True Lies (4K Digital Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Dec 12, 2023
  • Format: Digital
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True Lies (4K Digital Review)


James Cameron

Release Date(s)

1994 (December 12, 2023)


Lightstorm/20th Century Fox (Studios) (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: C
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: N/A

True Lies (4K Digital)



Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a mild-mannered computer salesman... or so his family thinks. Harry is actually a secret agent working for the US Government, going undercover around the world in some of the most deadly and violent situations imaginable. He’s been doing this for years, but somehow, he’s managed to keep that fact secret from his wife Helen (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) and his daughter Dana (Eliza Dushku). Unfortunately, Harry’s so busy with his work, that he’s neglected to give Helen the attention she deserves. So when a scheming used car salesmen (Bill Paxton) flirts with her, hoping to get her in the sack, Harry catches on and decides to teach them both a lesson. But in the process, his work catches up with him again… and Harry just can’t leave his work at the office. It isn’t long before the Taskers are both taken prisoner by a group of Middle-Eastern terrorists, who plan to teach the world a twenty-megaton lesson of their own, and it’s up to Harry and his team to save the day.

James Cameron certainly knows how to spin an action yarn, but True Lies is far from a straightforward action film. The thrills here are appropriately intense and cleverly staged, but the story is funny too. The plot builds to a satisfyingly dramatic climax, yet just when you manage to catch your breath, the action picks up again, and doesn’t let go until the bad guys get what’s coming to them—a classic Cameron double-conclusion. Next to the Terminator, Harry Tasker is one Schwarzenegger’s best roles. The character can do no wrong in a tight spot, but he’s comically out of his element with his own family. Curtis is terrific as Harry’s bookworm-ish wife. Okay, she only appears that way for a while—Jamie definitely did some reps on the Ab Roller for this part. She’s also charming and funny to boot. Add to this comic turns by Tom Arnold (as Harry’s spy sidekick) and Paxton, as well as a quick cameo by Charlton Heston, and you’ve got a pretty solid crowd pleaser. To be fair, True Lies isn’t likely to win any awards from feminist groups or the Muslim community (and not without reason). But if you can forgive that, there are plenty of nifty (and remarkably practical and daring) set pieces as well as good laughs to enjoy.

True Lies was shot by cinematographer Russell Carpenter (Titanic, Avatar: The Way of Water) on 35 mm photochemical film (in Super-35 “common top” format, with Eastman EXR 50D 5245, EXR 200T 5293, EXR 500T 5296 stocks) using Arriflex 35 BL4, 35 IIC, and 35-III as well as Moviecam Compact cameras, along with Zeiss Standard Speed, Super Speed, and Cooke Varotal lenses. Visual effects were also filmed in VistaVision format. The film was then finished photochemically in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for theaters (which included 35 mm anamorphic blow-up release prints, as well as 70 mm blow-ups). For its release on Ultra HD, Lightstorm, working with Park Road Post, has built a new 4K Digital Intermediate using recent 4K scans of the original camera negative (confirmed per Lightstorm). This footage has then been “optimized” by Park Road’s proprietary deep-learning algorithms. Photochemical grain has been greatly reduced, though not eliminated entirely, while fine detail has been enhanced algorithmically. The image has also been graded for high dynamic range, with both Dolby Vision and HDR10 available.

[Editor’s Note: This is definitely not old-school “DNR” here, a term that far too many A/V enthusiasts are overusing today. Remastering tools have evolved a great deal since the dreaded Digital Noise Reduction days of the aughts—home video’s version (along with edge enhancement) of music’s “loudness” problem of the 1990s. This Park Road process is something entirely new.]

The result is a 4K presentation of frequently striking clarity and impressive detail, but that also occasionally looks unnaturally soft or “clean” as well. Given that True Lies has never appeared on US Blu-ray—aside from an Italian import release and cable/streaming HD presentations—it would be difficult to argue that this isn’t a major improvement over past DVD and LaserDisc editions. But the film does look processed, and certainly more modern than mid-90s vintage. There’s often still light photochemical grain and plenty of fine image detail visible, but not always (it seems to vary from shot to shot, scene to scene, and even within the same frame). The overall palette is somewhat subdued, as it’s always been, yet the colors are well-saturated and accurate—and they’re downright bold during Helen’s attempted strip-tease seduction scene in the hotel, with golden firelight flickering in the background. Shadows are very good, with strongly-bright highlights. It’s just odd—sometimes this image looks fantastic and other times it looks completely unnatural. It’s as though the Park Road team—no doubt at Cameron’s direction—walked right up to the line of what would most would consider heavy-handed remastering… and then pushed it a little further. True Lies has clearly been “optimized” more than one would think necessary for an image sourced from 4K scans of original camera negative. Still, when you watch the image in motion on a properly-calibrated display (rather than simply freeze-framing cherry-picked examples of its worst moments), this is nowhere near as bad looking as... say... StudioCanal’s abysmal Terminator 2 4K release. The end result is a UHD image that I suspect casual fans of the film will still appreciate, even as others (and not unreasonably) take issue with the extent of the remastering.

The film’s English soundtrack is included in a new Dolby Atmos mix that features a bigger and more immersive soundstage than ever before. For most of the film, its atmospherics tend to be subtle, but once the action kicks in things start to get much more robust and dynamic. The height channels are used largely for overhead completion, but during the bridge chase and Harrier attack they add some discrete lift and directionality. Movement is smooth and natural, with firm LFE as the explosions erupt, and gunfire pings and whistles around the soundstage. Harry’s Harrier rescue of his daughter (say that three times fast) also benefits from the Atmos mix’s more liquid panning, though the sound of its Rolls-Royce Pegasus engines doesn’t have quite the bluster or bite you might be expecting. Dialogue remains clean and clear at all times, while full-sounding mids lend pleasing fidelity to the score by composer Brad Fiedel (Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day). This is a strong sonic upgrade, but it will be interesting to see if the higher data rates on the physical 4K UHD version can improve upon it.

In terms of special features, each Digital provider seems to offer a different selection of bonus content. If such content is included however, you should get a solid new retrospective documentary, Fear Is Not an Option: A Look Back at True Lies, which runs about 43 minutes and includes both new material and interview footage shot in 2012 (for the Blu-ray release that never happened at the time). There’s also good behind-the-scenes footage of the Harrier jet stunts that’s well worth a look. Plus, you get the film’s theatrical trailer. I’ll cover these extras in a more depth in our forthcoming review of the 4K disc release.

True Lies isn’t a great action film, but it is a pretty darned good one and it’s a fan-favorite to be sure, featuring some terrific stunts, plenty of humor, and solid performances all around. Lightstorm’s new 4K remaster definitely isn’t going to please everyone—certainly not most A/V enthusiasts—but more casual fans of the film will still find it a solid upgrade. Either way, True Lies certainly looks better here than it ever has before on disc (and the image ought to look a little better still on the physical 4K UHD early next year). As always, your mileage may vary.

- Bill Hunt

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