Men in Black (1997 film)
Men in Black is a 1997 American science-fiction action comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, and written by Ed Solomon. Loosely adapted from The Men in Black comic book series created by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers, 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.
|Men in Black|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Barry Sonnenfeld|
|Produced by||Walter F. Parkes|
|Screenplay by||Ed Solomon|
|Story by||Ed Solomon|
|Music by||Danny Elfman|
|Edited by||Jim Miller|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Releasing|
|Box office||$589.4 million|
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 United States. It received worldwide acclaim, with critics highly praising its witty, sophisticated humor, plot, thematic profundity, action scenes, Jones and Smith's performances, directing, special effects and Danny Elfman's musical score. The film received three Academy Award nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Makeup, winning the latter award.
After a government agency makes first contact with aliens in 1961, alien refugees live in secret on Earth by disguising themselves as humans in the New York metropolitan area. Men in Black is a secret agency that polices these aliens, protects Earth from intergalactic threats and uses memory-erasing neuralyzers to keep alien activity a secret. Men in Black agents have their former identities erased and retired agents are neuralyzed and given new identities. After an operation to arrest an alien criminal named Mikey near the Mexican border by Agents K and D, D decides that he is too old for his job, prompting K to neuralyze him and look for a new partner.
New York Police Department officer James Darrell Edwards III pursues a supernaturally fast and agile suspect into the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Impressed, K interviews James about his encounter, then neuralyzes him and leaves him a business card with an address. Edwards goes to the address and undergoes a series of tests, for which he finds unorthodox solutions, including a rational hesitation in a targeting test. While the other candidates, who are military-grade, are neuralyzed, K offers Edwards a position with the Men in Black. Edwards accepts and his identity is erased, becoming Agent J respectively.
In upstate New York, an alien illegally crash-lands on Earth and kills a farmer named Edgar to use his skin as a disguise. Tasked with finding a device called "The Galaxy", the Edgar alien goes into a New York restaurant and finds two aliens (disguised as humans) who are supposed to have it in their possession. He kills them and takes a container from them, but is angered to find only diamonds inside. After learning about the incident in a tabloid magazine, K investigates the crash landing and concludes that Edgar's skin was taken by a "bug", a species of aggressive cockroach-like aliens. He and J head to a morgue to examine the bodies the bug killed. Inside one body (which turns out to be a piloted robot) they discover a dying Arquillian alien, who says that "to prevent war, the galaxy is on Orion's belt". The alien, who used the name Rosenberg, was a member of the Arquillian royal family; K fears his death may spark a war.
Men in Black informant Frank the Pug, an alien disguised as a pug, explains that the missing galaxy is a massive energy source housed in a small jewel. J deduces 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 the coroner, Laurel Weaver. Meanwhile, an Arquillian battleship fires a warning shot in the Arctic and delivers an ultimatum to Men in Black: return the galaxy within a "galactic standard week", or an hour of Earth time, or they will destroy Earth.
The bug arrives at the observation towers of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows, which disguise two real flying saucers. Once there, Laurel escapes the bug's clutches when it accidentally drops her. It activates one of the saucers and tries to leave Earth, but K and J shoot it down and the ship crashes into the Unisphere. The bug sheds Edgar's skin and swallows J and K's guns. K provokes 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 the bug apart from the inside, having found his gun inside its stomach. J and K recover the galaxy and relax, thinking the whole ordeal over, only for the still living upper half of the bug to pounce on them from behind, but Laurel kills it with J's gun.
At Men in Black headquarters, K tells J that he has not been training him as a partner, but a replacement. K bids J farewell before J neuralyzes him at his request; K returns to his civilian life and Laurel becomes J's new partner, L.
- Tommy Lee Jones as Kevin Brown/Agent K: J's grizzled and humorless mentor. Clint Eastwood turned down the part, while Jones only accepted the role after Steven Spielberg promised the script would improve, based on his respect for Spielberg's track record. He had been disappointed with the first draft, which he reportedly said "stank"; he felt it did not capture the tone of the comic.
- Will Smith as James Darrell Edwards III/Agent J: A former NYPD member, newly recruited to the MIB. Smith was cast because Barry Sonnenfeld's wife was a fan of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Sonnenfeld also liked his performance in Six Degrees of Separation. Chris O'Donnell turned down the role because he found the role of a new recruit too similar to Dick Grayson, whom he played in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. David Schwimmer also turned down the part. Like Jones, Smith said he accepted the role after meeting with Spielberg and cited his success as a producer.
- Linda Fiorentino as Dr. Laurel Weaver/Agent L: A deputy medical examiner who has had a few run-ins with the MIB in the past.
- Vincent D'Onofrio as Edgar the Bug: A giant alien insect who eats a farmer and uses his skin as a disguise. He comes to earth to kidnap the Galaxy and use it to destroy the Arquillians. John Turturro and Bruce Campbell were both offered the role.
- D'Onofrio also portrays the farmer/abusive husband that gets killed by the Bug and has his form used by him.
- Rip Torn as Chief Zed: The head of the MIB.
- Tony Shalhoub as Jack Jeebs: An alien, posing as a pawn shop owner, who deals in illegal weapons.
- Siobhan Fallon Hogan as Beatrice: The sexually abused wife of the abusive farmer Edgar, whom the 'Bug' killed and used his skin as a disguise.
