Sony's Men in Black film franchise has been present in Hollywood for over two decades now. With such an impressive track record as well as entertainment durability, the series has built on its sci-fi lore with each successive movie, including the most recent, Men in Black International, which opened last week. As time passes, the secret world of alien activity on this planet grows bigger, ballsier, and more complex.
Thanks to the Official Visual Companion for all four movies (get an exclusive look at the book right here), we now have all of the MiB-centric trivia we could ever want in one convenient place. Scouring a copy of the cosmic publication for secrets about the ultra-secret organization, SYFY WIRE extracted some of the juiciest nuggets of fun facts that any die-hard fan (or new recruit) must know.
For example, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, the screenwriters of Men in Black International, wanted to differentiate the fourth film in the franchise from the first three, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. They did so by exploring the different worldwide headquarters of the agency, particularly the one in London run by High T (Liam Neeson).
"Instead of being a New York-based cop drama, the fourth film would be a spy thriller that traveled the world," reads the companion's intro on the film. If that's the case, then the Men in Black are like the James Bonds of the alien-monitoring world. Indeed, the writers actually wanted Chris Hemsworth's Agent H to be a callback to the era of Roger Moore's take on 007, which was known for being a little more silly and on-the-nose with its comedic (often cheesy, but in an endearing way) one-liners.
"We had kind of thought of him as the Roger Moore version of James Bond, and added just a little more 'louche-ness' to that idea, if you will—though we never wanted to go off into Austin Powers land. You have to keep yourselves in the lane," Marcum says in the book.
When it came to the aliens seen in International, legendary makeup/special effects artist Rick Baker—who had worked on the first three MiB movies—did not return, as he retired from the biz in 2015. The final makeup designs fell to Jeremy Woohead (Cloud Atlas, Snowpiercer), but the production actually put out a call for concept art from designers all over the globe. The goal was to "recall the previous films while also forging a new approach." In addition, Woodhead wanted to imbue the project with a distinctive color palette.
"It tends to be the more reptilian colors [in the other movies]," he says in the book's section titled Alien Concepts. "We've tried to break out of that, so it's combinations of colors that make it bright, cheery and fun. The director [F. Gary Gray] was very explicit that these aliens should not be frightening, nor should they be completely comic."
Filling out the nooks and crannies of the Men in Black mythos even further, the Visual Companion gives behind-the-scenes explanations of the agents' two most important attributes: their crisp black suits and their mind-wiping neuralyzers.
When it came to the work attire, costume designer Mary Vogt wanted a shabbier "1960s FBI thrift store style" before she saw the model created for the sleek and sterilized New York headquarters at 504 Battery Drive. After that, she settled on the broad-shouldered suit worn by Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest. Interestingly, Vogt says the legendary actor designed the suit himself, asking his personal tailor for a slimmer frame and broader (almost zoot-suited) shoulders.
"You could say Cary Grant designed the Men in Black suits!" Vogt jokes in The Last Suit You'll Ever Wear section of the book.
The general outfit hasn't changed since the '50s and '60s because being made privy to the vast secrets of the universe tends to make one place less of an emphasis on the latest "in vogue" styles and trends.
"Once you see aliens, once you know aliens exist and how unimportant everything is, 'Don't tell me about fashion. Really? I'm going to worry that whites are in this year?'" adds Sonnenfeld in the same section.
As for the neuralyzers, perhaps the coolest piece of tech seen across all four films, we now know how it works ... sort of. Per the book's description, the memory-erasing gadget uses "a unique cocktail of visible and invisible electromagnetic light and a variable burst of this light causes the optic nerve to overload. And blam! The brain temporarily shuts down to protect itself."
The practical neuralyzer prop for the first movie in 1997 was designed by prop master Doug Harlocker, who had to find a way to make a a physical/working device, because these were the days when CGI was still finding its footing in big studio projects. To achieve his goal, Harlocker collected Polaroid cameras and extracted their flashbulbs, which burned slowly enough and flared brightly enough for cinematic purposes.
As it turns out, old-fashioned cameras make the best movie props. Earlier today, we brought you the news that Luke Skywalker's lightsaber in Star Wars was made from old Graflex camera parts.
Men in Black: The Extraordinary Visual Companion to the Films is now on sale everywhere from Titan Books. You can pick up a copy on Amazon (Jeff Bezos is probably an alien in disguise, right?) here.