Pleasantville (film)

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Pleasantville ver5.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Gary Ross
Produced by Gary Ross
Jon Kilik
Robert J. Degus
Steven Soderbergh
Written by Gary Ross
Starring Tobey Maguire
Jeff Daniels
Joan Allen
William H. Macy
J. T. Walsh
Don Knotts
Reese Witherspoon
Music by Randy Newman
Cinematography John Lindley
Edited by William Goldenberg
Larger Than Life Productions
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • October 23, 1998 (1998-10-23)
Running time
124 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $60 million
Box office $49.8 million

Pleasantville is a 1998 American fantasy comedy-drama film written, co-produced, and directed by Gary Ross, and co-produced by Jon Kilik, Bob Degus and Steven Soderbergh. The film stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, J. T. Walsh, and Reese Witherspoon, with Don Knotts, Paul Walker, and Jane Kaczmarek in supporting roles. The story centers around two siblings who wind up trapped in a 1950s TV show, set in a small Iowa town, where residents are seemingly perfect. In their attempts to get comfortable, the two become more aware of social issues such as racism and freedom of speech.

The film was released in the United States by New Line Cinema on October 23, 1998. It was a box office bomb, only acquiring about $49.8 million of a $60 million budget, but received positive reviews for it's visuals, acting and thematic elements and has gained a cult following. The film was J.T. Walsh's final performance before his death, with the film being dedicated to his memory.


David and his twin sister Jennifer are very different from each other. While Jennifer is adventurous and daring, David is shy and reserved. While their mom is out of town, they fight over the TV. Jennifer wants to watch a concert on MTV, but David wants to watch a marathon of Pleasantville, a 1958 black and white sitcom about the idyllic Parker family, father George, wife Betty, and son and daughter Bud and Mary Sue, and life in the eponymous town. During the fight, the remote control breaks, and the TV cannot be turned on manually.

A mysterious TV repairman shows up, quizzes David about Pleasantville, then gives him a strange remote control. The repairman leaves, and David and Jennifer bicker. However, when David presses a button, they are transported into the Parkers' black and white, within Pleasantville. David sees to reason with the repairman as he appears through the television, but he leaves solemnly when David wants to retuen. David and Jennifer then subsequently role-play Bud and Mary Sue.

David and Jennifer witness the nature of Pleasantville, such as firemen rescuing a cat from a tree. David tells Jennifer they must keep character and not disrupt the lives of the town. To keep plot, Jennifer dates a boy from high school but has sex with him, a concept unknown to everyone. This action slowly causes a chain reaction in Pleasantville, with the effects changing into color, including flowers and the people. David introduces Mr. Johnson, owner of the soda fountain where Bud works, to a modern art book from the library, sparking his interest in painting. Johnson and Betty fall in love, causing her to leave home and confusing George. The people unchanged are the town leaders, led by mayor Big Bob, who see color disposing the values of Pleasantville.

As the town becomes colorful, a color ban is initiated. A riot is then started by a nude, colorful painting of Betty on Johnson's window, as it is destroyed, books are burned, and color is ultimately segregated. The town announce rules banning the library, playing loud music or not using monotonous painting. In protest, David and Mr. Johnson paint a colorful mural on a brick wall and are arrested. On trial, David and Mr. Johnson defend their actions, causing George to recognize Betty's beauty in color, causing Big Bob to outburst, coloring his face, and exit the courtroom.

Having seen Pleasantville change irrevocably, Jennifer stays to finish her education, but David uses the remote to return to the real world. He then comforts his mother as she arrives home from work, who miraculously states that he has changed.



This was the first time the majority of a new feature film was scanned, processed, and recorded digitally. The black-and-white meets color world portrayed in the movie was filmed entirely in color and selectively desaturated and contrast adjusted digitally. The work was done in Los Angeles by Cinesite utilizing a Spirit DataCine for scanning at 2K resolution.[1] and a MegaDef Colour Correction System from Pandora International.

