Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Men in Black

Rolling along on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  I watch a movie, I blog about it, because I'm nostalgic for the joys of writing book reports in elementary school.  Today, I file my report on Men in Black.  I originally watched it and wrote this report on November 26, 2017, because that's the kind of keener I am.

For the longest time, my eye has been going to my old copy of Men in Black on my DVD shelf, and I've been thinking it was worth tossing in the ol' Blu-Ray player and giving it a re-watch.  So, this Saturday night, I finally did.

Men in Black.  The biggest movie of 1997.  Came out just as Will Smith was starting to cement his status as biggest movie star in the world.  I'm surprised that a lot of folks don't know or remember that it's actually based on a comic book.  I knew that I didn't know until I was watching it in theatres in 1997 and saw the opening credit, "Based on the Marvel Comic by Lowell Cunningham."  The original comic was actually published by famed indie studio Malibu Comics, and Marvel bought out Malibu in the mid-1990s.  According to creator Cunningham, he got the idea when a friend told him that the "Men in Black" are an aspect of UFO lore...shortly after a UFO sighting, government agents in black suits are soon seen questioning the witness about what they saw.  Didn't take much of a leap to figure that these guys work for some clandestine agency policing aliens on Earth. 

I remember the film drew a lot of comparisons to Ghostbusters when it first came out.  And it's easy to see why.  Largely set in New York.  A massive blend of sci-fi and comedy.  Involves agents investigating the paranormal.  And, another comparison we can make all these years later, spawned a sequel that's not as beloved as the original! 

That would spawn the question is it as memorable as Ghostbusters?  That's a tough call.  With Ghostbusters, you had a ton of comedians at the height of their game contributing their best bits.  In Men in Black, it all pretty much boils down to Will Smith, at the height of his popularity and charm.  While it may not have as many catchy one-liners, Men in Black is still highly memorable in other ways.

Men in Black came along in the 1990s when we had hit that sweet spot of blending practical effects and computer animation.  There's lots of people in animatronic suits playing the aliens, but when the aliens need to do something that the suits can't do -- like, say, break out in a sprint -- that's when we switch to CGI.  The blend pretty much works.  Sometimes, you can tell, because suddenly the aliens get a lot more fluid in their motion...like they're not slowing down their movements because they're wrapped in foam rubber.

I forgot how great the Danny Elfman score is, too.  Again, made at the height of Elfman's creative process.  Elfman was the first composer whose work I fell in love with, and hearing the opening bars in the theatres, I immediately thought, "This is a Danny Elfman score."  While the main theme is nice, I forgot what a great romantic theme he made, too, as Agent K looks at the woman he left behind, and heard again in full force in the film's finale.  The Men in Black score netted Elfman his first Oscar nomination. 

I'm sure you remember the plot.  The Men in Black are the secret organization that police and monitor extra terrestrial life on Earth.  Agent K, as played by Tommy Lee Jones, is our world weary veteran, who's seen it all and takes a matter-of-fact approach to his work.  Will Smith is Agent J, the new recruit brought in from the NYPD.  And on their first case, they're tracking down an alien warlord known as a Bug that wants to steal a galaxy and perpetuate a war. 

One thing that really struck me watching it again tonight is how the film really takes its time setting up this world and establishing how it works.  It's short, too, only an hour-and-a-half, and the entire first half-hour is spent indoctrinating Agent J to this world.  It's at the end of that half-hour that he finally suits up and says his iconic, "I make this look good."  You gotta love a film that takes it time getting where it's going. 

There's some great supporting characters as well.  Linda Fiorintino as the medical examiner, Dr. Laurel Weaver, is fun.  Working the night shift in the morgue, they briefly hint that she harbours some kind of dark side, best epitomized when she turns to Agent J and says, "Hey...you wanna know what I like to do down here in  the middle of the night?"  They also casually hint that this might be because Agent K has wiped her memory one two many times from seeing dead aliens come through her morgue.  It would have been nice to have seen her character explored a little more, but they couldn't get her back for the sequel.

I still think I would have preferred to do the Agent J and  Agent L sequel.  Mainly because, as I felt in the theatre all those years ago, it does have such a great ending for Agent K.  For those who don't remember, the big twist ending is that Agent K has actually been training J to be his replacement, and it ends with K's memories of his work with Men in Black being erased, and he goes off into retirement.  It was such a poignant end for that character. 

And then we go into that lovely final shot...the finale, which was one of the most talked-about shots int the summer of '97.  The way the camera pulls back until we see all of Manhattan, then all of the Earth, the all of the solar system, then all of the galaxy, only to see that the galaxy is inside a marble, and a group of aliens on some alien landscape are playing marbles.  They've tried to replicate that gag in the other films, but it comes nowhere near as close to the shock that first time out.

Pulling back a little bit, I still think this is one of the best movie trailers ever.  I mean, with movies these days getting crap for using scenes that aren't in the final film, you may as well go all out, and give us something original just for the teaser. 

Man, that just so perfectly sums up what the movie is about.  I think I saw this in theatres in early 1997 in front of every Star Wars Special Edition film, so I saw it a lot.  The rows upon rows of black boxer shorts always got a laugh. 

Anyway, as it celebrates 20 years now, Men in Black is still a fun film.  Worth the re-watch.

No comments: