Men In Black appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen picture was reviewed for this article. Though the image wasn't quite flawless, it seemed very strong nonetheless.
Sharpness generally looked clear and well defined. Only a few wider shots displayed some mild softness. Moiré effects and jagged edges caused no problems, but I did notice some light edge enhancement at times. The print showed a little grain at times, and I also noticed very minor instances of speckles and a little grit - most notably during the scene where Edwards chased and met his first alien - but for the most part, the movie seemed clean.
Colors looked accurate and well saturated, with no concerns related to noise or bleeding. I felt the hues could have appeared a bit more bold and daring for this kind of film, but I had no complaints about them. Black levels were deep and dark, and shadow detail generally appeared appropriately dense but not overly opaque. However, some scenes - particularly during the first half of the film - showed slightly excessive heaviness in the shadows. For example the "illegal aliens" segment looked just a little too thick for my liking. Nonetheless, MIB presented a very satisfying image as a whole.
As mentioned earlier, this package features a fullscreen version of MIB in addition to the same letterboxed transfer found on the other two discs. I didn't screen the entire fullframe image for quality, but I did check out enough of it to confirm that the picture definitely provides a pan and scan transfer. Unlike some mildly letterboxed films, MIB isn't open matte; even in scenes that don't involve special effects, the fullscreen edition clearly crops the sides of the picture. For example, check out the scene in which Jay takes the MIB written test; the fullscreen image loses one of the six chairs. As far as I'm concerned, the pan and scan transfer is nothing more than a waste of DVD space.
Men In Black featured a very strong Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The soundfield favored the front channels in that those three speakers displayed the most distinct and well-oriented audio. The music showed terrific stereo separation, and effects were placed accurately in the spectrum; when appropriate, sound panned smoothly from channel to channel as well, and the front speakers offered a very active presentation. The rears seemed a bit skimpy on discrete, split-surround information but they made for involved partners nonetheless, as they created a terrific and three-dimensional image. The ship crash toward the end of the film really showed off this track at its best.
Audio quality also seemed very strong. Although some dialogue clearly sounded dubbed, the majority of it appeared well integrated, and the speech always appeared natural and distinct, with no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects came across extremely accurately and clearly; they also displayed some fine low end and could really add a powerful element to the mix. Danny Elfman's score seemed crisp and bright, and it also offered nice bass that gave the track some sweet "oomph". I recall not liking the 5.1 mix on my old LD of MIB, but I'm not sure why; logically the two should be the same, but I thought this one worked extremely well.
Men In Black packs in a few nice supplemental features, and it starts with a cool video commentary from director Barry Sonnenfeld and star Tommy Lee Jones. Columbia-Tristar offered their first video commentary on Ghostbusters, and I believe their only other attempt at one came on Muppets From Space. In both cases, I thought it was a cute idea but of little value.
For the most part, that sentiment remains true, but the MIB track makes better use of the technology than its predecessors do. A video commentary presents silhouettes of the participants at the bottom of the screen, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style. This track adds a new component: Sonnenfeld uses a telestrator which lets him "draw" on the screen. That's the part of the piece that makes it more fun than the others; Sonnenfeld circles items to highlight them and also writes some comments like "CGI" on top of such-created effects. He starts slowly, but the telestrator activity picks up nicely about halfway through the film. I'm still not convinced that video commentaries are anything more than a
gimmick, but this one helps sell the format.
The content of their remarks helps as well; of the three video commentaries I mention, this one offers the most lively and entertaining conversation. Sonnenfeld dominates and provides the most data. Actually, Jones may ask as many questions as he answers, but the two have a nice rapport and they create a fun dynamic that would have been absent otherwise. That last statement isn't just speculation; I listened to Sonnenfeld's solo commentary on the MIB laserdisc and found it to be one of the worst I'd ever heard. This new one greatly improves upon that clunker.
A second audio commentary appears on the DE as well. This one is called a "technical commentary" because it mainly deals with the "nuts and bolts" aspects of making the movie. It features Sonnenfeld, creature creator Rick Baker, visual effects supervisor/second unit director Eric Brevig, animation supervisor Rob Coleman, and computer graphics supervisor John Andrew Berton Jr. Most of the participants were recorded separately, though two of them were together; I believe Coleman and Berton were taped in the same session, but it was hard to tell. I also think that Sonnenfeld's comments come from the old LD commentary; however, since I don't have that release anymore, I can't say this for certain.
Overall, this track offers a pretty nice look at the creation of MIB. Not too much of the information from the video commentary repeats here, and although the technical information could have come across as dry and dull, it usually seems pretty interesting. The remarks have been edited together neatly so that we mainly hear valuable information. The track's lack of scope keeps it from being great, but I still found it enjoyable and valuable.
