I can’t really expect to cover Will Smith for a month and get away without including the one thing he did with Tommy Lee Jones that had aliens in it. So we turn again away from Smith’s more serious side and return to a role where he gets to be a “little” bit more at ease. The very first time I saw this film was amazing. After that, the movie really retains its wonders and is a real nice flashback to being the age I was when first seeing it. Watching it now I get more of a kick out of the interplay between Smith and Jones; it’s such a well-cast movie that it’s hard to pick another with Smith that is this much fun (because of the cast, let alone great set pieces).
Today’s food for thought: Men in Black.
Release: July 2, 1997
Here come the men in black, galaxy defenders. I actually don’t know which became a bigger hit — the movie, or the song. Every time I so much as think about this flick the song/melody is right behind that thought and I begin humming (or worse, singing) it and pretty much get to those lyrics used above before I realize what I’m doing and stop. But whatever the cause may be, we know that the chicken (in this case, this sci-fi smash hit) came before the egg (one particularly catchy song on Big Willie Style).
In 1997 Barry Sonnenfeld delivered this intergalactic cinematic wonder to the masses, and to say he received a positive response would be the understatement of the century. Men in Black was a phenomenal success (an estimated budget of $90,000,000 yielded a gross of $250,000,000 by January ’98). At the center of this very popular sci-fi comedy is an effective meshing of concept and costume, which is mainly what I’d like to discuss with this movie.
The Concept: Aliens have inhabited our planet — some are good, some are not (like the roaches) — and it is up to this secretive agency (M.I.B.) to protect the human race from any danger caused by their presence. The agency’s overseen by Rip Torn’s “Zed,” and whose main agent, at least for the purpose of this movie, is Agent “Kay” (Jones) is one with several doubts on his mind, the forefront of which being should he have chosen this life over a life with his wife. With technology that supersedes even today’s weaponry (the Neuralizer is one of my all-time favorite movie weapons, right behind the light saber), agents go out into the field and eliminate pests at the same time as clearing the slates of any person who has had contact with aliens. As Will Smith’s Agent “Jay” comes to understand, protecting the public from alien interference is a lifelong servitude. Quitting this job means getting your memory wiped clean so your knowledge of such classified information is no longer a threat to anyone else. It’s not a high-brow concept by any means, but it’s certainly strong enough to make for a thoroughly entertaining flick.
The Costumes: First of all, the good guys dress in black — remember that. (Another lyric.) The agents themselves are certainly quite stylish — a simple black suit with white collared shirts here truly make a statement. But beyond that, it’s really the aliens and the designs of the many types/classifications of the alien race. Starting with the main “villain” here, a massive and angry roach that invades the body of a redneck farmer (Vincent D’Onofrio), given the computer graphics of the late 90s, the creature doesn’t look all that bad. In fact, it’s rather creepy and disturbing — and D’Onofrio gives a spectacular performance considering what he had to do to sell the fact he’s a 9-something-foot alien in a 6-foot human body. This undoubtedly is the centerpiece and best asset of the original Men In Black; as the movie progresses, the hostile extraterrestrial bug becomes more a part of the storyline. Too, it becomes increasingly nasty-looking, as the film finally culminates in a crazy, if not slimy, climax near the New York State Pavilion viewing towers in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Aside from this temperamental guy, a host of other aliens we encounter along the way all possess interesting, fun designs that are likely burned into everyone’s brains for long after (how about “Mikey” in the introductory scene with Kay in the desert?). These designs alone may set apart the movie from all other movies involving aliens, friendly or hostile.
The graphics may lend a certain credence to the idea that the planet has been invaded by aliens and the fact that some of them come in peace while others do not. When we are presented all these different characters, most of them are a likable bunch of cousins of E.T., but the finishing touches come in the form of the human element. The acting in M.I.B. helps propel the film from “great” to “classic.”
At the time of M.I.B.‘s first release, we did not know where the story was going to take us — only where we were currently going. Case in point, I have not cared to see the next installments just because I feel like the first story was where the rapport between Old Veteran (which would be TLJ) and the Young Gun (Smith) is likely to be the strongest. Despite having heard positive reviews of M.I.B. 3, I realize that I need to go through 2 to get there — a movie which did not, apparently, live up to its own hype. I want to keep the movie as a gem of its own, therefore I don’t think I’ll see anything other than the first. The banter between Jones and Smith here is both hilarious and purposeful: how would a former member of the public react to gaining classified, Top Secret information? This movie is a colorful version of what it must be like entering into the CIA or Secret Service or something.
The movie does have its weaknesses, though they are easily overlooked due to the novelty of the concept. Aliens being placed among us, living in human form and subsequently evaluated by a shadowy organization of suited men to determine their purposes on Earth — that’s a pretty radical, cool concept if you ask me. And it seems well-adapted from the novel. It is a blockbuster type of film, however, and it will occasionally sink into cliches and platitudes, but again, these come about relatively infrequently and are more likely to become the observations one makes during a second or third viewing. The first time you get to see this film, I bet it’ll be hard for even the most cynical of moviegoers to say “nay” to this intergalactic keggar.
Recommendation: If you haven’t seen Men In Black, first of all, shame on you. Secondly, go rent it, pronto. If you enjoy having a good time with a movie, I think this one has got you covered.
Running Time: 98 mins.
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