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Meet Joe BlackMeet Joe Black on DVD

Old-fashioned film an Unexpected Gem

by Jim Bray

"Meet Joe Black" is remake (sort of) of the 1934 film "Death Takes a Holiday," a title that neatly explains the concept behind this 3 hour piece (though it hardly does it justice).

"MJB" stars Anthony Hopkins (is it a law that he has to be in every movie these days?) as media tycoon Bill Parrish and Brad Pitt as the Angel of Death who comes to tell him he's about to "parrish." Also in the cast are Claire Forlani, Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden, and Jeffrey Tambor.

Pitt actually starts the movie off as a lawyer who happens upon Forlani (Parrish's younger daughter). They hit it off, but life's the Pitts for Brad because after leaving her he's suddenly killed in a visually startling manner.

He's back shortly, however, in his other guise and achin' for vacation. He enlists Hopkins as his earthly guide, the catch for Hopkins being that as long as Pitt's enjoying himself Hopkins can keep breathing. After that, however, it's Tony's Termination Time...

This is flippant and overly simplistic, and it doesn't really do justice to what turned out to be a delightful movie. It's a calm, quiet, and gentle film in an era of noise and violence.

For example, "MJB's" single act of sex is between people who genuinely love each other (as opposed to rampaging hormones), and is shot tastefully - with no frontal nudity. Not only that, but the tycoon hero is actually a really good person instead of your typically stereotyped robber baron.

And there are even a couple of well-aimed and well-deserved shots at Big Media!

In short, this is a movie that isn't afraid to buck the trends, and it turns out to be an old fashioned-type of film that gives a genuinely warm glow to the viewer. Produced and directed by Martin Brest, who brought us Scent of a Woman and the original Beverly Hills Cop, this film is lovingly crafted in every way.

The film looks and sounds great, especially the final scenes at Parrish's birthday party with their decorations and fireworks.

Hopkins, not surprisingly, is excellent. Pitt, too, brings subtlety and depth to his rather unusual role - despite having very few lines to deliver. The rest of the cast also turns in journeyman performances that are substantive but which don't overshadow either the story or the stars.

Don't let the 3 hour running time of this film scare you; the time zips by as quickly as it does in "Titanic." The DVD's dual layers allows the film to unfold uninterrupted, too, which is one of the benefits of the little disc when compared with the 60 minute time limit of laserdiscs.

Picture quality - and Dolby Digital audio - are superb. The disc is only offered in widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), using only one side of the disc. The extras are okay, including an entertaining featurette "Spotlight on Location" on the film as well as the normal cast/crew bios/filmographies, production notes, chapter stops, etc.

This was one disc that made me really glad to have the trailer included. I usually watch the trailers after the film but, faced with a three hour session I was afraid would turn into an ordeal, I watched the trailer first to see if I could get a feel for the movie. It worked, and I went in with an open mind and ended up having my pants charmed off by what turned out to be a lovely motion picture.

Meet Joe Black, from Universal Home Video
180 minutes, 1.85:1 widescreen
starring Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Claire Forlani
Screenplay by Ron Osborn & Jeff Reno and Kevin Wade and Bo Goldman
Produced and Directed by Martin Brest


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Updated May 13, 2006