Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Men In Black: DTS - Collector's Series (1997)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - Protecting the earth from the scum of the universe.

Agent Jay (Will Smith) and Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) are turning up the heat on alien terrorists in the biggest sci-fi comedy hit in the galaxy. Go behind the scenes of Men In Black and experience a universe of special features exclusive to this collectible DVD!

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Rip Torn, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tony Shalhoub
Academy Awards: Won for Best Makeup. Nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Original Score-Danny Elfman, 1998.
Box Office: Budget: $90 million. Opening Weekend: $84.133 million (3,020 screens). Gross: $250.147 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English DTS 5.1 & Dolby Surround 2.0, French Dolby Surround 2.0; subtitles English, Spanish, French; closed-captioned; single sided - double layered; 27 chapters; rated PG-13; 98 min.; $29.95; street date 9/5/00.
Supplements: Visual Commentary from Director Barry Sonnenfeld and Star Tommy Lee Jones; Deleted Scenes; Character Animation Studies Using Angles; Tunnel Scene Deconstruction Using Angles; Conceptual Art, Storyboards, andProduction Photo Galleries; Storyboard Comparisons; Original Featurette; All-new Documentary: "Metamorphosis of Men In Black"; DVD-ROM and WebLinks; Music Video; Letter From Barry Sonnenfeld; Production Notes; Talent Files; Theatrical Trailers.
Purchase: DVD Limited Edition | DVD SE | DVD SE - DTS | Official Companion Book - Barry Sonnenfeld | Score soundtrack - Danny Elfman | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/A-/B+

Hooray - time for some more DTS fun! As is usually the case when I review DTS titles for which I've already written a full article about the Dolby Digital product, I'll skip my detailed comments about the movie itself; if you'd like to read them, click here. Suffice it to say that Men In Black is a fun, exciting and clever film that works very well over repeated viewings.

It also is causing some confusion for DVD consumers because Columbia-Tristar (CTS) have released three separate versions of MIB. This DVD and the one reviewed in the article linked above are absolutely identical except that one offers Dolby 5.1 sound instead of DTS audio; it also retails for $29.95. A "limited edition" 2-DVD set exists as well. That one presents the same materials found on the regular DVDs but also will provide a number of other extras, such as an additional audio commentary and a variety of exclusives, and it lists for $39.95.

The DVD:

Anyway, on to my opinions of the DTS DVD. Men In Black appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. To my eyes, this DVD appears to offer a picture identical to that of the Dolby Digital edition. I read another review that felt the two looked dissimilar and that the DTS copy presented a noticeably softer image with different coloration. It didn't look that way to me; I directly compared the two and thought that they both presented the same picture. I felt that both showed good but slightly flawed pictures.

Sharpness generally looks clear and well-defined, with only a few wider shots that display some mild softness. Moiré effects and jagged edges cause no problems, and I noticed only mild artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. The print showed a little grain at times, and I also noticed very minor instances of speckles and a little grit, 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 are deep and dark, and shadow detail generally appears 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 looks just a little too thick for my liking. Nonetheless, MIB presents a very satisfying image as a whole.

Even better is the film's DTS 5.1 soundtrack. The soundfield favors the front channels in that those three speakers display the most distinct and well-oriented audio. The music shows terrific stereo separation, and effects are placed accurately in the spectrum; when appropriate, sound pans smoothly from channel to channel as well, and the front speakers offer a very active presentation. The rears seem a bit skimpy on discrete, "split-surround" information but they make for involved partners nonetheless, as they create a terrific and three-dimensional image. The ship crash toward the end of the film really shows off this track at its best.

Audio quality also seems very strong. Although some dialogue clearly seemed dubbed, the majority of it appears well-integrated, and the speech always sounds natural and distinct, with no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects comes across extremely accurately and clearly; they also display some fine low end and can really add a powerful element to the mix. Danny Elfman's score seems crisp and bright, and it also offers nice bass that gives the track some sweet "oomph.