- Mike Nussbaum as Gentle Rosenberg: An Arquillian jeweler who is the guardian of "the Galaxy".
- Jon Gries as Nick, the van driver
- Sergio Calderón as Jose
- John Alexander as Mikey: An alien who poses as a Mexican being snuck across the border.
- Patrick Breen as Mr. Redgick
- Becky Ann Baker as Mrs. Redgick
- Carel Struycken as Arquillian
- Fredric Lehne as Agent Janus
- Kent Faulcon as Jake Jensen
- Richard Hamilton as Agent D: K's partner at the start of the film, he decides he is too old for the job and has K erase his memory so he can retire.
- David Cross as Newton
- Patrick Breen as Redgick
- Sean Whalen as Passport Officer
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Development and writingEdit
The film is based on Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers'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. Men in Black was delayed so as to allow Sonnenfeld to make it his next project after Get Shorty.
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. 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.
Filming began in March 1996. Many last-minute changes ensued 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. Five potential replacements were discussed. One of these had Laurel Weaver being neuralyzed and K remaining an agent. 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.
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. These changes to the plot were carried out when only two weeks remained in the film's post-production, but the film's novelization still contains the Baltians.
Design and visual effectsEdit
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.
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 Arquillian 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". 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." 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.
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Danny Elfman composed the film's score, making use of his usual combination of orchestra and electronics. 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.
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.
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In advance of the film's theatrical release, its marketing campaign included more than 30 licensees. Galoob was the first to license, in which they released various action figures of the film's characters and aliens. Ray-Ban also partnered the film with a $5–10 million television campaign. Other promotional items included Hamilton Watches and Procter & Gamble's Head & Shoulders with the tagline "Keeping the Men in Black in black".
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 and 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. A Men in Black role-playing game was also released in 1997 by West End Games.
Men In Black was released on videocassette and DVD on November 25, 1997. Its home video release was attached to a rebate offer on a pair of Ray-Ban Predator-model sunglasses. The film was re-released in a Collector's Series on videocassette and DVD on September 5, 2000. The film were also featured in a two-disc deluxe limited edition box set with the film presented in widescreen and full screen versions. The Limited Series DVD was accompanied with several bonus features including an interactive editing workshop for three different scenes from the film, extended storyboards, conceptual art and production photo galleries. The Blu-Ray was released on June 17, 2008. The entire Men In Black trilogy was released on 4K Blu-Ray on December 5, 2017 in conjunction with the film's 20th anniversary.
On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 86 reviews, and an average score of 7.47/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Thanks to a smart script, spectacular set pieces, and charismatic performances from its leads, Men in Black is an entirely satisfying summer blockbuster hit." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 71 out of 100, based on 22 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four praising the film as "a smart, funny and hip adventure film in a summer of car wrecks and explosions." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars out of four giving particular praise to the film's self-reflective humor and Rick Baker's alien creature designs. Janet Maslin, reviewing for The New York Times, wrote the film "is actually a shade more deadpan and peculiar than such across-the-board marketing makes it sound. It's also extraordinarily ambitious, with all-star design and special-effects talent and a genuinely artful visual style. As with his Addams Family films and Get Shorty, which were more overtly funny than the sneakily subtle Men in Black, Mr. Sonnenfeld takes offbeat genre material and makes it boldly mainstream."
Writing for Variety, Todd McCarthy acknowledged the film was "witty and sometimes surreal sci-fi comedy" in which he praised the visual effects, Baker's creature designs, and Elfman's musical score. However, he felt the film "doesn't manage to sustain this level of inventiveness, delight and surprise throughout the remaining two-thirds of the picture." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly graded the film a C+ writing "Men in Black celebrates the triumph of attitude over everything else — plausibility, passion, any sense that what we're watching actually matters. The aliens, for all their slimy visual zest, aren't particularly scary or funny (they aren't allowed to become characters), and so the joke of watching Smith and Jones crack wise in their faces quickly wears thin." John Hartl of The Seattle Times, claimed the film "is moderately amusing, well-constructed and mercifully short, but it fails to deliver on the zaniness of its first half." While he was complimentary of the film's first half, he concluded "somewhere around the midpoint they run out of energy and invention. Even the aliens, once they stop their shape-shifting ways and settle down to appear as themselves, begin to look familiar."
Men in Black grossed $250.6 million in the United States and Canada, and $338.7 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $589.3 million.
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.
|Academy Awards||Best Makeup||Rick Baker and David LeRoy Anderson||Won|
|Best Art Direction||Bo Welch and Cheryl Carasik||Nominated|
|Best Original Musical or Comedy Score||Danny Elfman||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Comedy or Musical||Nominated|
|BAFTA Awards||Best Special Effects||Nominated|
|Saturn Awards||Best Science Fiction Film||Won|
|Best Director||Barry Sonnenfeld||Nominated|
|Best Writing||Ed Solomon||Nominated|
|Best Actor||Will Smith||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor||Vincent D'Onofrio||Won|
|Best Music||Danny Elfman||Won|
|Best Special Effects||Nominated|
On Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, "Men in Black" placed 409th. 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.
American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- Agent J & Agent K - Nominated Heroes
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
- "Men in Black" - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "You know the difference between you and me? I make this look good." - Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 - Nominated Science Fiction Film
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- Ebert, Roger (July 1, 1997). "Men in Black Movie Review & Film Summary (1997)". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
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