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'Men in Black' was originally going to take place 'all over the country' - stream it on Peacock now
Fans would have to wait over 20 years for a wider jurisdiction in Men in Black: International.
If the Men in Black are responsible for monitoring all extra-terrestrial activity on our planet, then why do the films mainly take place in New York City? Well, the original plan was to present a wider scope for the clandestine organization of alien-fighting operatives.
Speaking to Inverse for an oral history of the 1997 original — which is now streaming on Peacock along with the first two sequels — screenwriter Ed Solomon revealed that the narrative initially took place all over the United States before Barry Sonnenfeld signed on as director.
"Barry actually wanted to switch the story from taking place all over the country to being all in New York City because he believed that aliens live there more," Solomon explained. "He said, 'I want it to be like French Connection but with aliens.' We turned J into a cop rather than a Secret Service guy and made it more like beat cops in Manhattan, except it’s aliens."
"I kept saying, 'If aliens exist, they’re in New York,'" Sonnenfeld added. "And they’re in New York because they can pass. They don’t even have to wear disguises."
Limiting the action to the Big Apple certainly worked in the movie's favor. Keeping the backdrop simple and unfussy meant that more time could be spent building out the odd couple relationship between wide-eyed rookie J (Will Smith) and seasoned veteran K (Tommy Lee Jones). Of course, the viewer does get a small taste of the agency's wider jurisdiction in the memorable opening sequence, where Agents K and D (Richard Hamilton) vaporize Mikey in the American Southwest. Remember: there is no Division 6.
Two movies later, J partners up with a young K (Josh Brolin), traveling down to Cape Canaveral to defeat Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) and ensure the ArcNet is deployed around the Earth by way of the Apollo 11 space shuttle. However, it would take another seven years to learn that the MiB actually operates from outposts stationed all over the world in Men in Black: International.
While the first Men in Black remains a beloved paragon of how to seamlessly blend the buddy cop genre with science fiction, the process of making it was apparently a nightmare, particularly for Solomon who went through numerous drafts of the script. Thankfully, all that work paid off.
"I remember going to see a screening of the film and being really emotional afterward in a positive way because the making of the film was very stressful for me: the multiple years; the multiple, multiple, multiple drafts…"
The Men in Black trilogy is now streaming on Peacock. If you're looking for even more alien wackiness, check out SYFY's original series Resident Alien streaming now on Peacock. New episodes return later this year on SYFY.