Twenty-five years ago Barry Sonnenfeld’s workplace action-comedy broke the rules and launched an iconic franchise.
“On paper, and especially in hindsight, 1997’s Men in Black reads as slam-dunk a blockbuster pitch as a lucky studio exec would ever hope to get. Two proven big-name stars riding then-career highs; Tommy Lee Jones, fresh off of Batman Forever, and Will Smith, who had just toplined the biggest film of 1996 Independence Day. A highly-successful director in Barry Sonnenfeld who made two hits out of The Addams Family and received critical bona fides for Get Shorty. An easily-marketable premise, secret government alien police/immigration force, hitting at the moment where the alien conspiracy craze was cresting in peak popularity (partly thanks to The X-Files). Groundbreaking special effects and make-up work led by industry legend Rick Baker. A bop-ass theme song to dominate the pop charts. Nowadays, you could even lean on the source material’s origins as (technically) a Marvel comic!
In practice, though, Men in Black doesn’t function like one would expect a typical Hollywood blockbuster to, even when taking the other major hits of 1997 into account. Sonnenfeld’s film takes that high-concept premise, one ripe with potential for spectacle and wonder and outsized action, and deliberately goes for a deadpan almost-mundane approach to the material. Men in Black belongs to the lineage of the original Ghostbusters, a blockbuster committed more towards fully exploring an idea rather than traditional pulse-pounding excitement. And, just like with Ghostbusters, that lower-key approach is in service of the movie’s central joke: demonstrating how utterly humdrum dealing with the otherworldly can be when it’s your 9-to-5 job.”
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Callie Petch guess from experience comes education.