“Fitzpatrick and Gosling have compiled a book of outstanding quality, one that needs to be seen and read to be believed”
Love them or hate them, the Men In Black films are extremely profitable. First hitting the movie screens back in 1997, the saga has made $1.761billion at the box office against the combined budget of $555million. The first three instalments were directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and this year’s spin-off, Men In Black International was directed by F.Gary Gray. An animated series ran for four years from 1997 until 2001. The movies made its star, Will Smith, the biggest box office draw worldwide. Co-starring Tommy Lee Jones, the films suffered from varying quality as they went through the years climaxing with MIB: International this past summer and a box office failure.
Titan Books have published the official visual companion to the films. Written by Lisa Fitzpatrick and Sharon Gosling, the book takes us through the entire saga, showing us behind the scenes photographs, in-depth interviews and facts from the films and going into closer detail about the characters and the various aliens, both friendly and evil, presenting us with everything we need to know about the whole universe of Men In Black. The book runs to 208 pages and is crammed full to the brim.
Men In Black The Official Visual Companion | By Lisa Fitzpatrick & Sharon Gosling
Let’s not beat around the bush, I LOVE this book. No question about it, it’s a work of pure quality. The authors have done their research diligently and have presented a volume that any fan of the saga cannot be without. With a foreword written by producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie McDonald, the book starts as it means to go on. An introduction to ‘The Beginnings Of The Universe’ opens things officially from page 8, going into detail about obtaining the rights to the comic book ‘The Men In Black‘ by Lowell Cunningham, the holdup in production to accommodate Barry Sonnenfeld’s schedule so he would be available to make the film, the writing of the script and casting decisions.
Page 16 is where we start our look at the saga with the original film. Going into detail about the first alien contact in New York in 1961, we are presented with the Men In Black code. Almost like the U.S pledge of Allegiance, the pledge an agent must swear is extensive. And the code they have to live by is rather restricting. From being ordered to conform to the identity they are assigned right up to having to silence their native tongue, the list is pretty exhaustive. We are awarded a replica copy of the white card all agents carry with them for us to collect and keep.
As we reach page 21, we meet the alien ‘Mikey’. Sadly, we already know that he won’t survive too long in the original film but we are given a look behind the scenes at this nasty but lovable creature (I’m a sucker for aliens, really!). Created by the legendary Rick Baker and brought to life by costume wearing performer John Alexander, this part of the volume goes into detail about the filming of scenes with the creature, his overall design and the battle between director Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones regarding Jones’ character, Agent K. Jones wanted to play him for laughs, Sonnenfeld wanted him to play it straight. Jones didn’t get why he had to play it that way until he saw the completed film. Then he acknowledged that Sonnenfeld was right. The section details the CGI effects that were added in post-production, detailing how until the creature started running, it was an actor in a suit doing everything. Flip the page and we are shown the Men In Black Headquarters in complete detail. Over the next four pages, every part of the building is examined.
For the rest of the section on the original film, we are presented with pages on Agent J, Agent K, Agent Z and the rest of the characters we will meet during the course of the film. The weapons, suits and everything we will see on screen is examined and all the details we ever need on everything contained throughout the movie are presented to us in great detail.
We now come onto the sequel, Men In Black II. Everyone was willing and happy to return for this second go-around but one obstacle remained. What was the story? How could they bring Tommy Lee Jones’ character back into the fold after the climax of the original film? Where was the good idea that would spark the sequel? Again, all this is revealed to us in the section dedicated to the film. And once again, all the new characters, weapons and objects that are seen in the film are analyzed and presented to us with in-depth facts regarding them. Behind the scenes, discussions and photographs are again all here for us to enjoy.
We move on again and come to Men In Black 3. Here we have a film that had no sense of urgency around it. All the cast and crew were off doing their own projects. It was Will Smith himself who came up to Barry Sonnenfeld and pitched the storyline for a third film. As Sonnenfeld himself reveals in this section, what Smith came up with wasn’t exactly what they shot but his basic ideas were on screen for the world to see. Smith came up with the idea of time travel and going back to see the backstory relating to his and Smith’s characters. Again, everything you ever wanted to know about the behind the scenes process needed to get the film into multiplexes is gone into great detail and yet again, the pages that follow bring to us the new characters that will appear in the movie and the technology we will encounter. We are even treated to a section on Rick Baker’s make up special effects, to my mind a must-read for all film buffs and historians. And of course, we are afforded a section devoted to actor Josh Brolin and his pitch-perfect portrayal of a younger Agent K. Brolin’s performance was the highlight of the film and showed him in the light he is basking in at this moment in time, proving to the world what a fine and brilliant actor he really is. The section on the third film is one of the longest in the book but never wears out its welcome as it delves completely into the film and its history.
We now bid a fond farewell to Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as we come to the spin-off/Reboot/ whatever that is Men In Black International. The thought of expanding the Men In Black universe was always there but as Walter Parkes admits in this section, the idea “Didn’t really work”. The trick was how to make a new film that would appeal to the fans of the franchise without Smith and Jones being involved. The franchise was two decades old now and needed to have a rejuvenation, an injection of younger blood if you will. All this had to happen within the confines of the universe they had created. In addition, the filmmakers wanted to go outside of the United States this time around, feeling that the series needed to go global instead of being restricted to just one country of the earth.
Deciding to go with Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson who worked so well together in ‘Thor: Ragnarok‘ and ‘The Avengers‘ movies, the filmmakers decided to make London the place where the film would take place. Now boasting new agents H and M, the film did manage to bring back Emma Thompson as Agent O from the previous instalment. Adding veteran actor Liam Neeson to the mix as the character High-T and the film was a go. Once again, every aspect of the film and it’s new characters, costumes, technology and locations are here for us to dissect. Again, like the proceeding chapters of the book, several of the key sequences in the film are broken down and discussed with those involved. And again, this section of the book is longer than the chapters regarding the original two films.
The book ends with full-colour reproductions of the films theatrical posters, one for each film. It is a nice touch to end this incredible volume in this fashion. Along with the added bonuses of several reproductions of business cards included inside the book along with a reproduction of the front of a newspaper seen in Men In Black International and what we have is the total package. Fitzpatrick and Gosling have compiled a book of outstanding quality, one that needs to be seen and read to be believed. If you are a fan of the franchise, get down to your local bookstore and grab a copy now, you most certainly won’t be disappointed. If like me, you are a film lover and film buff, I would advise you to fork out some of your hard-earned cash to procure this wonderful, insightful volume. You will not regret it.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Indiana Jones and Horror movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!