it could be. That's not to say that we don't get some nice immersive effects, and in fact the four stars I've awarded indicate that the audio experience is excellent.

Subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and Thai are also included.

Extras

There are no special features included on this DVD... which is normal for a Superbit presentation, which boasts that the lack of special features allows the full disc space to be devoted to the film's audio and video, thus allowing for the highest quality of transfer.

That's a great idea... except when it's not true.

The transfer is indeed an outstanding one, with a very high bit rate (11.3 mb/s on average); it's pretty much as good as it's possible to get. But of the 9 GB of space on the DVD, only about 6.5 GB are occupied by the film. This leaves about 3 GB that could have been used for something else... like a decent load of special features (which, after all, don't require the same high audio/video quality as the film) without having the slightest effect on the quality of the film's transfer. In other words, the "no extras" on this Superbit is simply a result of the series' gimmick: there is absolutely no reason, technically speaking, why we couldn't have gotten this outstanding transfer and some special features as well.

Final thoughts

Men in Black is a funny, entertaining, and overall just plain fun movie, and one that stands up remarkably well to repeat viewing. Several different editions of the film have been released, including a Deluxe Edition that includes a slew of special features. I can't comment on the differences in transfer quality; on its own merits, the Superbit looks outstanding, and offers a DTS track as well as a 5.1 track. I'm giving it a "highly recommended."

 

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