The concept of “The Truman Show” seemed more than a bit outlandish back in 1998. Not only did the story entail a “reality television show” in which the primary star was unaware of his participation, but the film’s creators turned to Jim Carrey to play the rather dramatic and demanding lead role. The movie, in effect, had a sizable marketing problem on two separate fronts. Seven years ago, the plot played more like science fiction than a prophetic vision of the real world, and Jim Carrey’s talents as a dramatic actor had never been tested before, let alone in a film he would be required to carry almost entirely on his own. On the surface, it seemed this was a project doomed to failure. Then again, this was also a film with immense talent behind it, untapped or not. Whatever the reason, the gamble paid off in spades and “The Truman Show” was released in theaters to massive praise from both critics and audiences alike. Taking another look at the film today, it’s not hard to see why.
There may have been a slight backlash against this film after the initial accolades had worn down a bit, but I would urge anyone who missed this gem the first time around to give it the second chance it deserves.
I’m not going to go into the plot of this film too deeply as it would really ruin the spell of discovery and wonder that this movie casts in generous portions. This is a short film, with a running time of just about an hour and a half without the end credits. If anything, the film’s pace seems a bit rushed. I would have liked to see a bit more of Truman in his element, before things began to unravel. I would have liked to see him happier in his existence at the start of the piece. With that groundwork, the metaphorical pulling back of the curtain might have had an even greater impact than it already does here in the final product. But it’s honestly hard for me to fault this picture much beyond that small, personal preference. It’s simply too good to knock without feeling a bit self-conscious about it as a critic. So many people looking back on a film like this get caught up in how true to life its story ended up ringing here in the 21st century that a lot of the subtler undercurrents of the piece get lost in its broader brushstrokes.
To this day, when I watch the end of this film, I don’t see a morality lesson about reality television. I don’t even see the Truman character per se. I see Jim Carrey. I’ll leave it up to the viewer to decide whether or not this is a criticism or a compliment to the film. Personally, I prefer to look at this movie as a metaphor for the lives of celebrities who essentially do live in isolated, controlled environments. If this is to be taken as a lesson of any kind, I like to think of it as a plea for obscurity from those who can no longer return to that comparatively blissful, anonymous existence. Something as simple as going out on a street to take a walk, something you or I might take for granted, is a luxury people like Truman Burbank – or Jim Carrey – don’t have in their day to day life. Everything is about them and their role as entertainment fodder for the rest of us. An over-simplification, perhaps, but from the inside looking out, it probably seems that way more often than not. The notion of being able to crack through the biosphere of stereotype and mass scrutiny must be the lost dream of many a famous face, making this film perhaps more relevant today than it was in the late nineties.
Video: How does it look?
“The Truman Show” comes to us in a sparkling new anamorphic widescreen transfer. This was one title that I was dying to see upgraded. It’s one of my favorite films, and the previous non-anamorphic transfer, as good as it was, left a bit to be desired. First of all, the transfer was composed at roughly 1.66:1. While that framing was, perhaps, appropriate to the subject matter, it didn’t seem very cinematic. The new transfer is recomposed at the correct ratio and, although there is one new problem to speak of (more on that in a minute), the new transfer essentially blows the previous offering off the map. Color balance seems much more accurate (in any case, it’s more pleasing to my eyes), saturation is heavy with no sign of bleeding, contrast is spot on and edge enhancement seems to have been greatly reduced since the release’s last outing. Compression artifacts are thankfully absent and nothing major detracts from the overall viewing experience. Just the occasional, very slight bit of dirt on the print keeps me from giving this transfer a perfect score, but it was close. English and Spanish subtitles are available.
Now, on to my one problem with this new transfer. The framing seems to have been recomposed arbitrarily when compared to the previous edition. The result is a noticeable loss of picture information on all sides of the frame. The new transfer is also a bit more “stretched” horizontally than the older release, giving this DVD more of a wide-angle look than its predecessor. Then again, the older release may very well have been stretched vertically to begin with. Since this film was shot on open aperture and intended for 1.85:1 projection, it’s impossible to tell which – if either – of these releases is more “accurate” to what was intended. The new framing doesn’t seem cramped, however, and serves the film well. Just keep in mind that you may miss a few small details if you watched the previous disc as much as I did. I’ve included a few screen shots of both editions for comparison purposes. The red box indicates the new frame boundaries on the new, anamorphic release.
To my ears, this seems to be the very same Dolby Digital 5.1 track that was included the last time out. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as the previous disc always had a fine audio track to begin with. It’s always the more subtle films that impress me the most when it comes to audio, and this movie is one of the best in my humble opinion. There’s a transparency here at really helps one to suspend disbelief at every turn. The surrounds are used, but not exploited. When they are employed, it is to decidedly good effect and to actually help to serve the story. This isn’t a powerhouse soundtrack by any means, and if you’re looking for a demo disc, you probably won’t be pulling “The Truman Show” off your shelf, but for my money, this is a delicate and extremely well done track that does for the subtle nuances of atmosphere what a film like “Saving Private Ryan” does for sensory onslaught. A 2.0 Surround track is also available in both English and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Here’s where this edition of “The Truman Show” really shines. If the improved transfer isn’t enough to warrant an upgrade, you might want to take a look at “How’s It Going To End? The Making Of The Truman Show”, a two-part documentary that adds up to about 40 minutes total running time. To be honest, I was expecting a bit more on the actual filming process in this documentary. On the other hand, I am in no way disappointed with what is here instead. If you’re a fan of quiet, anecdotal making-of documentaries, this one is for you. There are interviews from virtually everyone involved with the production, covering nearly every aspect of the movie, from location scouting to the controversial choice of Jim Carrey for the lead. Much of this documentary stays on the interpersonal relationships of the cast and crew and on the philosophical implications of the film, but it’s still highly engaging and never becomes boring for a moment. Next up, we have “Faux Finishing, The Visual Effects of ‘The Truman Show'”. I must say, I found this extra to be far more interesting than I thought it was going to be. From the hyper-real color palette decisions to the computerized extension of buildings that actually existed on location, I was surprised at how much of the effects work on this film was actually invisible. It was eye-opening to watch a featurette on a film that’s now seven years old and see things pointed out that you never suspected were effects shots. The four deleted scenes that are included are ironically the most disappointing extra on this release. All four scenes are a bit silly and are thankful deletions from the final film. The quality of the footage is also pretty disappointing for a newer release, the relatively needless nature of the scenes notwithstanding. The two trailers from the previous release have been ported over for this release for you completists out there, and two TV spots have been added to sweeten the pot a bit more for the rest of us. Oddly enough, both of
the TV spots feature much of the deleted footage included on the disc. Rounding out the extras is the obligatory photo gallery that you’ll skim through once just to know you’ve done it and then never glance at again. The disappointing lack of a commentary track aside, these extras were a bit more than I was expecting, though not as much as I was hoping for (and certainly not as much as the film deserves in my opinion). Still, if you don’t own the previous DVD, this is the one to own. Recommended.