Funny the difference fifteen years makes. I remember seeing 'Men in Black' back in 1997, and thinking it was a clever and inventive mix of hip humor, intentionally hoary sci-fi cliches, and cutting-edge CGI. Now, it feels twice as old -- a rather self-conscious spoof that takes aim at no particular target while saddled with some pretty dated special effects. I suppose there is still some nostalgic fun to be had watching 'MIB,' but I just found the second time around a snooze.
The plot is a bit beside the point, but I'll give it a try. Based on a once-obscure comic book series, Will Smith stars as J, a new charge at the ultra-secret INS division of the government. J is assigned to track extra-terrestrials currently hiding out on Earth, and is put under the tutelage of veteran agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Much to K's chagrin, J is cocky (Smith was just coming off of 'Independence Day,' so the casting is apt), but a grudging admiration is formed as the pair attempt to take on a rather oozy underworld assassin (Vincent D'Onofrio). All manner of aliens, CGI, and goofy misadventures follow as the Men in Black do battle to save the world.
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, 'Men in Black' is nothing if not energetic. The film's 95-minute runtime sprints by, so much so that the rapid-fire pace soon wore me out. The cartoon visuals and rapid-fire one-liners are at first a rush, but soon the momentum begins to feel belabored. Even the unstoppable Smith gets crushed under the weight of the almost constant stream of aliens, CGI, and action, and the effect is ultimately numbing. By the overdone (yet rushed) climax, 'MIB' comes across as a bit too off-the-cuff and postmodern in its irony for its own good.
'MIB' also feels dated now because it was trying so hard to be hip at the time of is release. Much like the 'Scream' series was to slasher movies, back in 1997 it felt fresh to have a sci-fi comedy that skewered all the conventions of the genre, but that's since been done to death. Like a can of soda that's lost its fizz, 'MIB' must now rest solely on its characters and story, and on that level, it's wafer-thin. We really don't care one whit about J and K, and none of the alien creatures are really all that distinctive (unlike, say, Slimer from 'Ghostbusters,' who remains a memorable creation). Oddly enough, it is D'Onofrio who has aged the best, with his over-the-top insect-as-human villain bringing a touch of comedic inspiration to an otherwise slapdash narrative.
'Men in Black' is not a bad movie, per se. It's remains rather amusing to watch, and Smith and Jones do manage a fine chemistry together (Jones in particular manages a subtle charm in the straight-guy role). Yet, I suspect 'MIB' will be puzzling now to those who never saw it the first time around, or will seem like more of a kid's movie. It's cute and harmless, the cinematic equivalent of a tub of buttered popcorn -- utterly devoid of nutritional value. That's probably still enough for the film's dwindling cult audience, but for more discriminating viewers, 'MIB' probably isn't worth revisiting.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Men in Black' was first made available on Blu-ray in 2008, and for all intents and purposes this new release from Sony appears to be the exact same disc, simply repackaged to coincide with the high-def debut of 'Men in Black 2' and the upcoming theatrical premiere of 'Men in Black 3.' The only new additions seem to be an UltraViolet digital copy and a coupon good for a movie ticket worth up to $10 to see 'MIB 3' or $5 in e-Concession cash. The BD-50 disc is housed in a keepcase that comes in a cardboard slipcover. The packaging indicates that the release is region A, B, and C compatible.
While I don't have the previous Blu-ray to make direct comparisons, this seems to be the exact same 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer found on that earlier release. Though a little uneven and slightly dated, the video presentation holds up fairly well, offering fans of the film a solid visual experience.
The source print is in great shape with only a few fleeting specks here and there. A light layer of grain is visible throughout, but there are also some occasional instances of unwanted noise. Detail is nice but never exactly impressive, and several shots look a tad soft and flat. With that said, the picture still has some strong moments of depth and pop (a shot near the end featuring a slime covered Smith and Jones has a particularly pleasing high-def sheen to it). When it comes to colors, most of the film actually has a rather dull and muted palette, but certain objects and wardrobe choices standout well (Smith's bright red jacket is a good example). Fleshtones can look a bit odd in a few shots, however, with some comparatively oversaturated hues on faces. Contrast is also a tad inconsistent, but the majority of the presentation favors appropriately intense whites. Black levels remain deep and inky throughout. Edge enhancement is apparent in a few scenes, and while noticeable, I didn't find it to be much of a detriment.
'Men in Black' isn't a true standout on Blu-ray but the video presentation serves the film just fine. While the image does show some room for improvement and is slightly outdated, by and large this is still a satisfying transfer.
Again, I don't have the original release to compare to, but this appears to be the same Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track (offered in English, French, and Portuguese). Spanish and Thai Dolby Digital 5.1 options are also included, along with an extensive selection of subtitles. While not quite as enveloping as I would have liked, the mix offers some decent thrills.
Dialogue is full and prioritized nicely. The front soundstage is quite lively with strong directionality and natural imaging, giving the movie a spacious soundfield. Surround activity is decent, offering various music cues and occasional, but not very immersive ambiance. Action scenes are a bit more impressive in this regard, but still don't offer the amount of immersion one might expect. On the plus side, bass activity can be very deep and aggressive (that Noisy Cricket really packs a punch) and the film features a fun assortment of creative effects. From alien roars to splattering bugs and blasting rockets, everything comes through with a pleasing level of fidelity. Dynamic range is good but not quite as wide as contemporary action films.
Much like the video, the audio mix holds up well enough, yet can't compare to contemporary releases. It's punchy and loud when it needs to be, and Danny Elfman's fun score comes through strongly, but the track lacks some nuance and a truly encompassing feel.
All of the previous supplements from the 2008 release (which were all carried over from the DVD) are included here in standard definition. Subtitles on the video-based material are available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.
Though it still offers some marginal entertainment value, 'Men in Black' hasn't aged particularly well. Smith and Jones' chemistry is great, but the pacing is rushed, the jokes are stale, and the plot is just too thin. This "new" Blu-ray release from Sony appears to be a simple repackaging of the original 2008 disc. The video and audio quality both hold up well enough, but aren't as impressive as they were four years ago. There's a nice assortment of supplements but the heavy focus on special effects material can get a bit repetitive. As far as I can tell, the only new addition here is an UltraViolet digital copy and a movie ticket coupon. Fans of the film who don't already own the original Blu-ray should definitely consider picking this up, but for those who already have that earlier disc, unless you really must have a digital copy, there is absolutely no reason to double dip.