Meet Joe Black (Blu-ray) (1998)

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Released 30-Mar-2011

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 180:16
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Martin Brest

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Brad Pitt
Anthony Hopkins
Claire Forlani
Jake Weber
Marcia Gay Harden
Jeffrey Tambor
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $12.95 Music Thomas Newman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
French dts 5.1
German dts 5.1
Italian dts 5.1
Japanese dts 5.1
Spanish dts 5.1
Portuguese dts 2.0 mono
Russian dts 2.0 mono
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

††† 1998ís Meet Joe Black is not everyoneís cup of tea. A polarising feature, it underperformed at the box office, earning mixed reviews before ultimately fading into obscurity. Some may call the film plodding due to its three-hour length, while others might find it hokey or clichť, but, in the eyes of this reviewer, the experience of Meet Joe Black is enrapturing. Directed by Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop), the movie is fundamentally a remake of 1934ís Death Takes a Holiday, using the basic premise as a jumping off point to create a captivating romantic drama with thematic undercurrents relating to mankindís mortality. Itís a carefully-designed motion picture that requires patience and tolerance, but itís also rewarding, making for grand entertainment for those in the right mood.

††† A successful corporate tycoon and multi-millionaire, William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins) is only a few days away from celebrating his 65th birthday. Already anxious due to his advanced age and all of his work-related responsibilities, Bill is further troubled by occasional chest pains, accompanied by a mysterious voice inside his head. Before long, Bill is visited by the Grim Reaper, adopting the name Joe Black (Brad Pitt), personified in the body of a recently-deceased young man. Informing Bill that heís dying, Death explains that he wants to tour the world as a mortal human, and wishes for Bill to be his tour guide. As long as the Grim Reaper stays interested on his ďholiday,Ē Bill will be able to continue living, but Death will take Bill with him when he returns to the ďnext place.Ē During his self-appointed vacation, Death learns valuable lessons about humanity, in addition to learning about love as he develops strong feelings for Billís daughter Susan (Claire Forlani).

††† Without a doubt, death is the greatest sadness faced by humanity, as every single one of us is going to die one day. Meet Joe Black explores the question of what one would do if you knew that your life has come to an end. Bill begins to contemplate what means the most to him in life, scheduling family dinners on a daily basis, tying up loose ends, and generally soaking up the time that he has left. Even though the picture clocks in at around three hours, it earns its extensive length, spending adequate time on character development and giving the various narrative threads the breadth they required. We get to know all of the characters honestly and authentically, and become invested in their subplots. The screenplay has received criticism for the ostensibly inconsistent treatment of the Grim Reaper, as he often seems childlike and awkward, but at other times heís strangely knowledgeable about certain things. However, the fact that Death is an enigma is one of the most interesting aspects of the movie. What if his childlike demeanour is an act to keep Bill on his toes? What if heís only picked up tiny bits and pieces during his existence? We do not need to get into Deathís head and know what makes him tick - we are experiencing the oddity of seeing a human Death alongside the characters, and Brest does not give viewers additional information.

††† Despite its spiritual and supernatural trappings, Meet Joe Black is imbued with a fairy-tale quality, as well as a dose of poetic humanism. Although the $90 million budget is absurd for a drama of this ilk, Brestís construction of the film is magnificent, shooting with purpose and maintaining a steady pace throughout. Thereís immense visual allure to Emmanuel Lubezkiís cinematography, making wise use of the grand set design, while the editors were unafraid to hold onto shots of characters as their expressions say a thousand words. Some may find the movie plodding, but thereís a brilliant rhythm to the picture. Perhaps the definitive touch is Thomas Newmanís score, which is breathtaking and extraordinarily well-judged. It adds another layer to the fine movie, amplifying the intended feel of practically every scene without being too intrusive. Itís some of Newmanís finest work. Miraculously, Meet Joe Black at no point feels overly corny or saccharine. Some may scoff at the seriousness with which Brest approaches the material, but this reviewer gets lost in the sincerity of the enterprise. There is also some wry humour throughout, which prevents the film from becoming a dour experience.

††† Anthony Hopkins, it would seem, is incapable of delivering a dud performance. This role affords Hopkins a number of scenes in which he can convey the humanity and reflection of a man who has lived a great life, but is forced to come to terms with the fact that itís drawing to a close. Hopkins is strong-willed as William Parrish; heís somewhat comical at times, while intimidating and chilling at other times. Above all else, Hopkins turns Bill into a warm and wise father, making the character wholly believable. Brad Pitt is also enormously effective as Death, playing the role with admirable conviction. His demeanour is beautifully understated, naÔve and unique, and he conveys Deathís arc as he grows to learn what it means to be human. Meanwhile Claire Forlani is engaging and beguiling as Billís daughter Susan, while top-shelf support is provided by Marcia Gay Harden and Jeffrey Tambor. Tambor is especially good, as heís highly amusing.

