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Barry Sonnenfeld
Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Lara Flynn Boyle,Rip Torn, Rosario Dawson, Patrick Warburton
Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro, based on the comic book by Lowell Cunningham

Same Planet. New Scum.
Box Office:
Budget $140 million.
Opening weekend $52.148 million on 3557 screens.
Domestic gross $190.418 million.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, French

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $28.96
Release Date: 11/26/2002

Disc 1
• Director’s Commentary with Optional Telestrator Diagrams
• “Alien Broadcast” Branching Feature
• Theatrical Trailers
• “The Chubb Chubbs” Short

Disc 2
• Alternate Ending
• Blooper Reel
• Multi-Angle Scene Deconstructions
• “Special Delivery: MIIB” Featurettes
• Will Smith Music Video
• Theatrical One-Sheets
• Filmographies
• Production Notes
• DVD-ROM Materials

Music soundtrack

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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Men In Black II (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Since 1997’s Men In Black earned $250 million, which would have made it the biggest hit of the year if not for a little something called Titanic. However, while the latter didn’t exactly lend itself to sequel possibilities, MIB provided a wealth of franchise opportunities and seemed like a lock for more flicks.

So why’d it take them five years to finally produce Men In Black II? Money, money, money! With a budget of $90 million, the first flick didn’t exactly come cheap, but given its success, the price tags of all involved escalated. MIIB shot up to a budget of $140 million, and I’d guess that costs for its leads and director probably accounted for a substantial percentage of that sum.

But it’s all for the good of the film, right? After all, sequels that omit significant participants from the original usually stink, so it’s great to see all of the main folks from the first one return, right? This means MIIB will be just as much fun as that movie, right?

Uh, no. While not a horrendous movie, Men In Black II almost totally loses the spark seen in the original flick. It plods along and never feels like anything more than a tepid imitation of the first picture.

At the start of MIIB, we see a quick prologue that purports to come from a TV show that exposes secrets such as the existence of aliens and the men in black. This program sets up something called the Light of Zartha. Back in the Seventies, a nasty ET named Serleena wanted it for evil ends, so the MIB made sure she didn’t get it when they transported it off the Earth into realms unknown.

Flash-forward to 2002, and Serleena returns to Earth. She takes the first image she sees – a Victoria’s Secret ad – and molds herself to look like that model (Lara Flynn Boyle) for her time on the planet. She then begins her evil quest to find the Light of Zartha.

In the meantime, we see Agent “J” (Will Smith). After five years on the force, he’s become their top man, and something of a workaholic to boot. He goes through partners quickly, and we watch as he neuralyzes his latest one after a botched job. After Serleena kills an alien she confronts for information, “J” gets the assignment to follow up with a witness named Laura Vasquez (Rosario Dawson). Rather than give “J” a regular partner, Zed (Rip Torn) has Frank the Pug (voiced by Tim Blaney) accompany him. They don’t get a lot of info, but “J” starts to fall for Laura.

Back at the headquarters, Zed declares that they need to bring back the one agent who knows about the Serleena incident from the Seventies: “K” (Tommy Lee Jones). Of course, “J” neuralyzed him at the end of the first movie, but apparently the MIB developed a deneuralyzer, so they can use this to restore his memories. “J” heads to rural Massachusetts, where “K” – now called “Kevin” – works as the postmaster. He slowly starts to convince “K” about his past life and gets him to return to the fold.

From there, MIIB basically follows the action. The deneuralyzer doesn’t work perfectly, so “K” struggles to regain all of his past knowledge. Nonetheless, he and “J” resume their prior relationship as they chase the new villain.

What went wrong with MIIB? Pretty much everything, as the movie felt terribly uninspired. On the positive side, Smith and Jones still displayed a fairly good chemistry. Their interaction helped make the original flick memorable, and some of that spark remained on display here. They didn’t click to the degree we saw in 1997, but they nonetheless allowed some of the material to become more interesting than otherwise might have been the case.

Boyle did a decent job as the sexy alien too. No, she failed to reach the disgustingly amusing heights attained by Vincent D’Onofrio in the first movie; he made Edgar a cartoony hoot. However, Boyle brought a sultry nastiness to Serleena that allowed the role to work fairly well.

