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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 10/24/00



Men in Black

review by Todd Doogan and Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Men in Black: Collector's Series


Men in Black
Collector's Series - 1997 (2000) - Amblin (Columbia TriStar)

Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/A

Specs and Features

98 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, visual/audio commentary with director Barry Sonnenfeld and actor Tommy Lee Jones (indexed), Metamorphosis of MiB "making of" featurette, MiB "EPK" featurette, 5 extended/deleted scenes, teaser trailer, 3 theatrical trailers (for Men in Black, Ghostbusters and Bad Boys), Men in Black music video by Will Smith, talent files, Tunnel Scene Deconstruction video with introduction and optional technical commentary (multi-angle), character animation studies (multi-angle), conceptual art gallery, storyboard gallery, storyboard comparisons, production photo gallery, PC Friendly DVD-ROM extras (including interactive MiB "recruit training" game, information on MiB weapons and equipment, bios of Manhattan-area "aliens", MiB Headquarters Quicktime VR exploration and weblinks), collectible booklet, animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, scene access (27 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French & Spanish, Closed Captioned


Men in Black: Collector's Series (DTS)

Encoded with DTS 5.1 Digital Surround
Men in Black (DTS)
Collector's Series - 1997 (2000) - Amblin (Columbia TriStar)

Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A+/A

Specs and Features

98 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, visual/audio commentary with director Barry Sonnenfeld and actor Tommy Lee Jones (indexed), Metamorphosis of MiB "making of" featurette, MiB "EPK" featurette, 5 extended/deleted scenes, teaser trailer, 3 theatrical trailers (for Men in Black, Ghostbusters and Bad Boys), Men in Black music video by Will Smith, talent files, Tunnel Scene Deconstruction video with introduction and optional technical commentary (multi-angle), character animation studies (multi-angle), conceptual art gallery, storyboard gallery, storyboard comparisons, production photo gallery, PC Friendly DVD-ROM extras (including interactive MiB "recruit training" game, information on MiB weapons and equipment, bios of Manhattan-area "aliens", MiB Headquarters Quicktime VR exploration and weblinks), collectible booklet, animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, scene access (27 chapters), languages: English (DTS 5.1 and DD 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French, Spanish & Japanese, Closed Captioned


Men in Black: Limited Edition (2 discs)

Men in Black
Limited Edition - 1997 (2000) - Amblin (Columbia TriStar)

Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
98 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), custom dual-disc "library case" packaging, visual/audio commentary with director Barry Sonnenfeld and actor Tommy Lee Jones (indexed), audio technical commentary with Barry Sonnenfeld, Rick Baker & ILM effects team (indexed), collectible booklet (different that the one in the Collector's Series discs), "Farmer Edgar" collectible poster signed by Barry Sonnenfeld and Rick Baker (a limited number will feature original signatures), animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, scene access (27 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Mandarin & Cantonese, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Features
Metamorphosis of MiB "making of" featurette, MiB "EPK" featurette, 5 extended/deleted scenes, 2 teaser trailers, 5 theatrical trailers (for Men in Black, Ghostbusters, The Mask of Zorro, Starship Troopers and Bad Boys), Men in Black music video by Will Smith, talent files, Tunnel Scene Deconstruction video with introduction and optional technical commentary (multi-angle), Edgar Bug Fight Scene Deconstruction video with introduction and optional technical commentary (multi-angle), 3 Scene Editing Workshops for The Farmhouse, Jay's Tryout for the MiB and The Morgue with introduction (where you get to "edit" your own version of the scene, view it and compare it to the version in the film), character animation studies (multi-angle), Creatures: Concept to Completion (video morphs of the various design stages of 5 different aliens in the film), "extended" conceptual art gallery , storyboard gallery, storyboard comparisons, "extended" production photo gallery, PC Friendly DVD-ROM extras (including interactive MiB "recruit training" game, information on MiB weapons and equipment, bios of Manhattan-area "aliens", MiB Headquarters Quicktime VR exploration and weblinks), animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects and music


"We are the best kept secret in the Universe. Our mission is to monitor extraterrestrial activity on Earth. We are your best, last and only line of defense. We work in secret. We exist in shadow. And we dress in black."

When it comes to summer movies, it'd be a hard call to name the all-time best that ever was. If you were to actually try to make a list however, Men in Black would probably be high up on it. No... it's not a great film. Don't be silly. But it IS a great summer movie. Any other time of the year, if you were to try and release this film, it would be laughed at (and not in a good way). But stick it on the silver screen during the hot summer months... and you have magic, my friend.

