Many of my favorite cinematic performances feature comedians who have stepped out of their comfort zones, abandoned their usual gags-n-giggles schticks, and tackled the sorts of meaty dramatic roles more serious actors would kill to land. Adam Sandler earned my respect as a repressed recluse in ‘Punch Drunk Love,’ Will Ferrell caught me off guard with his nuanced minimalism in ‘Stranger than Fiction,’ and Robin Williams has essentially crafted a second career for himself with dramas including ‘Dead Poets Society,’ ‘Awakenings, ‘Good Will Hunting,’ and ‘Insomnia’ (just to name a few). But none of these performances have been as unexpected or resounding as those delivered by funnyman Jim Carrey in films like ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and director Peter Weir’s ‘The Truman Show.’
Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is a good-natured, unassuming desk clerk living a quiet, uneventful life on a quaint island called Seahaven. He’s happily married to a supportive young woman (Laura Linney), enjoys hanging out with his best friend (Noah Emmerich) more than anything, and has little to endure outside of the repetition of his daily grind. However, what Truman doesn’t know is that his friends and loved ones are all actors working on an elaborate television reality show he’s unwittingly starred in since birth. His island home is an enormous sound stage, his encounters with others are carefully plotted by the show’s unseen creator/producer (Ed Harris), and the ever-humble Truman is actually beloved by millions of viewers around the world. When he begins to realize something is artificial about his world, his paranoia leads him to several shocking discoveries that leave him with one goal: to escape from the bizarre prison in which he’s lived his entire life.
The beauty of ‘The Truman Show’ rests in the whimsical naivety, shattered innocence, and heartache that Carrey injects into nearly every scene. His performance offers such convincing pathos and rousing determination that you see the real Jim Carrey -- not the face-bending clown from “In Living Color” or the bowl-haired loser in ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ but the insecure human being who hides behind bumbling slapstick and exaggerated expressions to earn affection. His every gesture, facial tick, and utterance feels less like a performance and more like an exercise in authenticity; a revealing and vulnerable portrait of a man struggling to redefine his own existence and purpose in the world. More importantly, Weir’s supporting actors are so effective in their own right (particularly Harris and Natascha McElhone) that they help make Carrey’s scenes more resonant and impactful.
The film’s message does come on a bit strong in the third act -- reducing the proceedings into a rather obvious and narrow satire of faith, religion, and belief -- but Truman’s character arc and development as an enlightened soul take some of the groan out of Weir’s more heavy-handed points. All things considered, ‘The Truman Show’ is a heart-wrenching drama that boasts strong performances, a clever setup, and a stirring exploration of psychological manipulation, predestination, free will, and freedom. It isn’t anywhere near as unsettling or memorable as ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (which, in this reviewer’s opinion, is in a whole other league of film), but it is an intriguing and ultimately satisfying adventure about an ordinary man defying the powers-that-be to take control of everything that once controlled him.
’The Truman Show’ makes its Blu-ray debut with a vibrant and stable 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that initially looks better than its previously-released DVD counterparts. Dull colors have been replaced with vivid primaries, waning shadows have been invigorated with well-delineated blacks, and flat contrast has been altered to give the overall picture a lively, attractive appearance. The darkest portions of the screen aren’t always as fully resolved as I would like, but depth is still convincing, and the dimensionality is commendable. Likewise, the transfer’s fine object detail isn’t perfect (more on that in a moment), but it still offers DVD owners sharper textures, crisper edges, and more revealing backgrounds. While too much noticeable edge enhancement is still lingering along high-contrast edges, the transfer doesn’t seem to suffer from any distracting artifacts, source noise, or unsightly print damage.
Unfortunately, within minutes of tossing the disc into my Blu-ray player I was confronted by an obvious application of Digital Noise Reduction (DNR). Sorry to say filmfans, but Paramount has once again resorted to DNR in an effort to artificially “improve” a beloved catalog title, reducing grain and other blemishes while inadvertently stripping the image of its finest texture detail. Sadly, the film’s already occasionally bronzed and flushed skintones sometimes look bland and waxy as well, undermining several other shots that look utterly fantastic. Sure, such criticism may seem like a nitpick to anyone who isn’t sensitive to DNR, but to everyone who is, prepare to shake your head and imagine what could have been.
Even more distressing is the fact that the image has been slightly stretched (ala Paramount's Blu-ray release of 'Event Horizon') to accommodate standard 16:9 widescreen televisions. While the resulting distortion isn't entirely evident in most shots (I didn't even notice it until some of our eagle-eyed readers mentioned it out on our message boards and pointed me towards side-by-side comparison screenshots), its presence will certainly rile anyone who realizes everything on the screen is a bit wider than it should be. I'm not sure why Paramount has suddenly started to release catalog titles with such troubling post-production alterations, but I can only hope it's a short lived phenomenon that will be resolved in the near future.
‘The Truman Show’ features a rather docile Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track that doesn’t exude power, establish presence, or enhance the visuals whatsoever. Chalk it up to the film’s limited original sound design but, other than crystal clear dialogue, solid prioritization, and decent dynamics, there isn’t a lot to praise about such a chatty, conversational soundscape. The LFE channel is reliable but tame, the rear speakers mainly stick to subtle ambient support, and the soundfield is largely contained in the front speakers. That’s not to say the track never impresses -- the film’s climactic storm showcases what the mix is capable of, hurling wind across the soundstage, shaking the floor with thunder, and filling the channels with crashing waves. However, other similar standout moments are few and far between, leaving audiophiles with very little to get excited about.
Ah well, it’s tough to complain when a lossless track handles a film’s sound design in stride and improves upon its DVD counterpart in every regard. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but ‘The Truman Show’s sonics were too forgettable to rate much higher.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘The Truman Show’ includes all of the special features that appear on the 2005 Special Edition DVD… but that’s not saying a lot. This release would have really benefited from the inclusion of an audio commentary since the disc’s limited behind-the-scenes material doesn’t dig into the production as much as one might expect. All of the content is also presented in lowly standard definition, making the already underwhelming supplemental package even more disappointing.
I can’t say ‘The Truman Show’ is quite as strong as its performances, but it does feature a stirring story, a sharp script, and some fantastic work from Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, and Natascha McElhone. The Blu-ray edition is a bit disappointing, but is still a noticeable upgrade from the standard DVD. Its video transfer is impressive but marred by DNR and image stretching, its TrueHD audio faithfully represents the film’s limited sound design, and its supplemental package is identical but lacks depth and content. Fans of the film won’t have many complaints, but newcomers may want to rent the disc before making any decisions.