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Men in Black
"What do you mean, 'of course, Men in black'?"
Yes, at first glance this film does little more than emulate the tired 'old school white guy paired up with new age black guy' shtick with a sci-fi twist. Hell, I know that's the first thing that came to my mind while seeing the theatrical trailer back in the day. However, after sitting down and watching MIB for the first time 15 years ago, I was surprised that this cliché wasn't used to hollow the core of the film. No, this flick actually had a couple of things going for it that most other sci-fi/comedy crossovers ditch in the nearest black hole - A coherent plot and characters that actually interact well with one another.
That was really my biggest fear, too - The interaction between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Why? Well, think about Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan in Cop Out, or Burt Reynolds with his young co-star in Cop and a Half. For decades, Hollywood has taken great delight in its self-serving obsession with selecting the most unlikely combinations for buddy cop flicks, so naturally, pairing a serious Tommy Lee Jones with the wise-cracking Will Smith, who was still riding his wave of success from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Bad Boys and Independence Day, just seemed like it was going to be another match-up from hell. Shockingly enough though, Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are flawless together. The saving grace for this duo? Probably the fact that the film was based on a Marvel comic series by the same name, and in the issues that were released before the blockbuster film, Agent J was white. This meant that as far as the film was concerned, Hollywood had to pay some respect to the characters as they were originally inked and captioned, so instead of exploiting the stars' cultural diversity for the sake of a few chuckles, the film's emphasis wisely remains on a student/mentor dynamic that's actually nurturing and warm. What this means for us as the audience is that we laugh with the characters, not at them, which ultimately helps us feel a real sense of danger when they get in trouble, because we respect them. Furthermore, they're just funny together. Will Smith pretty much plays the same character he plays in everything, but like always, it works to his advantage and he's just a stitch (although he does go over the top with it in a scene or two, almost as if he was trying to channel Martin Lawrence). What makes Smith even funnier is Tommy Lee Jones, who has a surprising knack for dead-pan delivery coupled with brilliant comedic timing and countering.
As far as the rest of the film, there's certainly plenty of other things that one would be hard pressed to forget after their initial viewing - The appropriately cartoonish (comic book-ish?) special effects which actually still hold up fairly well, the hilarious workplace environment gags that come with being charged to protect the planet from alien invasion, as well as a memorable villain that's awkwardly dressed himself inside a bag of human skin. That being said, with all the praise I've been sending the film's way, Men In Black does have some flaws. There's a love story that's been shoehorned in between Smith and a short haired beauty that works at the morgue (Linda Fiorentino), coming off as a waste of time above all else, especially since her character doesn't return for the sequel. And honestly, after all is said and done, Men In Black can't be described as a great movie. It's above average for typical summer fare, yes, but that's all that can really be said for it. As a sci-fi/comedy blend though, that's pretty damn respectable nonetheless.
But if you've already seen Men In Black (and who hasn't?), you don't need me telling you all of this. What's really important is if this film still holds up as well today as it did 15 years ago. Personally, I really didn't expect that it would. Science fiction films have a tendency to date themselves in a decade or less - Certain scriptwriters have a tendency to want to come off clever, so they poke jabs at whatever technology seems to be the 'big thing' at the time. However, Men In Black really doesn't spend any time dissecting the technology of the 90's, instead opting to showcase the alien tech that's far beyond our comprehension (scientifically, that is). Not only that, but this film also avoids time stamping itself with 90's music by going with an orchestral score instead. In culmination, these wise creative choices have ensured that Men In Black not only hasn't dated itself, but looks and feels like a movie that could have come out within the past year.
So, if you've never seen this film, stop looking up at the stars and wondering what all the fuss over Men In Black has been about. Although it isn't anywhere close to being the best movie you'll ever see, MIB still has a lot going for it - A brilliant pairing between Jones and Smith, a lot of laughs and a ton of fun, and all the right ingredients to ensure this film won't even begin to feel its age for a long, long time. Pretty much everyone I've ever known had positive things to say about this flick over the years, and considering how much I hate the sci-fi/comedy 'genre' in general, that should at least be some indication that this film is worth sitting down to see. Men In Black II is a very, very different story, but that's another discussion for another time. If you don't mind watching 'one' and being done, then there's no excuse to stay a stranger to the MIB!
