Prior to 1998, Jim Carrey was best known for his slapstick low-brow comedies (Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura). When it was announced that the actor would not only be doing his first dramatic role but would also be the lead, there was much skepticism. The Truman Show helmed by director Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, Master and Commander), proved the doubters wrong and that Carrey could not only make everyone laugh but also carry a moving drama.
Though shows like MTV’s The Real World predate Weir’s film, it has been credited with being ahead of its time by portraying an in-depth Reality TV show before America became overly obsessed in the last decade with following the private details of ordinary persons made TV celebrities, even 24 hours a day. Still there has yet to be anything in “reality” to rival this film’s concept as “The Truman Show” was created to chronicle the life of Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) from birth through adulthood and beyond. While this, by itself, outstrips any Reality TV we currently have, the biggest challenge to the production of this soap opera is that the main actor does not realize he is on television.
While billions of fans across the globe tune in at all hours of the day or night to follow the ups and downs of his existence, Truman lives in a blissful state of ignorance as the center of the “surreal” Truman Show universe. His wife Meryl played by “actress” Hannah Gill (Laura Linney) and his life long best friend Marlon played by “actor” Louis Coltrane (Noah Emmerich) along with literally every person in the constructed town of Sea Haven exist to keep the show on the air by making sure that not only is Truman content but to help correct course whenever he does something which may alert him to the abnormality of his “normal” life. Ed Harris also gives a fascinating performance, as the show’s creator Christof who monitors the production from a god-like perspective far above the set.
Day to day life in Truman’s world provides many comedic moments with the efforts to casually create product placement for revenue and to keep the show (and a whole constructed town) running smoothly that are made obvious to us but still go mostly unnoticed by the main character. However, the deeper drama of the film comes into play when Truman begins to suspect something is not quite right with his manufactured existence. On this level the movie acts as a metaphor for our lives showing someone who yearns for something more than his safe yet mundane existence and makes it much more memorable and affecting than just a Reality TV gimmick.
Paramount delivers The Truman Show to Blu-ray with a competent 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer framed at 1.85:1. The stylistic nature of the “show,” mimicking the look of the 40’s and 50’s, is brought out well with exaggerated pastel hues that jump off the screen. Detail is abundant with a good sense of depth to the image, and there are shots where you will find yourself counting hairs or the lines on an actor’s face. A few shots are noticeably soft but they are rare, and grain is noticeable but within expected limits.
Since daytime shots can be almost unnaturally bright to accentuate the manufactured reality of the “show,” darker scenes can exhibit less detail and some video noise. However, the biggest complaint about the transfer and what keeps it from reaching its full potential is the frequent print damage. While this is not as bad as watching a decades-old film with massive scratches and deterioration, there are enough small speckles and pops on the image to be distracting. These probably would not be as noticeable in standard definition. Still, this is a fine looking high-def image that will bring out details that you have never seen before.
For audio we get a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track. I was not expecting a lot from this soundtrack, and, though decent, it did not quite meet my expectations. While the audio is reproduced with good fidelity, the biggest problem is the uneven allocation of the particular sound elements. Since the film is primarily driven by dialog, which is clear yet constrained in the center channel, there are stretches where the center is the prominent source of audio. While much of the time the fronts are producing discrete effects, they are mixed so low that they are overshadowed by the dialog. When the delightful musical score by Burkhard Dallwitz kicks in at a more prominent volume, it makes you realize how absent the front channels have been.
The rears almost seem forgotten expect in rare moments such as the rainstorm on the beach or the climactic boating scene when all of a sudden you get a somewhat immersive soundscape. This drives home how underutilized the surround setup is with it lacking prominent atmospheric elements or reinforcement of the score throughout the back channels. I was not expecting this to be the most dynamic track available, but it was originally mixed for surround. Maybe I am being overly picky, but I think this soundtrack could have benefited from a more balanced distribution of the audio across the available channels.
Other audio choices include Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. Subtitles are given in English (SDH), Spanish, French and Portuguese.
All the extras from 2005 DVD edition have been ported over to Blu-ray. While we do not get a commentary, which would have complimented this well constructed film, we do get close to an hour’s worth of background features, some deleted scenes and the trailer. These do a decent job of providing context for the production of the film though I think it deserves a more in-depth look.
How’s It Going To End? The Making Of The Truman Show (41:47) – An interesting feature that is broken into two parts which can be played together. More recent interviews from actors Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Ed Harris along with director Peter Weir and the producer, production designer, cinematographer and visual effects supervisor are combined with older footage of Carrey.
Topics covered include the casting (most specifically Carrey’s first drama role and Ed Harris as Chistof), “Reality TV” and Weir constructing back stories for the main characters. Interesting technical details include creating the distinctive look of the film, the use of hidden cameras and negotiations to use the real town of Seaside rather than a constructed set.
Faux Finishing, The Visual Effects Of The Truman Show (13:16) – This short featurette, which looks to be culled from the same source as the previous feature, packs in information regarding the special effects that went into making the movie. The visual effects artists and production designer give input into the stylistic choices and the technology utilized to present the “reality” of life in Sea Haven.
At the time the movie was being produced, the computer animation was becoming the mainstay for special effects technology. The artists found that the CGI looked “too real,” and they had to rely on older technology such as matte paintings to give the sense of “unreality” they desired. This is interesting to watch but could have easily been combined with the previous longer feature.
Deleted Scenes (13:09) – Four deleted scenes which are worth a viewing but did not need to be included in the movie. Several extend themes in the movie such as product placement or Truman beginning to suspect that something strange is going on.
The third is the most interesting and involves Christof explaining how once Truman produces a child the show will move into a two-channel format to have one channel focus exclusively on the child. The video quality is fairly poor throughout and utilizes stereo sound.
Photo Gallery – Selection of photos taken during the production of the movie.
Trailers/ TV Spots – (5:34, partial HD) A teaser and full trailer for the movie both in HD with 5.1 Dolby sound. The two TV spots are in SD with 2 channel sound.
The Truman Show has held up well over the last decade and still provides enjoyably moving entertainment. While the obsession with the private details of others has become much more popular with the ascension of Reality TV across the networks, the heart of the film is still as affecting and relevant as ever.
Paramount brings The Truman Show to Blu-ray with decent yet not superlative results. This is easily the best the film has ever looked for home video, but distracting print damage keeps it from being the best it can. The audio could have used a bit of extra care but does deliver the dialog and musical score competently. While not perfect, fans of the film will not likely see a better home video package any time soon.
– Robert Searle