Okay, I'll admit it: the prior two paragraphs directly quote my review of the Dolby Digital mix. I did this not out of laziness but because the DTS and DD soundtracks were very similar. They demonstrated so many of the same attributes that it felt pointless to try to describe it in an alternate manner; if it ain't broke, why re-write it (or some similar cliché)?

However, I did detect some minor differences between the two tracks. The DTS version displayed slightly stronger bass response and also was somewhat more involving and encompassing. At times the DD mix appeared a little sterile in regard to its soundfield, as the DTS track came across as more full-blooded and rich. Possibly the most notable example of this occurred during the "tunnel" sequence. In both versions, the loud parts - mainly the shots that show the exterior of the car - were pretty similar; both filled the space nicely. However, the quieter interior bits favored the DTS mix, as they provided slightly broader imaging. Ultimately, the differences seemed quite minor; unlike a title such as Jaws or Saving Private Ryan, I didn't feel strongly that the DTS mix clearly surpassed the DD one, which is why my grade remained the same. However, with all else being equal, the DTS track is the way to go; the improvements are slight, but they exist.

Men In Black packs in a few nice supplemental features, and it starts with a cool video commentary from director 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. 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, 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 LD and found it to be one of the worst I'd ever heard. This piece improves upon it significantly.

Two different sections cover the DVD's other extras. 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 which 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 a broad range of topics are discussed. 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 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.

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.

"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 157 (!) frames apiece for a total of 476 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 88 shots each; the total comes to 181 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.

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 clips for fellow Smith film Bad Boys and an ad for the 1999 video release of Ghostbusters.

We get "Talent Files" for five of the actors, Sonnenfeld, and five other crew members. Just like most CTS DVDs, these are extremely brief and largely devoid of any useful information. The DVD also includes a terrific eight-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.

Finally, this DVD contains DVD-ROM materials. These include: "MIB Training Center: MIB Weapons Overview; Non-Lethal MIB Devices; MIB Game. Resident Alien Tracking. 3-D Exploration of MIB Headquarters. Direct Links to,"

When I first wrote my review, I didn't get the chance to try out these pieces but I thought they sounded cool. Unfortunately, the reality differs from that impression. Easily the most interesting component was the "Resident Alien Tracking". It shows you icons for a few different critters; if you click on them, you discover a little more information about them. It only takes about three minutes to digest all the data, but it was fun while it lasted.

The same cannot be said for the other parts. The "MIB Game" is a complete waste of time. It puts you into the part of the movie where the MIB applicants had to decide which "targets" to shoot. Here, however, it's more basic; shoot the scary monsters, don't shoot the MIB. The graphics are fairly terrible, and the fun level extremely low.

"Non-Lethal MIB Devices" is cute for about 20 to 30 seconds but that's it. This part shows us some different toys like the "Spectral Analyzer" and lets you play with them. Unfortunately, although the program implies additional attempts will yield different responses, it appears that one size fits all. For example, you can test specimens to your heart's delight, but I never got an analysis other than "alien - not good". Cute concept, weak execution.

The same goes for the "Weapons Overview", which works along similar lines as the prior bit. Finally, the "3-D Exploration" just lets you look about a small, poorly-depicted corner of the headquarters; I lasted about 30 seconds with that dud before I called it quits. The weblinks may provide some additional goodies, but since they're readily available to all with Internet connections, I don't regard them as special. (Actually, all of these pieces appear on the "MIB" website, so even those without DVD-ROM capabilities can suffer through them just like I did!)

Men In Black isn't a great movie but it's a fine "popcorn flick" that offers a lot of wit and excitement through its 98 minutes. The DVD provides a very good picture plus terrific sound and some solid extras. Men In Black would make a fine addition to your DVD collection - now you just have to narrow down which version to buy. For those with DTS capabilities, this disc is probably the one to get. The LE adds a few decent extras but nothing spectacular, and it should be left for only the most addicted supplements-junkies. Chances are excellent you'll be almost as pleased with this set, and since it costs less and features slightly improved sound, it seems like the best choice for DTS users.

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