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Men in Black is a 1997 science fiction-comedy-action film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith and Vincent D'Onofrio. The film was based on the Men in Black comic book series by Lowell Cunningham, originally published by Aircel Comics. The film featured the creature effects and makeup of Rick Baker. The film was released on July 2, 1997 by Columbia Pictures and grossed over $587 million worldwide against a $90 million budget. It is currently the 49th highest grossing film of all time. It was followed by a sequel, Men in Black II, in 2002, and an animated series, simply titled Men in Black: The Series, which aired on the Kids' WB channel from 1997 through 2001.

Plot

Setting

The MIB, a top-secret agency that polices, monitors and directs alien activity on Earth, has established the Earth as an apolitical "neutral zone" for alien refugees (as Agent K explains, like Casablanca with no Nazis). MIB agents have no identity or any public record of existence, and the MIB agency answers to no government. The funding for their agency comes from the patents they own on technology confiscated from aliens, such as velcro, microwave ovens, and liposuction. Any memory of MIB activity upon "mustering out" of the MIB is erased and a new identity is created for the departing agent. Into this strange world is ushered the initially skeptical Det/Sgt James Edwards (Smith), an NYPD officer, as he becomes Agent J, one of the newest MIB personnel. Tommy Lee Jones plays K, a senior MIB agent who recruits and guides J as he learns the ropes.

MIB agents wear sunglasses and dark suits, and appear at UFO landing sites, similar to paranormal reports of real-world Men in Black. Since the MIB are a secret organization, no evidence of their existence can be left. Instead of intimidating or threatening witnesses, the MIB use devices known as "Neuralyzers" to wipe witnesses' memories of what they have seen, and replace the memories with more mundane explanations, such as swamp gas or weather balloons. Neuralyzers are also used on agents who leave the organization for any reason. The MIB's sunglasses protect them from the effects of the Neuralyzer. K and J drive around in a seemingly inconspicuous black car, which J initially identifies as a Ford 'POS' (piece of shit), a 1987 Ford LTD Crown Victoria, which, with the press of a red button on the gear stick transforms into a flying rocket car.

Story

The main plot of the movie revolves around a "Bug" (code word for a member of an alien species that is similar in many ways to a very large cockroach) searching for a miniature galaxy which is also a vast energy source. Upon landing on Earth, the Bug kills a farmer named Edgar (D'Onofrio) and uses his skin as a disguise to aid in the hunt. A member of an alien royal family, masquerading as a diamond merchant, has concealed the galaxy on his cat's collar. When he is killed by the Bug, his government prepares to destroy the Earth rather than let the galaxy fall into the Bugs' hands. During their mission, J and K investigate a morgue where they meet Dr. Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino), a cynical deputy medical examiner. Eventually, the agents kill the Bug (with Laurel's help) and recover the galaxy. K then has J erase his memory so he can retire, and Laurel joins the MIB and becomes Agent L, J's new partner.

In the final scene of the film, the camera pulls back into the sky through space past our solar system, past millions of stars, ultimately revealing that our galaxy is contained within a circular container resembling a marble. The container is then picked up by an alien hand which throws it, hitting another 'marble' which also contains a galaxy. Both marbles are then picked up by the hand and placed into a bag full of galaxy-containing marbles.

Cast



Production

The film is based upon the comic book The Men in Black by Lowell Cunningham. 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 Kansasmarker to Washington DC and Nevadamarker. 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. Production designer Bo Welch designed the MIB 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 Airportmarker. Being the arrival point of aliens on Earth, Welch felt MIB HQ had to resemble an airport.

Rick Baker led the special effects of the film, which was the most complex in his career to date. He had to have approval from both director Barry Sonnenfeld and executive producer Steven 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."

Filming began in March 1996. Five months into the shoot, the crew realized their ending was unexciting. It was originally meant to be a humorous existential debate between Agent J and the Bug, and five potential replacements were discussed. One of these had Laurel Weaver being neuralized and K remaining an agent. The change to a fight sequence annoyed Rick Baker, as their animatronic Bug had to be replaced with computer-generated imagery. 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 of the war and steal it to continue the war. Through changing of subtitles, the images on MIB'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 to prevent the bugs getting the galaxy.

Soundtracks

Two different soundtracks were released in the US: a score soundtrack and an album, featuring various songs. In the UK only the album was released, but the score is readily available for import.

Danny Elfman composed the score for the film, 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.

Promotion

The official Men in Black game is a third-person shooter developed 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. Men in Black was the inspiration behind the Men in Black: Alien Attack ride at Universal Studios Orlandomarker, in which Will Smith and Rip Torn reprised their roles. A Men In Black roleplaying game was also released in 1997.

Reception

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 of Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.

The film received an overwhelmingly positive response from critics, having a 91% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes film critic website.

Following the film's release, Ray-Ban stated sales of their Predator 2 sunglasses (worn by the organization to deflect neuralizers) tripled to $5 million.

References

  1. Internet Movie Car Database 1987 Ford LTD Crown Victoria


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