Men in Black (film)

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Men in Black
Men in Black Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBarry Sonnenfeld
Produced byWalter F. Parkes
Laurie MacDonald
Steven Spielberg
Screenplay byEd Solomon
Story byEd Solomon
Based onThe Men in Black 
by Lowell Cunningham
StarringTommy Lee Jones
Will Smith
Linda Fiorentino
Vincent D'Onofrio
Rip Torn
Music byDanny Elfman
CinematographyDonald Peterman
Editing byJim Miller
StudioAmblin Entertainment
MacDonald/Parkes Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • July 2, 1997 (1997-07-02)
Running time98 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$90 million[1]
Box office$589,390,539[1]
 
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Men in Black
Men in Black Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBarry Sonnenfeld
Produced byWalter F. Parkes
Laurie MacDonald
Steven Spielberg
Screenplay byEd Solomon
Story byEd Solomon
Based onThe Men in Black 
by Lowell Cunningham
StarringTommy Lee Jones
Will Smith
Linda Fiorentino
Vincent D'Onofrio
Rip Torn
Music byDanny Elfman
CinematographyDonald Peterman
Editing byJim Miller
StudioAmblin Entertainment
MacDonald/Parkes Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • July 2, 1997 (1997-07-02)
Running time98 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$90 million[1]
Box office$589,390,539[1]

Men in Black is a 1997 American comic science fiction action spy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald and starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. The film was based on Lowell Cunningham's The Men in Black comic book series, originally published by Aircel Comics, with a plot following two agents of a secret organization called 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 $589,390,539 worldwide against a $90 million budget.

An animated series based on the film, titled Men in Black: The Series, ran from 1997 to 2001 on The WB. A live-action sequel, Men in Black II, was released in 2002. This was followed by Men in Black 3 in 2012. The success of the film inspired Marvel (who, by 1997, owned the property) to option other properties for development, later collaborating with Columbia Pictures to produce Spider-Man amongst other projects.

Plot[edit]

Men in Black (M.I.B.) is a secret non-government agency that polices extraterrestrial alien refugees that are residing on Earth and are disguised as humans, created in 1961 after the first contact. The agency operates from an underground base at a Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority ventilation station in Battery Park. MIB members use neuralyzers on witnesses' memories of alien sightings, maintaining the secrecy of the presence of aliens and of the MIB itself. MIB is monitoring about 1500 aliens around the world, most of them in the vicinity of New York City.

One night, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) and his partner, D (Richard Hamilton) intercept a truck containing illegal immigrants, and allow everyone to cross into America except for an extraterrestrial, who is disguised as a human because he is an intergalactical fugitive. When a suspicious United States Border Patrol agent, who saw K and D pose as fellow Border Patrol agents, sees the alien without its disguise, the alien attacks him, forcing K to destroy it and use the neuralyzer on the agent and his colleagues, claiming that the alien remains splattered all over them are from when the agent shot an underground gas main with his gun. D, feeling too old, asks K to use the neuralyzer on him.

Meanwhile, James Darrell Edwards III (Will Smith) is a New York police officer pursuing a man on foot while his out-of-shape colleagues can't catch up. While chasing the incredibly fast and agile fugitive, he corners him and the man throws an odd looking gun away, which disintegrates, and escapes. When Edwards corners the man again at the top of the (Guggenheim Museum), he sees the man blink with a set of secondary eyelids before jumping over the roof and killing himself. K arrives at the precinct station, (where no one believes Edwards's incredible story), questions Edwards about the incident, then takes him to a pawnshop run by a man named Jack Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub), an MIB informant who Edwards knew for dealing stolen goods, to identify the strange weapon the criminal drew on him.

While questioning Jeebs, K reveals Jeebs is an alien by blowing his head off with a weapon, which grows back immediately. After Edwards finds a weapon identical to the one he saw among Jeebs' hidden stash of alien technology, K realizes that the gun was meant to be used in an assassination, but Jeebs is unable to provide any further information. K uses the neuralyzer on Edwards, takes him to dinner, and leaves him an MIB business card. Later, Edwards goes to the MIB's secret headquarters and competes with several others to qualify to join the agency. During one part of the test, a written exam, the candidates struggle to complete the test due to the oddly shaped chairs, until Edwards pulls a table over for him to use. At another part involving a shooting gallery, Edwards refuses to shoot several aliens because he thinks that they are doing normal everyday things, but shoots a little girl for carrying suspicious quantum physics textbooks. After the tests, K takes him aside (while Zed uses the neuralyzer on the others for failing the tests) and offers him the position. Edwards accepts and his identity is erased, becoming Agent J, and explains the nature of MIB and tells him that he will have to distance himself from any human contact to maintain secrecy, and that he will get his own neuralyzer when he learns.

