Sony // 1997 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // June 19th, 2008
Protecting the earth from the scum of the universe.
The galaxy defenders finally make their debut on Blu-ray, and this time, they're kicking it in high definition!
Men in Black follows the explosive adventures of Agents K (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive) and J (Will Smith, I Am Legend) members of a secret organization that monitors and polices extraterrestrial activity on Earth. The agents' work mostly consists in preventing aliens from illegally crossing the border or leaving their designated zones, but every now and then, they're thrust into an intergalactic conflict between two or more extraterrestrial races. When K and J find out about an unauthorized landing of a giant alien bug that has come to Earth to steal a galaxy and cause the destruction of the planet, the two Men in Black embark on a perilous mission to hunt down the ruthless creature before all hope for humanity is lost.
What's not to like about Men in Black? Barry Sonnenfeld's hilarious action comedy boasts first-class entertainment, plenty of original ideas, and great gags, making it one of those late '90s blockbusters that'll be enjoyable to experience over and over again. Yes, even after having seen it about five times now, I still have a good time with K and J. One thing I really like about the film is its different approach to the whole alien invasion concept. Instead of creating panic on Earth before a large-scale occupation or destruction (as seen in Independence Day and Mars Attacks!), aliens in this film are already leading secret, comfortable lives among humans. Just like humans, they have to follow the rules and respect the law, and if they don't, the MiB will handle the matter delicately. Well, at least they try to.
Ed Solomon's script and Sonnenfeld's direction provide the film with a fast-paced plot, starting with two highly entertaining opening sequences to build up the main story line. The real fun, of course, starts when Will Smith's character James Edwards puts on the last suit he'll ever wear, trading his entire existence for a life as a secret agent chasing down extraterrestrials behaving badly. If you don't think that's funny, think again. Besides tons of great action sequences, Men in Black also features a solid dose of humor, which works best between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Watching Smith's hyperactive, clueless J trying to look good on his new job is quite funny already, but watching K struggling to put up with his new partner is even funnier. Needless to say, the film's suspenseful action and sharp humor work together quite well.
Industrial Light & Magic is responsible for the movie's awesome special effects, which clearly contributed to the film's large success in 1997. Other than that, costume design, production design, and makeup effects (for which the film took home an Oscar) all play major roles, offering viewers some impressive sets and plenty of highly imaginative gadgets and a bunch of funny and freaky extraterrestrials. Add a great score by Danny Elfman, and you've got a captivating, action-packed blockbuster that delivers the goods. The film may even entertain those who are not sci-fi lovers, because for the most part, Men in Black doesn't take itself or its genre too seriously.
Maybe you'll hate me for saying this, but this movie came out back when Will Smith was still delivering excellent performances (okay, count out Wild Wild West). In the role of J, Smith is not only funny, but he also brings along an incredible energy and enthusiasm. Casting Tommy Lee Jones as K was another smart move. K may be acting all serious most of the time, but he's also totally funny. I honestly couldn't imagine anyone else playing his character with the same finesse as Jones. Linda Fiorentino, Rip Torn, and Vincent D'Onofrio throw in decent performances as well, although they clearly can't stand out against Smith and Jones.
Let's see what this new Blu-ray edition has to offer. The 1.85:1 full HD widescreen presentation looks pretty good, but it doesn't really meet my expectations. The picture quality is definitely worth it, but the image is a little too grainy at times, especially during the night shots. Compared to some of the recent Blu-ray titles I reviewed, this one is probably the weakest in terms of video transfer. Nonetheless, it obviously looks good enough to enjoy in high definition. The sound, on the other hand, is fabulous. I even had to keep the volume down to prevent my neighbors from kicking down my door in protest. The awesomeness of the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 transfer really kicks in during the action scenes, but dialogue and music are well balanced as well.
As far as special features are concerned, you'll find that most of the extras are the same from the previous release. But let me comment on the new content first. Exclusive to the Blu-ray disc is a fairly easy trivia game titled "Intergalactic Pursuit," which you can play in single or multi-player mode. The game itself is rather boring, but kids may have fun being tested on their knowledge about the film. In "Ask Frank the Pug," you can ask the talking puppy some questions about money, health, and romance, but he sort of always gives the same stupid answer. Finally, the movie comes with an alien subtitle track, which is pretty much useless. The only thing it does is display a bunch of unidentifiable hieroglyphs every time one of the aliens talks gibberish. There you go; that's it already for the new stuff.
Besides four alternate and extended scenes, the official MiB music video, the usual trailers and plenty of galleries and storyboard comparisons, the disc also includes the fairly interesting 23-minute featurette "Metamorphosis of MiB," in which members of the cast and crew discuss everything from the creature design to the development of the script and the choice of locations for the shooting. Including enough footage from the set to make it informative and interesting, this piece really focuses on the costumes and the creation of the aliens.
The bonus material also features a 6-minute behind-the-scenes look. Although it includes interviews with Sonnenfeld and the cast, this one feels more like one of those superficial TV productions intended to solely introduce the film to viewers. Those of you wanting to get interactive will have fun with "Visual Effects Scene Deconstruction" and "Scene Editing Workshop," which let viewers build their own scenes and explore how some of the action scenes were digitally enhanced. Wrapping up the section are two commentaries with Sonnenfeld and Jones and Sonnenfeld and his technical crew. If you really want to know everything about Men in Black there is to know, I highly recommend listening to both of them, but if you prefer a general commentary about the film and some of its most interesting aspects, the one with Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones is definitely enlightening enough.
Men in Black is tons of fun; it's as simple as that! I recommend the Blu-ray edition if you don't own a copy already, but if you do, skip the investment...unless you really feel you can't watch anything in standard definition anymore.
Review content copyright © 2008 Franck Tabouring; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Two Feature Film Commentaries
* MiB Multi-Player Trivia Game
* Ask Frank the Pug! Interactive Game
* Alien Subtitle Track
* Extended and Alternate Scenes
* Original Featurette
* Scene Editing Workshop
* Metamorphosis of MiB Documentary
* Visual Effects Scene Deconstruction
* Character Animation Studies
* Storyboard Comparisons
* Music Video
* Original DVD Verdict Review