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MEN IN BLACK: DELUXE EDITION

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rip Torn
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: May 21, 2002

“What the hell are they shooting at us for?”

“Arquillian battle rules, kid. First we get an ultimatum, then a warning shot, then we have a galactic standard week to respond.”

“A galactic standard week? How the hell long is that?”

“One hour.”

Film ***1/2

As far as mainstream Hollywood blockbusters go, I sincerely predict that there won’t be another one with the sharp caliber of Men in Black. At the time of its release, it seemed inevitable that it would become a huge summer blockbuster, mainly because it was the second consecutive movie to have Will Smith pitted against nasty aliens, following his mega success with Independence Day a year earlier. What critics and moviegoers probably didn’t suspect was a sharp, funny, and extremely witty story and world within the action and special effects, which all add up to make M.I.B. a rousing and hugely funny movie experience.

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, whose directing is much in the spirit of Tim Burton, the movie is set in Manhattan where a secret agency works around the clock. They dress in black suits, and don matching sunglasses. They work in secret, and they exist in shadow. They are equipped with state of the art weaponry and unlimited technology, including a unique memory erasing device. And their mission, well, is not a normal one. They license and monitor alien life on the planet Earth. They, of course, are known as the Men in Black, or to the actual public, INS Division 6. The top agent at Division 6 is Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), a no-nonsense, nearly emotionless veteran of the bureau. K is soon paired with NYPD hot head James Edwards (Will Smith), whose new alias is Agent J, and the two agents immediately become involved in a major alien case.

When a fiery UFO crash lands on a farm, the living object inside the ship, the slimey, gooey, and totally disgusting alien bug kills the farmer named Edgar (Vincent D’Onofrio), and assumes the man’s identity by way of using his actual skin tissue for cover. Now known as the Edgar Bug, it is in pursuit of an actual galaxy, which is compacted in an anonymous device, so that he and his army of bugs and conquer the universe. To make matters worse, the Arquillian alien race, which supervises MIB’s actions, threatens to blow up Earth unless the galaxy is retrieved, simply because it falls under their battle rules. They give MIB a galactic standard week to complete the mission, which in human time is one hour.

Aside from the quirkiness of its story, Men in Black also includes a truly remarkable look to it. Production designer Bo Welch has created an eye-popping landscape for the numerous aliens to wonder about. The most awe inspiring moment is perhaps in MIB headquarters, which looks like a cross between NASA’s mission control and an aliens-only airport. The aliens in Men in Black, created by master make up artist Rick Baker, are lively and most of the time hysterically funny, as they blend in with some very impressive 3-dimensional shots.

MIB is perfectly cast, indeed. Tommy Lee Jones is remarkable in the way he portrays K as a grumpy, unimpressed, and unsmiling agent who is never amazed at the bizarre events around him, and Will Smith is the perfect counterpart as the street smart, wisecracking Agent J. There is also a scene stealing performance from Rip Torn, who plays MIB leader Zed. All of that, in addition to Barry Sonnenfeld’s wonderful directing, Ed Solomon’s superbly sharp screenplay, and Bo Welch’s amazing set design add up to make Men in Black a dynamic movie that is actually very worthy of its box office dominance.

Video ****

CTS hasn’t changed a thing here, which in this case is very good, considering that Men in Black is by far one the studio’s best looking discs to date. Everything, from Bo Welch’s Oscar-worthy production design, to the wonderfully outlandish make up and visual effects payoff extraordinarily well. Even the darkest settings look extremely phenomenal. The standout moment of the presentation is when the Edgar Bug reveals itself in the end. The bug is ugly all right, but the look is truly remarkable. A grand presentation from CTS.

Audio ****

Not a slight bit of difference in this department, either. The sound quality of this film never lets up from the opening credit sequence, highlighted by master maestro Danny Elfman’s pulse-pounding musical score, which is wonderfully consistent throughout the movie. There are also plenty of action scenes and loud effects which payoff incredibly good, too, making Men in Black an extraordinary achievement from CTS in both audio and video.

Features ****

A success and a disappointment at the same time.

The plentiful array of extras remain on one of Columbia Tri Star’s most terrifically loaded releases of recent memory, but as far as adding any significant features to this new Deluxe Edition, CTS decided to add only two short side orders. On the occasion of the upcoming Men in Black II, you’d think that a lot of things on both the sequel and the predecessor would be welcome, but all that’s been added is a short teaser trailer for MIB II, as well as a very brief featurette of the making of the movie. 

I shouldn’t be quarreling too much, because CTS has thoughtfully left all of the wonderful original extras that made Men in Black one of the studio’s most memorable discs. Included is a terrifically humorous commentary track by Tommy Lee Jones and Barry Sonnenfeld, both of whom add a unique sense of humor to the viewing of an already funny movie. The commentary also comes with a visual option, where you can see the shadows of the commentators at the bottom of the screen.

Disc 2 includes more goodies, including two original making of documentaries, “Metamorphosis of Men in Black”, and the original making-of featurette. Also featured is a scene editing workshop (much fun), extended and alternate scenes, a music video for the Will Smith song “Men in Black” featuring Mikey the Frog Alien, storyboard comparisons, a conceptual art gallery, technical commentary with Barry Sonnenfeld, Rick Baker, and a few ILM Team members, a teaser and theatrical trailer for this film, as well as teaser trailers for Men in Black II, Stuart Little 2 and Spider-Man.

Men in Black also contains one of the most visually impressive animated menus I’ve ever seen on any DVD.

Summary:

I you weren’t able to get your hands on the Limited Edition version of Men in Black, this new Deluxe Edition will suit you no doubt, as it is just as loaded and just as impressive as the aforementioned version, and at a much lower price, too.