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Meet Joe Black: Ultimate Edition

Movie making is so time consuming and soul destroying, it seems logical that whoever embarks on such a job has to be thoroughly committed to its story. Yet most movies have narratives of stupefying banality. In the press kit material for Meet Joe Black, included as a supplement on the new Ultimate Edition two disc set, director Martin Brest allows as how he'd been brooding on his remake for 20 years. Apparently inspired by that talky, over-wrought filmed play Death Takes a Holiday with Fredric March, Brest went through a succession of writers before settling on the script as we now have it (credited to Ron Osborn, Jeff Reno, Kevin Wade and Bo Goldman). It's a story in which Death, personified by Brad Pitt, makes a visitation among the mortals he so blithely eliminates, forcing William Parrish (perish?), a rich media mogul (Anthony Hopkins) whose death he temporarily postpones, to play host. As in the original, Death has unpredictable mood swings and falls for a mortal woman, in this case Parrish's daughter Susan (Claire Forlani). Unlike the source, however, Death takes back with him not his lover, but Parrish pére, as per their agreement. Meet Joe Black has some elegant writing and touching moments, but for all the labors Brest and his fine cast (including Marcia Gay Harden and Jeffrey Tambor) have bestowed upon this tale, the result is a film of boring repetitiousness. Brest, a master of hybrid comedies (Beverly Hills Cop, Scent of a Woman), seems at sea in this operatic yarn and takes the position "When in doubt, shoot more." At 178 minutes, this is a film in which everything takes too long and occurs twice (even certain supplements are duplicated on both discs). A perfect example is a scene between Hopkins and Forlani in a helicopter in chapter two. When their dialogue reaches its natural end, puzzlingly and uniformatively it starts all over again. Besides the glacial pace, the other problem is Death's inconsistent character, on the one hand an all-powerful being knowledgeable in all languages, on the other having to have peanut butter explained to him or his necktie laced — a stupidity that occurs whenever it conveniences the screenwriters to present him as a faux Chauncey Gardener from Being There. Universal's two-disc "Ultimate Edition" of Meet Joe Black (which follows their previous one-disc "Collector's Edition") is not as packed as first it seems. Disc One retains the previous release's fine anamorphic transfer (the box says it's 1.85:1, but it's really 2.05:1). Audio comes in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1, with French DD 5.1, Spanish subtitles, and closed-captioning. There are also production notes, cast and filmmaker bios, "recommendations," a DVD newsletter ad, and DVD-ROM web site and script-to-screen features, duplicated on the second disc. Disc Two's main supplement is the original Death Takes a Holiday, a scratchy, full-frame transfer with Dolby Digital 2.0 (the box says the film also has DTS mono 2.0 but this appears to be untrue), a primitive movie that Black draws upon more than you'd think. The film offers closed-captioning and French and Spanish subtitles. The second disc also has a "making-of" featurette, a brief stills montage, and Black's theatrical trailer, which advertises a brisk comedy. What this supplementally challenged package lacks, among other things, is a commentary by the director (and the marvelous production designer) or an isolated track of composer Thomas Newman's beautiful score, one of the best in a decade. Dual DVD digipak with semi-transparent folding cover.
—D.K. Holm

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