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"We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented".
Meet Truman Burbank, a friendly, well-adjusted young man who has no idea that his every action is being watched by millions, 24 hours a day. The Truman Show is one of a number of 1990s films that comment on modern life by inventing whimsical alternate worlds. The outright fantasy Groundhog Day forces Bill Murray to relive the same exact day ad infinitum, leading him to reassess his egotistical lifestyle. The equally impressive Pleasantville drops two teenagers into the innocent but repressed world of a B&W 1950s TV sitcom. 1998's The Truman Show is fantasy with science fiction trappings, that anticipates the phenomenon of reality television. Although much of the movie's appeal is comedic, it plays with very serious ideas: what if everything we know and experience is an elaborate fraud, a false reality controlled by unseen overseers?
Happy office worker Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) resides in sunny Seahaven, unaware that he's been a television star from birth -- involuntarily. Almost 25 years ago, young programming genius Christof (Ed Harris) hit it big with a show that followed the daily life of a newborn with a hidden camera. Truman's life unfolded on studio sets with actors serving as Truman's parents. The vast viewing audience couldn't see enough of "The Truman Show" and would tune-in in the middle of the night just to watch him sleep. Originally conceived as an informercial to sell baby products, the show eventually expanded to fabricate an entire town. An enormous dome was constructed to enclose all of Seahaven and an artificial ocean inside a controlled environment. Truman entire existence is faked; everyone he has ever met is an actor playing a role. His house and every part of the town are rigged with thousands of television cameras. When Truman looks up at Seahaven's computer-controlled stars, the Night indeed Has A Thousand Eyes.
"The Truman Show" never goes off the air. The entire world knows and loves the cheerful, well-adjusted Truman Burbank. He talks to his bathroom mirror and greets his neighbors unaware that he's living within narrowly proscribed limits. His ever-smiling wife Meryl (Laura Linney) and best friend Marlon (Noah Emmerich) provide the show's commercials by performing frequent product demonstrations. If Truman considers leaving town, Marlon will show up with a few beers to talk him out of it. Christof and his advisors invent strategies to guide Truman's life along scripted lines -- and to guarantee the continuance of the enormously lucrative show.
Maintaining Truman Burbank's everyday reality is no easy task. Christof's team must scramble for a plausible explanation when something goes wrong -- like one of the dome's spotlight-stars crashing to the ground at Truman's feet. When hundreds of TV extras take their "first positions" to simulate random pedestrian traffic, the surreal visual is reminiscent of a famous image in Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad. Enormous effort must be expended to provide Truman with an illusory, It's a Wonderful Life existence.
But no matter how hard Christof tries to anticipate problems, the unexpected occurs, and Truman's idyllic "Wonderful Life" shifts toward the paranoia of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Truman still has a crush on Sylvia (Natascha McElhone), an extra who caught his eye back in high school and then suddenly disappeared. Sylvia interfered with Christof's master script, which tapped the perky Meryl to become Truman's young bride. The actor who "played" Truman's long-lost father crashes the show, and when Truman recognizes him Christof has another problem to explain.
As he shakes free of his complacency, Truman notices that the town traffic moves in cyclical patterns. If he tries to enter an unfamiliar building, guards block his progress. When Truman challenges his loveless marriage, Christof decides that Meryl's usefulness is at an end and readies an understudy to become the show's new love interest. But Truman remains fixated on the dream of finding Sylvia. He determines to escape Seahaven's Garden of Eden, unaware that he's defying the will of TV Gods in a control-room Olympus.
The Truman Show is scripted by Andrew Niccol, the writer-director of the superlative Sci-fi thriller Gattaca. Niccol's fantasy predicts today's fraudulent "reality" programming, in which non-actors pretend to experience non-stories concocted by non-writers. But the Truman concept goes further to interpret our media-driven world along sinister lines. Television's bright illusions shield us from harsh realities while hiding the economic forces that manipulate our lives. Growing numbers of viewer-voyeurs, it is feared, know only those values and emotions that they experience through television. We worry that much of the public either cannot distinguish between reality and manufactured media images -- or no longer care to make the distinction.
The technical possibilities of camera surveillance have inspired older movies with similar themes: Fritz Lang's masterful spy thriller The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, Paul Bartel's clever The Secret Cinema. Bertrand Tavernier's 1980 Deathwatch (La mort en direct) comes closest to Andrew Niccol's concept. A television company wants to exploit a sick woman's final days as a Reality Show. The woman doesn't know that her new friend is a spy from the TV network, a young man whose glass eye is really a miniature camera. The Truman Show continues the technological assault on privacy, using the absurd details of Truman's fishbowl existence for nervous light comedy.
Peter Weir's precise direction unfolds the complicated concept without interrupting the narrative flow, or cramping the style of star Jim Carrey, a comic actor frequently attracted to fanciful scripts. Carrey saw the essentially serious Truman Burbank role as a steppingstone to a career beyond comedy. Truman's existential dilemma goes back to the Garden of Eden: which is better, security or knowledge? The exploiter Christof insists that Truman is better off shielded from the ugly outside world. Ironically, Christof jealously guards his own personal privacy.
Laura Linney is excellent as the fake wife / infomercial saleswoman. Noah Emmerich's soulful best friend has been deceiving Truman ever since kindergarten. Ed Harris broods and glowers as Christof. The God-like director boasts that he's creating a work of great beauty -- he congratulates himself every time Truman reacts emotionally to a faked dramatic confrontation. Harris was nominated for an Oscar, as was director Weir and screenwriter Andrew Niccol. In a smaller role in Christof's control room is the now well-known Paul Giamatti.
Paramount's fine Blu-ray transfer of The Truman Show replicates every nuance of Truman Burbank's carefully art-directed environment. Burkhardt Dallwitz contributes most of the score, but hypnotic music from Philip Glass's Powaqqatsi is used to good effect in some key scenes.
A two-part making-of docu tells us that the filmmakers found an actual planned community to represent Seahaven. Like the town in the movie, it seems designed to insulate its rich residents from the inconvenient realities faced by the rest of society.
The actors praise Jim Carrey's first foray into a more serious role. Laura Linney says that keeping her character straight was a challenge -- she's an actor (Laura Linney) playing an actor (Hannah Gill) conning a man by pretending to be his wife (Meryl Burbank). Andrew Niccol does not appear in the extras, leaving others to laud his fine screenplay. They report that some of the darker aspects of his original concept were dropped to better suit Jim Carrey's screen persona. Fantasies of this kind often lose their way or compromise their endings, but the conclusion of The Truman Show is a thing of beauty.
A special effects expert explains the unique problems in stylizing the fantastic town of Seahaven. The horizon line and curvature of the earth were be exaggerated to suggest Christof's enormous enclosed dome. Paramount's presentation finishes with four deleted scenes, a photo gallery, TV spots and trailers (in HD).
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
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