I've not always been a fan of director Barry Sonnenfeld's light, airy style; "Get Shorty" took a few viewings before it began to grow on me, and I'm certainly not going to start with "Wild, Wild West". With "Men In Black" though, he had all of the elements working in sync - a great screenplay with wonderful characters and dialogue, some excellent effects and two lead actors who took the material and made movie magic out of it.
Originally, "Men In Black" was to be an early DVD release, with a couple of supplemental features. The laserdisc did escape and find a limited release, but DVD collectors were angered to find that producer Steven Spielberg did not allow the title to find a release on the format. As we all know, Spielberg has since warmed to the format and we've found "Saving Private Ryan", "Jaws" and now, "Men In Black". Where the film was going to be a nice, little edition back then, Tristar has taken the potential of the format and its abilities and made a revolutionairy special edition with some great special features.
But more about the movie first. I'm sure nearly everyone knows about the plot of the movie so I'll go basic with the overview. (if you want to skip it, click here. I'll understand.) Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones star as J and K, respectively, two agents of the MIB force that polices the visitors coming in from outer space and heading back into outer space. Based on the comic book, both older agent K and rookie J have to, in the film version, save the planet from a giant bug (Vincent D'Onofrio) who has inhabited the body of a mean-spirited farmer whose actions could cause Earth to be destroyed, but I won't give anything more specific away for the few out there who may not have seen the film already.
The film works as well as it does because it's so invested in the world that it's created, taking all of the "rules" that it creates seriously, and yet also not without a adding a sly touch of humor whenever it gets a chance. The picture is (or, at least was) perfect Summer entertainment; quick, with excellent visual effects and a smart screenplay - even a touching moment now and again. Definitely a fun film that can be watched again and again.
Case: The majority of the two disc special editions have come in a case similar to the fold-out cases that have been included with "Fight Club" and "The X-Files", or cases like "The Abyss" or even the single-disc-looking case of "Music Of The Heart". "Men In Black" is different; the viewer lifts off the front cover to find discs on either side as well as a bit of foam in the center to protect things. Also in the middle is a booklet, a poster (more on that later, and that's definitely important) and more.
VIDEO: "Men In Black" is certainly a visually stellar movie, and the pairing of all of the great visuals with the kind of work that Tristar usually does with image quality assures success, and the studio doesn't simply meet expectations here, it surpasses them with a transfer supervised by director Barry Sonnenfeld. Sharpness throughout the presentation is nothing short of perfect, and detail is excellent with fine details consistently visible. Clarity is excellent and scenes frequently show great depth.
Colors are also fantastic, looking bold and vibrant; well-saturated with no visible problems at all. As for problems, there really aren't too many that are noticable. I noticed once or two minor speckles on the print used, but certainly not much at all, and the majority looks clean and free of flaws. Some trace amounts of pixelation are apparent once or twice as well, but this is also not a distracting problem when the rest of the overall presentation is as good as it is here. Don Peterman's cinematography is excellent, and Bo Welch's production design offers something new and cool to look at in nearly every scene. Sonnenfeld is also a former cinematographer himself, working on films like "Raising Arizona".
Overall, this is a very good transfer that will definitely please fans of the movie; there are a few little bumps in the road, but they are very minor and won't be distracting. The only strange thing here is that a pan&scan version is also included; this is definitely a case where the disc space should have been devoted completely to the widescreen edition. Of course, I think that the widescreen edition should be the only thing on every DVD, but that's an arguement that I'm not going to go into here.
Let's just say that the widescreen version (1.85:1 & anamorphic) looks excellent and that Tristar has done their usual great work. Which version the viewer wants to watch can be chosen at the menu.
SOUND: Of course, "Men In Black" is a movie where creative use of audio makes for a highly entertaining and enjoyable experience. Not only is it frequently agressive, but it's also got a pretty strong kick to it; bass is pretty heavy in a number of scenes. Surrounds are put to frequent and agressive use to provide effects as well as the score, which I'll talk more about in a bit.
Even when "Men In Black" doesn't have all speakers working, even the front is consistently involving and very active. But, quiet scenes are few and far between when the film really gets going, and surrounds do a very nice job providing a sense of dimension as well as to provide some simply cool effects. The fantastic score by Danny Elfman that's both funny and ominous sounds well-recorded and deep here, with a solid presence.
