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MEN IN BLACK
Blu-ray Edition

Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rip Torn
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Sony
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: June 17, 2008

“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 ****

The Men look better than ever on Blu-ray.  This anamorphic transfer offers plenty of action and detail, and the hi-def technology delivers it all with crystal clarity and amazing sharpness.  The dark and light scenes both render with superb crispness and contrast.

Audio ****

The action and music sound incredible in TrueHD sound.  Dynamic range is stronger than ever, with more powerful bass and more noticeable subtleties.  The crossover signals are smooth and clean, dialogue is well-rendered, and the overall experience simply more lively than before.

Features ****

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 on Blu-ray also offers a couple of interactive games and an amusing alien subtitle track.

Summary:

This Blu-ray edition offers everything you could want and more from the Men in Black, making this one of the year's best overall high definition offerings.

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