MEN IN BLACK, 1997
Directed by Barry Sonnefeld
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Laura Flynn Boyle, Rip Torn, Vincent D’Onfrio
Review by Andrew Kosarko
In the 1950s a super-secret government agency was formed to monitor and police the activities of extraterrestrial aliens on the planet Earth. Some 40 years later a founding father of the agency, Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), finds himself with a new smart-mouthed partner fresh from the NYPD who is soon dubbed Agent Jay (Will Smith). Their first mission is to save the Earth from destruction by a giant insectlike alien (Vincent D’Onfrio) that, incidentally, drives an exterminator’s truck. Armed with their matching Ray-Bans, skinny ties, and space-age weapons that Jay barely understands–he calls the Neuralyzer the “flashy thing”–the new duo begin another average day of fighting intergalactic terrorists.
OSCAR Winner for Best Makeup
OSCAR Nominee for Best Art Direction and Best Music
It’s funny. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. It’s engrossing. What else can you ask for? Oh, Will Smith? Yup, this movie hits the mark across the board.
The Story: The story follows the induction of Agent Jay into the MIB agency. Not only does this give us a background of the agency, but it also gives us an “everyman voice” throughout the film that makes for some great comedy. Will Smith is the guy that says what everyone is thinking, and is still able to twist it to make it funny. He’s teamed with the rough seasoned veteran Agent Kay, who’s on his way out. This perspective really opens up the world and gives us two very contrasting takes on this journey while one character struggles to understand it all, the other is trying to forget it. The story is perfectly structured to involve some minor characters but never getting off base of training Jay and uncovering the mystery of an intergalactic terrorist bug who plans on stealing a precious galaxy from earth (condensed into the size of a marble) which, in turn, puts the aliens trying to keep their enemies from controlling that galaxy, in the position to destroy earth to save themselves. Say what you will, it is an original take on the “destroy the world” problem.
Acting: Not a bad hat in the bunch. There’s things in Hollywood called bank-able elements. AKA, something that is guaranteed to make money for the studio. The actor that will define my generation is Will Smith. You put him in a movie, and you have a hit. Smith really doesn’t get the acclaim he deserves. Sure, he’s no Gary Oldman or Johnny Depp where as he doesn’t dissapear into his roles, but Smith can carry a scene like no other. No other actor in recent memory has been as consistently funny as Smith has. He brings his A-game to everything he does and I have never seen a film where he disappointed me. Tommy Lee Jones, while I have a personal disdain for the man, does a solid job as well. The real “chameleon” of the movie is Vincent D’Onfrio. He is almost unrecognizable once he becomes “the bug.” Granted, there’s a heavy makeup job involved, but the walk of an alien uncomfortable in human skim, persona and voice changes, he really does an incredible job.
Directing: Sonnenfeld is known for more kooky, campy humor, and while that is an element in this film, it never overshadows the narrative. Which is important. Substance over style has always been my favorite approach. There are really no “flat” scenes in the film, and everyone of them keeps you hooked and intrigued.
Cinematography: It works just fine, don’t get me wrong, but there’s really nothing amazing to say about it. It’s just….shot like a movie. Can’t really compliment or condemn it.Production Design: Somehow, there’s this weird off-beat characteristic to the production design, and yet you can’t put your finger on it. I mean, it’s realistic, and yet otherworldly. At times it’s a bit too colorful and leans toward this teal blue color, but overall what matters is that it’s effective. Editing: From what I can gather, it’s effective. It’s not special by any means, but the pacing is there and the emotional resonance is intact in every scene, which is an editor’s two main concerns.
Score: Danny Elfman’s last hurrah if you ask me. His scores following this were on a continual down slide and got worse and worse following this. But this score is solid. It captures the tone of the film, gives it some identity and intensifies the emotional underscores.
Special Effects: This is one of those films that really hits that middle mark in terms of it’s visual effects. Which, in my humble opinion, is right where it needs to be. It’s not overly obvious that it’s CGI, and at the same time it’s not so realistic that it’s not realistic (fif that makes any sense?). It just works. Much like Jurassic park, there’s a blend of the digital composition and live action animatronics which really helps make this world believable.
In closing: I suggest this movie for anyone. It walks the line of being a family movie with some choice language and occasional violence, but is still fun none the less. Guaranteed entertainment.This film won Best Director and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five other categories. The screenwriter was nominated, and rightly so. Taken from a short story that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933 by Maurice Walsh, Green Rushes, Frank Nugent was able to weave a story rich in subtext and conflict.
The collector’s edition of the DVD includes an interview with Maureen O’Hara where she reminisces about filming The Quiet Man, and is well worth watching.