Lastly, dialogue is clear and easily heard. It's a very entertaining, active soundtrack. It didn't win, but it was nominated by the Cinema Audio Society for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Feature Film. A review of the DTS version will be coming around the time the disc is released, with its own review.
MENUS:: With menus improving greatly with almost every release (especially Fox's work on titles such as "The Abyss" and "Independence Day"), Tristar has done as impressive (if not more) job here, with wonderfully animated main menus (with the first disc having an MIB-themed "FBI"-type warning) that must have taken an incredible amount of work to complete. Not all of the sub-menus are animated, but even the non-animated menus are fun to look through and keep with images from the movie.
Commentary One: On disc one, this is a commentary from director Barry Sonnenfeld and actor Tommy Lee Jones. It would have been nice if Will Smith had also joined in, but maybe he was off shooting the upcoming "Legend Of Bagger Vance". Before I get to the more fascinating aspects of the commentary, let me just mention something that Sonnenfeld says in the opening of the commentary that I've always thought; the Columbia lady looks kinda like Annette Benning!.
Onto the cooler part of the commentary; if you remember what Tristar offered with the "Ghostbusters" commentary, you can actually visually see the commentators at the bottom of the screen, watching the movie - the best way to illustrate it is "Mystery Science Theater 3000". But there's one addition here - the two participants are able to actually draw on the screen to further illustrate the point they're trying to make in a particular scene.
Sonnenfeld leads the discussion, but Tommy Lee Jones also contributes very nicely to the talk, commenting on what he likes about various scenes in the film and also occasionally serves as a bit of an interviewer, asking Sonnenfeld a few questions about how things were achieved in the film. The two are able to remain informative and entertaining, yet with their casual tone they never get really too specific or technical. It's a very fun commentary where both provide their interesting viewpoint on what it was like to be a part of the world of "Men In Black". The "visual" part of the commentary can be turned off at any time, as well. The commentary also has an index with a list of topics.
Commentary Two: This is a commentary only available on the limited edition set; it contains comments edited together from participants Barry Sonnenfeld, Rick Baker, and many other members from the visual effects team. Sonnenfeld's comments go into further detail about many of the topics that were touched on in his full-length commentary, but it's really the comments of the visual effects supervisors in this track that's more fascinating to listen to. There are some little spaces now and then between comments, but I thought that the effects supervisors were able to provide an informative and entertaining discussion of how many of the scenes were done without getting too overly technical. I liked the informative nature of the discussion, but I still enjoyed the first commentary more. If you look under languages to select this commentary to play, you will find a topic index for it, as well.
Scene Editing Workshop: I'll start my discussion of the elements on the second disc with what is easily one of, if not its coolest, feature. Having have had to edit my way around an embarassing error (don't ask...) in a student film I made a few years ago, I can begin to understand all the things that might come up in editing a major, major film like this one.
Many were anticipating this section, if only to see just how Tristar was going to make it work. Thankfully, they've made going through the section suprisingly easy to do. The main menu screen appears, offering three scenes from the movie, as well as an introduction from director Barry Sonnenfeld, who spends a few minutes talking about the film and how this particular part of the DVD works. There are three scenes and you have to have three final shots to make up the small final clip. For each shot, there are three takes to choose from (3 seems to be the pattern here, doesn't it?) and each differs in various ways. It's your job to select the take of the shot that works best for the scene.
It takes a little bit of time and watching to choose what you want to put together, but I think it's a lot of fun and a great visual way to allow audiences to see at least a brief demonstration of how editing functions. Of course, you can also choose to watch how the scene played in the movie, as well. Aside from the informative aspect of the section, I think it's also simply a lot of fun, and can provide a lot of enjoyment as there's certainly not just one way to put each of the three scenes together.
Alternate/Extended Scenes: There are 4 minor extended scenes here that were best left out, but the 5th scene included is rather interesting. It's the "bouncing ball" sequence, but only without special effects.
Metamorphasis Of MIB: This is a newly created 23 minute documentary looking back (well, not that far back - it's 3 years ago) at the making of "Men In Black". It's an extremely fun and informative documentary, taking us immediately into the history behind the movie, which details the comic book and has Sonnenfeld informing us that the script was certainly much different than the final film is. As for interviews, there's quite a few of them - we hear mainly from Sonnenfeld, who provides a lot of insight as to how the final product came together - from the ideas to centralize the film, to the look and design of the film.
