Friday, August 1, 2008

Review - The Truman Show

The Truman Show
1999 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation

I have seen in the past that when someone mentions The Truman Show as an science fiction film that some people react in shock. "It can't be science fiction," they say, "it's good!" There's an attitude that you'd think would have died out a while ago.

And The Truman Show is more than just good: it's also fun. I sometimes wonder if Hollywood has forgotten how to stick those two things together.

Truman is an insurance salesman living on a small island that he has left only a handful of times in his life. He has a crippling fear of water which he gained after his father died in front of him in a boating accident. Odd things are starting to happen to Truman, though: it rains on him moments before it starts raining elsewhere, a klieg light with the name of a star on stuck to it falls out of the sky in front of him, and most dramatically he sees a man who looks just like his father. The truth of things is that his life is a carefully staged reality television show and having begun to see through the illusion Truman can't rest until he knows what is happening.

I know ten years later it's hard to conceive of but The Truman Show was released right on the forefront of the reality television shift. Oh for those innocent times when the thought of raising a human being as entertainment was a wild idea. These days it wouldn't shock me for it to show up on Fox.

It's a real delight in the first half of the movie watching all the subtle (and many not so subtle) hints that something is very wrong with Truman's world. The film builds slowly though the movie poster, box, and all the promotional material makes the premise clear. It isn't until the movie is half over that they finally come out and say exactly what is happening but that makes the "bloopers" in the first half so much more entertaining. The viewer is in on the joke that the movie "plays straight".

Once the viewer is allowed "behind the scenes" the movie looses some of its momentum. I think this was due to the fact that Truman was the viewpoint character for the first hour and to suddenly lose him as the sole focus threw things off. It doesn't become a bad movie or even annoying, it just isn't as good as the perfect first half.

Jim Carrey was a surprisingly effective choice for the role and this was the first time he attempted anything dramatic. Watching him shift from the straight laced insurance salesman to a man convinced the world is wrong is a pleasure. While he does get "manic" he never succums to the outright mugging for the camera that usually marks his performances.

I also have to mention the cinematography which might be one of the most clever things in The Truman Show. Most of the shots in movie aren't that great and it's intentional. Cameras and blocking are set up so that many scenes appear to be shown from the viewpoint of a hidden camera. The angles are often awkward and the view of the action gets obscured by people or vehicals entering at the wrong moment. Truman always the focus of these shots. When you next watch the movie I recommend paying close attention to this as it gives the appearance of the audience watching the show within the movie.

The movie does get a bit heavy handed with its message and all but comes out and hits the audience with its coda at the end but I'm willing to forgive that since on the whole it is a great movie. Now if we could just get everyone to realize its science fiction.