The MIB Deluxe Edition takes most of the supplements that appeared on the movie disc of the other two releases and puts them on DVD 2; that's necessary due to the added fullscreen version of the film. The only extras that remain on DVD 1 are the two commentaries. Everything else can be found on the second platter, though the first disc's menus may mislead you into thinking otherwise; all of the same headers are listed, but if you click on them, they just tell you to go to DVD 2.
So switch discs I shall do, and it's on to DVD number two! Three cumulative sections appear here. First up is "Creating MIB". This department includes the majority of the features. We find Metamorphosis of MIB, a 23-minute and 10-second documentary about the film. It's
quite a solid piece that combines cast and crew interviews with film clips and a very strong selection of shots from the production of the movie. As is typical of this sort of piece, special effects receive the greatest attention, but they discuss a broad range of topics. I particularly enjoyed the presentation of some scenes as originally written; a few segments were changed in post-production through dubbing, and the documentary shows them as first conceived. The program also covers other alterations made from the script, and it offers a brief but satisfying look at the movie.
Five Deleted/Extended Scenes appear. There should be a greater emphasis on "extended", as most of the segments fit that description. The fourth clip is actually just an alternate version of an existing scene, and the fifth shows one piece without digital effects added. The snippets run from 35 to 65 seconds with a total time of four minutes and 15 seconds. Although none of the clips are terribly fascinating, they still merit a look.
Tunnel Scene Deconstruction lets you utilize the poor neglected "angle" button on your remote. After a 60-second intro from Sonnenfeld, we can check out the "tunnel scene" in five different renditions: storyboards; bluescreen shoot; bluescreen composite; lighting and animation; and final cut. Each of these lasts 90 seconds, and they can be viewed with or without technical commentary. Note that only one 90 second commentary track exists, so if you select it, the piece will play over and over again. One nice touch: the different clips loop to the next if you don't change them, which means that you can watch the whole sequence of segments in order without having to reselect them each time.
A second "deconstruction" appears as well. This one involves the "Edgar Bug Fight". It's quite similar to the first but is a little more fun and longer. Again we find five different angles available, and all can be screened with or without commentary. These clips last four minutes each, and the same commentary accompanies all of them. It doesn't do anything new, but it's fun - I liked it more than the "tunnel" scene, if just because it's great to see Smith and Jones acting to nothing, and I also loved the
"stand-in" featured in angle two.
The "Art and Animation" subsection provides still more alternate-angle options. Character Animation Studies provides a 50 second introduction from Sonnenfeld and offers three different very short looks at character creation. Each snippet lasts between six and 12 seconds and features four different stages: "preliminary", "adding skin and texture", "animation and lighting", and "final character composited into scene". As with the "tunnel scene" area, these will loop through the available angles without intervention.
Creatures: Conception to Completion offers a creative but unfulfilling way to demonstrate the evolution of some different participants. We see the animated development of Edgar Bug, Jeebs, Mikey, Mr. Gentle and Farmer Edgar. The images start off as drawings and eventually "morph" into the final photographed characters. It's a cute idea, but it seemed a bit lame; frankly, it added nothing to my knowledge of the movie and just came across as a clever concept with little practical value.
Storyboard Comparisons features this form of presentation for three different scenes. Storyboards take up the top half of the screen while the finished film fills the bottom segment. Each of the three snippets lasts between 85 and 120 seconds with a total of five minutes and 15 seconds. Additional storyboards are found in their own domain; we get five scenes that display between 11 and 63 boards for a grand total of 195 frames of material. I'm not a huge fan of storyboards, but these are presented well and offer some mildly interesting information.
Boohoogles of additional stillframe data appears in both the Conceptual Art and in the Production Photo Gallery. The former creates nine different subsections with between 11 and 207 (!) frames apiece for a total of 599 shots. The emphasis is on drawings of alien characters and other fantastic elements of the film, but we also get some good photos, especially of the stages of make-up gone through by D'Onofrio.
The "PPG" includes three different realms which offer between 42 and 112 shots each; the total comes to 205 pictures. We get a nice mix of effects preparation plus images of the cast on the set. These sections provided a nice look at the intricate work done on the film; it's great to see the detail and artistry put into material that may be barely visible on-screen.
Note: the above-related sections both appear on the single-disc releases of MIB. However, the DE provides additional images in each. We find 123 more shots in "CA" and another 24 pictures in "PPG".
