"Here's the deal. At any given time there are around 1500 aliens here on Earth, most right here in Manhattan. Most are decent enough, they just want to make a living. Human beings don't have a clue. They don't need one or want one."
This is the eye-opening speech given to NYPD cop James Edwards (Will Smith) by K (Tommy Lee Jones), an agent for the galactic troubleshooting agency known as The Men in Black. His identity completely erased from all mundane databases, James becomes simply J, a policeman in a secret world described by K as "like Casablanca, only without the Nazis." On the new recruit's first day on the job, however, we find out there are Nazis... only they're 12 foot tall bugs intent on starting an interstellar shooting war with Earth as a battlefield.
I've never spoken to anyone who didn't like this movie (I'm sure they exist, however). It's such a good blend of comedy, action, and top-level special effects that it's very hard to not get swept along for the ride; at a sleek 98 minutes in a summer where "A" movies were topping the two and a half hour mark, Men In Black was an object lesson in leaving the audience wanting more.
Smith is a smart choice for the rookie/voice of the audience and Jones demonstrates a deft, deadpan humor that actually makes the more outrageous aspects of the story acceptable. Able support work all around allows Men In Black to join Ghostbusters in that very exclusive club of Genre Comedies That Work.
Like most movies produced in the last few years, MiB receives a wonderfully clear transfer - frankly, it didn't even look this good when I saw it at a first run theater. The disc gives you a choice of widescreen or standard fullscreen versions. The 5.1 soundtrack is lovely, and even manages to bring out some of the subtleties in the sound effects. The interactive menus feature some very nice animation, although in a package containing this many extras, you're going to get very tired of some of them.
Pardon me while I take a deep breath to get through all this...
Disc one possesses the feature (in both aspect ratios) and the commentary tracks. The first is a Visual Commentary (as done in Ghostbusters) with the slightly pixilated silhouettes of director Barry Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones sitting in front of the virtual movie screen. A major advancement this time, through, is the fact that Sonnenfeld has been given a TeleStrator, just like those use to map out plays in network-televised football games. This gives the director the ability to circle and draw arrows on various points of the screen to draw our attention or to point out various elements of a special effects shot - although sometimes he just seems to be doodling. Though the two men have a very easy-going (and drily witty) rapport, the commentary doesn't exactly inspire. Jones fills in as the voice of the audience, asking "Questions I always get asked", and both men are highly complimentary of each other and their co-workers - but there's not a whole lot of nuts and bolts here. The visual aspect can be turned off, leaving one with a more typical commentary.
The second commentary track is more forthcoming with information on the design and execution of the movie and the whys and wherefores of making such a complex film. Featuring Sonnenfeld, make-up heavy-hitter Rick Baker, and a host of the CGI crew, this track is more detailed and satisfying.
On Disc Two, we find most of the extra materials, divided into "Creating MiB" and "Meet the MiB".
"Meet the MiB" contains Talent Files - Filmographies for all the name actors and high-profile production personnel; the Will Smith "Men In Black" music video; a short (and not very useful) production featurette; and "MiB Recommends", which contains the trailer and teaser for MiB (and the inevitable MiB2), The Mask of Zorro, Ghostbusters, Starship Troopers and Bad Boys.
It's in "Creating MiB" that one strikes gold. "Visual Effects Deconstruction Scenes" allows you to move through layers of two major effects scenes employing that under-used Angle button. Under "Art and Animation", a similar section allows you to dissect CGI sequences from wire frame models through final print on four of the aliens. The same section features a nice "Art to Completion" sequence that uses morphing to take aliens from concept art to final result. There are also galleries of concept art and storyboards.
One of the features that seems to get a lot of publicity is the "Scene Editing Workshop", which gives you a crack at editing three scenes. Each of these scenes is broken down into three chunks, not individual camera shots, and each chunk contain three versions of that piece of the script. You get to choose which version of each chunk you will use, and then you can compare your version with the movie's version. It's surprising how well this works.
A Production Photo Gallery actually contains three separate galleries: one of Talent On Set, one for Industrial Light & Magic's work, and a third for Baker's make-up and puppeteering contributions. Additionally, there is a section of Alternate and Extended Scenes (as usual, they deserve their fate) and "Metamorphosis of Men in Black", a fine featurette detailing the changes wrought upon the movie on its trip from comic book to big screen.
It will take you a long, long time to work your way through all the materials presented in this package; it almost courts overkill, but one leaves the experience feeling pretty certain that, unlike humanity at large, one knows just about everything about the movie that one wants or needs.
Dr. Freex, 9/17/00