MEN IN BLACK - LIMITED EDITION
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Fiorentino
A covert organisation watches over
aliens living on Earth.
Imagine that there are aliens. Now imagine that there
are aliens who are not only living among us, but are being monitored by an
ultra-secret secret organisation known only as the Men In Black. That
simple premise, which has its roots in the paranoid folklore of UFO
spotters, was the idea behind a cult comic book series created by Lowell
Cunningham, and spawned one of Summer 1997’s most popular films.
Men in Black stars Tommy Lee Jones as the deadly
serious veteran agent and a wide-eyed Will Smith as his rookie partner.
The film has a plot that’s pretty incidental to the transitory delights
on offer: an alien cockroach-like creature lands on Earth and threatens to
start an intergalactic war, and the Men In Black try to stop him. During
the film the agents encounter a number of wild creatures and situations,
enabling them to employ various ultra-cool gizmos and weapons. The film
successfully creates an offbeat alternative reality where the outré
elements seem believable, and manages to perfectly balance black comedy
with heavy-duty science fiction action. The film boasts a large number of
excellent special effects sequences, including digital animation by
Industrial Light and Magic and elaborate creature effects by make-up
master Rick Baker. Barry Sonnenfeld, whose quirky humour is evident in the
two Addams Family movies and Get Shorty, directed the film.
Fans of the film have had to wait impatiently for the
film to be released on DVD. In 1997 Columbia Tristar announced that Men
In Black would be one of the first “killer”
titles that would spearhead the launch of the format. When it failed to
appear rumours abounded that tens of thousands of copies sat ready in
warehouses, and that Steven Spielberg (the film’s Executive Producer)
was vetoing their release.
Almost three years later the film was released, and it
was certainly worth the wait. There are two UK DVD versions available, a
standard edition and a two-disc Limited Edition version, reviewed here,
that contains all the supplements on the standard edition, and adds an
exhaustive array of extra material that will certainly satiate all but the
most devoted fans.
The film’s transfer looks terrific, with a very
detailed image, with strong colours that dramatically improve on the
THX-certified NTSC laserdisc version. The widescreen version is presented
in the original 1.85:1 theatrical ratio, enhanced for 16:9 equipped sets.
There’s a little grain here and there, and the occasional speck of dirt.
Encoding artefacts are virtually absent, but there is some evidence of
edge enhancement in some shots. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is
thrilling, with numerous demonstration-quality sequences and separation
effects that are likely to raise a smile or two. Columbia has really
outdone themselves with the disc’s elaborate animated menus, too, which
maintain the atmosphere of the film.
The supplementary materials combine effectively to
convey the development process, detailing the enormously creative input of
almost every performer and crewmember. It soon becomes obvious that many
of the film’s most memorable sequences, gags and images didn’t
originate in Ed Solomon’s robust screenplay.
The supplements include: three sequences comparing the
storyboards to the finished film; complete storyboards for the encounter
wth Jeebs and the final CGI sequence; the terrific Will Smith music video,
featuring Mikey; detailed examinations of the various aliens, from
original design to finished creature; trailers (including a teaser for MiB
2 that gives nothing away); and more than a thousand photo’s and
pieces of production art. A contemporary six-minute promotional featurette
is also included. Five extended or deleted scenes are presented, but these
are relatively disappointing, since none add anything to the plot, feature
unseen creatures, or add character development. These are taken from an
early work print, with incomplete sound mixes. They also lack special
effects enhancement (one is the bouncing ball sequence, without the ball).
One of the key features of the two-disc version is the “scene editing
workshop”, which allows the viewer to assemble a scene from three
different angles, and compare the results to the version that ended up in
the film. It’s a fun feature, if rather gimmicky, and one that has
little lasting appeal. Three scenes can be manipulated in this way. A
couple of scenes, including the morphing car sequence are dissected using
the multi-angle feature to present them in various stages of production.
An outstanding new twenty-five minute retrospective
behind-the-scenes documentary, Metamorphosis of Men in Black,
details the changes made from concept to finished film. The plot and tone
of the film changed quite radically during shooting. The documentary
demonstrates how Sonnenfeld managed to manipulate existing footage to fit
what one of the contributors calls the “eventual plot”! This includes
a couple of key scenes, which are presented in their original versions,
showing how the plot was fine tuned during the post-production process. It
also features several tantalising shots of Rick Baker’s original Edgar
bug creature, which was replaced at the last minute by an elaborate CGI
sequence that added four million dollars to the film’s budget. The
documentary also all too briefly showcases the contributions of the
film’s peerless designer, Bo Welch.
The disc features two compelling commentary tracks, both
especially recorded for the DVD. The first, by Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee
Jones, is chatty and anecdotal. It’s augmented by on-screen silhouettes
of the two contributors (similar to those used on Columbia’s equally
impressive Ghostbusters disc) and Match
of the Day-style magic pen effects, which Sonnenfeld uses to draw
attention to things on screen, even when they’re not mentioned in
passing. Sonnenfeld’s solo commentary for the NTSC laserdisc version,
which was more formal, has been cannibalised for the second track, which
also features input from Rick Baker and key members of the special effects
Columbia’s decision to offer the option of a
full-screen presentation only on the two-disc set is most curious, and
highly questionable. This would have been an appropriate alternative for
the standard edition, the one aimed at Joe Public, but no serious fan of
the film will be interested in seeing anything other than the proper
widescreen version. The full-screen version hops between an open-matte
presentation (revealing more picture top and bottom, but spoiling the
composition) and pan-and-scan (losing picture information at the sides
during almost every effects sequence). This wastes disc space that could
have been utilised for another commentary track, more supplements or,
better still, the DTS soundtrack that’s only available on an alternate,
single-disc Region 1 variant (which lacks the Limited Edition disc’s
In order to keep its theatrical PG certificate the film
has been altered at the behest of the BBFC: there are two instances in the
film where the work “jerk” has been substituted for “prick”. Other
differences between the UK and US discs appear to be minor. Trailers for Bad
Boys, Ghostbusters, The Mark
of Zorro and Starship Troopers (a Buena Vista title in the UK)
are missing, replaced by one for Stuart Little.