Suspicious of why extraterrestrials are suddenly leaving the planet, the M.I.B. investigate a farmer named Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio), who has been acting strangely after an alien craft crashed on his farm and destroyed his truck. Edgar has been killed and his skin used as a disguise by a "Bug", a member of a giant cockroach-like species that are at war with several other alien races, including the Arquillians and the humans. An Arquillian prince hiding in Brooklyn who is disguised as a human jewelry store owner is attacked by the "Bug" and appears to die along with his tall friend. The body is taken to the city morgue and investigated by Dr. Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino). During the investigation K and J arrive at the morgue posing as doctors. The head of the dead Arquillian "opens" while being examined by Dr Weaver and J revealing the actual Arquillian prince inside. Before dying the prince tells J that "the galaxy is on Orion's belt".

M.I.B. informant Frank the Pug (Tim Blaney), a Remoonian disguised as a small lapdog, explains that the missing galaxy is a massive source of energy housed in a small jewel. The Bug and J both figure out the galaxy is hanging on the collar of Rosenberg's cat Orion, who refuses to leave the prince's body at the morgue. Orion has been taken care of by Dr. Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino). J arrives at the morgue just as the Bug kidnaps Weaver and grabs the galaxy. The Arquillians deliver an ultimatum to M.I.B. to secure the galaxy within an hour, or they will destroy Earth.

The Bug arrives at the site of two disguised flying saucers, the observation towers of the New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows. K and J are close behind and destroy one saucer, causing it to crash through the Unisphere. The Bug sheds Edgar's skin and swallows J's and K's guns. K tells J to stop the Bug from getting onto the other ship, then taunts the Bug until K too is swallowed. J infuriates the Bug by crushing cockroaches and taunting him.

The Bug is blown open from the inside by K, who located his weapon in the Bug's stomach. As J and K sit on the ground covered in slime, the mortally wounded insect tries to attack again, but is killed by Weaver using J's weapon. The three return to M.I.B. headquarters and K tells J that he has not been training him as a partner, but rather as a replacement, as he is tired of a life as an agent. J reluctantly uses the neuralyzer on K, using a story that he has been suffering in a coma for 35 years to allow him to return to his civilian life and the young woman he left behind. A few days later, it is revealed that Weaver also joined M.I.B. and is now J's new partner, Agent L.

As a coda, the camera rapidly pulls back, showing that Earth and the Milky Way galaxy are also inside an alien marble being used in a cosmic game, revealing that, like the galaxy in a necklace, we are tiny.

Cast[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.[2]

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[3] Five potential replacements were discussed. One of these had Laurel Weaver being neuralyzed and K remaining an agent.[2] 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.[3]

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.[2] 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.[6]

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. Being the arrival point of aliens on Earth, Welch felt M.I.B. HQ had to resemble an airport.[2]

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".[3] 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."[7] 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.[3]

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.[5]

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 Germlin 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 Musical or Comedy Score and Best Art Direction. It was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.[8]

The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, having a 91% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes film critic website, 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."[9] On Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, "Men in Black" placed 409th.[10]

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.[11]

American Film Institute Lists

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Men in Black (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i David Hughes (2003). Comic Book Movies. London: Virgin Books. pp. 123–129. ISBN 0-7535-0767-6. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Metamorphosis of 'Men in Black'", Men in Black Blu-Ray
  4. ^ "Summer Movie Preview". Entertainment Weekly. 1997-05-16. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  5. ^ a b c Barry Sonnenfeld, Tommy Lee Jones. Visual Commentary. Men in Black. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Steve Daly (1997-07-18). "Men in Black: How'd they do that?". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  8. ^ "Men in Black (1997) — Awards and Nominations". Yahoo!. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  9. ^ "Men in Black". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-11-16. 
  10. ^ "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time". Empire Magazine. Retrieved 2012-05-28. 
  11. ^ Jane Tallim (2002). "And Now a Word From Our Sponsor... Spend Another Day". Media Awareness Network. Retrieved 2008-10-14. 

External links[edit]