Review for Men in Black I and II
I did it again! I caught the hind end of Men in Black 3, and thought, ‘this looks interesting. I want to watch that’. As so often happens, I just don’t have the time to watch broadcast television anymore, and my recourse is always to the online retailers to see if it’s available cheaply on disc. This time it was cheap, worryingly cheap, as I managed to double dip on Men in Black, get Men in Black II thrown in as part of a Blu-ray twin-pack, and pick up Men in Black 3 as well, and get enough change out of a tenner to get a packet of crisps too. When films get thrown into that particular bargain bucket, you know they’re one step away from being given away free with the weekend newspapers. Maybe the Men in Black trilogy no longer stands up...
Still, 20 years since the original Men in Black might just be the right time to revisit the films, Will Smith’s breakout role that launched him into the movie star stratosphere, and one of the earlier successful adaptations of a comic book to screen, predating the X-Men movie by two years, and beating Blade to the screen by a year. When it came to movie comedies, Men in Black was considered the Ghostbusters for the 90s. Ghostbusters is still, quite rightly a classic.
You get two Blu-ray Amaray cases in a thin card slipcase.
Men in Black
When a New York cop manages to chase down a rather strange criminal on foot, he catches the eye of the secretive Men in Black organisation. For decades, extra-terrestrials have been living among us, in disguise, and it’s the Men in Black who police them. The cop becomes Agent J, the newest recruit in the Men in Black, partnered alongside the irascible Agent K that recruited him. And his first job is a doozy, when a Bug lands on Earth looking for a galaxy, and killing all that stand in his way. To make things even more complicated, an alien battlecruiser shows up, demanding the return of the galaxy or the Earth will be destroyed.
Men in Black
Men in Black gets a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution. There’s a slight wobble to the print, the odd flicker that might trick you into thinking that Sony have just taken the film source and transferred it to Blu-ray without too much meddling and post-processing. Sure enough details are pretty strong, colours are consistent, and the film certainly is watchable. But when it comes down to it, Men in Black on DVD was early in that product’s lifecycle, and the same is true for Men in Black on Blu-ray. The curse of DNR afflicts this film to the degree that Tommy Lee Jones looks smooth-skinned, and there is a level of softness through the film that will disappoint if you’re looking for the full HD experience. It was prevalent enough for me to press pause and check that I hadn’t accidentally turned my TV’s noise reduction and motion interpolation back on. It’s one of those, ‘better than DVD’ Blu-rays.
Men in Black
You get Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English and German, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Czech, Hungarian, Polish Voice Over and Russian, with subtitles in these languages, plus Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Serb, Slovakian, Slovenian, Swedish, Turkish, and Alien. The audio is fine, the dialogue is clear, and the action comes across well enough.
Men in Black
A lot of extra features come from the original DVD release, some come from the Limited Edition release, and a couple (the HD ones) were created anew for the Blu-ray.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray case, which boots to an animated menu.
Trailers on the disc include one generic BD High Definition trailer, Hancock, Close Encounters 30th Anniversary, and Surf’s Up.
There are two commentaries on the disc, the first with Director Barry Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones has the optional overlay silhouette animation, the second is the technical commentary with Sonnenfeld, Rick Baker, and the ILM team.
You get some java slow loading silliness with the MIB Multiplayer Trivia Game, and Ask Frank the Pug!
There are 5 Alternate and Extended Scenes running to 4:21 SD, the Metamorphosis of Men in Black runs to 23:12 SD, and the Original Featurette runs to 6:38 SD.
You get two hits of Visual Effects Deconstruction, some Character Animation Studies, Creature: Concept to Creation, some Galleries, Storyboard Comparisons, a Scene Editing Workshop, the Music Video to Men in Black, and 2 Men in Black trailers.
Men in Black
Men in Black isn’t the Ghostbusters for the nineties, it isn’t even a classic. It’s a fun, comedy sci-fi movie that has dated well enough to still be entertaining and enjoyable, but it very quickly becomes a comfortable pair of slippers. I’ve almost forgotten the thrill I had, the new car smell of watching this film for the first time in the cinema. Every subsequent re-watch has been progressively mundane. Men in Black has become cultural noise, it’s the kind of film that you can have on in the background while you do something more meaningful. It never demands your full attention because it’s all surface and no depth. If you’ve seen the film once, you know it all, and there’s nothing else left to discover.
That isn’t a bad thing, as most films are like that, and in the late nineties, effects movies were still reliant on actor performances and narrative to sell the film, as the CGI just wasn’t good enough yet. Also in the late nineties, mainstream comedy movies could still be quiet and subtle to sell the humour, rather than battering you in the face with the punchlines, and throwing in as much toilet humour as possible.
