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Men in Black(1997)
The adventures of J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones), two federal agents aka, The Men in Black, who are assigned to investigate all alien related phenomena. The agents uncover an intergalactic plot to assasinate two ambassadors from opposing galaxies who happen to reside in New York City. Jay and Kay's mission is to foil the plot by tracking down the terrorist, thereby preventing the earth from being destroyed.
For more about Men in Black and the Men in Black Blu-ray release, see Men in Black Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on August 1, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith (I), Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rip Torn, Tony Shalhoub
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
» See full cast & crew
Men in Black Blu-ray Review
Men in 4K masters.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 1, 2013
1500 years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and 15 minutes ago you knew we were alone on this planet. Can you imagine what you'll know tomorrow?
In the great tradition of the alien/monster/comedy sub-genre that features such films as Mars Attacks! and Eight Legged Freaks, Men in Black is likely the most popular offering the genre has ever seen due to its exciting visuals, over-the-top characters, and the dynamic duo that is Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Released in 1997, the film features a young Will Smith who, at the time, was just finding his cinematic stride with the hits Independence Day and Bad Boys under his belt. In contrast, Tommy Lee Jones brings a commanding, veteran screen presence to his role with an Oscar nomination (Best Actor in a Supporting Role, JFK) and an Oscar win (Best Actor in a Supporting Role, The Fugitive) as well as a plethora of standout performances, including his roles in Under Siege, Natural Born Killers, and Cobb on his resumé. Before you begin to think this information is worthless filler, there is a point to it: both actor's careers, at the time Sony released Men in Black, seem to parallel their on-screen characters almost precisely. Smith, with a short but impressive resumé, plays the brash, up-and-coming, still wet-behind-the-ears, energetic, new kid on the block; Jones portrays the grizzled veteran who's been in the trenches, knows the business (both acting in his "real life" job as well as the MiB in the movie) inside and out. As such, Jones commands a great deal of attention and respect the moment he steps on-set or dons the black MiB suit when director Barry Sonnenfeld (RV) yells "action". The film is expertly casted; both Jones and Smith are the perfect choices for their respective roles, and that, above all else, is the primary reason why Men in Black works as well as it does.
Agent K (Jones) is a member of an organization that deals with extraterrestrial activities on Earth, an organization so secretive that even the U.S. Government doesn't know of its existence. It's funded through the holding of patents on several inventions provided to us by aliens, such as velcro (although I could have sworn that Vulcans introduced that technology to us). When his partner retires after his last bust of an "illegal alien," K quickly discovers a suitable replacement in the form of NYPD officer James Edwards (Smith), a fast-talking, quick-witted, physically gifted individual whose recent run-in with an alien leads K to believe that he'd make an excellent addition to the MiB team. Almost immediately, Edwards, now code-named agent "J", receives his first assignment alongside agent K. They find themselves quickly thrown into the fire when they are called upon to save the planet from imminent destruction by a group of aliens who want their "galaxy" back. Up against a tough opponent in the form of a former farmer named Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio, Full Metal Jacket) whose skin is turned into a disguise for an alien who seeks possession of the the same galaxy, J and K find themselves in a deadly (and slimy!) race against time to save the world, involving along the way humanoids controlled remotely by tiny aliens, a talking dog named Frank, and a coroner named Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino, Dogma).
Men in Black feels like a live-action cartoon, which I think is the intent. In that regard, the movie is a complete success. Like the best of cartoons, it's over-the-top in nearly every scene where something always looks, sounds, or feels slightly off-kilter. Perhaps the best example is Edgar's wife, Beatrice (Siobhan Fallon, Forrest Gump). Although a seemingly "normal" individual, her fast-talking, slightly slurred speech places her squarely in the realm of "weird," although being married to Edgar, that's understandable. Nary a scene goes by where the abnormal to you and I is not presented as the norm in the world of Men in Black, be it the awkward seating arrangement where the newest MiB recruits take their written exam, the nonchalance of the humans in the command center to an out-of-control super bouncy ball and to the presence of aliens in the break room serving coffee, illegal aliens who really are aliens, or a man meandering around town with his skin hanging off the bone. Men in Black does a fantastic job of creating a world all its own, a world we recognize as being our own, but almost always with an oddity or out-of-place person, place, or thing.
Will Smith has clearly matured as an actor. The brash, young, "hip" character he portrays here plays in stark contrast to some of his more recent roles as seen in I Am Legend and The Pursuit of Happyness. Different style movies these are, yes, but his range as an actor has come quite a long way since the days of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-air" and Independence Day where Smith's shtick seemed to rely completely on one-liners, a hip attitude, and good looks over a dramatic acting ability. That's not to belittle his his early work; his portrayal of the characters he played in his younger years are spot-on perfect for the attitude and feel of those films, as is his more developed dramatic flair better suited to his recent roles. His comedic touch here is solid gold, much like his more serious and dramatic acting is Oscar-worthy in those more recent Smith projects (a fact recognized by the Academy as well; Smith was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Chris Gardner in the aforementioned The Pursuit of Happyness). Tommy Lee Jones and Vincent D'Onforio are great as well in Men in Black. D'Onforio's uniquely odd character is portrayed on-screen well, aided as much by the mannerisms he emotes as the makeup he wears. As I noted above, Men in Black is one of the finest examples of a film aided by its excellent casting, perhaps even more so than its story line, direction, or special effects.
