Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Men In Black: Limited Edition (1997)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - Protecting the earth from the scum of the universe.

Agent Jay (Will Smith) and Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) are turning up the heat on alien terrorists in the biggest sci-fi comedy hit in the galaxy. Go behind the scenes of Men In Black and experience a universe of special features exclusive to this collectible DVD!

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Rip Torn, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tony Shalhoub
Academy Awards: Won for Best Makeup. Nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Original Score-Danny Elfman, 1998.
Box Office: Budget: $90 million. Opening Weekend: $84.133 million (3,020 screens). Gross: $250.147 million.
DVD: 2-Disc set; widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1 & Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; subtitles English, Spanish, French, Mandarin, Cantonese; closed-captioned; single sided - double layered; 27 chapters; rated PG-13; 96 min.; $39.95; street date 9/5/00.
Supplements: Disc One: Visual Commentary (Starring Director Barry Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones) with On-Screen Diagrams; Limited Edition Exclusive! Technical Audio Commentary with Barry Sonnenfeld, Rick Baker & Industrial Light & Magic Team.
Disc Two: Limited Edition Exclusive! 3 Scene Editing Workshops -- Become the Filmmaker by Piecing Together Various Shots From A Selected Scene, and then Re-Play Your Own Version! Compare Your Edit to the Final Cut and Listen to Director Sonnenfeld as he Describes His Own Editing Process.; Limited Edition Exclusive! Edgar Bug Fight Scene Deconstruction Using Angles; Limited Edition Exclusive! Creatures: Concept to Completion; Limited Edition Exclusive! Extended Conceptual Art and Production Photo Galleries; Character Animation Studies Using Angles; Tunnel Scene Deconstruction Using Angles; Extended & Alternate Scenes; Storyboard Comparisons; Original Featurette; All-New Documentary: Metamorphosis Of Men In Black; Music Video Starring Will Smith & Mikey; DVD-ROM and Web Links; Theatrical Trailers; Talent Files.
Collectible Inserts: Limited Edition Exclusive! Letter from Barry Sonnenfeld and 12-Page Booklet Including Production Notes and Conceptual Character Drawings; Limited Edition Exclusive! Reproduction of Conceptual Drawing Signed by Barry Sonnenfeld and Rick Baker. A Limited Number Of Posters will Include Original Signatures!
Purchase: DVD Limited Edition | DVD SE | DVD SE - DTS | Official Companion Book - Barry Sonnenfeld | Score soundtrack - Danny Elfman | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/A-/A-

Yay! It's another review of Men In Black! In case you haven't kept count, this is my third article on the film. The first examined the single-disc Dolby Digital DVD, while the second took in the DTS edition. Finally, I've moved on to the two-DVD "Limited Edition". Since I hate to chew my fat twice - and you'll probably hate to read it (fat isn't very legible anyway), I'll skip my detailed comments about the movie itself; if you'd like to read them, click here. MIB is a funny and exciting little film that stands up well to repeated viewings, and that's all I'll say here.

All these different versions of MIB have caused some confusion for DVD consumers. The other two discs are alike in almost all ways; they include the same supplements and differ only in their audio formats. The LE, however, adds some new features.

To make life easier for any stalwarts who've already perused my comments about the other two MIB packages, anything exclusive to the LE will be in bold. Yes, I really am considerate!

The DVD:

Men In Black appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen picture was reviewed for this article. Though the image isn't quite flawless, it seems very strong nonetheless.

Sharpness generally looks clear and well-defined, with only a few wider shots that display some mild softness. Moiré effects and jagged edges cause no problems, and I noticed only mild artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. The print showed a little grain at times, and I also noticed very minor instances of speckles and a little grit, but for the most part, the movie seemed clean.

Colors looked accurate and well-saturated, with no concerns related to noise or bleeding. I felt the hues could have appeared a bit more bold and daring for this kind of film, but I had no complaints about them. Black levels are deep and dark, and shadow detail generally appears appropriately dense but not overly opaque. However, some scenes - particularly during the first half of the film - showed slightly excessive heaviness in the shadows. For example the "illegal aliens" segment looks just a little too thick for my liking. Nonetheless, MIB presents a very satisfying image as a whole.

