Almost 20 years ago, this ‘fresh’ movie reminded us good science fiction could also be fun.
I don’t know what happened, or the cause, but sometime just after the beginning of the 21st century everyone started taking their science fiction very seriously and following suit, the fans started taking themselves very seriously too.
All of a sudden nerds and geeks became serious, highly opinionated versions of their former genre-loving fan selves who considered themselves qualified as experts on every aspect of movie making, including acting, writing, directing and even marketing. The child-like wonder was gone, replaced by a frenzy of cynical, mean-spirited comments that soon led to the creation of tribal groups of movie bashing thugs.
Before that happened, Men In Black came out. It was a movie that reminded us, and still does, that science fiction movies can be fun and be good sci-fi at the same time.
This modern classic was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and based on The Men In Black comic book (Malibu) series created by artist Lowell Cunningham. The film stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as two agents of a secret organization called the Men In Black who supervise extraterrestrial lifeforms who live on Earth and help keep their existence a secret from ordinary humans. The film featured the spectacular creature effects and makeup of Rick Baker and visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic and had a unique musical score composed by Danny Elfman.
Men In Black is a great film for a lot of reasons, and the cast is one of them. It’s one of those movies where everyone in it is close to perfect. You know you have something special when even the bit parts are great. Headed by the excellent onscreen odd-couple of Smith as the unconventional, animated, young, and athletic agent J, in sharp contrast to the somewhat dour, by-the-book, very straight-laced Jones in the part of K.
The rest of the cast includes the always welcome Rip Torn (I always thought this was the best stage name ever) as Agent Zed, the head of MIB. Linda Fiorentino, as the sexy medical examiner Laurel Weaver/Agent L. It also included a very young looking Vincent D’Onofrio, in top form as Edgar the Bug whose “borrowed” human skin continues to decompose as the film continues. The cast also includes Tony Shalhoub as Jack Jeebs, the sleazy alien-in-disguise pawn shop owner, Tim Blaney as the voice of Frank the Pug, an alien that resembles an earth dog, and a host of others that all contributed to making this film a memorable and entertaining treat.
The story is another reason this movie is so marvelously good. As most fans know it is a story about agents K and J out to find a missing galaxy before a very cranky and evil Edgar the Bug can to prevent a war. The screenplay, mostly faithful to the comics its based on, was written by Ed Solomon. Critics loved the script and praised it’s witty, sophisticated, and socially satirical humor. Men In Black is excellent, nicely balanced, blend of comedy, action, science fiction adventure, mystery, and social satire, with even a touch of sentimentality thrown in. Unfortunately, after a couple of missteps with sequels, the franchise fell out of favor with fans.
I love this movie, and what it represents. In the universe of genre films, it is a great reminder that science fiction movies can be great science fiction and still be fun, an idea more recently reaffirmed by Guardians Of The Galaxy.
The film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Makeup, winning the latter award. MIB spawned two sequels, Men in Black II (2002) A poorly done sequel, and Men in Black 3 (2012) which was pretty good, and also an animated series. A reboot of the film series has been discussed and is in development as part of the 21 Jump Street franchise that is enjoying current popularity.