Speaking of design and look, we also hear from the effects crew and Rick Baker, whose work here won an award for best makeup. I think the documentary is particularly well-done, taking the audience through all of the steps of the production and also talking them through the problems that arose in taking the story of "MIB" from idea to script to screen.
Visual Effects Deconstruction: Here is a section using a technology that's familiar to almost all DVD users, the multiple angles. In this area, we are taken through steps of the visual effects for the tunnel sequences as well as the final bug fight scene.
The steps you can look through with the different angles are: storyboards, blue screen, blue screen composite, lighting and animation and of course, the final cut. Adding to the information is a technical commentary that is optional. An opening by Sonnenfeld discussing the section can also be played.
Art and Animation: In this section of the DVD, the menu opens to find several sub-areas to look through which detail the creation of some of the pieces of the MIB puzzle.
*Storyboard Comparisons: This is a split-screen comparison with the storyboards and the final film for the saucer crash sequence towards the end of the film, the scene where Edgar becomes a bug, and the delivery scene with the baby alien. Also, on the topic of storyboards, there is an additional storyboard gallery, where more are available to browse through.
*Character Animation Studies: This is another section that uses multiple angles, only this time, the viewer is shown all of the steps it took to create three of the characters in the film - the first angle is preliminary, second is adding skin/texture, third is animation and lighting and 4th is the final character. There's an introduction from Sonnenfeld and looks at The Worm Guys, Mikey and Jeebs.
*Creatures - From Concept To Completion Now this is definitely a great section to look at. We are shown the layers of animation and concepts that went into creating some of the creatures, but instead of just having to click through picture after picture, when the viewer clicks, the picture morphs into the next one. There are looks at the bug, Edgar, Jeebs, Mikey and Mr. Gentle.
*Also: Also in this section is a conceptual art gallery.
Production Photo Gallery: A gallery of photos from the production, set into three groups; "On The Set With Talent", "Visual Effects" and "Make-Up & Puppets".
Trailers: Going into the other section ("Meet The MIB", while the other is "Creating the MIB"), the first stop is the trailers. We get the teaser and theatrical trailers for "MIB" (as well as the very short teaser for "MIB 2") all in Dolby Digital 5.1, looking and sounding great.
Also in the trailers section are: "The Mask Of Zorro" (which also sounds pretty darn good in Dolby Digital 5.1), "Starship Troopers"(full-frame/Dolby Digital 5.1) as well as "Ghostbusters" and "Bad Boys"(Dolby 2.0).
Original Featurette: A short, promotional featurette from 1997 that has interviews with the cast and some looks at the behind-the-scenes info.
Also: Talent files, DVD-Rom links and more and, of course, Will Smith's "MIB" music video, which got kind of overplayed during the film's release. The only unfortunate thing with the music video is that I believe the "Will Smith Video Collection", which is also released by Sony, offered the video in Dolby Digital 5.1; here, it's only in 2.0.
Yet More Notes: All copies come with a fold-out poster of a conceptual drawing "signed" by Sonnenfeld and Rick Baker - the only thing is, a very limited amount of sets will contain a poster with actual signatures from both. (mine didn't.) The booklet has some concept drawings, production notes and a guide to what the set has to offer.
As for the limited edition set, the items exclusive to this set are: the 2nd commentary track; the editing workshop, the visual effects deconstruction, creature concept to completion and extended production photo/concept art galleries. The poster is also only included here.
Hopefully, I will have reviews (which will be seperate, since this review is long enough already) of the regular Dolby Digital basic special edition (how's that for a term - basic special edition?) and DTS special edition soon.
Final Thoughts: It's the DVD fans have been waiting for, and this 2 DVD limited edition set delivers well, and with the extra extras offered here such as the editing workshop, it's definitely a good choice.
Audio and video quality for the set are good, and the only real complaint I have here is that the pan&scan version was included when the space it takes could have been used for something else. The menus are great and I think the extras both offer a good quantity and I think they're high quality as well. "MIB: Limited Edition" is definitely recommended.
The Film ***/****
Video 93/A = (558/600 possible points)
Audio: 94/A = (564/600 possible points)
Extras: 98/A = (392/400 possible points)
Menus: 100/A+ = (200/200 possible points)
Value: 92/A = (180/200 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ***/****
DVD GRADE: A