As mentioned earlier, the LE features a fullscreen version of MIB in addition to the same letterboxed transfer found on the other two discs. I didn't screen the entire image for quality, but I did check out enough of it to confirm that the picture definitely provides a pan and scan transfer. Unlike some mildly letterboxed films, MIB isn't open matte; even in scenes that don't involve special effects, the fullscreen edition clearly crops the sides of the picture. For example, check out the scene in which Jay takes the MIB written test; the fullscreen image loses one of the six chairs. As far as I'm concerned, the pan and scan transfer is nothing more than a waste of DVD space.

MIB features a very strong Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The soundfield favors the front channels in that those three speakers display the most distinct and well-oriented audio. The music shows terrific stereo separation, and effects are placed accurately in the spectrum; when appropriate, sound pans smoothly from channel to channel as well, and the front speakers offer a very active presentation. The rears seem a bit skimpy on discrete, "split-surround" information but they make for involved partners nonetheless, as they create a terrific and three-dimensional image. The ship crash toward the end of the film really shows off this track at its best.

Audio quality also seems very strong. Although some dialogue clearly seemed dubbed, the majority of it appears well-integrated, and the speech always sounds natural and distinct, with no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects comes across extremely accurately and clearly; they also display some fine low end and can really add a powerful element to the mix. Danny Elfman's score seems crisp and bright, and it also offers nice bass that gives the track some sweet "oomph". I recall not liking the 5.1 mix on my old LD of MIB, but I'm not sure why; logically it should be the same as this track, and it works extremely well.

Men In Black packs in a few nice supplemental features, and it starts with a cool video commentary from director Sonnenfeld and star Tommy Lee Jones. Columbia-Tristar offered their first video commentary on Ghostbusters, and I believe their only other attempt at one came on Muppets From Space. In both cases, I thought it was a cute idea but of little value.

For the most part, that sentiment remains true, but the MIB track makes better use of the technology than its predecessors. A video commentary presents silhouettes of the participants at the bottom of the screen, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style. This track adds a new component: Sonnenfeld uses a telestrator which lets him "draw" on the screen. That's the part of the piece that makes it more fun than the others; Sonnenfeld circles items to highlight them and also writes some comments like "CGI" on top of such-created effects. He starts slowly, but the telestrator activity picks up nicely about halfway through the film. I'm still not convinced that video commentaries are anything more than a gimmick, but this one helps sell the format.

The content of their remarks helps as well; of the three video commentaries, this one offers the most lively and entertaining conversation. Sonnenfeld dominates and provides the most data. Actually, Jones may ask as many questions as he answers, but the two have a nice rapport and they create a fun dynamic that would have been absent otherwise. That last statement isn't just speculation; I listened to Sonnenfeld's solo commentary on the MIB LD and found it to be one of the worst I'd ever heard. This new one greatly improves upon that clunker.

A second audio commentary appears on the LE as well. This one is called a "technical commentary" because it mainly deals with the "nuts and bolts" aspects of making the movie. It features Sonnenfeld, creature creator Rick Baker, visual effects supervisor/second unit director Eric Brevig, animation supervisor Rob Coleman, and computer graphics supervisor John Andrew Berton Jr. Most of the participants were recorded separately, though two of them were together; I believe Coleman and Berton were taped in the same session, but it was hard to tell. I also think that Sonnenfeld's comments come from the old LD commentary; however, since I don't have that release anymore, I can't say this for certain.

Overall, this track offers a pretty nice look at the creation of MIB. Not too much of the information from the video commentary repeats here, and although the technical information could have come across as dry and dull, it usually seems pretty interesting. The remarks have been edited together neatly so that we mainly hear valuable information. The track's lack of scope keeps it from being great, but I still found it enjoyable and valuable.

The MIB LE takes most of the supplements that appeared on the movie disc of the other two releases and puts them on DVD 2; that's necessary due to the added fullscreen version of the film. The only extras that remain on DVD 1 are the two commentaries. Everything else can be found on the second platter, though the first disc's menus may mislead you into thinking otherwise; all of the same headers are listed, but if you click on them, they just tell you to go to DVD 2.