Otherwise, I found it tough to locate much to praise in MIIB. Probably the film’s biggest fault stemmed from the fact that it essentially did little more than rehash the original. It reversed the roles slightly, as “K” was the experienced one who showed “J” the ropes there, but the two still worked along the same lines. Both plots seemed terribly similar, and they followed the same progressions as well.

Oddly, the visual effects appeared to get worse over the five years between films. I felt very surprised at how weak this material looked in a film with such a high profile and huge budget. Unfortunately, those elements almost uniformly presented cheesy images. From “J”’s ride on Jeff in the subway to Johnny Knoxville’s second head to Frank the Pug’s speech, far too much of MIIB looked unconvincing. That problem actively distracted me from the movie.

Not that a flick with perfect effects would have entranced me either. Can I state that I hated Men In Black II? No, for the product seemed too lackluster to warrant any form of passion in either direction. I can’t call MIIB a genuinely unenjoyable experience, as I didn’t really dislike the time I spent with it. However, it never engaged me in any real way, and much of it felt stale and leaden. The movie showed no signs of inspiration and came across as a limp remake of the original.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio A / Bonus B+

Men In Black II appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the movie looked quite good, as the picture demonstrated only a few small weaknesses.

Sharpness consistently appeared positive. The movie seemed crisp and well defined most of the time. A few wide shots came across as slightly soft, but those created no real concerns. Jagged edges presented no issues, but I noticed a little shimmering at times, and I also detected some light edge enhancement and digital artifacting. As for print flaws, I saw a few speckles but nothing more than that.

The palette of MIIB came across well on the DVD. Despite a number of dark scenes, the movie featured a fairly bright and vivid sense of color, largely via all the different aliens we saw. Those tones appeared nicely vibrant and distinct, and they displayed no issues that negatively affected the presentation. Black levels also seemed deep and rich, while shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but didn’t become excessively dense. Admittedly, Men In Black II showed a few more flaws than I’d like for a brand-new, high-profile flick, and I considered knocking my grade down to a “B”. However, enough of it appeared excellent to still nudge it into “B+” territory.

I felt no such concerns when I listened to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Men In Black II. Although the lack of a DTS option came as a mild disappointment, I still felt very happy with this mix. The movie displayed a terrifically active soundfield from start to finish. It boasted excellent separation and definition, and elements meshed together very nicely. Movement seemed especially solid, as elements zoomed all around the room in a seamless manner. The track made active use of all five channels and really helped make the film a more involving affair. Quite a few moments stood out, but if I needed to pick the best, I’d go with the flushing sequence. In addition, the deneuralyzer and machine gun droid also provided strong elements during this terrific mix.

Audio quality appeared positive as well. Speech came across as natural and distinct, and I noticed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music appeared bright and lively and also demonstrated good dynamics. Best of the bunch, the effects always sounded crisp and accurate, and they packed a serious punch when appropriate. Low-end material was deep and tight, and those elements presented efficient bass with no boominess or other issues. Ultimately, the audio of Men In Black II worked tremendously well.

This special edition release of Men In Black II packs a lot of supplements across its two discs. On DVD One, we begin with an audio commentary from director Barry Sonnenfeld. He provides a running, screen-specific track, but it’s not one of his best. On the Men In Black DVD, they paired him with Tommy Lee Jones, and while the actor offered little information, he seemed to give Sonnenfeld an audience. That brightened the piece and made it more interesting.

I’d heard Sonnenfeld solo on the MIB laserdisc, and he provided a pretty dull track there. While not quite as bad as that clunker, the MIB II commentary seemed fairly bland. Sonnenfeld possesses a wonderfully dry humor as a speaker, but that failed to come through most of the time here. As with the LD MIB track, he mostly focused on effects issues, which often turned the commentary into a dull examination of real vs. CG. Some decent anecdotes popped up as well, and Sonnenfeld occasionally relates issues connected to non-effects topics like Will Smith’s improvs, but the technical areas dominated the piece. As a result, I struggled to make it through this fairly lackluster track.

As with the MIB DVD commentary that featured Sonnenfeld with Jones, this one offered a “telestrator” option. This allowed Sonnenfeld to pretend he’s John Madden and write all over the screen. This added a cute but inconsequential part of the track. When I saw this on the MIB DVD, I thought it seemed fun, but that novelty wore off in the interim, and now it felt more like a fairly useless gimmick. It didn’t harm anything, of course, but it didn’t help either.

