1990s Sci-Fi Blockbuster Classic Completely Changed Just Weeks Before Release

By Robert Scucci | Published

men in black

1997’s Men in Black is one of those movies that proves how editors actually rule the world. Or in the case of this iconic science-fiction comedy, it’s safe to say that editors and post-production crews have power over entire alien races as well. That’s because after test screenings, an entire story arc was eliminated in order to make a film that would resonate with a wider audience.

The Movie We Saw

men in black series

For those of you who need a refresher, Men in Black’s final cut plays out mostly like a buddy-cop film with Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K and Will Smith’s Agent J at the center of the narrative. They’re tasked with locating and securing a tiny galaxy and delivering it to the Arquillian royal family so a race of alien bugs can’t use its sub-atomic energy for evil purposes. If they fail their mission, the Arquillians will destroy Earth to prevent the bugs from obtaining the galaxy.

Why We Got The Final Version

men in black

The original story to Men in Black was considerably more complicated, and actually involved another alien race known as the Baltians. During an interview with Monster Legacy upon the film’s 20th anniversary in 2017, director Barry Sonnenfeld revealed that the Baltians would have been more prominently featured in the mix instead of eliminated outright.

The Movie We Almost Saw

The original version of Men in Black would have had a totally different dynamic, as the Arquillians and Baltians were two warring parties who were fighting over the galaxy. The bugs, who fed on deceased bodies of both races, would have stolen the galaxy to prolong the war so they could continue to feed. Though this version of the story would have made for a more complex, and possibly more compelling narrative, it failed to stick the landing during test screenings because there was too much exposition to consider, which was seen as a detriment to the film’s overall pacing.

Same Scene, Different Words

men in black

Through the use of clever editing, overdubs, and some retroactive role reassigning, Men in Black became a lot less complicated. Instead of Arquillian ambassador Rosenburg having a heated discussion with an unnamed Baltian ambassador, the revised and final cut has both characters belonging to the Arquillian race. The original dialogue was altered during the post-production process, giving us the narrative that we’re familiar with today.

In other words, the Baltians were eliminated from Men in Blacks plot just two weeks before post-production wrapped by changing the subtitles during the exchange between the two ambassadors. What’s most impressive about the editing process is that not a single reshoot was required to alter the plot so drastically.

A Hint At What Was Planned

men in black

But if you listen and look closely, there is one line in Men in Black that hints at its original story. When Rosenburg tells J and K that they need to find the galaxy to prevent a war, he’s actually referring to the war between the Arquillians and Baltians that didn’t ever end up materializing.

Using the footage that was available to them, the post-production staff gave us the version of Men in Black that we’re familiar with. By cleverly trimming off what was considered by test audiences to be excess exposition, the editors gave us a film with quicker pacing that made for better storytelling. Though we can’t say for certain that the original story would have been better or worse, it’s clear that the final cut was a resounding success.