Men In Black Limited Edition DVD Review

I really don't know many people. I'm just not a very big people person. Even in that small group I do hold close, I suspect three of them were not original occupants of this planet. In fact, one of them I'm positive of. Leave it to Hollywood to prove my theories correct with "Men In Black."

James Edwards (Will Smith) is your typical New York City police officer until he chases down a criminal with gills for eyelids. The only person who believes him is a man only known as Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Now a member of the very exclusive group known as the "Men In Black," Edwards (now referred to as Agent J) must find an item before an Arquillian battle cruiser rains down death rays on Earth from space.

Will Smith is funny. That's not even remotely debatable. He does a great job here, totally convincing in a role almost tailor made for him, but it's Tommy Lee Jones taking over the movie as the more experienced of the two. His monotone performance and expressionless face remain the same throughout the movie and it just never gets old. This movie wouldn't be anywhere near as entertaining if it wasn't for him.

Surprisingly, the aliens are not really the focus of the movie. Sure they get a lot of screen time, but the pacing makes sure not to throw everything at the viewer early. It makes sure the audience can suspend disbelief and get into the film slowly, much like Will Smith's unconvinced character.

When the otherworldly creatures are on screen, they come to life via a variety of techniques from men in suits, CGI, to animatronics. There isn't a botched effects shot in the film and the designs are wildly original. With the exception of "Star Wars," no other film has ever had such a wild variety of completely unique alien life.

Once you add all of that to a great soundtrack by Danny Elfman, you know this one was huge success, the highest grossing movie for the studio at that point in fact (and it may still be). This is simply just a fast, funny, and hugely entertaining horror comedy in the same vein as "Ghostbusters." You can't go wrong here. (**** out of *****)

This limited edition DVD edition is a 2-disc set contained in a fairly plain (but nice) black case with movies logo on the front. It comes with a conceptual drawing, small booklet, and extra features only available with this set. The sound and video are exactly the same when compared the to standard release.

Both a pan & scan and widescreen versions of the film are contained on one disc, on the same side. The print used here is relatively clean with only a few specks, though they rarely become distracting. The transfer is a bit more lackluster. Some really heavy grain is present in more than a few scenes. Compression problems can be seen, but they are minimal. Strangest of the problems is the color. There are at least five shots where the color seemingly disappears from the flesh tones giving the actors a ghostly hue to their skin. These are brief, but it's hard to miss. (***)

Nothing is particularly wrong with 5.1 presentation; it's just a little disappointing. The highlight comes at the 35-minute mark where Agent J sets off some sort of alien ball and it whizzes through the MIB headquarters. It's one of those great scenes to show off why surround sound is so effective. Otherwise, bass is really light, nowhere near as powerful as it should be. Very few scenes feature any positional audio even though it's obvious that it should. Sure the dialogue is clear, but we expect more from our summer blockbusters. (***)

Most of the extras here are contained on the standard "MIB" disc. There are some exclusives including a technical commentary with director Barry Sonnenfeld, special effects master Rick Baker, and some of the ILM team. It's obvious that this one focuses on the effects. Not an exclusive is the second commentary, this one with Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones. This is a visual track in which both of the men are silhouetted against the screen and some things are pointed out via on-screen graphics. This is better track of the two.

Disc 2 houses everything else (and is split into two sections; "Creating the MIB" and "Meet the MIB") starting with some character animation studies. Using the angle button, you can view the various stages of the creatures as they come together for the screen. Four deleted scenes are available plus the above-mentioned ball sequence without any added effects. Two scenes get the deconstruction treatment including the car/tunnel scene and the final fight (the latter is only available here). These can be watched with commentary.

"Metamorphosis of the Men In Black" is an excellent 23-minute documentary with behind the scenes footage and the usual round of interviews. A section on art and animation is split into five areas that cover things like storyboards and the CG characters. Three of the movies scenes can be edited using the editing workshop (exclusive), but this is limited and you'll only end up ruining the scene because it will make no sense. Finally, a photo gallery features more content than the standard disc.

The second section of this disc is pretty useless. There is a short promotional featurette running a little over six minutes, but there is nothing here you won't see in the longer documentary. A music video from Will Smith based on the film (which played non-stop on both the radio and MTV during the theatrical run) and some talent files are the only highlights. It's an odd choice to even split everything into two sections since it's so lopsided, but everything is at least easily located. (*****)

Barry Sonnenfeld would go on to almost ruin his career two years later along with Will Smith in the awful "Wild Wild West." He would get another shot with Smith in the sequel to this film, also a brutal disappointment. I doubt he'll ever work with the actor again even though they did so well here. This film remains his most successful to date and it will likely stay that way if he continues taking projects like that.

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