Make no mistake about it - The transfer on this disc is the same as it was on the original release in 2008... but that's not to say that this 1080p, AVC encoded feature doesn't look good. In fact, the video on this release is much like the film itself - It's above average, but nothing spectacular. The film print itself is mostly clean, with only the occasional speck here and there, a fine layer of film grain is still intact throughout, and black levels are inky most of the time. That being said, the film grain does come off looking a tad noisy on a couple of brief occasions, there's a shot or two that show signs of banding and minor edge enhancement, and even the contrast seems to fluctuate a bit. That being said, none of these faults are glaring and probably won't even be noticeable to many. For a transfer from 2008, I actually expected this to be slathered with DNR and have uncompressed artifacts galore, but I was pleasantly surprised after all was said and done, to see that this transfer still has respectable strength as a catalogue title even today. If you haven't made the upgrade from DVD just yet, there's really no doubt about it - This shatters that old coaster disc in every perceivable way.
This 5.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless track keeps the running theme of this review going - It's above average, but nothing spectacular. The front channels are strong and always ensure the dialogue is the primary audible agent, as it always sounds crisp and clean no matter what intergalactic shenanigans are happening on-screen. The rest of the soundstage of front is pretty much flawless in every respect, but the dynamic range isn't as wide as it could be, and the rears, although utilized a great deal, aren't nearly as impressive as they could have been. Sound effects are always filtering through the rear channels adequately, but they do little to nothing when it comes to providing consistent environmental ambience. Still though, the rears are loud and proud whenever they're called upon, and the LFE actually packs quite a punch when required to as well. May not live up to the summer popcorn standards of 2012, but again, this easily bests the DVD in every way.
Again, this is the same disc that was released in 2008, and the supplements included are as follows:
-Telestrater Commentary with Barry Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones - A 'magic pen' is used for the commentators here to draw on the screen so they can point out certain things, but it really doesn't do much to help this dry audio option. Tommy Lee Jones is really out of his element here, so it's up to Sonnenfeld to do most of the heavy lifting.
-Audio Commentary with Barry Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones - It's the exact same commentary as above, just without the on-screen scribbling this time.
-Technical Commentary with Barry Sonnenfeld, Rick Baker and the Industrial Light and Magic Team - This is, hands down, a far more interesting listen. These guys really go into all the creative stuff that went into making all the special effects work for Men In Black. It's informative, it's fun... I highly recommend you skip the track with Jones and listen to this in its place.
-Metamorphosis of MIB - This is 23 minutes in length, meaning it was probably just a special that was made for television. It pretty much focuses interviews with cast and crew, detailing the making of the film, but much like every other 'made for TV behind-the-scenes' featurette out there, it seems like everyone is patting themselves on the back and promoting like crazy. This doesn't really seem like 'the real deal' in terms of behind-the-scenes stuff.
-Original Featurette - Perhaps I spoke too soon with the previous featurette - This piece is only 7 minutes long and truly plays out like one extended commercial. Pass.
-Visual Effects Scene Deconstruction and Character Animation Studies - I grouped these two special features together because they're really similar to one another - Basically, you can manually flip through the different stages of effects that go into making certain scenes or bringing CGI characters to life. These are worth the time.
-Creatures - Concept To Completion - This is a bit simpler than the previous featurettes mentioned, as it's only a gallery that morphs throughout the different stages of creature production.
-Scene Editing Workshop - Take three different scenes from the film and reconstruct them the way I want to? Sounds like a great feature, and it really was back on DVD, but at this stage of the game it feels really primitive and should have been modernized for Blu-ray.
-Extended and Alternate Scenes, Galleries, Storyboard Comparisons, Music Video - Men In Black, Trailers, a $10 movie voucher to see MIB III and a UV Digital Copy.
Men In Black truly is a diamond in the rough - Sure it's not a great film, but it's light years beyond most of the other dreck were 'treated to' for the sake of Sci-Fi/Comedy. This film is genuinely fun and funny, and Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are a surprisingly capable pairing. Furthermore, considering the fact that this is the same disc that was previously released in 2008, the A/V presentation on this release is still strong enough even by today's standards. If you haven't made the upgrade from DVD just yet, there's really no reason to wait. With beautiful new cover-art and slip, as well as a cheap retail price that includes $10 in bonus cash to see the latest MIB offering, this is a steal.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!