Men in Black (film)

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This article is about the 1997 science fiction film. For the 1934 Three Stooges film, see Men in Black (1934 film).
Men in Black
Men in Black Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Produced by Walter F. Parkes
Laurie MacDonald
Steven Spielberg (exec.)
Written by Ed Solomon
Based on The Men in Black 
by Lowell Cunningham
Starring Tommy Lee Jones
Will Smith
Linda Fiorentino
Vincent D'Onofrio
Rip Torn
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Don Peterman
Edited by Jim Miller
Production
company
Amblin Entertainment
MacDonald/Parkes Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • July 2, 1997 (1997-07-02)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $90 million[1]
Box office $589.4 million[1]

Men in Black is a 1997 American science fiction buddy cop action comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald. Loosely adapted from The Men in Black comic book series created by artist Lowell Cunningham, the film stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as two agents of a secret organization called the Men in Black who supervise extraterrestrial lifeforms who live on Earth and hide their existence from ordinary humans. The film featured the creature effects and makeup of Rick Baker and visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic.

The film was released on July 2, 1997, by Columbia Pictures, and grossed over $589.3 million worldwide against a $90 million budget, becoming the year's third highest-grossing film, with an estimated 54,616,700 tickets sold in the US.[2] It received worldwide acclaim, with critics highly praising its witty, sophisticated humor, Jones and Smith's performances, and Danny Elfman's musical score. The film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Makeup, winning the latter award.

The film has spawned two sequels, Men in Black II (2002) and Men in Black 3 (2012), and an animated series. A reboot of the film series has been discussed and is in development.

Plot[edit]

Alien refugees from various corners of the universe live in secret on Earth, most of them disguised as humans and living in New York City. Men in Black (M.I.B.) is a secret agency that polices and monitors these aliens, protects the world from intergalactic threats and uses memory-erasing neuralyzers to keep alien activity a secret from the general public. Agents of M.I.B. have all traces of their former identities erased from the world at large and retired agents are neuralyzed to erase all memory of the M.I.B..

NYPD officer James Darrell Edwards III pursues a supernaturally fast and agile suspect who attacks him with a bizarre self-destructing weapon, then scales a building with his bare hands. Before the suspect leaps to his death, Edwards confronts him and notices his irises blink horizontally. Meanwhile, in upstate New York, an alien crash-lands and kills a farmer named Edgar to use his skin as a crude disguise.

K arrives at the precinct station, neuralyzes Edwards' disbelieving colleagues and questions Edwards about his encounter before neuralyzing him as well. Edwards is left with an M.I.B. business card and follows the instructions to arrive the following day at an underground base at Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority ventilation station which is the M.I.B.'s secret headquarters. Competing with several recruits from the armed forces on a series of tests, Edwards prevails due to his unconventional thinking. While the other candidates are neuralyzed, K takes him aside and explains M.I.B.'s mission, then offers him the position of an M.I.B. agent. Edwards accepts and his identity is erased, becoming Agent J, the newest M.I.B. recruit.

K and his new partner, J, investigate the crash landing on the farm and discover that Edgar's killer is a "bug", a giant cockroach-like alien. The bug goes to a New York restaurant and kills an alien, Rosenberg, and his associate. K and J head to the morgue, posing as health officials to the deputy medical examiner, Dr. Laurel Weaver, who shows them the bug victims' corpses possess extreme oddities. Laurel and J discover the body of Dr. Rosenberg is a disguised container for a smaller alien, an Arquillian whose dying words warn that "to prevent war, the galaxy is on Orion's belt". K neuralyzes Laurel and a follow up team removes the evidence of aliens from the morgue.

M.I.B. informant Frank the Pug, an alien disguised as a dog, explains that the missing galaxy is a massive source of energy housed in a small jewel that could enable the bugs to eliminate the Arquillians. The bug and J separately deduce that the galaxy is hanging on the collar of Rosenberg's cat, "Orion", which refuses to leave the body at the morgue. J and K arrive just as the bug takes the galaxy and kidnaps a clueless Laurel. The Arquillians deliver an ultimatum to M.I.B: return the galaxy within an hour, or they will destroy the Earth.

