Men In Black is a long-awaited arrival on DVD, its release previously held up due to ties with Steven Spielberg. But, it’s finally arrived. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones star in this way-out film about the MIB, a secret and well-funded government agency that polices aliens – the outer space kind. The agency needs some fresh recruits, so after learning that Smith’s character has run down a decidedly out-of-this-world being, he’s treated to a meeting with Agent Kay, played by Jones. From there he goes through a series of tests that prove what Kay already knows – he’s the right fellow for the job.
Just after recruiting the new Agent, designated Jay, everything starts falling apart. Aliens are fleeing the planet. A spaceship crash lands with a nasty insectoid alien who borrows a rather organic disguise. Two alien dignitaries are then assassinated, and as a result Earth is threatened with destruction in an hour. It’s up to Kay and Jay to find out what’s going on and to save the world. As an action/adventure/sci-fi/comedy film, Men In Black succeeds on all fronts. The comedic and uncertain Smith plays well against the blasé and always professional Jones.
Men In Black is presented on two brand new transfers – 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and 1.33:1 fullscreen pan & scan. For this review I watched the widescreen version. Although rumors had been circulating for years that warehouses of MIB discs were sitting around ready to ship, this is obviously a new state-of-the-art transfer. Rock solid black levels compliment perfect brightness, rich color and stunning detail. Only a few white dirt specs were visible during the movie. Low chroma noise and film grain give the unusual set design a real sense of realism. The dual-layered disc is divided into 27 chapters.
The audio on MIB fares equally as well – the Dolby Digital six-channel sound mix is very active. Plenty of bass can be found throughout the film, while Danny Elfman’s unique orchestration comes through with excellent clarity. The vocal track is strong and clear, without any unwanted background noise or clipping. In addition to the 5.1 English mix, Columbia Tristar also includes their prerequisite English 2.0 soundtrack, along with French 2.0. On the subtitle side you’ll find an excellent offering with English, French, Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin language options. Of course, English Closed Captioning data is also available.
Columbia Tristar released no less than three versions of Men In Black: a "Collectors Edition" in both Dolby Digital and DTS versions, plus a "Limited Edition" two-disc set in Dolby Digital only. I reviewed the "LE", which includes the same movie transfer as the "CE" but along with a few extras. The first major feature is a visual commentary track with director Barry Sonnenfeld and star Tommy Lee Jones. This is similar to the visual track on Ghostbusters, where you see small outlined silhouettes at the bottom of the screen who move and gesture throughout the film. I’ve noticed a marked improvement in silhouette quality over Ghostbusters, and they now have the capability to doodle on your screen, pointing out items of interest and writing silly notes (the box tactfully describes this as "diagrams"). Unfortunately you must still manually step your player down from anamorphic to 4:3 mode to use this feature, something that I feel should really be changed. The commentary is quite interesting, although Mr. Jones sounds as though he had a bit of a cold. Special to the Limited Edition is an additional technical audio commentary track with Barry Sonnenfeld, Rick Baker, and the Industrial Light & Magic team.
Moving on to the second disk, you’ll find a visual effects scene deconstruction feature, which shows you two special-effects laden sequences in five steps of completion, from storyboards to work prints to the finished product. You can watch all five through in order, or flip between them on-the-fly using the "ANGLE" button on your remote. An Extended/alternate scene section shows you a few alternate cuts. There’s a character animation study section, a section which morphs various characters through all of their conceptual versions, a storyboard gallery with comparisons, conceptual art gallery and a production photograph gallery with photos that are altogether too small.
A brand new 22-minute documentary, "Metamorphosis", was created that shows much about the movie’s creation, including how the entire plot was changed post-production. Also bundled is the original 6-minute promotional featurette. Another LE feature, the scene creation workshop allows you to build new versions of three scenes, using alternate takes and angles. Although an interesting idea it really doesn’t go far enough, providing only three alternate takes for three shots. Finally, you’ll find cast talent files, the original Will Smith music video, plus two theatrical trailers in 1.85:1 widescreen and 5.1 audio along with a number of trailers for other movies. All told there’s 8.1 gigabytes on the first disc and 5.4 gigabytes on the second disc – a worthy collection by any standard. Also bundled with the LE is a 12-page booklet and collectible poster.
Men In Black is a fun movie on a great quality disc set. Although there’s actually less extended material here than one might imagine, it’s still a worthy compilation. With spectacular special effects, constant action and a smart attitude, this is one DVD to delight fans.
- Reviewed by Daniel Tonks on September 25, 2000.
1-Poor 2-Fair 3-Good 4-Excellent
Sony DVP-S500D DVD Player
Sony STR-GA8ES 5.1 Receiver
Sony 32" XBR250 WEGA TV using Component
Nuance Spatial Baby Grand 3E & StarSat