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Men In Black (1997)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/17/2008

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/15/2008

I know that there are probably of plenty of people out there waiting for older "classic" films (the type of movies that most film historians reserve for the title "classic") to arrive on Blu-ray Disc. However, I'm more excited about modern classics making the leap to hi-def. And while I would welcome some of my family comedies or horror films, I have to admit that I really want more big action movies which will really push the medium. Thus, I was very pleased when Men in Black was announced. Not only is it a comedy, but it contains enough sci-fi set-pieces to really see what Blu-ray Disc can do.

As Men in Black opens, we meet Agents K (Tommy Lee Jones) and D (Richard Hamilton) of the "Men in Black", and we watch them apprehend an alien (the outer space kind). However, D doesn't perform up to par, and reports that it was his last mission. Meanwhile, NYPD officer James Edwards (Will Smith) chases a suspect on foot to the roof of the Guggenheim. Once he corners the man, he sees that his eyes blink sideways. Following this, K approaches James and explains that the suspect was actually an alien and the K would like for James to join the Men in Black. After some convincing and deliberation, James agrees and becomes Agent J. They quick receive their first assignment as partners, as an evil alien entity, known simply as a "Bug", has come to Earth and it's their job to learn why. Little do they know that the Bug's visit could lead to the destruction of our planet.

In some ways, the term "classic" may be too strong for Men in Black, but the film remains a shining example of the sci-fi/comedy genre and I'm glad to announce that much of the film still holds up today. The great thing about Men in Black is that it functions as a fully operating big Summer movie. (As with many of Will Smith's movies, it opened on the July 4th weekend in 1997.) The movie features star Will Smith in his usual role of a cocky guy thrown into a bizarre situation. It contains tons of special effects and enough gooey creatures to thrill younger viewers (although I would pay close attention to that PG-13) and enough jokes for adults.

However, Men in Black also marches to the beat of its own drummer. Based on his visual style, Director Barry Sonnenfeld seemed like a natural choice, but he also brought some of his skewed sense of humor (as seen in The Addam's Family films) with him. Also, the pairing of the young, hip Will Smith with the older, typically humorless Tommy Lee Jones, was an experiment just crazy enough to work. While Men in Black contains the gadgets and explosions which one would expect from a big Summer blockbuster, it also contains a wealth of clever one-liners and bizarre oddities, such as Jeeb (Tony Shalhoub) and that thing in the car which has a baby.

The bottom-line is that Men in Black is fun. I've noticed that when I go back and watch many older films, that they are much more slowly paced than I imagine. However, Men in Black hasn't lost any of its zip over the years, and the movie still packs a lot of story and action into its 98-minute running time. (A 98-minute summer movie? Are you serious?) Will Smith has never been better, as he goes from know-it-all cop to novice alien hunter, and Tommy Lee Jones shows that you don't have to try to be funny to be funny. If you haven't seen Men in Black in a while, or if you saw the convoluted sequel more recently, then it's time to check it out again. You'll be delighted to see that the movie is still funny and exciting, and it's interesting to note how it laid the groundwork for some quirky films which followed.

Men in Black comes to Earth on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. Overall, the video here is good, but not great, as the transfer reveals itself to be a mixed bag. Some scenes are very sharp and clear, showing no grain whatsoever. These shots show the appropriate amount of brightness as well. But, some others are grainy, dark, and flat looking. I haven't seen another Blu-ray which showed this kind of inconsistency. It would come from "This looks great!" to "This looks like the DVD transfer." On the positive side, the colors look very good, especially reds and oranges. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. This is one of the better Dolby TrueHD tracks that I've heard, as it offers clear dialogue and sound effects throughout. The stereo effects are quite good -- simply watch the runaway ball scene to prove that. The surround effects are also quite impressive, as they occur throughout the movie and really come to life during the action films. The bass effects are solid, but never overwhelming.

The Men in Black Blu-ray Disc contains a galaxy of extras, some of which are new to this edition. We start with the "Telestrator" AUDIO COMMENTARY by Director Barry Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones, in which Sonnenfeld can draw on the screen (Just like Monday Night Football!) You can also access the same commentary without the "Telestrator" feature. There is also a Technical Commentary with Sonnenfeld, Rick Baker, and members of the team from Indusrial Light & Magic. The Disc contains five EXTENDED AND ALTERNATE SCENES, which run about 4 minutes. We get one brief extra joke, but otherwise nothing really new here. "Metamorphosis of Men in Black" (23 minutes) is a making-of featurette which features comments from Sonnenfeld, Jones, Smith, Rick Baker, and original comic-book creator Lowell Cunningham. This piece touches on many facets of the film, from the story to the alien effects. "Original Featurette" (7 minutes) is more of a standard electronic press kit which contains some quotes and on-set footage, but it's mostly made of clips. "Visual Effects Scene Deconstruction" allows the viewer to view how the "Tunnel Scenes" and "Edgar Bug Fight Scene" were created beginning with the storyboards and moving through bluescreen work, lighting, and animation, arriving at the final cut. This can be viewed with an optional commentary and an intro by Sonnenfeld. "Character Animation Studies" is similar to the above, as we see the stages which created Mikey, Jeebs, and the Worm Guys. "Creatures: Concept to Completion" begins with concept art and then shows the various stages of design work which went into making five of the film's aliens. The Disc contains three GALLERIES, Storyboard, Conceptual Art, and Production Photos. We get "Storyboard Comparisons" for three scenes. "Scene Editing Workshop" allows the viewer to try their hand at editing three scenes. This contains an intro by Sonnenfeld. The Disc offers the MUSIC VIDEO for Will Smith's "Men in Black". The Original Trailer and the Teaser are included here. Finally, we get two games, "Intergalactic Pursuit" and "Ask Frank the Pug".

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long