The bug forces Laurel to drive him to the site of two disguised flying saucers, the observation towers of the New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows. While Laurel escapes his clutches, the bug escapes on one saucer, but K and J shoot it down. It sheds Edgar's skin and swallows J and K's guns. K insults it until he too is swallowed. The bug tries to escape on the other ship, but J slows it down by taunting it and crushing cockroaches, angering it. K blows it apart from the inside, having found his gun inside its stomach. They recover the galaxy but the bug's surviving upper half attacks them again. Laurel, who witnessed the whole thing, shoots the bug with J's gun.

Rather than neuralyze Laurel, K tells J that he is ready to retire, as being in the bug's stomach is one of many memories he doesn't want. K hands J the neuralyzer and bids him farewell before J neuralyzes him. K returns to his civilian life and Laurel becomes J's new partner, L.

Cast[edit]

Voices[edit]

Production[edit]

Development and writing[edit]

The film is based on Lowell Cunningham's comic book The Men in Black. Producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald optioned the rights to The Men in Black in 1992, and hired Ed Solomon to write a very faithful script. Parkes and MacDonald wanted Barry Sonnenfeld as director because he had helmed the darkly humorous The Addams Family and its sequel Addams Family Values. Sonnenfeld was attached to Get Shorty (1995), so they approached Les Mayfield to direct, as they had heard about the positive reception to his remake of Miracle on 34th Street. They actually saw the film later and decided he was inappropriate.[citation needed] Men in Black was delayed so as to allow Sonnenfeld to make it his next project after Get Shorty.[3]

Much of the initial script drafts were set underground, with locations ranging from Kansas to Washington, D.C. and Nevada. Sonnenfeld decided to change the location to New York City, because the director felt New Yorkers would be tolerant of aliens who behaved oddly while disguised. He also felt much of the city's structures resembled flying saucers and rocket ships.[3] One of the locations Sonnenfeld thought perfect for the movie was a giant ventilation structure for the Brooklyn–Battery Tunnel, which became the outside of the MIB headquarters.[4]

Filming[edit]

Filming began in March 1996. Many last-minute changes endured during production. First, James Edwards chasing a disguised alien was to occur at the Lincoln Center. But once the New York Philharmonic decided to charge the filmmakers for using their buildings, Sonnenfeld and Welch went for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Then, five months into the shoot, Sonnenfeld decided that the original ending, with a humorous existential debate between Agent J and the Bug, was unexciting and lacking the action that the rest of the film had.[4] Five potential replacements were discussed. One of these had Laurel Weaver being neuralyzed and K remaining an agent.[3] Eventually it boiled down to the Bug eating K and fighting J, replacing the animatronic Bug Rick Baker's crew had developed with a computer-generated Bug with an appearance closer to a cockroach. The whole action sequence cost an extra $4.5 million to the filmmakers.[4]

Further changes were made during post-production to simplify the plotline involving the possession of the tiny galaxy. The Arquillians would hand over the galaxy to the Baltians, ending a long war. The Bugs need to feed on the casualties and steal the galaxy in order to continue the war. Through changing of subtitles, the images on M.I.B.'s main computer and Frank the Pug's dialogue, the Baltians were eliminated from the plot. Earth goes from being potentially destroyed in the crossfire between the two races into being possibly destroyed by the Arquillians themselves to prevent the Bugs from getting the galaxy.[3] These changes to the plot were carried out when only two weeks remained in the film's post-production, however, the film's novel still contains the Baltians.[7]

Design and visual effects[edit]

Production designer Bo Welch designed the M.I.B. headquarters with a 1960s tone in mind, because that was when their organization is formed. He cited influences from Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, who designed a terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. As the arrival point of aliens on Earth, Welch felt M.I.B. HQ had to resemble an airport.[3]

