Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Men in Black

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, September 28, 2000

Did he say when?

Special features

Commentary Track7
Deleted Scenes5
Music Video4
Scene Builder5
Special Effects Notes6

A secret organization of special agents with no sense of humor centered in New York. Why do they have to remain secret? Probably because they’re cops and they’re nice to people. You just don’t do that in New York. This is a feature-packed DVD for a reasonably funny movie. Can’t believe it was the highest grossing film from Columbia, however. That doesn’t say much for the rest of Columbia’s content.

DirectorBarry Sonnenfeld
WritersLowell Cunningham, Ed Solomon
Movie Rating5
Transfer Quality7
Overall Rating6
  • Enhanced Widescreen
  • Pan and Scan

This special edition DVD set comes in an all-black case with silver letters.

The movie stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as members of a secret “extra-terrestrial immigration service”. Jones was very good in this movie, and was one of the reasons it held together. The scene in the police station where Jones asks Smith if the supposed “alien” said anything, and Smith says something (truthfully) that is totally ridiculous, Jones’ response, in all seriousness, was a grounder. It grounded the movie and made the funny stuff more human and, within the confines of the screen, believable.

The other main actors, Rip Torn and Vincent D’Onofrio, were very good. D’Onofrio did a wonderful job as the alien creature stuck inside a dying human body.

The movie reminded me heavily of the old television show “The Night Stalker,” but I think this was mostly because Tommy Lee Jones’s character sounded a lot like Darrin McGavin’s Carl Kolchak. He even had some of the same vocal mannerisms. (Which reminds me, I need to see the pilot again.)

There are two disks in this set. The first disk contains the movie and the two commentaries. The second disk contains everything else. There is a lot on this disk. What can I say? It’s Columbia Tri-Star again. I had to add an extra line to my features listing: twelve features, and I even count all the special effects features as basically one feature.

The commentary by director Sonnenfeld and lead Tommy Lee Jones is interesting in places but very dry. There’s some good insight into how the movie was written and filmed. At various points in the commentary, Sonnenfeld draws on the screen, circling what he’s talking about (and he apparently did this after the commentary, and decided to also circle things he isn’t talking about) and writing on the screen. Not often, but it’s there. The second commentary is with Sonnenfeld and the special effects people. This one is much more interesting, going into both the thought process and the technical process of getting these special effects into the movie.

The second disk has some wild ideas on it. There is a nice documentary that goes over the making of the film, although it includes some stuff from the technical commentary. There is also a somewhat boring marketing featurette. The Special Effects stuff is very cool. You get to watch three scenes in five different ways each, from storyboard to final result. And there is a commentary by the special effects folks over each one. The one with the black Ford LTD going through the tunnel is very cool to watch take shape.

The deleted scenes are mostly just longer versions of existing scenes, plus one scene of the “bouncing ball”—without the ball. The ball was done completely in CGI, so the actors had to act as if it were there. You get to see them do this, much like TriStar did on their “Ghostbusters” DVD with the Ghostbusters firing non-existent reactor guns at Gozer.

One of the more interesting ideas is the “create your own scene” section. There are three scenes you can choose from, and you build the scene from three consecutive shots. Each shot has three possible takes, mostly different camera angles and foci of attention. Thus, each scene has nine variations. You choose each take and then play the scene back. The scenes are mostly exposition, ones without CGI, of course, because CGI would only have been done on the final takes. This is an interesting and cool idea, but I think to reach full potential there need to be more options.

I thought Will Smith’s music video was a nice addition, but I’m not a big fan of the song.

The booklet that’s included in the package is one of the larger ones I’ve seen come with a DVD. Twelve pages including front and back cover. Mostly it’s just a description of what’s on the DVD, but it also includes a few conceptual character drawings.

The package also included a poster of the conceptual drawing for Farmer Edgar by Rich Baker. I suspect it’s a different poster in each package.

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, or if you’re a fan, go ahead and rent it. Kudos definitely to director Sonnenfeld for taking such an active role in the making of this DVD. As much as I would like to recommend this movie for purchase, it’s really just a rental. It’s a deliberately light movie that takes few chances and went to extra lengths to keep things light. Throwing away the subplot involving three warring races, that I can understand. But things like the throwaway line “do you really know how to use these?” “no” that ended up getting thrown away (even Sonnenfeld regrets that decision) reduce the rewatchability of the film for no apparent reason other than to keep people from having to think, and having to think, even if its just thinking about a funnier joke, is what makes the difference between a film to purchase and watch multiple times, and a film to enjoy only once. Other examples are the initial alien scene, where a sympathetic alien had to be turned ugly with CGI so we the audience wouldn’t feel sad when the Men in Black had to kill him. Or when Vincent D’Onofrio manages to infuse some humanity into a stock wife-beater with a single two-syllable line when he sees his truck—the only reliable thing in his life—destroyed. They have him utter the “cold dead hands” line to the alien bug that destroyed it. The line makes no sense in context, it’s just a stock line in a formulaic scene, probably for the same reason they made the alien ugly: to remove any sympathy for the character so that he can be killed with impunity.

It’s a funny movie with an interesting twist on the alien genre, but it ultimately, in my opinion, doesn’t have the rewatchability necessary for purchase. Rent it if you haven’t seen it, rent it or buy it if you are interested in more about the movie, because there is a lot about this movie on the disk.

Recommendation: Rent

DirectorBarry Sonnenfeld
WritersLowell Cunningham, Ed Solomon
ActorsTommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rip Torn
Spoken languageEnglish
Special FeaturesArt Of, Commentary Track, DVD-ROM Enhancements, Deleted Scenes, Documentary, Featurette, Music Video, Photo Gallery, Poster, Scene Builder, Special Effects Notes, Storyboards
More links

If you enjoyed Men in Black…

For more about conspiracy, you might also be interested in Capricorn One, Wag the Dog, and All the President’s Men.

For more about Rip Torn, you might also be interested in The Man Who Fell to Earth.

For more about Tommy Lee Jones, you might also be interested in U.S. Marshals.