The Truman Show [DVD]
Director : Peter Weir
Screenplay : Andrew Niccol
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1998
Stars : Jim Carrey (Truman Burbank), Laura Linney (Meryl), Noah Emmerich (Marlon), Natascha McElhone (Lauren/Sylvia), Holland Taylor (Truman's Mother), Ed Harris (Christof), Brian Delate (Truman's Father), Una Damon (Chloe), Paul Giamatti (Control Room Director), Philip Baker Hall (Network Executive)
Peter Weir's masterful The Truman Show is a prophetic comedy of ideas that hit all too close to home in our media-savvy, television-obsessed, celebrity-enthralled times. In the movie's bizarre, but ultimately tenable fantasy world, a young man named Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) has just reached his 10,909th day of life, every one of which (unknown to him) has been broadcast on live television all over the world.
Truman is the unwitting star of The Truman Show, the greatest show on earth -- a quasi-combination of soap operas and reality TV. The creator of the show is a man named Christof (Ed Harris), a megalomaniacal television genius (at one point in the film he is referred to as a “televisionary”) who is as controlling as he is private (it isn't too hard to imagine him becoming another reclusive Howard Hughes). The Truman Show is Christof's baby; he created it from the ground up, starting with just one camera in the womb of Truman's mother and eventually expanding to more than 5,000 probing lenses all over the idyllic, but artificial Seahaven, the sunny island community where Truman resides and works as an insurance salesman.
Christof fancies himself the God of the world he has inside the largest studio ever built, which, along with the Great Wall of China, is the only human-made structure visible from space. Seahaven is a surrealistic relic of the 1950s as portrayed in TV shows like Leave It To Beaver, where everyone says "hello" to everyone else, husbands happily go off to work while their Stepford Wives stay at home with aprons, and everything is bathed in the unnaturally perfect light of a false sun.
The deceptively simple story follows Truman as he slowly begins to realize that something in his world is amiss. He doesn't realize that everyone around him is an actor, including his smiley wife, Meryl (Laura Linney), his best friend, Marlon (Noah Emmerich), and all those people he sees on the street everyday. Little does he know that, in effect, the entire world he knows revolves strictly around him.
Until some technical mishaps begin to occur, Truman has had no reason to suspect the abnormality of his existence. Christof has designed a number of intricate means to ensure that Truman never leaves the island of Seahaven, so he has no clue as to what the rest of the world is like, except what he sees on television and reads in the newspaper. Of course, all the media are controlled by Christof, so the front page of the paper declares in bold headlines that another study has deemed Seahaven the greatest place to live in America, and the TV flickers with shows that reinforce the benefits of small-town community. As Christof puts it all too correctly, we have no reason to question the reality with which we’re presented.
This, of course, is the key to the underlying plea the movie makes: We should question our “reality.” While Truman is the ultimate incarnation of the victim of reality TV, he is also symbolic of each one of us -- all of us who readily accept everything we hear on the news, never question why celebrities are revered, and rarely stop to contemplate if things could be better. We may feel the urge to snicker at Truman's naive acceptance of his false environment, but in reality, he is no better off than the majority of us.
Director Peter Weir (Master and Commander) does a magnificent job of rendering the counterfeit world of The Truman Show and all the people within it. Weir has always been a great character director with an extraordinary feel for time and place. Working with comedian/actor Jim Carrey, at the time best known for his manic, rubber-faced performances in films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) and Liar Liar (1997), Weir makes Truman into a likable, sympathetic Everyman (it is easy to see shades of Jimmy Stewart in some of his mannerisms). Truman is, as his name phonetically suggests, a “true man” in the sense that he is genuine. As Christof explains, the world around him may be artificial, but Truman is real.
For his part, Carrey does a fine job of toning down his comical antics and showing a real knack for dramatic acting, a skill he later confirmed with his excellent performances in Man on the Moon (1999) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). There are a few instances where he reverts to the old Carrey style, but it's always within the confines of his character, so he still feels like Truman Burbank and not Jim Carrey. Much of his performance can probably be credited to Weir's direction. After all, Weir is the man who made legitimate dramatic actors out of Harrison Ford (in 1985's Witness) and Robin Williams (in 1989's Dead Poets Society). Carrey's performance shows that his earlier movies had only taken advantage of part of his talent; like Truman, there is more to Carrey than first meets the eye.