So switch discs I shall do, and it's on to DVD number two! Two cumulative sections appear here. First up is "Creating MIB". This department includes the majority of the features. We find "Metamorphosis of MIB", a 23-minute and 10-second documentary about the film. It's quite a solid piece which combines cast and crew interviews with film clips and a very strong selection of shots from the production of the movie. As is typical of this sort of piece, special effects receive the greatest attention, but a broad range of topics are discussed. I particularly enjoyed the presentation of some scenes as originally written; a few segments were changed in post-production through dubbing, and the documentary shows them as first conceived. The program also covers other alterations made from the script, and it offers a brief but satisfying look at the movie.

Five "Deleted/Extended Scenes" appear. There should be a greater emphasis on "extended", as most of the segments fit that description. The fourth clip is actually just an alternate version of an existing scene, and the fifth shows one piece without digital effects added. The snippets run from 35 to 65 seconds with a total time of four minutes and 15 seconds. Although none of the clips are terribly fascinating, they merit a look.

"Tunnel Scene Deconstruction" lets you utilize the poor neglected "angle" button on your remote. After a 60 second intro from Sonnenfeld, we can check out the "tunnel scene" in five different renditions: storyboards; bluescreen shoot; bluescreen composite; lighting and animation; and final cut. Each of these lasts 90 seconds, and they can be viewed with or without technical commentary. Note that only one 90 second commentary track exists, so if you select it, the piece will play over and over again. One nice touch: the different clips loop to the next if you don't change them, which means that you can watch the whole sequence of segments in order without having to reselect them each time.

A second "deconstruction" appears as well. This one involves the "Edgar Bug Fight". It's quite similar to the first but is a little more fun and longer. Again we find five different angles available, and all can be screened with or without commentary. These clips last four minutes each, and the same commentary accompanies all of them. It doesn't do anything new, but it's fun - I liked it more than the "tunnel" scene, if just because it's great to see Smith and Jones acting to nothing, and I also loved the "stand-in" featured in angle two.

The "Art and Animation" subsection provides still more alternate-angle options. "Character Animation Studies" provides a 50 second introduction from Sonnenfeld and offers three different very short looks at character creation; each snippet lasts between six and 12 seconds and features four different stages ("preliminary", "adding skin and texture", "animation and lighting", and "final character composited into scene"). As with the "tunnel scene" area, these will loop through the available angles without intervention.

Creatures: Conception to Completion offers a creative but unfulfilling way to demonstrate the evolution of some different participants. We see the animated development of Edgar Bug, Jeebs, Mikey, Mr. Gentle and Farmer Edgar; the images start off as drawings and eventually "morph" into the final photographed characters. It's a cute idea, but it seemed a bit lame; frankly, it added nothing to my knowledge of the movie and just came across as a clever concept with little practical value.

"Storyboard Comparisons" features this form of presentation for three different scenes. Storyboards take up the top half of the screen while the finished film fills the bottom segment. Each of the three snippets lasts between 85 and 120 seconds with a total of five minutes and 15 seconds. Additional storyboards are found in their own domain; we get five scenes that display between 11 and 63 boards for a grand total of 195 frames of material. I'm not a huge fan of storyboards, but these are presented well and offer some mildly interesting information.

Boohoogles of additional stillframe data appears in both the "Conceptual Art" and in the "Production Photo Gallery". The former creates nine different subsections with between 11 and 207 (!) frames apiece for a total of 599 shots. The emphasis is on drawings of alien characters and other fantastic elements of the film, but we also get some good photos, especially of the stages of make-up gone through by D'Onofrio.

The "PPG" includes three different realms which offer between 42 and 112 shots each; the total comes to 205 pictures. We get a nice mix of effects preparation plus images of the cast on the set. These sections provided a nice look at the intricate work done on the film; it's great to see the detail and artistry put into material that may be barely visible on-screen.

Note: the above-related sections both appear on the single-disc releases of MIB. However, the LE provides additional images in each. We find 123 more shots in "CA" and another 24 pictures in "PPG".

Another addition to the LE involves a "Scene Editing Workshop". This mildly-cool piece lets you recut three different scenes. You can recreate "The Farmhouse", "The Morgue", and "Jay's MIB Tryout". For your version, you have to connect three different segments, and within each part, you can choose from three varying takes. Frankly, this feature may not be as much fun as it sounds, but I thought it was enjoyable nonetheless, especially since it let me compare my choices to the final product. The brevity of the scenes - none of which last more than maybe 15 seconds - makes the program of limited use, but it was still a neat addition, and I hope to see more complicated versions of this kind of extra in the future.

