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Ultimate Edition

When I sat down to watch MEET JOE BLACK, I had no idea that the movie was three hours long. Personally, I have no problem with long movies, but I do know people have trouble sitting through anything longer than ninety minutes in length. While MEET JOE BLACK is indeed long, I never found the movie tedious or boring. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed MEET JOE BLACK because it because it is a beautifully acted and character driven film that held my attention for its entire running time. Director Martin Brest took his inspiration for MEET JOE BLACK from the 1934 film DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY; in which the eternal force takes on human form to walk among us and better understand why mankind has always feared the end of their mortal existence.

MEET JOE BLACK opens several days before the sixty-fifth birthday of media tycoon William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins). Parrish is visited by Death, who informs him that the time has come for him to shuffle off this mortal coil. However, Death is willing to grant Parrish a temporary reprieve, if he is willing to serve as Death's guide to life. Although wealthy, Parrish is a man of character who loves his family, his business and life, which explains why he was selected by Death as his liaison to the realm of the living. Taking human form, Death assumes the mantle of a recently deceased young man who is ironically dubbed Joe Black (Brad Pitt). Although merely an observer, Joe soon finds himself an active participant in the Parrish household, as well as in his host's business dealings. Having no Earthly point of reference, Joe is a total innocent who finds himself susceptible to all the new sensations, including love, which proves to be the one force in the universe that can humble even Death. As Joe falls in love with Parrish's daughter Susan (Claire Forlani), he begins to exhibit the very human trait of not wanting to leave loved ones behind when the time comes to leave this world. The solid supporting cast of MEET JOE BLACK includes Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Tambor, David S. Howard, Lois Kelly-Miller, Jahnni St. John and Richard Clarke.

Universal Home Video has made the Ultimate Edition of MEET JOE BLACK available in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. MEET JOE BLACK is a warm and opulent looking movie that benefits from its beautiful settings and Emmanuel Lubezki's fine cinematography. The image on the DVD is technically excellent and esthetically pleasing. Owing to the fact that MEET JOE BLACK is a relatively new movie shot on modern film stocks, the picture is quite sharp and rich in detail. Colors are well saturated, without a trace of noise or smearing. Flesh tones are beautifully rendered, maintaining a wonderfully healthy glow under all lighting conditions. Blacks have an exquisite velvety quality, plus the image produces a wonderful amount of shadow detail and a great sense of depth. Digital compression artifacts are not a cause for concern on this dual layer DVD, despite the film's length and soundtrack options.

For a dialogue driven supernatural drama, MEET JOE BLACK features a very good Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Instead of utilizing too many overt sound effects, the track creates a very subtle ambient presence that draws the viewer into the immediacy of the story. There are some directional sound effects in the sound mix, but no more than what is absolutely necessary to the on screen situations. The soundstage always produces a sense of space, without any form of sonic clutter. Dialogue has a warm and natural quality, while maintaining total intelligibility. Thomas Newman's haunting and passionate score is beautifully rendered in the sound mix with excellent musical transparency. A DTS 5.1 channel track is also encoded on the DVD. The DTS track adds additional clarity to the sound and greater warmth to the music. If there is one fault with either track, it that that the score may be a bit too pronounced in the sound mixes. At normal listening levels, everything sounds just wonderful. However, late evening viewers will find that keeping the music soft enough to not disturb other members of the household renders the dialogue too low to be understandable. Thank goodness many decoders offer a "midnight mode" for just such a situation. A French Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also present on the DVD, as are English and French subtitles.

Animation music and sound are employed to enhance the interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection feature and supplemental materials. The biggest supplemental feature is the 1934 film DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY, which can be found on disc two of this release. For those who have never seen it, DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY is a marvelously atmospheric and entertaining film starring Frederick March. March is quite good in the title role; but then again, I can't remember him ever giving a bad performance. The film elements for DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY do show some signs of age, but overall, the full screen transfer of this black and white film is quite good. The monaural soundtrack does contain some hiss and other age related anomalies, but there is nothing here that is any cause for concern. Next up in the supplements is a Spotlight: On Location featurette that runs roughly ten minutes. The featurette is a rather typical PR piece that includes on the set interviews with the cast and members of the production team. Also included on the DVD is a photomontage of production and behind-the-scenes photographs, which are underscored by Thomas Newman's music. A theatrical trailer, production notes and cast biographies fill out the supplements.

I don't know how ultimate this Ultimate Edition of MEET JOE BLACK actually is. There could have a few more supplements related to the film itself that would have made it truly ultimate. Still, this is a brilliantly conceived DVD double feature that offers film fans two great movies at the bargain price of $26.98. On top of that, Universal's DVD presentation MEET JOE BLACK is first rate, making the package an even more attractive value for fans of the movie, and those yet to discover its rewards.


Meet Joe Black - Ultimate Edition


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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