For a branching feature, activate Alien Broadcast. With this at work, you hit “enter” every time a symbol appears as you watch the movie. This allows you to access short featurettes. I counted 12 of these, but it’s possible I missed some; the icon passes somewhat quickly. For the 12 I saw, they ran between 31 seconds and four minutes, 33 seconds for a total of 29 minutes, 35 seconds worth of material.

The featurettes show a mix of archival and behind the scenes material, movie clips, and interviews. In the latter category, we hear from Sonnenfeld, special makeup effects artist Rick Baker, actors Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Tommy Lee Jones, and Lara Flynn Boyle, producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, visual effects supervisor John Berton, visual effects producer Ned Gorman, visual effects art director David Nakabayashi, sequence supervisor John Helms, animation director Frank Bertino, sequence supervisor Amelia Chenoweth, model supervisor Ken Bryan, and sequence supervisor Joel Aron. The snippets vary in quality but they usually provide some decent background on a variety of topics. We mostly learn about special effects, but we also get information about some of the actors, the impact of the first one and the development of the sequel, and the possibility of a third MIB. You can live without the “Alien Broadcast” bits, but fans should give them a look.

Frank’s Favorites consists mostly of advertisements. We get both the teaser and trailer for MIB II plus an ad for the Men In Black “Deluxe Edition”. We also find promos for Spider-Man, The Mask of Zorro, Ghostbusters, and the MIIB: Crossfire game.

This domain also includes an animated short called The Chubb Chubbs. Apparently this ran before some screenings of MIIB. The five-minute and 40-second cartoon packs lots of great sci-fi references and cameos and seems distinctly more clever and enjoyable than MIIB itself.

Now we move to DVD Two, which includes a surfeit of additional materials. Special Delivery: MIIB ORB packs a slew of featurettes. Each of these lasts between two minutes, 36 seconds and 11 minutes, 54 seconds for a total of 60 minutes and 31 seconds of footage. These clips can be accessed individually or in any combination of the nine.

”Special Delivery” goes a variety of topics. They cover ADR, production design, Rick Baker’s alien creations, Serleena, Jeff, Frank the Pug, sound design, and the score. These offer the standard mix of movie snippets, shots from the set and other archival materials, and interviews. We hear from director Sonnenfeld, actor Tim Blaney, makeup designer Rick Baker, composer Danny Elfman, production designer Bo Welch, visual effects art director David Nakabayashi, technical animator Mauricio Baiocchi, foley artists Marko Costanzo and Jay Peck, supervising foley editor Steve Vischer, effects sequence supervisor Amelia Chenoweth, and visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer.

Though the quality varies somewhat, overall the “Special Delivery” featurettes offer some good material. They cover their topics efficiently and informatively and strike a good balance between depth and expediency. Of the nine programs, the ADR, production design and Elfman featurettes seem the best. I especially like the shots in the former that show the actors as they rerecord their lines. Frankly, I’d prefer a coherent documentary to the choppy presentation of “Special Delivery”, but I still definitely enjoyed these programs.

After this series ends, we get a five minute and five second Blooper Reel. This includes the usual set of flubs and improvs, with a particular focus on a fit of the giggles that affected the autopilot scene. I’ve seen worse sets of outtakes, but this one seems lackluster. For a look at the planning process, check out the Serleena Animatic Sequence. It lasts 108 seconds and gives us filmed storyboards and rough computer graphics to simulate that scene.

In the Multi-Angle Scene Deconstructions, you can break down five different segments. Each of these includes between two and five possible angles, and the basic pieces run between 40 seconds and 194 seconds for a total of 31 minutes and 24 seconds of material if you watch all available options. These give us a reasonably useful and fun way to check out the progress of the effects, though it seems disappointing that the clips offer no commentary or additional information, features that appeared on the MIB set.

Next we get a 129-second Alternate Ending. It’s a moderately interesting piece that doesn’t seem any worse than the existing conclusion. Unfortunately, the disc includes no commentary or other information that would let us know why Sonnenfeld chose the finished film’s finale over this one.

