October Extras 2: Meet Joe Black (1998)

OCTOBER 15, 2008


I may be a bit annoying in a movie theater; I have a tendency to laugh loudly and mutter things under my breath. For an example; after the Halloween remake got out, my friend said “whenever the movie was quiet I could still hear the sound of you sighing”, and he was sitting like 3 rows back. But only once did I annoy someone so much that they felt the need to switch their seat, and that was during Meet Joe Black. I laughed so loudly at an “inappropriate” moment that a woman two rows in front of me stood up and moved to the other side of the theater. If you’ve seen the film, or were ever sent a Youtube clip, I’m sure you can guess which part.

Now, this is a movie I like but can’t really defend. With Armageddon or Shocker I can possibly change someone’s mind if given the chance (and the beer) to do so, but with Meet Joe Black, there is nothing I can do. Even the things I like about it, when I say them aloud they don’t seem very appealing or even interesting in the slightest. “No, it’s great. See, he’s never had peanut butter before.” “There’s a great scene where Anthony Hopkins tries cake.” Yet, I’ve probably found a way to watch it at least once a year since it first came out (and pretty much always alone, sadly). There’s just something puzzlingly enjoyable about the film.

You gotta hand it to Martin Brest and editors Joe Hutshing and Michael Tronick too; they deliver what may be the first ‘true’ 3 hour movie. Titanic is a “3 hr movie” that’s actually 3:17, Heat is actually around 2:50, and the LOTR films all have about a 10 min under/over (theatrical versions). But Meet Joe Black isn’t “like 3 hours long”, it’s EXACTLY 3 hours long. 3:00:00. Not a second less, not a second more. Whether it was done on purpose or not, I don’t know, but it’s awesome (I also like looking at the back of the DVD, which reads an almost comical “3 hours” instead of “180 minutes”, which is the usual language).

The funny thing about that is that the script is actually around 120 pages, if memory serves. Scripts run a minute a page, more or less, so the resulting film should have been about 120 minutes long. But the pauses in this movie are damn near legendary. Simple conversations take forever, and actions are drawn out for infinity. When Joe finishes his spoonful of peanut butter, he looks around for a place to put the spoon for 20 seconds, then goes to put it in his pocket, before Claire Forlani (whatever happened to her, anyway?) stops him and takes it herself. 30-40 seconds of a movie devoted to where a spoon should go. I love it.

It’s also a dryly hilarious movie. Jeffrey Tambor is chiefly responsible (“I love little girls...”), but Jake Weber, in one of his first big roles, is delightfully sneery as the corporate slimeball who is trying to merge Hopkins’ company with some other guys’. It’s funny, I’ve seen the movie probably 10 times now and I still have no idea what the hell is going on with any of the boardroom/corporate stuff, but I don’t really care either. As long as Brad Pitt is eating cookies and saying odd things, I’m good.

And of course, the score, which I mentioned yesterday. It’s been selected as my funeral score (along with some selections from the work of one Mr. Jim Steinman of course), and I hope at least SOMEONE in the crowd knows what it’s from. Hum along! Dooo dooo doooo doooooooooooooo dooo, dooo dooo doo dooooooo dooo. Doodoodoo dooo. Doodoodoodooo doooo dooooooooo. I especially like it near the end (it’s the cue that begins at 2:44), when Thomas Newman takes a page from Bruckheimer and plays the basic theme over and over, just progressively louder, until the thing drowns out all other sound not just in the film, but possibly within a 10 mile radius of your home.

I also like using Joe as an example in why Hollywood is insane. Somehow, this movie cost 90 million dollars. There are no big stars besides Pitt and Hopkins, the only special effect (besides the accident) is some fireworks, and 90% of it takes place inside a mansion that is probably a set. Where the hell did the money go? In the same year, we had Deep Impact. That movie had a ton of effects, an assload of stars, and took place all over the country, and yet the budget was about 70 million. Apparently, you can destroy New York for 20 million less than the cost of having Anthony Hopkins talk to Brad Pitt about cold lamb sandwiches.

