From Starburst #240, August 1998 issue
Preview - our forthright coverage of new sci-fi films - is just one of Starburst's regular review sections. Every issue includes a TV View, from the US or UK: our popular Bookshelf section on the latest Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels, plus Soundtracks, Cybertech and Videofile
Still from The Truman ShowThe Truman Show
Hot on the heels of his brilliant Gattaca comes writer Andrew Niccol’s latest staggering achievement, The Truman Show. Easily the most outstanding movie of the year from any point you care to view it from – stupendous performances, immaculate direction, stunning design and unique scripting. Jim Carrey’s change-of-pace SF comedy drama is a monumentally ingenious concept flawlessly executed from audacious start to poignant finale.
Niccol didn’t direct this richly textured look at media omnipotence taken to the logical Orwellian extreme – Peter (Picnic at Hanging Rock) Weir did. But the smart Gattaca guy’s stamp is all over this faultless show that’s daringly offbeat from a Hollywood perspective. Only Carrey’s clout could have got Niccol’s clever flight of inventive fancy made with the resources needed to do it full justice. All credit then to the Ace Ventura actor who clearly recognized the quality of the notion, plus the savvy writing that elevates it into a peerless class of its own, and used his lofty position to the best possible purpose.
The fact Carrey gives his most winning performance to date in the freshly provocative and compelling fable is glorious evidence of his total commitment to this Tunnel Vision dream-turned-nightmare that effortlessly trips the light fantastic into rarely mined genre areas. Hold on to every superlative when you go and see this dynamite original – you’re going to need them all by the time the ending has swept you off your feet and kept you euphorically floating on the ceiling.
‘The Truman Show’ is the world’s most popular television programme. It’s broadcast 24-hours-a-day and has followed the minute details of Truman Burbank’s (Carrey) existence ever since he was an embryo in his mother’s womb. Only Truman doesn’t know that his life is under the most intense audience scrutiny from every conceivable secret TV angle, (with fan clubs gathering in local bars named after him to discuss on-going events).
But as day/episode 10,909 begins with cheery Truman bidding farewell to his perfect wife Meryl (Laura Linney) and going about his work routine, unusual things start to happen that begin to arouse his suspicions. A car radio malfunction tunes him into the wavelength used by extras for their ear-phone instructions, and then he accidentally stumbles into one of the green room areas behind an elevator shaft façade. Most upsetting of all, he thinks he spies his ‘dead’ father among the homeless people in the permanently sunny streets.
Unfolding like a straight soap opera at first, Weir and Niccol punctuate Truman’s Ideal Home existence with sly clues a canny audience will increasingly catch on to and ultimately revel in. Why does Meryl give each kitchen product such a glowing review? Why does an arc light suddenly fall out of the sky into the street? And why does every natural disaster seem to occur each time Truman decides to leave Seahaven? As these incidents build up to the curtain being raised on the whole technical charade that’s being kept in tight place to ensure Truman continues to engage audience empathy with his wide-eyed innocence, Weir’s dazzling dexterity never flags in providing consistent sophisticated delights while weaving both parallel story lines together with astounding aplomb.
The shrewdest moments occur when a documentary news team report on the many ways Truman fans have tried to infiltrate the show, such as abseiling onto the set. The funniest has Laura Linney losing it during one domestic row and reverting to her snob actress self; the most deeply philosophical poses arguments about living a safe soap life as opposed to one in the harsh real world; and the most moving uses Truman’s own TV catch-phrase in an entirely different context to stunning effect.
Carrey really is a revelation here and he uses his distinctive brand of physical comedy only when it’s right for the part. His dumber and dumbest followers may resent the heights he’s aiming for while those less rigid will probably warm to the comedian more than they ever have before. Matching Carrey’s bravura turn is Ed Harris’s superb study in control-freakdom as the enigmatic Christof whose own life is as private as Truman’s is public.
A perfect movie is a rare occurrence indeed. But that’s what The Truman Show is. If you don't think it's one of the greatest movies ever made, I shall be really surprised.
(Starburst rating: 10++)

The Truman Show picture copyright Paramount
"If you don't think it's one of the greatest movies ever made, I shall be really surprised"
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