Despite what one may think of reality tv programming, it’s neither extraordinarily new nor a fad. Is it a way to get around the writers’ strike happening right now? Only a little bit as, one may be surprised to learn, there are still storylines that are followed and sometimes that means doing a bit of writing in the edit. However, back in 1998, reality programming didn’t dominate as it does now, instead it was a curiosity that accompanied more traditional programming on cable and broadcast channels. There was Total Request Live (TRL) and The Real World and Road Rules on MTV and, of course, Survivor on CBS, with several others. Well before the days of always-on streaming and always-online living, reality television was a way to get a few minutes of fame and maybe a paycheck or several. So the release of director Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society) and writer Andrew Niccol’s (GATTACA) The Truman Show seemed, at least to this reviewer, to be a way to poke at this growing-in-popularity production fade, especially with the seemingly box office-proof Jim Carrey in the lead role. Rather than delivering as an out-right satirical comedy, Weir and Niccol’s The Truman Show is far more profound and elegant, examining the relationship between the observed and observer, between capital-driven entertainment and individual need.
Born from the mind of showrunner/producer Christof (Ed Harris) comes the extraordinary reality television program The Truman Show. In a television first, a child, Truman, is selected out of a group of finalists to be observed from birth in the fictional town of South Haven. Now an adult, Truman (Jim Carrey) is growing frustrated with the sameness of his life, but something always seems to pop up in his way. But when a series of strange events grows too large to ignore, Truman begins to suspect that everyone around him is merely an actor and everything revolves around him. Though this titillates the home viewers, it also raises questions that Christof will have to answer as Truman inches ever closer to learning the truth.
Having not seen Truman since its theatrical release, despite appreciating it then, I wondered if the film might continue to hold weight now. Certainly Carrey’s performance is just as powerful, the actor making great use of his elasticity (performatively and physically) to make Truman a full character despite living a cardboard cutout life. But would the script still have any kind of heft? Then, during the interview that runs more than halfway through the film between Harry Shearer’s reporter Nike Michaelson and Christof, a comment is made by Michaelson about how Christof treasures his privacy while thanking him for taking the time to chat. In that moment, it was though lightning had struck, making the strange boisterous reaction to Truman’s attempts at freedom by Christof suddenly make sense: it’s not that the man is a hypocrite for wanting privacy while broadcasting Truman’s most private existence for the entire world to see and create fandoms over, he’s the worst version of a parent. He’s the kind who proclaims that they know best for a child and then control every aspect of their lives so as to (in their minds) prevent tragedy from occurring, all the while inducing trauma in the child. Sure, Truman grew up on a television set and, therefore, had boundaries he wasn’t allowed to cross, and this can be equated in the real world as to the limits that parents put on children when they are too young to learn or experience certain things. But the confinement on South Haven isn’t just for the sake of the show, which we, the real audience, learn through conversations about the other past methods and the tools used to manipulate Truman into staying: “killing” his father, his mother’s constant narcissism (played beautifully by Bill & Ted Face the Music‘s Holland Taylor), the pushing of a relationship or offspring onto an unwilling partner. These are controlling tactics that some parents use when they see their child as an accessory or vessel for fulfilling personal failures rather than as people. The truly amusing thing comes in the final moments of the film when Truman leaves the sound stage. For all the bluster and pride Christof has for what he’s created, all the talk of the millions who tune in to the program, as soon as Truman leaves, the home viewing proxies just change the channel. Joel McKinnon Miller’s security guard literally asks what else is on, his investment in Truman obliterated as soon as the show is over. That fickleness resides in audiences now, even if their desire to stan in the moment is strong. Back to the original point, Truman may be out in the world for the first time, still recognizable to everyone that he meets, just as likely to have a measure of interference in his life, but he’ll be finally in control of all his choices and Christof will likely never see him again. Just like a child who grows up in the iron fist of a parent. The Truman Show explores many a thing, but its take on parent-child relationships is quite powerful.
Two things of note with this 4K UHD edition: the video is remastered to 4K UHD with high dynamic range (HDR) and the audio does come with a remastered to Dolby Atmos. Speaking on the sound first, if you don’t have Dolby Atmos at home, the same track can be used (and is the only option) for your 5.1 setup or lower. In looking at the audio options, there are instructions that plainly state this, as well as how to ensure you are getting Atmos sound, if you have compatible equipment. As my Yamaha system is not Atmos compatible, I can only report on the 5.1 use and it’s great: clear dialogue with solid balance. You don’t really need immersion in a film like Truman, but the surround sound becomes a benefit during sequences like the rain malfunction (when it goes from a solitary sprinkle to a downpour) and the raging storm in the climax. Otherwise, as it’s mostly a dramedy, the sound we receive does the job it needs to do. As for the video, when I say that it’s not a pretty picture, that’s not a denigration on Peter Biziou’s (Richard III; Time Bandits) cinematography as the bulk of the film takes place in the fictional world of South Haven which has a specific look and feel compared to the real world sequences. It’s meant to look like a facsimile of real life, a blend of natural and machine-made, which results in a very sound stage look/feel. In this case, it’s not that the picture doesn’t look good, but that there’s not a whole lot of dynamic range to begin with that makes the HDR and increased data-on-disc make for small noticeable impact.
For those hoping to find or learn something new for the 25th anniversary, there are no new bonus features included with this edition. You do receive all the previously released bonus features (as opposed to none at all, which has happened in anniversary releases of late), so whether you’ve never owned it or are upgrading, at least you’ll still have the full set of behind the scenes materials.
Ultimately, the recommendation for The Truman Show on 4K UHD comes down to (a) whether you already own this on Blu-ray and (b) how you feel about the film. There doesn’t appear to be anything truly extraordinary about the 4K UHD remaster beyond it being on a new format and, therefore, offering the best quality version of the film. So if you prefer to own your movies on the newest formats and/or you don’t already own it, the film itself holds up so well (in fact, it offers up new things to discover) that snagging the anniversary edition can be done with confidence. However, if you already own the Blu-ray, there’s not really enough to warrant a double-dip.
The Truman Show Legacy Special Features:
- How’s It Going to End? The Making of The Truman Show – Two-Part Documentary
- Faux Finishing—The Visual Effects of The Truman Show
- Deleted Scenes
- Photo Gallery
- Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spots
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray and digital July 4th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Paramount Pictures The Truman Show webpage.