Broadcast News (Blu-ray)
Directed by James L. Brooks
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 132 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Review Date: January 19, 2011
James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News, his trenchant, hilarious, and real look at the heart and soul of a network news operation¸ was my choice as the best picture of 1987 (the Academy saw it differently; it chose The Last Emperor). The man who brought us the comic side of newsroom life with the ground-breaking Mary Tyler Moore Show on television moves to the big screen with an even more richly adult view of the personalities and behind-the-scenes machinations going on during a turbulent few months in the world of a Washington news bureau on the verge of a major changeover. Biting wit, superb comic highlights drawn from believable human situations, and intensely interesting characters make for another Brooks gem, as terrific and sophisticated as his Oscar-winning Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets.
With his good looks and on-screen charisma, Tom Grunick (William Hurt) is plucked from a local news sports desk and offered a spot as a Washington news bureau reporter. But Tom is all flash and no substance: no journalism credentials, no advanced degrees, and a limited knowledge of world events. For that, he relies on his producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) who’s a chronic news junkie and workaholic, the very antithesis of Tom. More along the lines of her idea of a real journalist is Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) who has the intelligence and journalistic capabilities she prizes but no flair as an on-camera personality. The three are thrown together in the Washington news bureau and attempt to do good for one another by bringing their various strengths to the table in times of news crises. But romance enters the picture when Jane feels herself falling for Tom against all her principles while Aaron, who’s had a longtime crush on her, must sit on the sidelines watching his rival get the girl and the plum assignments.
One of the most striking aspects of James L. Brooks’ screenplay is in his refusal to turn any of his leads into stock characters. They all have their strengths and flaws, all of which make for interesting comic and dramatic situations when put into conflict with one another. Two fascinating extended sequences show the freshness and sophistication of his approach. One occurs with a terrorist attack in Lebanon as the inexperienced Tom is tapped to anchor a special report. The interplay between Tom as he speaks live on-air and Jane as she feeds him cues assisted by Aaron on the telephone who has nuggets of information that will give the report added juice is an exhilaratingly acted and directed sequence, as fine as Brooks as ever directed. A later scene when Aaron finally gets his chance to anchor a news broadcast after being passed over for years is one of the most hilariously sustained bits of comic business which the movies have offered in the years before or since this film. Not relying on gross-out gags or profanity, the segment is so true (and so truly hysterical) that it elevates the film without drawing undue attention to itself. An early scene where line producer Blair Litton (Joan Cusack) is madly dashing through the studio to make an on-air deadline with only seconds to spare is likewise directed so expertly that the slapstick chunks contained within it are brilliantly handled yet fundamentally thrown away (as if all comedies possess such a sense of construction and execution). And how many romantic comedies are out there where a triangle situation doesn’t wind up with some kind of clichéd happy ending? Here, once again, we get a real, believable, and true ending which respects the characters that we’ve been watching for two hours.
William Hurt had already astounded with a memorable number of films behind him in the 1980s when he scored yet another Oscar nomination for his performance here. As a man with magnetic looks and limited intelligence, he never makes a false step, completely captivating as a person well aware of his limitations and willing to work hard to make what works for him count. Holly Hunter burst onto the scene with this film and Raising Arizona heralding a fresh, acerbic take on the standard Hollywood leading lady. And Albert Brooks, unshackled from his own directorial hand, has never been better as the too-smart-for-his-own-good reporter whose desires never quite correspond to what the world is willing to offer him. Joan Cusack, Lois Chiles, and Robert Prosky abet the stars with superb supporting work. Jack Nicholson has a couple of very effective cameo moments as the network anchorman who watches with interest the careers of several of the principals in the Washington bureau newsroom.
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Your heart will sink a bit during the film’s first quarter hour as brackish, caked-on color and a grainy softness afflicts several scenes (likely shot that way but very unappealing in high definition). All of that goes away, however, with the remainder of the movie as startling clarity and superb color begin to predominate. Flesh tones become natural and very appealing, and color saturation, especially the vivid reds, continues to impress. Black levels are only good and never great, but shadow detail is just fine. The film has been divided into 34 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix is typical for its era and represents the movie experience quite faithfully. Dialogue is well recorded and always easily discernible (thankfully since the movie is very dialogue driven) with a few instances of directionalized dialogue to add a bit of depth to the soundstage. Bill Conti’s score is appropriate and never intrusive. There are no instances of audio artifacts like hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter to mar the listening experience.
The audio commentary is by James L. Brooks with very limited participation by film editor Richard Marks. As a very erudite speaker, Brooks holds forth with plenty of information about the making of the picture which fans of the movie will greatly enjoy hearing.
All of the visual bonus material is presented in 1080p except where noted.
“James L. Brooks: A Singular Voice” is a 36-minute overview of Brooks’ career on television and film with clips and stills from his groundbreaking shows like Room 222, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, Taxi, and The Simpsons and movies such as Terns of Endearment and As Good As It Gets. Stars from his various projects also comment on their opinions of the man and his work.
An alternate ending for the movie (with commentary set-up and afterward by James Brooks) runs for 10 minutes. There are also more than a dozen deleted scenes (including an entire subplot involving a gay tipster whom Tom uses) which are played in one continuous 19 ½-minute bunch.
Journalist Susan Zirinsky (who was the basis in part for the Holly Hunter character in the movie) is interviewed for 17 minutes. She talks about her role in the film’s production. This was filmed in 2010 for this Blu-ray release.
A behind-the-scenes publicity featurette filmed during the production features James Brooks, Holly Hunter, and Albert Brooks discussing the film and the characters and runs 8 minutes. There is also an additional 18 ¾ minutes of interview and behind-the-scenes footage that didn’t make it into the featurette. Both of these sections are in 1080i.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 2 ¼ minutes.
The enclosed 18-page booklet contains complete cast and crew lists, a generous selection of color stills from the movie, and a lengthy critique/commentary of the film by movie critic Carrie Rickey.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4.5/5 (not an average)
Not as satirically acidic as Network, James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News nevertheless tackles the glamorization of the news with penetrating wit and shrewd romantic drama making it one of the most completely engaging and thoroughly delightful films in recent memory. Criterion has done a fine job with the video and audio and offers some absorbing bonus material that expands the excellence of the film itself. Highly recommended!