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 one word to describe Meet Joe Blackís 1080p/VC-1 encoded Blu-ray presentation, it would be ďuneven.Ē Universal does not have the best track record when it comes to catalogue releases, with most of their transfers looking dated right out of the gate. Meet Joe Black is not the DNR disaster that was Spartacus, but itís not a particularly great disc, either.

††† First, the good. Itís a generally strong transfer created from a pristine print. There are no scratches, flecks, or anything in the way of print damage. Colour is also excellent, with jet blacks and natural skin tones staying true to the original photography. It does represent a fair improvement over the DVD, thatís for sure.

††† But itís clear that this Blu-ray transfer was sourced from a DVD-era master. The first big issue 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 telltale 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 really ugly.

††† Furthermore, fine detail is not great. Itís fortunate that grain is in tact, but itís not well-resolved. It often looks blocky. Itís not too much of an issue if youíre sitting pretty far from the television, but it is nevertheless disappointing, especially considering that the film had an entire BD-50 to itself. A lot of money was spent on Meet Joe Black, but this transfer fails to do it justice.

†† There are subtitles in an array of languages, and they are easy to read.

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


††† Fortunately, the movieís 5.1 DTS-HD surround track is an absolute joy. Chief among Meet Joe Blackís biggest assets is Thomas Newmanís soundtrack, and it sounds wonderfully crisp throughout this lossless track, which made good use of my speakers. Itís much better than 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, and the ambience of crowded parties and office areas creates miraculous immersion.

††† There are no flaws to speak of. Itís a fine effort on the part of Universal, and 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.

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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