Men in Black Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sony's commitment to releasing the finest Blu-ray products is evident with every spin of a Sony-branded disc. The consistency of product -- from the latest blockbusters to the most cherished classic titles from years gone by -- is arguably tops in the entire industry, and why shouldn't it be; Sony was a lead Blu-ray design and advocacy outfit, its PlayStation 3 console offered disc playback and instant wide format adoption, and the first wave of titles released back in 2006 bore the Sony label on the spine. Since then, and through a few growing pains and spurts -- a bloody format war, a misstep or two, the transition from Dolby TrueHD to DTS-HD Master Audio -- the studio has emerged as the most trustworthy in the industry when it comes to its Blu-ray product. When it says Sony, chances are extremely high that the movie is going to look (and sound) about as good as the format allows. Now, Sony is recalling the days of its "Superbit" DVD releases with the emergence of "Mastered in 4K" (*) Blu-ray discs. The new transfers are sourced from 4K masters but here's where the giant asterisk comes in: they're then downscaled to standard Blu-ray 1080p resolution. That means buyers can enjoy them on their regular old Blu-ray players and their regular old HDTVs -- no fancy new hardware required. The downside is that viewers aren't really seeing the material in 4K; even those who shell out the large sum of cash for a new 4K TV will be treated only to an upscaled presentation, much the same way today's regular old TV/playback 1080p device combos upscale standard definition DVDs.
Watching the "Mastered in 4K" transfer in 1080p does yield some benefits over the standard 1080p Blu-ray releases, even if it's not a true 4K experience. The discs take advantage of a significantly higher bitrate than regular old Blu-ray discs, meaning more muscle to produce the finest picture quality, revealing superior details and showcasing that perfect cinematic, pleasing grain texturing for pictures photographed on film and more accuracy for those photographed in the wholly digital realm. "Mastered in 4K" discs also promise superior color balance and accuracy, reproducing a more faithful-to-the-source palette that will reveal the sort of natural shading and subtle nuance even the best of 1080p Blu-ray cannot match. More, Sony promises enhanced viewing on its own line of 4K TVs thanks to a proprietary upscaling algorithm that's designed to squeeze the most out of the "Mastered in 4K" line of Sony discs, above and beyond what any competitor's display can offer. Makes sense considering some branch of Sony is at work along every step of the process. Unfortunately, one of Sony's shiny new 4K televisions was not available for review purposes, but suffice it to say that either of the launch displays -- the 55" and 65" XBR-labeled sets -- will undoubtedly offer the best consumer viewing picture to date, whether joined with a Sony "Mastered in 4K" disc or a regular old Blu-ray from any studio.
Men in Black earns a healthy visual upgrade with its "Mastered in 4K" presentation. While the original release looks quite good for a five-year-old Blu-ray, the 4K master marks an obvious improvement. Here, colors appear deeper, more accurate, and a bit more naturally bold. Whether loud reds and yellows, slimy greens and blues, or darker shades of brown and gray, the palette sees a nice surge in stability and accuracy in every instance. Flesh tones, too, look great, while black levels never stray towards crush or, on the other side, paleness. Details prove quite a bit more accurate, too. Image clarity earns a significant boost. Fine textures are naturally pronounced, whether skin and clothing intricacies or more effects-heavy visual elements that rely on complex goings-on to sell the authenticity of the alien. The picture enjoys a very strong film-like texturing with a fairly sharp and moderately heavy grain structure. On the downside, there are minor bouts of noise and a couple of edge halos. Nevertheless, it's a noticeable improvement over the previous release.
Men in Black Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Men in Black crashes down on Blu-ray with a high-octane, sci-fi extravaganza Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. This soundtrack offers a wide array of sound to bombard your senses and utilizes every millimeter of every speaker in your home theater. When Mikey is killed at the beginning, the sound crescendos to a nearly impossibly loud ensemble of sound, involving highs, lows, and everything in between. Another fascinating sonic sequence comes when Edwards arrives at MiB training grounds and listeners are treated to a wide array of interesting sounds, including the fans blowing as he enters the facility, the screech of the table he drags, and the ringing of the gunshots during a "trial by fire." There is generally a surround presence heard throughout the movie, be it the film's score, the bustle of the MiB command center (including the chaos that is the ball that caused the 1977 New York blackout), or ambient city noise. Dialogue is precise and clean, always played at a perfect volume in relation to the film and its soundtrack. The film's action scenes are sure to give the best home theater systems a harsh workout. The first time Agent J fires the "Noisy Cricket" outside of the jewelry store and the action scene that follows is a brief exercise in action done right, sonically. Pushing the "little red button" results in the second-finest example of chest-rattling bass in the movie (keep watching for the best), not to mention some fantastic directionality as a "car" speeds through a tunnel from the back of our screening room to the front. Like its video quality, Men in Black's audio track isn't the best, but you'll be hard-pressed to find ten+ year-old catalogue titles that sound much better, and this is easily the best this film has sounded on home video.
Men in Black Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This 4K Blu-ray release of Men in Black contains no bonus content.
Men in Black Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Men in Black is a film that works well thanks in large part to its ensemble cast. Along with a fantastic concept, an interesting cast of alien characters, and plenty of humor, Men in Black's popularity as a sci-fi/comedy favorite is easily justifiable. Sony's "Mastered in 4K" Blu-ray release of Men in Black features standout video that's an upgrade over the previous release. Audio remains excellent but all supplements have been removed. Recommended to mega Men fans, but probably not worth it to most.
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