Iâ€™ve been in this run lately where Iâ€™ve seen quite a bit of Brad Pittâ€™s dramatic work from his earlier days, before he decided to funk himself up (and earn the respect of young males everywhere with Fight Club), and in the sprawling film Meet Joe Black, he tackles a different take on a character with a respected cast and crew behind him.
The film is a remake of the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday and this version was adapted by a cast of hundreds (well, four actually), and directed by Martin Brest, who was directing his first him after 1992â€™s Scent of a Woman. In this, Bill Parrish (Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs) is a successful communications mogul about to celebrate his 65th birthday. He has two daughters in Allison (Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock) and Susan (Claire Forlani, Mallrats) and quite frankly couldnâ€™t ask for more. However things change when one morning he has sharp chest pains, as if heâ€™s having a heart attack, but he pulls through it. That night at dinner, he is greeted by a guest, a strapping young man (in the form of Pitt) who tells him that heâ€™s the grim reaper, Death himself. He tells Bill that he would like to spend some time with him before taking him, and if Bill tells anyone who he is, heâ€™ll take him beforehand.
So the stodgy businessman tries to make sure that his lifeâ€™s matters are taken care of and he tries to gain some closure with his life. In the meantime, Death, at least according to what transpires in the film, has a fondness for peanut butter and macking on Susan, despite her current relationship with Drew (Jake Weber, The Cell). However well, heâ€™s Brad Pitt, so Susan falls in love with him, it is after all, only a matter of time, his character situation is a bit of a puzzler; as the solitary figure of Death, he has experienced life, love in its purest form, and is not entirely sure how to deal with this new emotion. Over the course of the film, Bill clearly becomes more able to embrace his fate while, oddly enough, Death becomes resistant to the change in his life, for lack of a better word.
The thing that can make the film tough to watch is of course its pacing. A film with no action and a finite ending lasting almost three hours is a challenge to watch (I had to do it over two sittings myself), and the film almost seems to prize this. In one scene, Pitt leaves and is supposed to grab three cookies, so why not grab them individually to take up time? There are lots of scenes without dialogue and can sometimes last several minutes. It does help to convey Brestâ€™s message that life sometimes takes awhile and is worth enjoying, and during Billâ€™s birthday party, there are some very emotional moments. But I think Brest could have compromised on his message, and maybe trimmed a half hour, and it arguably would have been more effective and popular to boot.
Another 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation via the VC-1 codec. Itâ€™s presented decently with a consistent present film grain, and the black levels are as solid as they come, though in some of the later scenes, there appears to be some edge enhancement present.
The Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 audio reproduces the filmâ€™s soundtrack with little concern. Itâ€™s a very quiet film so you might have to boost the volume up, but there arenâ€™t any cuts to scenes that will blow your speakers out. Itâ€™s not at all shabby.
What little there is here is all dated and in 480p. Youâ€™ve got a ten minute look at the making of the film, with a mix of on set and press junket interviews talking about the usual, and a trailer as well.
Meet Joe Black has almost everything in it; drama, romance, and a lot of multisyllabic words uttered by Hopkins, in a script that is quite eloquent and is unabashed in doing so. Itâ€™s long to watch for anyone, and if youâ€™ve got it on SD now, youâ€™re only paying for the upgrade which isnâ€™t worth making much of a fuss over. Iâ€™d say rent it and move on to lighter fare.