True Lies (1997) 4K Blu-ray Review

James Cameron's action classic True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger has finally received an extremely belated and flawed Blu-ray and 4K release.

Producer / Publisher: Disney
5 minutes & 19 seconds read time
TweakTown's Rating: 72%

The Bottom Line

It's taken decades, but the missing link in James Cameron's filmography is finally released to Blu-ray and 4K. Unfortunately, it's not all it should have been.


  • + Finally released to contemporary video formats
  • + Engaging and bombastic Dolby Atmos soundtrack
  • + An informative documentary


  • - Underwhelming video transfer, unnecessarily "enhanced"
  • - Lack of quality bonus features

Should you buy it?

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In 1994, film-maker James Cameron had yet to produce his career-defining hits Titanic and Avatar but was hardly an unknown courtesy of the success of The Terminator and Aliens. His ambitious, but cooly-received The Abyss in 1989 might have solidified Cameron's reputation for unrelentingly high expectations of his cast and crew (some might go so far as to suggest a callous disregard for them). It was the smash critical and financial success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day which proved without doubt his bona fides as one of Hollywood's most kinetic and exciting action directors. Always one to subvert expectations, his follow-up would fuse those same sensibilities and reunite him with Arnold Schwarzenegger at the apex of his career while infusing the plot with a relatable story of domestic struggles and a dash of comedy to take the edge off its threat of Jihadist nuclear apocalypse.

U.S. government agent Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) leads a double life that balances responsibilities to his unknowing and bored wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and teenage daughter (Eliza Dushku) with the ever-pressing requirements of international counter-terrorism. Despite a valiant effort at shielding his family from the truth (and harm) Helen becomes swept away by used car salesman Simon (Bill Paxton), masquerading as a suave super spy, none too dissimilar to the role her husband secretly plays. But when a Jihadist terror group obtains a nuclear weapon with the intention of detonating it in the continental United States, Harry's twin lives merge and threaten everything he holds dear.

Despite a budget blowout that caused all manner of headaches for studio Twentieth Century Fox (to be replicated with Cameron's follow-up Titanic), True Lies was a blockbuster success, grossing $378 million worldwide and propelling it up the charts as the 20th highest grossing film at the time. Whilst real-life events just a few years later scuppered any hope of a mooted sequel (Cameron remarks in the film's documentary that "terrorism just wasn't funny anymore") and is perhaps at least partially responsible for the extreme length of time it's taken to bring the film to Blu-ray (some 18 years after the launch of the format!), today True Lies is one of the lesser films in Cameron's filmography. Despite not aging as well as others, the film remains entertaining, infused with some ambitiously absurd action set-pieces, envelope-pushing CG effects, a fun script, and Schwarzenegger in his prime.

Video transfer

True Lies is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in the Rec. 2020 color space with HDR-10 and Dolby Vision HDR and encoded with AVC H.265 compression.

To illustrate just how long it's taken for True Lies to make its way to contemporary physical media formats, it was last released on NTSC DVD way back in 1999 in the United States, and a superior PAL format release in Australia in 2001 (to be exact; September 11, 2001 in U.S. time, making for the most unfortunate example of release timing in living memory). With film restoration techniques and home video technology improving exponentially during that time, you'd be excused for hoping and expecting a truly sublime experience that really shows what the 4K format is capable of.

Well, you'd be wrong. Completely and utterly wrong.

The flaws go right to the very basic elements. Unlike most every other 35mm film-originating movie that's made its way to 4K, True Lies hasn't been granted a new transfer from the original negative, instead falling back to a 2K transfer struck in the early 2000s and released on the little-remembered and short-lived D-VHS format. Whilst good for its time, two decades later, it's much less so. But rather than do some basic clean-up and call it a day by keeping it exclusive to Blu-ray - or better yet, actually investing to produce a new 4K scan, Cameron and Disney have turned to Peter Jackson's Park Road Studios to upscale and enhance the aging assets using "proprietary deep-learning algorithms" that in truth look indistinguishable from the same image upscaling you might expect from desktop tools such as Topaz AI. The effect of this is that the image has been subject to multiple de-graining and sharpening tools, with a myriad of bizarrely unintended image artefacts introduced in the process. Depending on the shot, it can look acceptable, to awful, but always inconsistent - and definitely not like film.

The HDR grade offered in standard HDR-10 and Dolby Vision is, on the surface, a great thing. However, it's a fake bolt-on to the aging assets, transferred long before such details could be adequately captured. While it appears slightly brighter all-around, it reveals no additional data than it would in SDR. If you don't believe me, compare it to the Blu-ray.

That this release has proved controversial is nothing short of an understatement, with a reception ranging from praise, to indifference, to outright hostility. While some claim to appreciate the revised approach that makes it appear as if it was shot on clean digital video, I cannot abide this level of digital tinkering, which is neither true to the source nor does it preserve the artistry it attempts to enhance. This lazy approach to remastering has no place in a high-end collector's format and must be rejected. By all means, release this to mass market formats like streaming or (gulp) DVD. But if this kind of thing catches on with the supposedly premium 4K format, then my days of collecting are well and truly over.

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Audio transfer

True Lies is presented with a newly remixed Dolby Atmos soundtrack, encoded at 24 bits.

Unlike the video transfer, this new mix shouldn't disappoint many. It's probably been many years since you might have heard the film in a surround format, but it's good to know that True Lies sounds better than ever, with an energetic and immersive experience that engages all channels with clarity and purpose. The front sound stage supports the majority of the action, with the surround channels alternating between calling attention to themselves and beckoning the listener deeper into the action. The bass channel is bold and powerful when called upon. The newly remixed inclusion of added height surround information is appreciated, as it makes itself known most prominently during the climactic Florida Keys bridge rescue sequence.

Whilst not a demo-worthy track, this is a perfectly adequate, often impressive experience that will doubtful be surpassed any time soon.

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Bonus materials

Unlike the new 4K releases of Titanic and The Abyss, True Lies provides a relatively sparse collection of bonuses, headlined by a newly created making-of documentary. It would have been nice to have a bit more substance here, including perhaps an audio commentary, but alas, it's left wanting.

The most substantial extra is the 43-minute long Fear is Not an Option: A Look Back at True Lies documentary, which acts as a nice retrospective on the film and returns key members of the cast and crew for contemporary (but undated) interviews, alongside vintage making-of footage. While the information regarding the genesis of the script and the insistence of James Cameron towards the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis is quite illuminating, the documentary rarely scratches the surface with any deep insights. It was interesting to hear a new perspective on the film's qualities in this post-terrorism age, but it might reinforce to some longer-term James Cameron fans that he no longer retains the edge he once possessed.

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Next up are multiple Still Galleries, including a copy of the film's script, storyboard, set photography, and poster art concepts. Finally we have the original Theatrical Trailer in roughed up standard definition.

Photo of product for sale

The Movie


Video Quality


Audio Quality






The Bottom Line

It's taken decades, but the missing link in James Cameron's filmography is finally released to Blu-ray and 4K. Unfortunately, it's not all it should have been.


True Lies (1997) 4K Blu-ray

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Ben joined the TweakTown team in 2008 and has since reviewed 100s of movies. Ben is based in Australia and has covered entertainment news and reviews since 2002. A student of film, Ben brings a wide understanding of the medium to the latest happenings in entertainment circles and the latest blockbuster theatrical reviews.

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