Ironically, it’s Men in Black’s biggest selling point that has become its weakness in my eyes. This was the film that made Will Smith a megastar, catapulting him to the Hollywood heights, but this was also during that period in his career where producers wanted Will Smith to play Will Smith in the movies, so the dialogue, his style and mannerisms now stand out far more than the story and the other characters. It didn’t take long for him to get more range, become a subtler actor, but those early Will Smith movies, films like Bad Boys, Wild, Wild, West, and Men in Black really stand out as star vehicles now. 20 years on, Men in Black just plays as forgettable fun.
Men in Black II
25 years previously, Serleena pursued the Zarthans to Earth, seeking the Light of Zartha. The Men in Black refused to relinquish the Earth’s neutrality and sent both parties on their way. Since then, Serleena has left a trail of destruction looking for the Light of Zartha, and has now come back to Earth, realising that it never left the planet. It falls to Agent J to deal with the problem, but the real problem is that the one man who probably knew the truth about the Light of Zartha, left the Men in Black, and as per standard procedure, was neuralyzed on his way out. J will have to bring K back into the organisation, and somehow restore his memories as well, or it will mean the End of the World... again.
Men in Black II
Men in Black II’s 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is a significant improvement over that of the first film, it’s clear and sharp, looking properly filmic, and this time with a tangible level of film grain. It certainly hasn’t seen the same sort of post-processing and DNR that marred the first disc. The film maintains a visual continuity of aesthetic with the first, but somehow the production values seem lower, certainly the effects seem weaker; the opening sequences atop the subway train is painfully obvious as green-screen work.
Men in Black II
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround French, German, Italian, and Spanish, with subtitles in these languages plus Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Swedish and Turkish. The audio is fine, a nice, immersive surround track that does justice to the action while keeping the dialogue clear and audible throughout.
Men in Black II
The disc presents the film with an animated menu, and it’s also one that holds it position in player memory after being ejected. Being one of those java heavy discs, it does take a while to boot up though. There’s also a BD-Live link if you swing that way.
Other than the audio commentary from director Barry Sonnenfeld, most of the featurettes are of the short and inconsequential sort, and all are in SD.
You get an Alternate Ending (2:13), and a Blooper Reel (5:09).
MIIB: ADR lasts 9:25, and looks at the process of looping.
Design in Motion: The Look of MIB II lasts 10:01.
Rick Baker: Alien Maker lasts 10:46.
Squish, Splat, Sploosh: The Stellar Sounds of MIB II looks at the foley for 8:04.
Cosmic Symphonies: Elfman in Space follows an orchestra at work for 12:52.
Barry Sonnenfeld’s Intergalactic Guide to Comedy lasts 6:00.
There are 8 Creature Featurettes running to 25:53 in total.
Serleena Animatic Sequence lasts 1:51.
There are 5 Multiangle Scene Deconstructions running to 7:42.
“Black Suits Comin’ (Nod Ya Head) by Will Smith music video lasts 4:39.
Men in Black II
Men in Black II is the worst kind of sequel, the remake of the original film, but remade worse. An alien comes looking for a Maguffin hidden on Earth, wreaking havoc along the way, and if that Maguffin isn’t found, it means the end of the world. Only the Men in Black can stop it, and a seasoned agent will have to recruit a new partner to make it happen, and once again, the Maguffin is deceptively hidden. The one twist here is that the new agent from the first film, is the seasoned agent here, and the man he has to recruit is the seasoned agent from the first film, who’s had his memory wiped in the interim. The room for the character comedy is there, and in this regard Men in Black II is likable and comfortable, but in every other respect, it’s a weak rehash of the original.
It’s also replete with plot holes, not least The Light of Zartha itself. Just what is its importance? Why will the Earth be destroyed if it isn’t removed? Sometimes a Maguffin need just be a Maguffin, a briefcase in Pulp Fiction, the Rabbit’s Foot in Mission Impossible III, but when you have a story where the narrative is more important, then you really need to flesh these things out, and Men in Black II doesn’t. Also there is the Scrad/Charlie character, the two headed moron villain we meet at the start of the film. You might think that the plot hole might be just why he vanishes without explanation in the final act. For me the question is why I didn’t care enough to notice until I read about it at the IMDB?
The only things that Men in Black II has going for it is the character switch that it does with J and K, and its sense of humour. It’s not a good film, and it’s certainly not a satisfying film, but it still manages to make me laugh. That’s enough of a saving grace to put it on a re-watch pile.
Maybe I should have watched Men in Black 3 first. The twin pack is cheap, but familiarity with the first film has bred tedium over the years, and while I may not have seen Men in Black II since the one time I saw it in the cinema, 90 minutes with its Blu-ray reminded me why I never bought the DVD in the first place.