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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Network



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#1 of 3 Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted February 13 2011 - 05:39 PM

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Network
Release Date: February 15, 2011
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Single-disc Blu-ray "ECO-BOX"
Year: 1976
Rating: R
Running Time: 2:01:20
MSRP: $19.98

  THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1 Standard definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 1.0 / Dolby Digital: Spanish 1.0, French 1.0 Stereo
Subtitles English SDH, Spanish, French Variable

The Feature: 4.5/5

When veteran news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is fired by the UBS Network, he decides to go out with a bang by announcing he'll be committing suicide on the air in a week. The network executives of course are mortified, and want him to leave immediately. Max Schumacher (William Holden), his longtime comrade and head of the news division, does his best to protect him, but when it's announced that UBS News will no longer be operating independently of the network, even he can't do much to help. Thumbing his nose at his superiors the only way he knows how, he allows Beale to appear on the air once more, where the disgruntled and progressively unstable journalist denounces all the B.S. in his life and in the world.

It seems like the network has more damage control to do, but Beale's candid tirades are actually pulling in viewers. The UBS news program is doing better in the ratings than it ever has, and in that Vice President of Programming Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) sees an opportunity. Rather than get rid of Beale, she makes him the show's centerpiece, a "mad prophet of the airwaves" who will tell the public how it is alongside other entertaining gimmicks like Sybil the Psychic. In short order the UBS News is turned into a sideshow, and the public is eating it up. But eventually Beale rants about things that hit too close to home - like how the network's parent company is about to get bought out by an even larger corporation, putting the power of information in the hands of a select few, and how the world is becoming dehumanized by the very programming and technology that make his mass communicated ravings possible. It winds up being more truth than the public wants to hear, and ratings start to plummet, placing Beale in the same place he was when the whole mess started weeks ago. This time, however, it's going to take more than being fired to make him go away.

Written with uncanny prescience by Paddy Chayefsky and directed with aplomb by Sidney Lumet, "Network" can be satirically brutal in its depiction of a television industry ultimately guided and ruled by money. Though the film was made over 30 years ago, concerns around corporate ownership, the erosion of journalistic integrity, and ultimately the dehumanization of the populace are still relevant, perhaps even more so as the Internet has developed into a kind of amplified version of the film's insidious network programming. Though some of Chayefsky and Lumet's concerns seem a little alarmist now - given that some things like reality TV have come and stayed without inflicting the kind of damage they feared (or has it?)- the underlying truth of their concerns can't be ignored. Like Howard Beale himself, "Network" makes statements that give us pause, effectively diverting our attention from the media and technology that hold us in rapt attention.


Video Quality: 4/5

Presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer approximates the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 frame. Grain is fairly heavy throughout most of the film, and particularly apparent in the more dimly lit environments, of which there are many given the naturalistic cinematography. Only with the grain-averse should this be a problem; for the rest of us it shows that there's been minimal tampering of the original image. Most likely because of the film stock, black levels in the darkest of scenes can be noticeably limited, giving the scenes a marked flatness. However shots in more brightly lit areas show terrific range of contrast. Colors are equally affected by this variability in contrast, looking muted when things turn flat but then quite deep and rich when not. Though "inconsistent" would be a fair description of the overall image quality, given the age of the film it would also be fair to say the transfer upholds the look and quality of the available source elements.

Audio Quality: 4/5
The 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track features consistently clear and intelligible dialogue and has great detail and subtlety despite it "only" being a mono track. In the scene where Max's wife discovers Beale has left the apartment, you can hear the patter of rain outside quite distinctly. Since there wasn't an immediate shot of the rain hitting the window, I wasn't sure if it was taking place in the movie or happening outside my door. Not too shabby for single channel audio.


Special Features: 4/5
The extras include all the disc-based items from the 2006 special edition DVD, and offer a fine look behind the scenes of the production, including a very worthwhile retrospective on Lumet's directorial work.


The Making of Network (1:25:22, SD): 2006 retrospective documentary by Laurent Bouzereau is well-made and thorough and covers the following:

  • The World and Words of Paddy Chayefsky (11:53): What inspired the story, initial reactions to the project, and hiring Lumet to direct.
  • The Cast, the Characters (13:30): Casting the major roles and actors' approaches to portraying the characters.
  • Mad As Hell! The Creation of A Movie Moment (7:36): A closer look at preparing for and shooting the now iconic scene.
  • The Experience (25:14): Cast and crew share stories about working on the project, specifically collaborating with Chayefsky, working with Lumet, and preparing and performing key scenes.
  • The Style (17:25): A closer look at Lumet's direction, Owen Roizman's cinematography, and Philip Rosenberg's production design.
  • By Walter Cronkite (9:47): Cronkite comments on the issues presented in the film, namely corporate ownership of news organizations and concerns about entertainment pressure on news departments.
Commentary by Sidney Lumet: Some of the material Lumet covers is in "The Making of Network," so the documentary may be a more efficient way of getting the same information. However Lumet is a consistently interesting speaker about the project and provides some more pointed commentary on the film's themes.


3/2/1977 Dinah! with Paddy Chayefsky (14:02, SD): Chayefsky offers a candid and provocative interview on Dinah Shore's daytime TV talk show.


Private Screenings with Sidney Lumet (54:34, SD): Robert Osborne interviews Lumet for Turner Classic Movies' "Private Screenings" program, shortly after Lumet received an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2005. Lumet talks about his early life acting in the Yiddish theater, how he got his start directing, and then moves through his projects, beginning with "12 Angry Men" in 1957. Lumet makes for a great interview subject, offering excellent insights into his work and anecdotes about working with greats like Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn and Marlon Brando.


Theatrical Trailer (2:59, SD)


Recap
The Feature: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 4/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5

Warner Home Video turns in a fine presentation of Chayefsky and Lumet's brutally honest commentary on the television industry. Though there's nothing new added to the special features package, the quality of the presentation should make it a worthwhile upgrade for owners of the DVD. For those who have yet to own the title, the Blu-ray release is the obvious choice.


One thing leads to another at cameronyee.com

#2 of 3 Felix Martinez

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Posted February 14 2011 - 12:38 AM

Wonderful review! Really looking forward to this!

#3 of 3 Scott Merryfield

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Posted February 14 2011 - 03:05 AM

Thanks for the review, Cameron. I'm really looking forward to this one. Ned Beatty's scene in the board room is an all-time classic for me.







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