MEN IN BLACK - Blu-ray review

“Men in Black” still holds up after 15 years. It’s as fun, funky, and edgy now as it was in 1997, and HD breathes even more life into it.

James Plath's picture

In his DVD review, Movie Met’s John J. Puccio noted that “Men in Black” was among the funniest movies of the ‘90s—so popular that it became the highest grossing picture in Columbia’s history. What’s not to like, when you blend sci-fi, action and comedy, with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones playing one of the all-time great buddy-cop teams?

Even the topical humor is still relevant today. You can’t help but giggle when new hire Smith is show the “big board” that tracks known aliens, and right there among them is Newt Gingrich, who’s just now figuring out that he doesn’t stand a chance of winning the GOP presidential nomination. And how do agents working 37-hour days, alien style, keep abreast of alien news? The supermarket tabloids, of course.

Details like that and some impressive alien forms and visual effects make “Men in Black” fun to watch, and the PG-13 film has never looked better. Sony’s Blu-ray + UV Digital Copy release (would that it were a DVD instead) is fantastic, as befits a blockbuster title that spotlights special effects and alien creatures. Watching it again in high definition is a wonderful experience.

Based on the Aircel/Malibu/Marvel comics by Lowell Cunningham, “Men in Black” tells the story of a top-secret government agency whose charge it is to monitor alien activity on Earth—and that includes operating an arrival and departure station for aliens entering the planet legally. The agency is so top-secret that no one knows about it, and they’re not even part of the U.S. budget. They fund themselves using patents on devices confiscated “from out-of-state visitors”—things like Velcro and microwave ovens. If a problem with an alien arises, it’s the Men in Black who show up to flash their badges, clean things up, and zap humans with a memory cleanser so the population won’t freak out knowing that there are aliens living among us. But come on. You’ve always suspected something about the strange neighbor or the odd bus driver, haven’t you?

At any given time, there are 1500 aliens in America—most of them in Manhattan.

The door opens for MIB agent Jones to find a new partner when his current one realizes he’s gotten too old to keep up with speedy cephalopods. And the plot thickens when an alien bug-form enters illegally, with the goal of assassinating two ambassadors from other galaxies.

Enter Smith, who IS fast enough to catch a cephalopod—with the help of a tour bus (“Why, it be rainin’ black people in New York”). He’s invited to apply for an MIB position, and after a hilarious try-out involving the best of the best of the U.S. military, he’s indoctrinated into the ways of the agency and gets as crash course on aliens. Somehow, the Men in Black have to stop the assassination attempt in order to keep their world from being destroyed, and that means stopping the bug-like creature who’s taken the skin of a farmer, hijacked a pest-control truck, and is tooling around Manhattan looking for a galaxy in miniature.

This definitely rates a 9.0 on my weird shit-o-meter.

Yeah, but it’s really not that far out when you watch it. “Men in Black” finds just the right blend of comedy and action, with terrific creatures and equally strong special and visual effects that don’t look dated. Smith and Jones work so well together you’d swear they’d been doing this for a decade or so. Add some smart writing from Ed Solomon (“It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”) and crisp direction from Barry Sonnenfeld (“Get Shorty”) and it all comes together nicely.

Aside from a tiny amount of noise on a few scenes, the video looks superb. Grain is kept to a minimum, black levels are deep, colors are bright but not oversaturated, and the level of detail in every scene is terrific. I expected HD to threaten the look of the aliens, but they survive just fine . . . and look even better in 1080p. “Men in Black” comes to a 50GB disc via an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer and I saw no artifacting. It’s been so long since this has been in theaters (1997) that I can’t remember how it originally looked, but I can’t imagine it looking any better than this. “Men in Black” is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

Sony went with an English, French, or Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround, and there’s plenty of vitality. Don’t expect the sound to rival current action pics, though. The floor never gets to rumbling, and though the rear speakers are often engaged, the sound channeled through them isn’t as assertive as on a contemporary mix. Dialogue was clean and crisp, and those who hate having to shift the volume up for speech and down for action will be happy there’s no need to mess with the remote during playback. The audio is nicely mixed for the home theater.

There are some goodies here, but very few developed just for this release. New to Blu is “Intergalactic Pursuit: The MIB Multi-Player Trivia Game” in which 2-4 people can play if your Blu-ray player is Profile 2.0. Also exclusive to HD is a kind of worthless feature: an Alien Subtitle Track. It’s like somebody went to an awful lot of trouble for a nonsensical thing that, unless it surprises me and catches on like Klingon, won’t be watched other than for a few moments of amusement.

Better are bonus features ported over from the DVDs. Included are two commentaries, one featuring Jones and Sonnenfeld, who uses a “telestrater” to do the Xs and Os thing as he talks about the film. Like the alien gibberish, it gets tiresome after a while, though what the pair has to say is worth a listen. The second commentary should appeal to techies, with Sonnenfeld joined by creature creator Rick Baker and special/visual effects experts John Andrew Berton, Eric Brevig, and Rob Coleman. Techies may also like a brief feature that shows how three scenes break down, with blue-screen and final multi-layered print comparisons.

A basic “making of” feature (23 min.) offers the requisite mix of talking heads and film clips, with a few behind-the-scenes shots thrown in for good measure. It’s average at best. Other than that, there are six minutes of deleted/alternate scenes, an interactive “scene editing workshop” that Sonnenfeld walks you through, still galleries, a “MIB” music video, trailers and promos. "Men in Black" is also BD-Live enabled, if you're into that sort of thing.

Bottom line:
“Men in Black” still holds up after 15 years. It’s as fun, funky, and edgy now as it was in 1997, and HD breathes even more life into it. Like "Ghostbusters," it's one of those comic sci-fi entries that never seems to get old. 


Film Value