I've not always been a fan of director Barry Sonnenfeld's light, airy style; "Get Shorty" took a few viewings before it began to grow on me, and I'm certainly not going to start with "Wild, Wild West". With "Men In Black" though, he had all of the elements working in sync - a great screenplay with wonderful characters and dialogue, some excellent effects and two lead actors who took the material and made movie magic out of it.
Originally, "Men In Black" was to be an early DVD release, with a couple of supplemental features. The laserdisc did escape and find a limited release, but DVD collectors were angered to find that producer Steven Spielberg did not allow the title to find a release on the format. As we all know, Spielberg has since warmed to the format and we've found "Saving Private Ryan", "Jaws" and now, "Men In Black". Where the film was going to be a nice, little edition back then, Tristar has taken the potential of the format and its abilities and made a revolutionairy special edition with some great special features.
But more about the movie first. I'm sure nearly everyone knows about the plot of the movie so I'll go light on the overview. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones star as J and K, respectively, two agents of the MIB force that polices the visitors coming in from outer space and heading back into outer space. Based on the comic book, both older agent K and rookie J have to, in the film version, save the planet from a giant bug (Vincent D'Onofrio) who has inhabited the body of a mean-spirited farmer whose actions could cause Earth to be destroyed, but I won't give anything more specific away for the few out there who may not have seen the film already.
The film works as well as it does because it's so invested in the world that it's created, taking all of the "rules" that it creates seriously, and yet also not without a adding a sly touch of humor whenever it gets a chance. The picture is (or, at least was) perfect Summer entertainment; quick, with excellent visual effects and a smart screenplay - even a touching moment now and again. Definitely a fun film that can be watched again and again.
VIDEO: "Men in Black" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC). The expectations for the high-def debut of a title like "Men in Black" are certainly quite high. However, while this presentation certainly isn't terrible, it does fall somewhat short of expectations. While the picture does look crisper than the DVD editions, it lacks the sort of precise fine detail I'd expected (although some scenes do look better than others) and looks a little flat, to boot.
Unfortunately, that's not the end of the issues, as some minor edge enhancement is seen at times, as are a few instances of specks and marks on the print used. Some minor-to-mild film grain is also spotted at times, but is an intentional element of the cinematography. Colors do appear bright and nicely saturated, with no smearing or other faults. Black level also remained strong throughout, while fleshtones appeared accurate. This was a fine transfer, but just
SOUND: "Men in Black" is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Of course, "Men In Black" is a movie where creative use of audio makes for a highly entertaining and enjoyable experience. Not only is it frequently agressive, but it's also got a pretty strong kick to it; bass is pretty heavy in a number of scenes. Surrounds are put to frequent and agressive use to provide effects as well as the score, which I'll talk more about in a bit.
Even when "Men In Black" doesn't have all speakers working, even the front is consistently involving and very active. But, quiet scenes are few and far between when the film really gets going, and surrounds do a very nice job providing a sense of dimension as well as to provide some simply cool effects. The fantastic score by Danny Elfman that's both funny and ominous sounds well-recorded and deep here, with a solid presence.
Lastly, dialogue is clear and easily heard. It's a very entertaining, active soundtrack. It didn't win, but it was nominated by the Cinema Audio Society for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Feature Film. The Dolby TrueHD presentation on Blu-Ray does deliver mildly improved audio quality, with deeper bass and richer, crisper effects.
EXTRAS: Commentary One: On disc one, this is a commentary from director Barry Sonnenfeld and actor Tommy Lee Jones. It would have been nice if Will Smith had also joined in, but maybe he was off shooting the upcoming "Legend Of Bagger Vance". Before I get to the more fascinating aspects of the commentary, let me just mention something that Sonnenfeld says in the opening of the commentary that I've always thought; the Columbia lady looks kinda like Annette Benning!.
Onto the cooler part of the commentary; if you remember what Tristar offered with the "Ghostbusters" commentary, you can actually visually see the commentators at the bottom of the screen, watching the movie - the best way to illustrate it is "Mystery Science Theater 3000". But there's one addition here - the two participants are able to actually draw on the screen to further illustrate the point they're trying to make in a particular scene.
Sonnenfeld leads the discussion, but Tommy Lee Jones also contributes very nicely to the talk, commenting on what he likes about various scenes in the film and also occasionally serves as a bit of an interviewer, asking Sonnenfeld a few questions about how things were achieved in the film. The two are able to remain informative and entertaining, yet with their casual tone they never get really too specific or technical. It's a very fun commentary where both provide their interesting viewpoint on what it was like to be a part of the world of "Men In Black". The "visual" part of the commentary can be turned off at any time, as well. The commentary also has an index with a list of topics.