Another addition to the DE involves a Scene Editing Workshop. This mildly cool piece lets you recut three different scenes. You can recreate "The Farmhouse", "The Morgue", and "Jay's MIB Tryout". For your version, you have to connect three different segments, and within each part, you can choose from three varying takes. Frankly, this feature may not be as much fun as it sounds, but I thought it was enjoyable nonetheless, especially since it let me compare my choices to the final product. The brevity of the scenes - none of which last more than maybe 15 seconds - makes the program of limited use, but it was still a neat addition, and I hope to see more complicated versions of this kind of extra in the future.
That finally completes the "Creating MIB” area - next up is "Meet the MIB". This area is less ambitious and features the DVD's more ordinary elements. The original featurette falls into the category of glorified trailer. (I need a new name for those - maybe I'll call them "glorlers".) The six-minute, 35-second program shows a mix of film clips, interview snippets, and some shots from the set. The latter are mildly interesting but the whole thing's too brief to go anywhere. This is clearly a promotional puff piece.
Will Smith's sharp video for the title song appears, and we find a few trailers in an area called The MIB Recommend. That location contains both the teaser and the theatrical trailer for MIB itself plus teasers for Stuart Little 2 and MIB II. It also provides an ad for Spider-Man.
We get Talent Files for five of the actors, Sonnenfeld, and five other crewmembers. Just like most CTS DVDs, these are extremely brief and largely devoid of any useful information. The DVD also includes a terrific twelve-page booklet that's one of the best I've seen. It includes some
details about the DVD's features but also tosses in other fun features, like an "identity release form for new agents". We even get a special note from Sonnenfeld about the film and the DVD. Most DVD booklets are just token items, but this one makes for a very nice addition to the whole package.
Note: the single-disc release features an eight-page booklet, which this one adds to but otherwise replicates. The additional pages provide information about the supplements that are exclusive to the DE and LE releases and show a few more movie photos and some of the "Character Conceptual Drawings" that appear in the "Concept Art Gallery". Also, the booklet offers different cover art plus the type is white on a black background, whereas the eight-page text uses black on a white background.
The DE includes a third section called MIB II Secret Files. This features one component, a three minute and 10 second featurette about the sequel. It mixes movie clips, behind the scenes material, and interview snippets with Will Smith, Barry Sonnenfeld, Tommy Lee Jones, and Lara Flynn Boyle. It’s nothing more than a trailer, really. Although it shows mostly shots from the set, it provides no real information and exists just to promote the film.
Finally, this DVD contains DVD-ROM materials. When I first reviewed MIB, I didn’t own a DVD-ROM drive so I couldn’t check out the pieces. Now I possess one so I can see for myself just how lame many of these things are. “Resident Alien Tracking” is actually somewhat fun. It provides some biographical information about some of the film’s critters. The piece is insubstantial but entertaining.
The “3-D Exploration of MIB Headquarters” offers a fairly boring Quicktime look at one part of that set. Many other bits pop up within the “MIB Training Center”. “MIB Weapons Overview” provides some basic notes about six of the movie’s arms, while “Non-Lethal MIB Devices” offers interactive play with five objects as well as more info about vehicles and the dress code. Those parts are decent, but the interactive stuff stinks; it’s very basic and lame.
This area’s final component, the “MIB Game”, is equally crummy. With crude graphics and stiff control, the contest would have looked outdated a decade ago. It seems primitive and lacks any form of entertainment value.
Finally, we get a few links. The “MIB Online Universe” connects to a website with some decent materials, while we also find connections to websites for Hasbro, Tiger Toys, CTS Home Entertainment and MIB II. I waited two years to see this stuff - it wasn’t worth it.
So how does the “Deluxe Edition” compare with the “Limited Edition”? For the most part, they appear identical. The DE adds the materials related to MIB II, and it offers a different selection of non-MIB trailers and a few alternate weblinks. It also slightly alters the 12-page booklet to mention the sequel, while the DE lacks the conceptual drawing reproduction found in the LE.
I’ve always liked Men In Black, and it works well on DVD. The main question remains which DVD you should get. If you already own one of the older versions of MIB, you have virtually no reason to bother with this new “Deluxe Edition”. It includes very little new material and definitely doesn’t merit a re-purchase.
However, it you don’t already possess any version of MIB, I think the DE is the way to go. It provides the same good picture and sound quality of the older releases and it also includes the strongest collection of extras. While the supplements are almost identical to those found on the Limited Edition, the DE has one significant advantage: it’s much cheaper. The LE retailed for $39.95, while the DE goes for a mere $24.95. That’s a good price for a fine package, so those new to MIB definitely should grab this set.