This week, "Men in Black" turns 20. Director Barry Sonnefeld's action-packed sci-fi comedy, which starred Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as agents for a mysterious organization that in the words of Will Smith's Agent K, "monitor, license, regulate and police extraterrestrial activity on the planet Earth," was an ingenious blockbuster that combined familiar elements into something exciting and new.
Based on a little-known independent comic book, "Men in Black" would go on to make nearly $600 million worldwide, inspire a crummy sequel, a pretty-good sequel and a really fun theme park attraction at Universal Studios Orlando (not to brag, but the last time I rode it my score was off the chain).
And you know what?
It's still the best.
This is the kind of blockbuster that they rarely make anymore: it features strong characters, a relatively simple storyline, and effects that embroider the narrative instead of overwhelming it. In celebration of its 20th anniversary, here are 20 things that we absolutely love about "Men in Black." Put up your hands and all your flippers.
1. Its Saul Bass-inspired credits sequence.2. Speaking of credits, how great is the bug fake-out/model work in that opening sequence? Oh right: very, very great.
3. Danny Elfman's score, which effortlessly transports his trademark sound into something more muscular and science fiction-y.4. The opening sequence at the border. It's odd to think of a big blockbuster in this day and age establishing tone and atmosphere this economically and effectively.
5. Tommy Lee Jones's hilariously gruff performance.
6. Rick Baker's jaw-dropping make-up and creature work (in 20 years, its aged more gracefully than the computer effects).
8. The movie's extensive use of New York City filming locations. That opening chase with Will Smith and the man with the gill-eyes features Grand Central Terminal and the Guggenheim (amongst others) -- and that's in the first 10 minutes of the movie.
9.Vincent D'Onofrio's inspired, wacky performance as a giant space bug trapped in the claustrophobic skin of a farmer, again aided by Rick Baker's make-up effects. "Sugar. In water."
10. Bo Welch's impeccable production design (we're particularly fond of Men in Black headquarters).
11. All of that fun tech. (Neuralizer! Noisy cricket!)
12. Frank the pug, although his legacy is almost undone by his overuse in the soggy sequel.
13.Tony Shalhoub as the weird alien pawn shop guy.14. Is Will Smith wearing some kind of jumpsuit?
15. The whole "there is a world lurking just beneath the world you know" conceit.
16. Industrial Light & Magic's then-cutting-edge visual effects. They don't hold up that well today, but some are still pretty impressive (like the bug battle at the end).
17. That horrifying squeaking sound that the table makes when Will Smith is auditioning for the job.
18. That Will Smith theme song (just bounce with me).19. The movie's fearlessness in having a melancholy, closed-door ending (that still gave way to sequels, cartoon spin-offs, and theme park attractions).20. Those worm guys (they still slay us).