Commentary Two: This contains comments edited together from participants Barry Sonnenfeld, Rick Baker, and many other members from the visual effects team. Sonnenfeld's comments go into further detail about many of the topics that were touched on in his full-length commentary, but it's really the comments of the visual effects supervisors in this track that's more fascinating to listen to. There are some little spaces now and then between comments, but I thought that the effects supervisors were able to provide an informative and entertaining discussion of how many of the scenes were done without getting too overly technical. I liked the informative nature of the discussion, but I still enjoyed the first commentary more. If you look under languages to select this commentary to play, you will find a topic index for it, as well.
Scene Editing Workshop: I'll start my discussion of the elements on the second disc with what is easily one of, if not its coolest, feature. Having have had to edit my way around an embarassing error (don't ask...) in a student film I made a few years ago, I can begin to understand all the things that might come up in editing a major, major film like this one.
Many were anticipating this section, if only to see just how Tristar was going to make it work. Thankfully, they've made going through the section suprisingly easy to do. The main menu screen appears, offering three scenes from the movie, as well as an introduction from director Barry Sonnenfeld, who spends a few minutes talking about the film and how this particular part of the DVD works. There are three scenes and you have to have three final shots to make up the small final clip. For each shot, there are three takes to choose from (3 seems to be the pattern here, doesn't it?) and each differs in various ways. It's your job to select the take of the shot that works best for the scene.
It takes a little bit of time and watching to choose what you want to put together, but I think it's a lot of fun and a great visual way to allow audiences to see at least a brief demonstration of how editing functions. Of course, you can also choose to watch how the scene played in the movie, as well. Aside from the informative aspect of the section, I think it's also simply a lot of fun, and can provide a lot of enjoyment as there's certainly not just one way to put each of the three scenes together.
Alternate/Extended Scenes: There are 4 minor extended scenes here that were best left out, but the 5th scene included is rather interesting. It's the "bouncing ball" sequence, but only without special effects.
Metamorphasis Of MIB: This is a newly created 23 minute documentary looking back (well, not that far back - it's 3 years ago) at the making of "Men In Black". It's an extremely fun and informative documentary, taking us immediately into the history behind the movie, which details the comic book and has Sonnenfeld informing us that the script was certainly much different than the final film is. As for interviews, there's quite a few of them - we hear mainly from Sonnenfeld, who provides a lot of insight as to how the final product came together - from the ideas to centralize the film, to the look and design of the film.
Speaking of design and look, we also hear from the effects crew and Rick Baker, whose work here won an award for best makeup. I think the documentary is particularly well-done, taking the audience through all of the steps of the production and also talking them through the problems that arose in taking the story of "MIB" from idea to script to screen.
Visual Effects Deconstruction: Here is a section using a technology that's familiar to almost all DVD users, the multiple angles. In this area, we are taken through steps of the visual effects for the tunnel sequences as well as the final bug fight scene.
The steps you can look through with the different angles are: storyboards, blue screen, blue screen composite, lighting and animation and of course, the final cut. Adding to the information is a technical commentary that is optional. An opening by Sonnenfeld discussing the section can also be played.
Art and Animation: In this section of the DVD, the menu opens to find several sub-areas to look through which detail the creation of some of the pieces of the MIB puzzle.
Storyboard Comparisons: This is a split-screen comparison with the storyboards and the final film for the saucer crash sequence towards the end of the film, the scene where Edgar becomes a bug, and the delivery scene with the baby alien. Also, on the topic of storyboards, there is an additional storyboard gallery, where more are available to browse through.
Character Animation Studies: This is another section that uses multiple angles, only this time, the viewer is shown all of the steps it took to create three of the characters in the film - the first angle is preliminary, second is adding skin/texture, third is animation and lighting and 4th is the final character. There's an introduction from Sonnenfeld and looks at The Worm Guys, Mikey and Jeebs.
Creatures - From Concept To Completion Now this is definitely a great section to look at. We are shown the layers of animation and concepts that went into creating some of the creatures, but instead of just having to click through picture after picture, when the viewer clicks, the picture morphs into the next one. There are looks at the bug, Edgar, Jeebs, Mikey and Mr. Gentle.
Original Featurette: A short, promotional featurette from 1997 that has interviews with the cast and some looks at the behind-the-scenes info.
Trailers: Trailers for other titles from the studio, including "21" and "Water Horse". We also get two trailers for "Men in Black".
also: Galleries and the Will Smith music video for the popular then/unbelievably dated now "Men in Black" song. Exclusive to the Blu-Ray are the "Intergalatic Pursuit: The Men In Black Multi-Player Trivia Game" and "Ask Frank the Pug" interactive feature. There's also BD-Live features for those with a capable player.
Final Thoughts: "Men in Black" still holds up fairly well and remains a fun sci-fi adventure. The Blu-Ray edition offers fine audio/video quality, nice features and is - overall - an improvement over the prior DVD releases. However, for such a major title, the title on Blu-Ray doesn't dazzle overall quite as much as I'd expected. Still, recommended for fans.
The Film B