Cameraman Brent Hershman's death, when he fell asleep driving home after a 19-hour workday on the set of the film, resulted in a wrongful death suit, claiming that New Line Cinema, New Line Productions and Juno Pix Inc. were responsible for the death as a result of the lengthy work hours imposed on the set.[2][3]

The film is dedicated to Hershman, as well as to director Ross's mother, Gail, and actor J. T. Walsh, who also died before the film's release.[4]

Shortly before and during the film's release, an online contest was held to visit the real Pleasantville, Iowa. Over 30,000 people entered. The winner, who remained anonymous, declined the trip, and opted to receive the $10,000 cash prize instead.


Director Gary Ross stated, "This movie is about the fact that personal repression gives rise to larger political oppression...That when we're afraid of certain things in ourselves or we're afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop."[5]

Robert Beuka says in his book SuburbiaNation, "Pleasantville is a morality tale concerning the values of contemporary suburban America by holding that social landscape up against both the Utopian and the dystopian visions of suburbia that emerged in the 1950s."[6]

Robert McDaniel of Film & History described the town as the perfect place, "It never rains, the highs and lows rest at 72 degrees, the fire department exists only to rescue treed cats, and the basketball team never misses the hoop." However, McDaniel says, "Pleasantville is a false hope. David's journey tells him only that there is no 'right' life, no model for how things are 'supposed to be'."[7]

Warren Epstein of The Gazette wrote, "This use of color as a metaphor in black-and-white films certainly has a rich tradition, from the over-the-rainbow land in The Wizard of Oz to the girl in the red dress who made the Holocaust real for Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List. In Pleasantville, color represents the transformation from repression to enlightenment. People—and their surroundings—change from black-and-white to color when they connect with the essence of who they really are."[8]


Box office[edit]

Pleasantville earned $8.9 million during its opening weekend.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

Pleasantville received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregators Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a "Certified Fresh" 84% rating from 94 reviews, an average rating of 7.6/10, with the critical consensus "Filled with lighthearted humor, timely social commentary, and dazzling visuals, Pleasantville is an artful blend of subversive satire and well-executed Hollywood formula" and Metacritic assigned a score of 71 based on 32 reviews.[10][11]

Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars calling it "one of the best and most original films of the year".[12] Janet Maslin wrote that its "ingenious fantasy" has "seriously belabored its once-gentle metaphor and light comic spirit."[13] Peter M. Nichols, judging the film for its child-viewing worthiness, jokingly wrote in The New York Times that the town of Pleasantville "makes Father Knows Best look like Dallas."[14] Joe Leydon of Variety called it "a provocative, complex and surprisingly anti-nostalgic parable wrapped in the beguiling guise of a commercial high-concept comedy." He commented that some storytelling problems emerge late in the film, but wrote that "Ross is to be commended for refusing to take the easy way out."[15]

Entertainment Weekly wrote a mixed review: "Pleasantville is ultramodern and beautiful. But technical elegance and fine performances mask the shallowness of a story as simpleminded as the '50s TV to which it condescends; certainly it's got none of the depth, poignance, and brilliance of The Truman Show, the recent TV-is-stifling drama that immediately comes to mind."[16] The film also received a mixed review from Christian Answers, but was criticized because "On a surface level, the message of the film appears to be “morality is black and white and pleasant, but sin is color and better,” because often through the film the Pleasantvillians become color after sin (adultery, premarital sex, physical assault, etc…). In one scene in particular, a young woman shows a brightly colored apple to young (and yet uncolored) David, encouraging him to take and eat it. Very reminiscent of the Genesis’s account of the fall of man."[17]

Awards and honors[edit]

The film won the following accolades:

The film was nominated for the following achievements:

Other honors:

In 2008, the American Film Institute nominated this film for its Top 10 Fantasy Films list.[18]



David/Bud shows Bill Johnson the following paintings:

Bill Johnson's portrait of Betty Parker is in the style of an early Picasso. His later nude painting of her is inspired by Henri Matisse.

Bill and Bud defy the town elders' code of conduct by painting a mural which, with its surrealist style and inclusion of political elements, pays homage to Mexican muralism.


David/Bud and Jennifer/Mary-Sue introduce the other teenagers in Pleasantville to Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. Mary-Sue also reads Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence. All three are among the most frequently banned and challenged books according to the American Library Association.