The screenplay was written by Andrew Niccol, who also wrote and directed the previous year’s dystopian sci-fi film Gattaca, which posited a future where all people are controlled by their genetics. The theme in that film is similar to The Truman Show, except genetics have been replaced by the media. Some of funniest and most knowing scenes in The Truman Show involve not Truman himself, but the hooked viewers in the outside world, glued to their television sets, watching his life unfold.
Although these viewers don't realize it and probably don't care, Truman represents the ultimate in the commodification of human existence. He is the logical extension of reality television like MTV's numerous incarnations of the ironically titled The Real World, where cameras track the lives of various young people as they resolve their problems and dilemmas. The Truman Show is the next step after Jenny Jones, Jerry Springer, Montel Williams, and every other talk show that wallows in making spectacle out of human problems, not in the name of bettering the participants and the viewers, but rather for the vicarious thrill of watching so-called reality. But, like The Truman Show, the "reality" of all these shows is still controlled by producers, directors, and writers. It's marketed as reality, but it's not.
Yet, the viewing public always demands something more real, and producers have been more than happy to give it to them. Why watch director William Friedkin create a thrilling car chase sequence in The French Connection (1971) when you can turn on Fox's World's Scariest Police Chases and see the real thing? This is where The Truman Show comes in -- reality, but scripted so it fits all the necessary requirements for good entertainment. If Truman's life becomes too boring, Christof can always adjust the script.
In effect, what The Truman Show points out is one of the scariest truths of contemporary American society: We would much rather watch someone else's life on a TV screen than take care of our own.
|The Truman Show Special Edition DVD|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||August 23, 2005|
|The Truman Show was one of Paramount’s very first DVD releases back in 1998, and it has been sorely in need of replacement for some time. This new Special Edition DVD replaces the original’s nonanamorphic image with a new anamorphic widescreen transfer that is simply superb. This new transfer is clean and sharp, with excellent detail and just the right amount of heavy color saturation to give the image a slightly unreal quality. Much of The Truman Show is unnaturally bright, and the transfer handles the brightness very well without letting it overwhelm texture and detail. |
A note on the aspect ratio: This new transfer is matted at 1.85:1, whereas the original DVD transfer was matted at 1.66:1. I believe that Peter Weir intended it to be projected at 1.66:1 to more closely mimic a television screen’s dimensions, but most (if not all) U.S. theaters projected it at 1.85:1, as is their custom for films shot flat. Thus, it’s one of those films where both aspect ratios are essentially “correct,” although I would have preferred to see it on DVD as Weir intended it to be seen.
|The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track appears to be the same as the one included on the original 1998 DVD. It has good depth and surrounds, which shows off Burkhard Dallwitz’s musical score very well. The storm-at-sea sequence near the end of the film is particularly enveloping, with a good use of the low end and surrounds.|
|While the original DVD was bare bones, this new “Special Edition” has an informative array of supplements. Although there is no audio commentary, the two-part making-of documentary How’s It Going to End? The Making of The Truman Show covers all the major aspects of the film’s production, from the lengthy screenwriting period in which director Peter Weir had writer Andrew Niccol change quite a few things, to scouting locations, to the actual shooting. Put together, the two parts of the doc run roughly 40 minutes, although it’s not entirely clear why it was split up (to some extent, the first half tends to deal more with the ideas behind the film, whereas the second part deals more with the nuts and bolts of production). New interviews include Weir, producer Edward S. Feldman, and stars Laura Linney, Ed Harris, and Noah Emmerich. Carrey only appears in circa-1998 interviews, but Niccol is completely MIA. The film’s effectively subtle visual effects are covered in the 13-minute featurette “Faux Finishing: The Visual Effects of The Truman Show,” which includes interviews with several members of the visual effects crew. The disc is rounded out with four deleted scenes (all in anamorphic widescreen), a thorough photo gallery of production pics, a pair of trailers, and a pair of TV spots.|
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment