Paramount // 1998 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 23rd, 2008
All the world's a stage...
"We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented."
Truman (Jim Carrey, The Mask) is one of those ordinary guys leading one of those ordinary lives. He is somewhat happily married to a reasonably nice woman (Laura Linney, The Exorcism of Emily Rose), he has a semi-satisfactory job at an insurance company, and he is generally well-liked by all of his friends. What Truman doesn't know is that his entire life is artificial. Truman is the unwitting star of a massively popular reality television program, aptly titled The Truman Show. Truman's artificial ordinary-town world is enclosed in a massive bubble. Truman has never discovered this, because he has never attempted to leave. Everyone in his life has discouraged him from going new places and seeing new things. What on earth could the rest of the world offer that Truman can't find in his perfect hometown? At long last, Truman is determined to discover the answer to that question. Will he be able to work up the courage to escape, or will the producer (Ed Harris, Appaloosa) find a way to keep his popular star trapped in a bubble?
The Truman Show is one of those rare films that has grown increasingly relevant as time has gone by. In the decade that has passed since the film's theatrical release, America's obsession with reality television has grown to a fever pitch. The exploitation of real human lives for the sake of public entertainment is no longer a creepy futuristic idea, but rather an ordinary part of American culture. If anything, Peter Weir's excellent film comes across as increasingly less cynical. Not only do we have countless people being filmed 24/7 for the purpose of creating exploitive television programs, we have those very same countless people volunteering to participate in those programs.
Even so, The Truman Show is much more than merely a tale of a guy who wants to break free of restrictive surroundings. It's a sharp satire of American culture, a religious allegory, a love story, a study of human nature, and more. This is the sixth or seventh time that I've seen the film, and I discover new layers of rich depth in this story each time I watch it. Combine the skillful craftsmanship of Peter Weir and the literate screenplay of writer Andrew Niccol, and you get one of the most genuinely compelling films of the 1990s. At the moment, The Truman Show seems to be a spot-on critique of society. I fear that in the future, it may be viewed as a quaint slice of idealism. Our culture has all ready reached the cynical vision of this film; who knows where we may be in another ten or twenty years?
Jim Carrey received a lot of praise for his performance, which I was immediately suspicious of when the film was released. It seems that every time a comedian decides to stop being silly, critics are astonished that such a wacky human being could seem so normal. If comedians aren't given enough critical respect for doing comedy, then they're given an overdose of critical respect for doing drama. That being said, Carrey is really quite good here. Looking back at his performance, you can see this role as an important bridge in Carrey's career. Faint traces of Ace Ventura fade into the more natural style of acting Carrey would later offer in The Majestic and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Carrey's slightly odd screen presence seems perfectly appropriate for this role. After all, he's playing a man who has been raised in a world that seems just a couple degrees to the left of normal.
Another very important performance comes from the ever-reliable Ed Harris as Christof, the producer of this strange reality television show. The religious implications of the character's name are intentional. Christof not only serves as the all-knowing, all-seeing God of Truman's enclosed world, but he also plays a similar role in the real world. He is creating a false reality for a single human being, and in doing so, he provides an entire planet with an addictive source of comfort. Oh sure, there are critical individuals out there who think Christof is a tyrannical monster, but such naysayers are in the minority. The majority of the world keeps singing Christof's praises and begging him for more. Harris absolutely nails the role, and his presence lingers over the movie despite the fact that he only appears in a handful of scenes. The film also benefits from solid supporting turns from the likes of Noah Emmerich (Pride and Glory), Laura Linney, Peter Krause (Six Feet Under), Natascha McElhone (Solaris), and Paul Giamatti (American Splendor).
The hi-def transfer is mostly a pretty strong one. Facial detail is nothing short of superb here; the image is crisp and clean. Black crush is just a bit of an issue at times, but we're not dealing with anything too serious. Television sequences within the film add intentional grain, flecks, and scratches. Watching the film in hi-definition, I was able to catch a lot of Weir's small visual touches that I had missed before. The world of The Truman Show really is a richly detailed one, and this Blu-ray disc really did enhance the experience for me. Audio is quite strong as well, with sound being distributed in a pretty immersive manner. Subwoofer action is minimal, but I was quite pleased with the sound here. The diverse soundtrack (featuring quite a lot of selections by composer Philip Glass, who also has a cameo in the film) is particularly resonant.
Supplements have been ported over from the special edition DVD released a couple of years ago. The highlight is the 40-minute documentary, "How's It Going to End?: The Making of the Truman Show." The doc is divided into two parts. Part 1 primarily focuses on the characters and the story, with lots of attention being paid to the fact that Jim Carrey was doing something quite fresh and new at the time. Part 2 focuses on some technical making-of details, giving us behind-the-scenes info on building sets and so on. "Faux Finishing" offers an examination of the visual effects in the film. Beyond this, we only get a few deleted scenes, some trailers, and a photo gallery.
The lack of new supplemental material is a disappointment, but I'm actually going to recommend an upgrade for this one. This is a film that becomes increasingly rewarding in hi-def, as it holds up very well under close inspection (that applies to both the visuals and the thematic ideas). The Truman Show deserves to be a part of any collection, and this Blu-ray disc offers the best presentation of the film yet.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Gallery