Pleasantville: Music from the Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by Various
Released October 13, 1998
Recorded Various
Genre Pop
Length 47:37
Label New Line Records
Producer Jon Brion
Bruno Coon
Bonnie Greenberg
Randy Newman

The soundtrack features music from the 1950s and 1960s such as "Be-Bop-A-Lula" by Gene Vincent, "Take Five" by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, and "At Last" by Etta James. The main score was composed by Randy Newman; he received an Oscar nomination in the original music category. A score release is also in distribution, although the suite track is only available on the standard soundtrack. Among the Pleasantville DVD "Special Features" is a music-only feature with commentary by Randy Newman.

The music video for Apple's version of "Across the Universe," directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, uses the set of the diner from the film. Allmusic rated the album two and a half stars out of five.[20]

  1. "Across the Universe" - Fiona Apple – 5:07
  2. "Dream Girl" - Robert & Johnny – 1:57
  3. "Be-Bop-A-Lula" - Gene Vincent – 2:36
  4. "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" - Larry Williams – 2:11
  5. "Sixty Minute Man" - Billy Ward and His Dominoes – 2:28
  6. "Take Five" - The Dave Brubeck Quartet – 5:25
  7. "At Last" - Etta James – 3:00
  8. "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" - Elvis Presley – 1:47
  9. "Rave On!" - Buddy Holly and the Crickets – 1:49
  10. "Please Send Me Someone to Love" - Fiona Apple – 4:01
  11. "So What" - Miles Davis – 9:04
  12. "Suite from Pleasantville" - Randy Newman – 8:11


  1. ^ Fisher, Bob (November 1998). "Black & white in color". American Cinematographer: 1. Archived from the original on January 8, 2009. Watts suggested using the Philips Spirit DataCine at Cinesite Digital Imaging in Los Angeles for converting the film to data.  (full article link)
  2. ^ Polone, Gavin (May 23, 2012). "Polone: The Unglamorous, Punishing Hours of Working on a Hollywood Set". Vulture. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 
  3. ^ O'Neill, Ann W. (December 21, 1997). "Death After Long Workday Spurs Suit". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 
  4. ^ Bergeron, Michael (April 4, 2012). "Gay Ross Interview". Free Press Houston. Retrieved April 24, 2015. 
  5. ^ Johnson-Ott, Edward (1998). "Pleasantville (1998)". Retrieved April 8, 2015. 
  6. ^ Beuka, Robert (2004). SuburbiaNation: Reading Suburban Landscape in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 14–15. ISBN 9781403963673. 
  7. ^ McDaniel, Robb (2002). "Pleasantville (Ross 1998)" (PDF). Film & History. 32 (1): 85–86.  (link requires Project MUSS access)
  8. ^ Epstein, Warren. "True Colors - A Small Town Blossoms when '50s and '90s collide in Pleasantville". The Gazette (Colorado Springs). Retrieved April 11, 2013. 
  9. ^ Wolk, Josh (October 26, 1998). ""Pleasantville" tops the box office, but it's the only new wide release that scored". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 21, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Pleasantville (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved December 9, 2010. 
  11. ^ [ "Pleasantville Reviews"] Check |url= value (help). Metacritic. Retrieved 6 December 2016. 
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 1, 1998). "Pleasantville (PG-13)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  13. ^ "New Video Releases". The New York Times. March 19, 1999. Retrieved April 8, 2015. 
  14. ^ Nichols, Peter M. (November 6, 1998). "Taking the Children; Bobby-Soxers and Dinos Brought Back to Life". The New York Times. Retrieved April 8, 2015. 
  15. ^ Leydon, Joe. "Review: 'Pleasantville'". Variety. Variety Media, LLC. Retrieved 2 June 2013. 
  16. ^ EW Staff (October 23, 1998). "Pleasantville (1998)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Pleasantville (1998)". Christian Answers. Retrieved December 11, 2015. 
  18. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19. 
  19. ^ Braque, Georges (1910). "Woman with a Mandolin". Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Retrieved December 7, 2015. 
  20. ^ Pleasantville: Music from the Motion Picture at AllMusic

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]