Men in Black is the touching coming of age story of an unacknowledged government agency's struggle to help mankind and alien live and work together in peace here on Earth. The aliens give us technology and we give them a melting pot and killer fast food to enjoy. The thing is, most of us (as in the human race) don't know they exist... and I'm talking both the agency and the aliens. The men and women charged with dealing with all things not-of-this-world are known as the Men in Black (aka MiB), the tried and true heroes of law enforcement that silence whole towns when they get too close to the facts. Tommy Lee Jones plays Agent K, a veteran bug-buster breaking in a new partner. Will Smith plays said new partner, the tough-talking, street-smart Agent J, a former New York cop and newly minted MiB. Together, the pair uncovers a salacious plot by an intergalactic cockroach (played by Vincent D'Onofrio - go figure) to destroy an entire galaxy. Oh... and if they fail to stop this vile bug and save said galaxy by sundown, our planet will be toasted by a fleet of alien battleships. But don't worry, it's just another day at the office for our heroes in the MiB. Apparently, this kind of thing happens all the time.

MiB is fun, funny, cute, wacky and filled to the brim with cool special effects. The performances, for what they are, are all top-notch and the script isn't half bad. You've even got fun bit parts by Rip Torn and Tony Shalhoub. The problem with MiB, is that the film moves way too fast, with way too much information and action happening in too short a period of time. That makes it hard to really invest yourself in the plot... and before you know it, the film's over. But hey - I mean, we're not talking Lawrence of Arabia here. This is grade-B Hollywood summer fun. You have to pretty much understand that this isn't gonna hold up under a microscope. And who is really gonna hold this under a microscope? If you absolutely hate this film, then this review (or any of these DVDs) is not for you. But if you pass on any of these discs, you're really missing out on something, 'cause they're cool enough to be standard issue MiB.

To properly talk about these DVDs, know one thing - they're absolutely packed. I mean jam-packed. So much so, that we're using two people to review them. Todd (that's me - Hi) is reviewing the audio and video quality on the discs. And our faithful editor Bill will jump in soon to review the extras and talk about the differences between the three DVD versions available (he'll say hello a little further down). So let's begin...

The film itself is available in two formats, anamorphic widescreen and full frame, both of which are available on the Limited Edition. The regular Dolby Digital and DTS Collector's Editions feature just the anamorphic widescreen. And, whichever version you choose, the first thing you should know, is that somehow, Columbia TriStar was able to compress the film's 98-minute running time such that it fits on just one layer of a dual-layered DVD with room to spare. That's pretty impressive. That also means no layer switches. The Sony DVD Center has certainly got the compression process down pat, because I'm guessing that the average bit rate on this title is less than 4 mbps (mega bits per second). As I said, that's impressive. But it's one thing to compress the hell out of the video - it's another to make it look good at the same time. Here again, Columbia impresses. I wouldn't call this a reference quality transfer - the picture is occasionally a little soft at times and a little edgy at others. But the blacks are tremendous - deep and detailed with excellent range of contrast. The color scheme of the film is a bit on the 1960s deco/muted side, with bursts of vibrant color during effects-heavy scenes. But the hues are accurate and steady, and flesh tones look particularly good. The print used in the transfer is pretty clean with very little grain and dust. And given the high compression, you'll see surprisingly little digital artifacting. All in all, if you want to pick nits, you'll find nits to pick. But I think most people will be very happy with this video.

On the audio side, the regular Collector's Series disc and the Limited Edition 2-disc set come packaged with English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, both of which sound pretty out of this world. The 5.1 track features a very busy surround mix, filled with lots of panning and directional effects, and active rear channels. Dialogue is centered up front and it's nice and clear. The mix creates plenty of great atmosphere and Danny Elfman's playful score sounds terrific here, right from the opening credits. Best of all, there's plenty of low frequency sound to rattle your walls. There is also a DTS Collector's Series disc, which features English DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The DTS track, as expected, creates a clearer and more natural sounding audio experience, with smoother panning and a wider soundstage. It's also got plenty of bass to satisfy the most demanding DTS-heads. You should also know that a French 2.0 track is also available on all three versions. So that's the sound - now here's Bill to talk extras...

