Media FX Review of Men In Black 2
by Noell Wolfgram Evans, feature writer for Digital Media FX Magazine
'Men in Black II', Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones reprise their
roles from the 1997 film 'Men in Black'. In that first film, they
had to save the planet from a marauding alien and in this next
installment they save the planet from a
The similarity in the plot isn't the only problem with this picture.
The name 'Men
in Black' refers to the members of a super-secret Government organization.
Always wearing black suits, their sole purpose is to keep in check
the alien civilizations that have decided to call Earth home.
This is one of those 'double entendre' film titles though as it
also refers to the stars of the film, its Director, Executive
Producer and others who plan to spend quite a lot of time in the
bank book black thanks to the impending box-office bonanza of
this film. 'Men in Black II' feels like it was made for money,
rather than to entertain or further the adventures of two likeable
characters. Sequels are this day and age, a seemingly necessary
evil but they can be created in a way that furthers their predecessors.
This is not the case here.
by Robert Gordon and Barry Fanaro, 'Men in Black II' feels like
a cobbled 'What about doing this' exercise. Scenes and actions
don't really progress as much as they just sort of happen. In
a film like this there is a definite suspension of disbelief but
there is also a logicalness that you'd like to see happen within
these parameters. Unfortunately in the film, things happen for
what feels like no reason and characters slip in and out of character
just for the benefit of what is purported to be a joke. This all
adds up to a story that just really doesn't feel like it goes
Even the usually
sure had of Director Barry Sonnenfeld can't save the material
from falling flat. Jokes just drop from an actors mouth to the
ground in a silent smirk thud while the larger set pieces occur
with a technical admiration but really no heart or soul. No passion
feels as if it was invested into the making of the film and as
an audience member, I have to wonder why, if the creators didn't
really care, I should.
'Men in Black
II' is above all else a science fiction film and generally the
two most memorable features of sci-fi are the creatures and the
music that they move to.
for the film was written by Danny Elfman and while it has some
interesting touches, it never really draws me into a scene the
way that strong movie music should. Elfman is definitely capable
of providing music that can often rise above the material, it's
just in this instance the work feels more like an Elfman knock-off
rather than the real thing. Still even that is better than what
can be found in most movies today.
Of course what is a science fiction film without aliens. In this
film, there are two types of aliens, those created the old fashioned
way with masks and mirrors and those created using CGI.
aliens were created by Oscar winner Rick Baker and his team at
Cinovation studios and they are exactly what you would expect,
which is part of the problem. While all of the creatures are convincing,
minus the Ballchinian (whose name is exactly what it implies),
there really isn't anything new to see. It's almost as if Baker
has done such a solidly perfect job for so many years, that he
eliminated the 'wow' factor from his own work.
The CGI creatures
(along with various other effects) were created by a number of
visual effects houses including ILM, Sony Imageworks, Tippett
Studio, Illusion Arts and Rhythm & Hues (who also had a hand
in this summers 'Scooby Doo') under the guidance of Visual Effects
Supervisor Bryan McBrien. These effects are very hit or miss and
it would be interesting to see the exact 'who did what' breakdown.
The alien creatures, such as Serleena (played by Lara Flynn Boyle),
are effectively rendered. They work completely well in their environments
and the animation is clean, but not to the point of looking too
computerized. Particularly effective was the spaceship work, which
is now something that's old hat to ILM. The scenes of ships flying
through the sky, particularly in the title sequence and in the
end chase, had an amazing realness to them. It was not just their
movement and integration into the live action, but it was the
'side' items such as the ships exhaust that gave these scenes
an exciting realism.
of the effects houses do their work with proprietary software,
it is known that Rhythm & Hues utilized Houdini 3D software
from Side Effects Software. Houdini is ideal for lighting effects,
custom scripting, motion-on-motion compositing and photo-realistic
rendering. It's an effective animation tool as it helped to add
some layers of depth and realism to a number of the effects in
the film. And for a film like this to work, there has to be some
level of realism that an audience can connect with.
is that while the latest effects were hit head on, some of the
effects that have been in movies for years looked as if there
were no advances in them since the heyday of Capra. Particularly
some of the blue screen work was rather suspect to say the least.
At the beginning of the film, Will Smith is riding a large worm
named Jeffery through the New York City subway system. As Smith
bounces and rolls through his ride, you can practically see the
blue screen behind him and the mechanical bull that he is sitting
on. There is a flatness in these scenes that render them ineffective.
The other effects issue came up whenever anyone got in a car.
As the characters drove from one point to the next, you could
feel the wheels turning the scenery in the windows behind them.
Not only did the city scenes appear to be going by on a completely
different plane, they appeared to go by at a completely different
speed. It reminded me of the old movies set in a train where the
same tree would pass the window 57 times.
Men in Black Tid-bits
films are based on the 'Men in Black' comic series produced
by Malibu Comics and created by Lowell Cunningham.
O'Donnell was originally scheduled to play Agent J but
left the role shortly after original director Les Mayfield
departed the film.
original film was so popular that it spawned an animated
series. In 1997 the WB began airing "Men in Black:
the most popular Men in Black spin-off can be found at
Universal Studios in Florida. 'Men in Black: Alien Attack'
is an interactive dark-ride that invites viewers to travel
along city streets, fighting aliens at every turn. The
ride opened in 2000.
this film does not live or die on the effects work, the main attraction
here is Smith and Jones and they are the true weak links in the
film. The problem doesn't lie in their performances; they do exactly
what they are given to do. It's just that they aren't really given
anything interesting to do. The film opens with Smith, 'J', as
a bit of a renegade within the Men in Black organization. At the
end of the first film, Jones' 'K' had retired and he starts this
installment still retired and working in the Post Office with
no memory of his previous alien fighting life.
As J and K
travel down these divergent tracks, Smith and Jones show some
originality and life but soon Jones is given his memory back and
suddenly everything reverts into stereotypes: Jones as the gruff
veteran and Smith as the scared newcomer. This dynamic worked
in the first film because that's who these characters were but
with five years between then and now, we expect to see some sort
of growth, especially considering the direction of the character
arcs in the first third of the film. It's almost as if you are
watching two completely different sets of characters in this film
and it just doesn't work.
If there is
to be a third film of this series, I think the producers could
re-inject some life into the premise by teaming up Frank the Dog
(whose singing brings the movie to a stop) and David Cross' Newton,
a video owner who's just a little to into 'conspiracies'.
'Men in Black
II' is filled with a number of effective pieces such as these.
It's just too bad that there aren't enough of them to make a solidly
Out of a scale
of 1 to 10, 'Men in Black II' earns a 5.
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