That finally completes the "Creating MIB area" - next up is "Meet the MIB". This area is less ambitious and features the DVD's more ordinary elements. The "original featurette" falls into the category of glorified trailer. (I need a new name for those - maybe I'll call them "glorlers".) The six-minute, 35-second program shows a mix of film clips, interview snippets, and some shots from the set. The latter are mildly interesting but the whole thing's too brief to go anywhere. This is clearly a promotional puff piece.

Will Smith's sharp video for the title song appears, and we find a few trailers in an area called "The MIB Recommend". That location contains both the teaser and the theatrical trailer for MIB itself plus clips for fellow Smith film Bad Boys and an ad for the 1999 video release of Ghostbusters. The LE adds a second teaser for MIB plus trailers for The Mask of Zorro and Starship Troopers.

We get "Talent Files" for five of the actors, Sonnenfeld, and five other crew members. Just like most CTS DVDs, these are extremely brief and largely devoid of any useful information. The DVD also includes a terrific twelve-page booklet that's one of the best I've seen. It includes some details about the DVD's features but also tosses in other fun features, like an "identity release form for new agents". We even get a special note from Sonnenfeld about the film and the DVD. Most DVD booklets are just token items, but this one makes for a very nice addition to the whole package.

Note: the single-disc release features an eight-page booklet, which this one adds to but otherwise replicates. The additional pages provide information about the supplements that are exclusive to the LE and also show a few more movie photos and some of the "Character Conceptual Drawings" that appear in the "Concept Art Gallery". Also, the booklet offers different cover art plus the type is white on a black background, whereas the eight-page text uses black on a white background.

In the LE we find a reproduction of a conceptual drawing of Farmer Edgar signed by Sonnenfeld and Baker. Apparently some of these will provide actual signatures, whereas most will include copied signatures. Mine's fake - hope you have better luck!

Finally, this DVD contains DVD-ROM materials. I still don't have a DVD-ROM drive, so I can't discuss my experience with them, but here's what the package states we'd find: "MIB Training Center: MIB Weapons Overview; Non-Lethal MIB Devices; MIB Game. Resident Alien Tracking. 3-D Exploration of MIB Headquarters. Direct Links to," Hmm - some of that stuff actually sounds interesting. I may be able to try the material out on my old man's computer over the weekend, so if you're interested, check back around August 29 and I hopefully will have more details about the DVD-ROM stuff.

The MIB Limited Edition retails for $10 more than either the Dolby Digital or the DTS "basic versions" - is it worth it? Probably not. The additions made to the DVD are generally good. I liked the commentary and I also enjoyed the "editing workshop" and the second "deconstruction" scene. However, $10 is a lot to spend for those minor extras, and I didn't think any of the others really added to the package; it was nice to see another 150 or so photos, but not something very memorable, and the "morphing" creatures and extra trailers were of limited use.

CTS could have made this a great package with one simple alteration: it should have lost the fullscreen video transfer and featured both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio. That one change would have made this package a "must-have". Frankly, I have no idea why CTS bothered to include a fullscreen picture on a "collector's" product like this. Few folks who'll shell out the extra bucks for something such as this LE would care about the pan and scan version, but lots of those same people would love to be able to switch between DD and DTS sound.

In the interest of avoiding cynicism, I'll assume that CTS had a good reason for this, but I can't figure out what that might be. Ultimately I wonder if they packaged MIB this way to garner a few duplicate sales. DTS fans are a small but devoted cult, and I'm sure quite a few will buy both the LE and the DTS DVD. CTS could have cultivated some serious goodwill if they had made the LE the final word in MIB ala the terrific Terminator 2 "Ultimate Edition" (which offers both DD and DTS sound), but they decided to split up the set instead.

On its own, I like the Men In Black Limited Edition, and I don't regret my purchase. However, I'm one of those moronic collectors who feels like he must have all the little variations of products like these. If you're like me, or if you can find the LE for a price roughly comparable to that of the one-disc edition and don't want DTS sound, the LE makes for a worthwhile purchase. For most people, though, the single-disc version will suffice, and it's definitely the way to go for most folks who prefer DTS audio.

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