Rick Baker was approached to provide the prostethic and animatronic aliens, many of whom would have more otherworldly designs instead of looking humanoid. For example, the reveal of Gentle Rosenberg's Arquilian nature went from a man with a light under his neck's skin to a small alien hidden inside a human head. Baker would describe Men in Black as the most complex production in his career, "requiring more sketches than all my previous movies together".[4] Baker had to have approval from both Sonnenfeld and Spielberg: "It was like, 'Steven likes the head on this one and Barry really likes the body on this one, so why don't you do a mix and match?' And I'd say, because it wouldn't make any sense." Sonnenfeld also changed a lot of the film's aesthetic during pre-production: "I started out saying aliens shouldn't be what humans perceive them to be. Why do they need eyes? So Rick did these great designs, and I'd say, 'That's great — but how do we know where he's looking?' I ended up where everyone else did, only I took three months."[8] The maquettes built by Baker's team would later be digitized by Industrial Light and Magic, who was responsible for the visual effects and computer-generated imagery, for more mobile digital versions of the aliens.[4]

Music[edit]

Danny Elfman composed the film's score, making use of his usual combination of orchestra and electronics. The score also makes prominent use of jazz for the M.I.B. theme, which consists of an ostinato, usually played on lower instruments. Will Smith recorded a song based on the film's plot, also called "Men in Black". Elvis Presley's cover of "Promised Land" is featured in the scene where the MIB's car runs on the ceiling of Queens–Midtown Tunnel.[6]

Two different soundtracks were released in the U.S.: a score soundtrack and an album, featuring various songs. In the U.K., only the album was released.

Promotion[edit]

Galoob released various action figures of the film's characters and aliens. An official comic adaptation was released by Marvel Comics. The official Men in Black game is a third-person shooter developed by Gigawatt Studios and published by Gremlin Interactive. Released to lackluster reviews in October '97 for the PC and the following year for the PlayStation. Also a very rare promotional PlayStation video game system was released in 1997 with the Men in Black logo on the CD lid. Men in Black: The Animated Series was created by Sony Pictures Television, and also inspired several games. Men in Black was the inspiration behind the Men in Black: Alien Attack ride at Universal Studios Orlando, in which Will Smith and Rip Torn reprised their roles. A Men in Black role-playing game was also released in 1997 by West End Games.

Reception[edit]

Men in Black won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, and was also nominated for Best Original Score and Best Art Direction. It was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.[9]

The film received critical acclaim and currently holds a 92% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes film critic website, with an average score of 7.7/10 based on 226 reviews and the consensus on the site states: "Thanks to a smart script, spectacular set pieces, and charismatic performances from its leads, Men in Black is an entirely satisfying summer blockbuster hit."[10] The film holds a 71% on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11] On Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, "Men in Black" placed 409th.[12]

Following the film's release, Ray-Ban stated sales of their Predator 2 sunglasses (worn by the organization to deflect neuralyzers) tripled to $5 million.[13]

American Film Institute Lists

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Men in Black (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  2. ^ "Men in Black". Box Office Mojo. May 30, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h David Hughes (2003). Comic Book Movies. London: Virgin Books. pp. 123–129. ISBN 0-7535-0767-6. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Metamorphosis of 'Men in Black'", Men in Black Blu-ray
  5. ^ "Summer Movie Preview". Entertainment Weekly. 1997-05-16. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  6. ^ a b c Barry Sonnenfeld, Tommy Lee Jones. Visual Commentary. Men in Black. 
  7. ^ Donnelly, Billy (May 25, 2012). "Things Get A Bit Heated Between The Infamous Billy The Kidd And Director Barry Sonnenfeld When They Talk MEN IN BLACK 3". Ain't It Cool News. 
  8. ^ Steve Daly (1997-07-18). "Men in Black: How'd they do that?". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  9. ^ "Men in Black (1997) — Awards and Nominations". Yahoo!. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  10. ^ "Men in Black". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-11-16. 
  11. ^ http://www.metacritic.com/movie/men-in-black
  12. ^ "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire Magazine. Retrieved 2012-05-28. 
  13. ^ Jane Tallim (2002). "And Now a Word From Our Sponsor... Spend Another Day". Media Awareness Network. Retrieved 2008-10-14. 

External links[edit]