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The Truman Show: Special Edition

It's the solipsist's central conceit: Nobody exists except myself. Or even better, all that I see around me exists strictly for my own benefit, even if such "benefit" is little more than an elaborate ruse. It's a casual daydream that's struck virtually everyone at one time or another — but in the hands of wunderkind scenarist Andrew Niccol it became The Truman Show (1998), a clever movie that predates the public's fascination with "reality" television, focusing just as much upon the fundamental epistemology of our own lives — namely, that people tend to accept as "true" the realities that are placed before them. Jim Carrey stars as Truman Burbank, a modest, jovial insurance salesman in the American Everytown of Seahaven, an island community on the edge of a large ocean. At just 30 years old, Truman realizes his life has been blessed, thanks to a wonderful marriage to his high school sweetheart Meryl (Laura Linney) and a lifelong bond with his childhood friend Marlon (Noah Emmerich). However, the events of one sunny day punch a hole in Truman's idyllic universe when he spots a homeless man on the street who appears a virtual twin of his father (Brian Delate), who died in a boating accident 22 years earlier. Other things get Truman's attention as well, such as when he walks into an elevator that appears to be the backstage of a movie set, or when a transmission on his car radio appears to be tracking him. Truman is convinced something is very wrong in Seahaven, and he's certain it has something to do with his father. Of course, he can't possibly guess that he's the unwitting star of his own reality television show, and that the town of Seahaven has been entirely constructed to contain him in a secure environment where the "reality" of his own persona is protected above all else.

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It's a bit fun to point at The Truman Show and note that it arrived in theaters before "reality television" crashed like a tsunami into network programming just a few years later; in fact, the film's principals interviewed in this DVD's supplements not only bring up the fact that Truman is a predecessor, but some also suggest it's a sort of precursor, as if the film somehow predicted that reality TV was bound to happen. If we can take that to mean that the American viewing public, by and large, is fundamentally voyeuristic, then it's a tough point to argue. However, such also misses two key facts about "The Truman Show" as televised in this film. First, Truman is not even aware that he's on TV, unlike the stampede of [struggling actors/bartenders/pathetic attention whores] who regularly fill out the cast of a typical reality program. And secondly, we're reminded by the show's creator, Christof (Ed Harris), that people watch Truman because his very genuineness serves as an antidote to their own complicated, compromised lives (again, making him nothing like the cast of, say, "Filthy Rich Cattle Drive"). Voyeurism is one thing — but The Truman Show is about Truman Burbank more than it is about his audience, and Niccol's central dilemma permeates throughout: What does it take for us to doubt the world we live in, day after day? As Christof notes, "Truman accepts the reality with which he has been presented," and no members of Christof's audience (and by extension, Niccol's) can safely escape this description either. They don't just watch Truman — they cling to Truman, perhaps because he is so untainted by reality, or perhaps because he unwittingly inhabits a sort of Stockholm Syndrome-imprisonment that a lot of people would gladly embrace, a sunny paradise where your attractive spouse doubles as a doting parent and your best friend always walks through the door with a six-pack of beer; where all news of horrific events happens far away from the seaside village you call home; where people you don't even know and will never meet wear t-shirts that simply say "Love Him. Protect Him." Like a beloved housepet who learns never to cross an electrified fence, Truman never leaves Seahaven, and Christof's pat defense is elegant and simple: "If Truman really wanted to leave, there's nothing we could do to stop him." Niccol's script ranks among the most intellectual of the decade, but as a collaborative effort, the film was supported by two additional creative forces: director Peter Weir, whose directing instincts blend the absurd with the idyllic while winking at the audience only on occasion; and Jim Carrey, who stepped away from The Mask and Ace Ventura to tackle his first "serious" role here — a career move that led to, among other things, his inimitable work in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

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Paramount's "Special Collector's Edition" DVD release of The Truman Show delivers the comprehensive treatment the film deserves, starting with a pristine anamorphic transfer in Peter Weir's TV-like 1.66:1 scope, as well as Dolby Digital and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Supplements include the new two-part documentary "How Will It All End: The Making of The Truman Show" (41 min.) with comments from Peter Weir, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, and others; Jim Carrey only appears via excerpts from an archive junket interview, while Andrew Niccol is conspicuous by his absence. Also on board is the featurette "Faux Finishing: The Visual Effects of The Truman Show" (13 min.), four deleted scenes, a stills gallery, teaser and theatrical trailers, and two TV spots. Keep-case.

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