Hiya, gang! Time to talk supplements, which are plentiful on all these discs. I'll start with the Men in Black: Collector's Series disc and build from there. All the discs feature cool animated menus that take you deep into MiB Headquarters, where you can pick your pleasure from the available options. In addition to the audio and video in the disc, you also get a tons of extras, starting with a "video" commentary featuring director Barry Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones. This is very similar to the Mystery Science Theater 3000-style commentary on Ghostbusters and Muppets From Space. It's pretty conversational, with Jones continually setting Sonnenfeld up by asking what seems like stupid questions, that we know he probably knows the answers to. It sounds odd, and it is, but it ends up coming off pretty well in the end. And every once in a while, Sonnenfeld starts drawing pictures on the screen a la John Madden doing football play by play. Nice touch. The rest of the extras are broken up into two sections - Meet the MiB and Creating MiB. Meet the MiB features talent files, the Will Smith music video for the theme song, a 6-minute EPK-style behind-the-scenes video and the film's teaser trailer and theatrical trailer, along with additional trailers for Bad Boys and Ghostbusters. Creating the MiB breaks things down a little more, giving you a look at the creative choices involved in the making of the film. This starts off with a good 23-minute featurette on the film, Metamorphosis of MiB, which includes interview with the cast, crew and effects artists. It also features an interview with the writer of the original comic book the film is based on, along with a look at a few deleted or extended scenes not available elsewhere on this disc. Next up, you get a video segment called Tunnel Scene Deconstruction, where you can use the "angle" button on your remote to step through the various stages of the making of the scene, from storyboards to temp effects to the final film. It includes optional technical commentary and an introduction by Sonnenfeld. The next extra is a section of 5 deleted/extended scenes (different from the ones we see in the featurette). Then there's an extensive production photo gallery and a section on Art & Animation. The latter features more galleries of conceptual artwork and storyboards, including a video piece that compares several storyboarded sequences to the final filmed versions and a multi-angle piece that lets you look at the various stages of character design. Then there are the PC Friendly DVD-ROM extras, which include an interactive MiB "recruit training" game, information on MiB weapons and equipment, bios of Manhattan-area "aliens" and a Quicktime VR tour of the MiB Headquarters. There's weblinks, but who cares? Throw in English, French and Spanish subtitles and a cool collector's booklet, and wrap it all up in an Amaray keep case, and you've got yourself a nifty little special edition.

If you choose to buy the Men in Black: DTS Collector's Series disc for the improved sound, you'll get virtually identical extras as the Dolby Digital version, with the exception of the addition of an additional subtitle option: Japanese. The DTS soundtrack, which takes up somewhat more room on a DVD than Dolby Digital, does not appear to noticably affect the picture quality. I'm guessing the video compression was enough that it wasn't a problem - an amazing achievement any way you shake it down.

But if you want the full-on experience of this flick, the Men in Black: Limited Edition is the only way to go. It's 2 discs pack everything from the regular Collector's Series discs, and throw in even more. I have only one complaint about the Limited Edition, which is that this is the only version of Men in Black on DVD to contain a full frame version of the film. I think that was a mistake - the full frame should have been its own, separately available disc. The reason for this, is that anyone who wants all the added bonus material this 2-disc set gives you, probably also wants a DTS sound option... but no dice here. In any case, that's a tiny complaint. Disc One of this set contains the two versions of the film (anamorphic widescreen and full frame), along with the visual commentary and the audio options. THIS version, for whatever reason, again features different subtitle choices: English, French, Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin... but no Japanese (I'm sure there's a reason for this, but I have no idea what it is). This disc also includes an added Technical audio commentary track with Sonnenfeld, creature man Rick Baker and members of the ILM effects team, as they talk about the make-up effects, cinematography, opening credits, head-exploding effects, giant bug creations and more. You special effects nuts will eat this stuff up. All of the bonus material found in the Creating MiB and Meet the MiB sections of the Collector's Series discs are relegated to Disc Two in this Limited Edition, as are all the DVD-ROM extras. The key thing to note about that, is that there are several new bonus items only available here. First, the conceptual art and production photo galleries have been "extended" from the Collector's Series versions, meaning that many more stills have been added to an already comprehensive collection of images. Also, in addition to the Tunnel Scene Deconstruction, you're treated to another such multi-angle presentation on the Edgar Bug Fight Scene, again with optional technical commentary and a Sonnenfeld introduction. There's also a new selection in the Art & Animation section which shows you the development of various creatures in the film, step by step from concept art to the final creature. As you step through it, the images "morph" from one to the next. It's a nice touch. But the coolest added bonus that the Limited Edition gives you are the Scene Editing Workshops, which allow you to edit your own versions of three major scenes in the film. You go through each scene shot by shot, selecting from a number of available digital bits of "film" as you go. Once you've compiled a version you like, you can watch it and then compare it to the final version of the scene that appeared in the movie. This is a nifty feature that pushes the idea and fun of what you can do with the capabilities of the DVD format. I think people will really get a kick out of this. Now... add all THAT together with a bigger, badder collector's booklet and a collectible poster drawing of "Farmer Edgar" signed by Sonnenfeld and Baker (a limited number of which will feature their ACTUAL handwritten signatures), and wrap it all up in a nifty black library case, and you've got just about everything you could possibly want about this film in one sweet little DVD box.

We think Men in Black is a pretty fun summer flick, and these DVDs are a fine way to wait out the Winter until the next summer blockbuster season. The Men in Black: Limited Edition is almost as cool, in its own way, as Artisan's T2: Ultimate Edition or Disney's The Ultimate Toy Box. And if you go the less expensive route, or really want DTS sound, you're gonna be very happy with the quality and the sheer amount of extras you'll get on either of the Men in Black: Collector's Series discs. Cudos to Columbia TriStar for blowing us away again. How many rabbits do you guys have up your sleeves, anyway?

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Men In Black: Collector's Series


Men In Black: Collector's Series (DTS)


Men In Black: Limited Edition


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