All silliness aside though, it’s actually just a nice little (well, not LITTLE) movie. You don’t often get a film that presents two complete character studies, and Brest (and the half dozen or so writers) does a nice job of balancing Death’s story with that of Bill (Hopkins). It’s nice to see Death played somewhat seriously for once (I always like a movie that takes a ridiculous concept and manages to sell it by playing it straight), instead of as a slasher or a comic relief character. And Hopkins is in fine form throughout. The late 90s weren’t too kind to him (Instinct, anyone?), but when you need an actor to play a character that defines class and wealth, yet has his flaws, you can’t really do much better than Hopkins. Even when he dies, he does it classy.

I also like any movie in which the message is “live life to the fullest.” Hopkins’ speech at the end of the film is very moving, and every time I watch the movie I’m like “yeah! I need to stop slacking! I won’t get the week long “wrap it up!” warning from Death like Hopkins does!” And then of course I play Halo all night and wonder when I’ll have time to watch Armageddon again.

Speaking of the end, something always bugged me – that Death seemingly brings the guy whose body he took back to life. It’s been like a week, so the family has probably been notified and funeral arrangements have been made, things like that. All of a sudden he’s alive again, which is going to send a lot of his loved ones into some serious therapy sessions. Also, Hopkins’ corpse is probably just lying on the ground somewhere just a few feet away from where everyone is celebrating his birthday party. Some guy goes to look for the bathroom or maybe wants to sneak off to the side to make out with his friend’s wife, sees his host’s body just lying there.... downer.

Of course, the film tanked, raking in about half its production cost. Hilariously enough, a lot of the money it DID make was the result of fanboys paying for a ticket so they could see the trailer for The Phantom Menace, which was inexplicably attached (not the same studio, certainly not the same audience, not even the same goddamn MPAA rating). I can only hope history will be kinder to Joe than Phantom, but I doubt it. Ironically, I missed the trailers (and the first couple minutes of the film) when I went, which means I’m probably the only nerd in the world who was walking INTO the film during the opening credits instead of out.

The only extra of note is a “Spotlight on Location”, which is a cheesy EPK thing that Universal used to always toss on their DVDs. Other than hearing Forlani speak with her British accent, it’s pretty worthless, but it’s all we MJB fans got. Uni double dipped, but all they did was put the original movie (Death Takes A Holiday) on a 2nd disc and add a DTS track. I never bothered, but if they ever put out a Blu-Ray... shit. You’ll be able to actually HEAR all of the dead pauses!

What say you?


  1. i chose "Waterboy" as my phantom menace trailer experience. it was a sold out showing and, as they showed the trailer at the end as well as the begining of the movie, you could tell who came to see the last half-assed decent adam sandler movie. i believe the answer to that is 12.

    anyway, back to the topic at hand, as i have since watched "meet joe black" on television twice and refuse to watch "waterboy" since my "phantom menace" experience, i have your back on indefensibly enjoying that "little" film: the "Heaven's Gate" of death coming to earth movies.

  2. you warned us (me and josh at the time) about the laugh-part, and what did we do? we laughed so hard three or four people yelled at us.

  3. You're right, BC. Meet Joe Black is a stunning example of a movie presenting two solid character studies, and the message is ironic. Here's two guys, who is actually Death,and one who is about to die, relishing joys as simple as peanut butter and cake.

    With that said: I could watch Brad Pitt eat peanut butter all day.


  4. Im with you. I love this movie and watch it at least once a year. The length of each scene is funny, Yet, incredibly sexy and inviting. More then anything, I love how they depict death as a cross-cultiral entity in the hopital scene, where hes speaking creole to the old woman. Just as we (the viewers) start to see the humanity in Brad Pitts character (as hes strating to beilive it himself), we are brought back to reality (that he is the grim reaper, and nothing more) at the same time as the character. Ive never seen this done so well in any other film. The acting is perfect, the directing is thought provoking, and the ending is superb. Glad you did a review on this film. :))


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