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Blu-ray Review: MEET JOE BLACK - Masterfully Crafted But Overly Long Romantic Tale

Martin Brest€™s Meet Joe Black is a film full of indulgence, from its depictions of lavish lifestyles to its lengthy three-hour running time, but at its heart it's a wonderfully poignant romantic tale. And now it€™s not just the characters that are rich as the film gets a glorious transfer to Blu-ray. The performances from the lead cast, notably Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt and Clare Forlani are a mixture of power and delicacy and come to life in high definition. The highlight scene of the new Blu-ray revolves around a coffee shop meet in which Susan (Forlani) and Joe (Pitt) that demonstrated not only that Pitt was more than a simple pin-up poster boy but also that the film€™s director Martin Brest understood the poetic subtleties of falling in love at first sight. Moreover, he achieved the unenviable task of portraying it on screen without the rom-com clichés. The story in itself is difficult to craft as the film sees Bill Parish (Hopkins) coming awkwardly face to face with death, literally. Inhabiting Joe, death presents itself to Bill bringing the bad news that he has just days to live. It just so happens that Bill€™s daughter is Susan and Joe (Death) takes a special interest in her, again. The rest of the film, and there is a lot of it, explores the friction between the fear and acceptance of death and the power of first impressions. Adding a naïve and strangely likeable edge to his personification of death, Brad Pitt remains an awkward character to comprehend and his relationship with Susan is intriguing when shown from her point of view. In an unhappy relationship with her father€™s right-hand man, she falls for Joe the moment they meet and when he turns up unannounced (as death incarnate) the attraction only grows. At 181 minutes long the biggest criticism of the film is it€™s painfully slow pace. In places the lingering, delicate shots are a thing of beauty and promote the power of cinema wonderfully, but a majority of the lengthy takes feel self-indulgent and overly explanatory. However the plot is powerfully moving and the performances are spot-on, well worth watching if only for the fascinating love triangle.

Quality

Meet Joe Black isn€™t an obvious film for making the leap to blu-ray but the elegance of the sets, the luxury of the locations and the dazzling final firework sequence make it worthy of the 1080p treatment alone. Every hair and wrinkle are accentuated by the conversion to HD, whether you consider that a pro or a con, and the colours are rich and vivid. Nice, deep blacks and no blown-out highlights make for a true cinema look and the whole film has been shot almost as if it had HD in mind. The sound clarity is particularly enhanced with the addition of 5.1 channels making the music captivating and the dialogue crystal clear. Unfortunately, the problem since its release in 1998 has been a disparity between quiet conversation and louder parts of the soundtrack. This still remains as the dialogue sits at a much lower level than most other blu-rays and requires one-thumb on the volume button from start to finish.

Extras

Nothing but standard fare in the way of extras. A few regular TV spots and a €˜making of€™ documentary aren€™t enough by today€™s blu-ray standards. A picture-in-picture commentary would be asking too much for a film made 13 years before it€™s blu-ray transfer but something special would have been nice. It certainly won€™t convince owners of the €˜ultimate edition DVD€™ to upgrade any time soon. Meet Joe Black is available on Blu-ray from tomorrow.
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