††† I cannot help but sing praise for Meet Joe Black, which reimagines Death Takes a Holiday in a fresh, grand fashion. I love the lingering scenes, the deliberate pacing, the fullness of the narrative, and the way that the characters are richly developed, making this a movie that I frequently watch. While it may have been superior with a tauter screenplay, the movie in its current form is simply sublime. Itís not for everyone, but what movie is? Itís a beautiful experience for those willing to give themselves over to its meditations on life, love and loss, and itís full of majesty, wisdom, and old-fashioned storytelling. Long but curiously never boring, and spiritual but never soggy, this is a brand of cinematic entertainment that Hollywood rarely gets right.

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Transfer Quality


††† If I had to use one word to describe Meet Joe Blackís 1080p high definition Blu-ray debut, it would be ďuneven.Ē Meet Joe Black was actually one of the first movies from Universal Pictures to debut on HD-DVD before the death of the format, and, unfortunately, the studio has chosen to recycle the very same HD-DVD transfer for this Blu-ray. Despite having an entire dual-layered BD-50 to itself, Universal have mastered the movie with a pitiful video bitrate of 16 Mbps, and make use of the ancient VC-1 video codec. As a result, even though the presentation has its strengths and represents an appreciable upgrade over the standard definition DVD, it doesnít look especially impressive for a 2011 Blu-ray release - and with the introduction of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with added High Dynamic Range, Meet Joe Black pales in comparison. At least itís not as bad as Tremors, or the original release of Spartacus (before the gorgeous remaster). It's just not a great disc, either.

††† Universal does not exactly have the best track record for catalogue releases, as the studio mostly relies on dated DVD-era masters slathered in unsightly digital noise reduction and edge enhancement. Even in 2015, Universal keep recycling dated masters when brand new remasters would be more appropriate given the advancements in home video technology. Luckily, Meet Joe Blackís Blu-ray transfer does retain a healthy layer of grain throughout, but the image looks slightly questionable - it does appear that grain is mixed with video noise, and there are signs of DNR due to instances of smeary, imprecise textures. Still, the image has its strong moments. Well-lit scenes fare best, displaying respectable textures in faces and set design. Close-ups of Hopkins at the 17-minute mark are good enough, revealing pores and wrinkles on his skin. Colours are fine but unspectacular; the release falls victim to Universalís bygone tendency to oversaturate the colour palette and crank up the contrast, as opposed to something more natural and cinematic. I did not see Meet Joe Black in the cinema (I wish I did), but I would be interested in seeing how a print compares to this disc in terms of colours.

††† As stated before, this is clearly a recycled DVD-era master. Clarity is merely adequate, and although the movie looks clean most of the time, I did notice a smattering of print damage throughout. Hairs, minor specks, and scratches are evident, though they arenít frequent or major enough to warrant much alarm. Encoding issues do arise from time to time, which is unsurprising given the severe compression. I noticed an odd wavering effect in certain long shots, and edges occasionally fall victim to ringing. There is a certain flatness as a result of the processing, and the noise/grain tends to look slightly blocky. However, the big issue with the transfer is edge enhancement. If you donít know what edge enhancement is and/or do not notice it, youíll be fine. But anyone who knows the tell-tale signs will find this presentation to be a nightmare. There are consistent halos around characters, and they often look green-screened into a scene. Itís distracting. Edge enhancement was even applied to a deliberately out of focus shot of Hopkins.

††† If this was one of the first Blu-ray discs to be released back in 2006, the presentationís shortcomings would be more forgivable. But this is a 2011 release, debuting after studios began properly remastering movies for the format. A lot of money was spent on Meet Joe Black, but this transfer fails to do it justice, as it looks overly processed and suffers from an inadequate video bitrate. Ultimately, this movie is in dire need of a fresh remaster from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. Although, hell, just an MPEG-4 re-encode with a higher bitrate would improve the presentation, if only slightly. This Blu-ray is watchable, but we deserve better.

†† There are subtitles in an array of languages, and they are easy to read. Judging from the array of ratings logos on the disc, and the language options, it's evident that this disc was primarily intended for European distribution.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


††† Fortunately, the disc's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is an absolute joy. Chief among Meet Joe Black's biggest assets is Thomas Newman's superlative soundtrack, and it sounds wonderfully crisp throughout this Blu-ray mix. Itís another noticeable improvement over the DVD.

††† Many may think that a drama like Meet Joe Black would not benefit from the upgrade to lossless audio, but my goodness it does. Dialogue is clear and clean throughout, allowing you to hear and comprehend every whisper and soft exchange. Sound effects such as helicopters stand out, while climactic fireworks make good use of the subwoofer. In terms of surround activity, the ambience of crowded parties and office areas filling the rear channels creates worthwhile immersion.

††† There are no real flaws to speak of. Fans should be delighted.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


††† Nothing at all.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

† † The American Blu-ray release retains all the extras from the DVD, with a ten-minute featurette, a photo montage, and a trailer. Nothing substantial. Slight win for America.


††† Meet Joe Black is not a movie for everyone, but I have warmed up to it tremendously. Itís definitely worth checking out if youíre open-minded and patient enough.

††† Universalís Blu-ray comes with a so-so video presentation but is bolstered by a strong HD audio track. The lack of extras is also a big shame. Nevertheless, this disc comes recommended, especially for fans.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Review Equipment
DVDPlayStation 4, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42LW6500. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationLG BH7520TW
SpeakersLG Tall Boy speakers, 5.1 set-up, 180W

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