For information of various critters, we shift to the Creature Featurettes section. There we find seven shorter programs that discuss Scrad/Charlie (119 seconds), the Worms (two minutes, 49 seconds), Serleena (three minutes, four seconds), “Alien Esoterica” (four minutes, 46 seconds), Jeebs (two minutes, 30 seconds), Jarra (three minutes, 22 seconds), and Jeff the Worm (two minutes, 36 seconds). All told we get 21 minutes and six seconds of footage here.

These programs strongly resembled those found in “Special Delivery”. We saw movie bits, behind the scenes work, and interviews with Sonnenfeld, alien designer Rick Baker, actors Johnny Knoxville and Lara Flynn Boyle, visual effects art director David Nakabayashi, technical animator Mauricio Baiocchi, Lara Flynn Boyle, visual effects supervisor John Berton, and effects sequence supervisor Amelia Chenoweth. Some of these worked quite well; I especially liked the segments that discussed Jeebs and Jarra. That’s because those delved into new topics. Unfortunately, most of the others covered material that we already heard elsewhere. On their own, they gave us good information, but if you watch the supplements “in order”, they’ll seem pretty redundant by now.

Also found in the “Creature Featurettes” domain, we discover Barry Sonnenfeld’s Intergalactic Guide to Comedy. This five minute and 59 second program includes the usual components. We hear from Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, screenwriter Barry Fanaro, producers MacDonald and Parkes, and Sonnenfeld. It offers a general featurette about actors, Sonnenfeld’s ideas of comedy, and other basic topics. It seems like a watchable piece, but we hear much of this elsewhere.

A few minor pieces round out the main DVD. Theatrical One-Sheets displays four posters used to promote the film. After that comes the music video for “Black Suits Comin’ (Nod Ya Head)” by Will Smith Introducing TRA-KNOX. This lasts four minutes, 37 seconds and offers an elaborate but surprisingly dull experience. Next we get basic filmographies for director Sonnenfeld, producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, writers Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro, and actors Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Lara Flynn Boyle, Johnny Knoxville, Rosario Dawson, Rip Torn and Tony Shalhoub. Finally, inside the DVD’s booklet we discover some decent production notes.

For those with the appropriate equipment, we can examine the DVD-ROM features. Annoyingly, the disc doesn’t make it as easy as normal to access the DVD-ROM materials. Usually these features pop up when you slide the platter into the computer, but not here. I needed to “explore” the disc through the “My Computer” area and figure out that I had to press “Start” from an icon there. Only then did the DVD-ROM stuff appear. This seems like an awkward way to work.

Once we get into the materials themselves, the interface problems continue. The initial screen provides links to sites for MIB II, Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, and Sony Pictures. In addition, it shows a connection that says “Drop into MIB Headquarters”. If you go this way, it places you in an “emergency escape pod” that you fly to access “secret MIB datafiles”. This means you steer the craft through the cosmos and head toward planets to get various pieces of information.

The good news: the segments themselves usually seem pretty informative. We get pieces that mostly cover the effects. For example, we learn more about Jarithia via animatics, text and art. In addition, visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer discusses “Locker World”, we check out unused alien designs, and we see tests for Frank’s speech effects among other subjects. If you visit the “In-Flight Entertainment” domain, you can access the material you already downloaded and also find a screensaver and the demo for the MIIB: Crossfire game.

The quality of the pieces provides a very pleasant surprise. DVD-ROM sections usually become the repository for cheesy games and other junk, but MIIB presents some genuinely interesting bits. Unfortunately, the interface makes them more difficult to access than I’d like. As I glided through space, I found it tough to remember which planets I already visited, so it became tiresome to find them all. I appreciate the effort to make this section more visually exciting, but I think pieces like this should always include a more basic presentation as well for those of us who don’t want to jump through hoops to watch featurettes.

Although I made it through Men In Black II painlessly, I felt the sequel virtually defined the concept of a paycheck movie. It seemed as though everyone involved in the project signed on to collect a big fat wad of cash, for they clearly showed few signs of imagination or creativity. The film appeared watchable and moderately pleasant at times, but it didn’t match the fun and energy of the original. The DVD provided generally solid picture with excellent sound and a reasonably good package of supplements. If you liked MIIB, you should enjoy the DVD, but I can’t recommend this lifeless movie to anyone not already enchanted by it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.0491 Stars Number of Votes: 61
8 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.