Blu-ray Review: The Truman Show (1998)

Premiering on Blu-ray


For those of you who are still wondering which format or edition to select when it comes to best appreciating director Peter Weir's '90s masterpiece The Truman Show, near the end of 2008 Paramount Home Entertainment released a masterful Blu-ray edition that manages to say "Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening, and Good Night," to all the rest.

Although the extras transferred over from the Special Edition DVD remain in standard definition (aside from HD Theatrical Trailers), it's the gorgeous quality of the film itself that makes Blu the biggest draw with a marked difference visible within moments. Additionally, the studio held such belief in the quality of their product that the Blu-ray offers DVD owners a ten dollar rebate when they make the upgrade.

While, much like 1998's other "life on television" film-- New Line Cinema's Pleasantville-- you may want to adjust and heighten your color palette a bit to find the ideal setting to get the hyper real reality of an artificial, picturesque world, I found that the "cinema" setting was the most precise both visually and audibly with a traditional HDMI hook-up.

The film, which remains one of my personal favorites of the '90s-- made the world suddenly view funnyman Jim Carrey in a whole new light (well, those unfamiliar with some of his obscure credits anyway). Based on Andrew Niccol's ingenious script about a man who unknowingly has been raised in front of millions as the unaware star of a twenty-four hour, thirty year running reality television show, Australian director Peter Weir's unique blend of humor, light, pathos, melancholy, and imagination uplift the work from what could've been an incredibly dark, cynically toned, and paranoid science fiction production.

Intriguingly anticipating the reality television boom years before the phrase was coined-- the then dubious idea of Carrey's Truman Burbank living his life completely on camera suddenly seems not only much more poignant but especially paramount, given the ethical, psychological, and moral implications it raises.

Although he goes about his day as an insurance salesman in Seahaven unaware that his wife Meryl (Laura Linney) and best friend Marlon (Noah Emmerich) are paid cast-members and that his community is in fact the biggest set ever constructed (although technically the movie was filmed in Seaside, Florida), the Shakespearean tinged tragedy with metaphors ranging from religious symbolism to Campbell's mythic structure has made the work not only qualify as an acceptable scholarly substitute to teens dropping out of high school in Ireland but has also spawned a new psychological disorder known as "Truman syndrome."

Described by the Associated Press as "a delusion afflicting people who are convinced that their lives are secretly playing out on a reality TV show," the film-inspired phenomenon not only "underscores the influence pop culture can have on mental conditions" as scientists note but also raises intriguing debate as Bellevue psychiatrist Dr. Joel Gold argues, "The question is really: Is this just a new twist on an old paranoid or grandiose delusion... or is there sort of a perfect storm of the culture we're in, in which fame holds such high value?"

The answer most likely seems as though it may be as a sort of combination of the two but the hypothesis set forth by the film has made Weir's Truman Show one of the most discussed cult films of my generation and in 2008, it was listed as "one of the ten most prophetic science fiction films," ever made by Popular Mechanics, yet some critics like Ronald Bishop of Sage Journals Online have taken a bit of a more critical view, noting that "In the end, the power of the media is affirmed rather than challenged," as ultimately "Truman's life inspires audiences around the world, meaning their lives are controlled by his."

Whatever the case or the viewpoint, the bottom line is the film has gotten people thinking or as Weir cited in evalutating the existentialist work, "There has always been this question: is the audience getting dumber? Or are we film-makers patronizing them? Is this what they want? Or is this what we're giving them? But the public went to my film in large numbers. And that has to be encouraging."

Indeed it does and it definitely does speak volumes that of the slew of reality based movies that were made, the ones that raised the most questions such as Pleasantville and The Truman Show have stayed around whereas the ones that simply pandered to the audience or treated us poorly like EdTV have basically vanished from our memory.

Part of the power of The Truman Show is not only in the pitch-perfect writing, astute direction of Weir (Witness, The Year of Living Dangerously, Dead Poet's Society), and effective performances from all including not only Carrey, Linney, Emmerich, and Natascha McElhone but especially the Golden Globe winning Ed Harris who plays the film's series creator-- the Christ like-- Christoff but also in how much audiences can pick up with each successive viewing.

Whether it's noting the amount of symbolism used throughout especially in the names like the aforementioned Christoff but also in the case of Emmerich's Marlon who is constantly "fished" out-- thrown into the river to swim in whatever situation the producers need by sending him constantly in to find or "lure" Truman back onscreen and the contradictory name of our leading man himself-- a "True-man" whose last name "Burbank" is indicative of his studio atmosphere.

The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio quality of the score by Burkhard Dallwitz (and with select compositions by Phillip Glass) sounds more breathtaking than ever in this transfer and while on first glance, you'll no doubt get lost once again in the sweeping and heightened reality that Weir sets his drama in, the film-- as fans constantly remind-- is worth numerous looks and especially another one after you take in the two-part making of featurette which goes a long way into providing a deeper insight into how the film evolved in tone and spirit over sixteen drafts and endless backstories created in the one year delay they waited until Carrey was free to shoot.

From providing Linney with an old Sears cataolgue from the '40s for the actress to study the old-fashioned posturing her character uses throughout and Emmerich's astute observation that every decade there's a small number of movies that belong in our collective "library" and this is definitely one, it's a tremendous over forty minute in-depth look at the cinematic process. The Blu-ray disc also includes deleted scenes, a photo gallery, TV spots and a visual effects featurette, along with the handy bookmark feature to keep track of favorite sequences.

And although, on the surface, the abundance of reality television more than a decade later may make one assume that The Truman Show has become somehow slightly dated, when you keep in mind the year it hit theatres along with the years Niccol's script had been in circulation prior to that, and the amazingly exsitential questions raised throughout Weir's film, you'll be surprised to discover that the opposite is true.

Instead of feeling irrelevant or outdated, honestly age has improved The Truman Show so much that it feels even more revolutionary today once-- much like Truman-- you delve beyond the superficial beauty of Seahaven to find what's really going on and end up thinking long and hard about how much privacy citizens are willingingly giving up today in this fame hungry culture of YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and more.