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WARNER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Sidney Lumet
Cast:
Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty, Arthur Burghardt, Bill Burrows, John Carpenter, Jordan Charney, Kathy Cronkite
Writing Credits:
Paddy Chayefsky

Tagline:
Television will never be the same!

Synopsis:
Even more compelling today than when it was first released, Network is a wickedly funny, dead-on indictment of the TV news media. Winner of four Academy Awards it pulses with "vitality and a provocative excitement that is forever rare." Many talented stars are in this searing portrait of television exploitation. When longtime news anchor Howard Beale id fired, he suffers a violent, on-air breakdown. But when his sagging rating are boosted by his angry ratings, he's subsequently rehired and reinvented as the "mad prophet of the airwaves." Of course, when the "prophet" ceases to be profitable, something has to be done about Beale, preferably on camera, before a live studio audience….

Box Office:
Budget
$3.8 million.
Domestic Gross
$23.689 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Monaural
French Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 2/28/2006

Bonus:
Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director Sidney Lumet
• Trailer
Disc Two
• “The Making of Network” Documentary
• “Dinah! with Paddy Chayefsky”
• “Private Screenings with Sidney Lumet” Documentary


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RELATED REVIEWS


Network: Special Edition (1976)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 15, 2006)

If nothing else, 1976’s Network accurately predicted the existence of the Fox TV network. 30 years ago, who thought that we’d really come to a day when programs of real-life attacking animals and fleeing criminals would become successful and commonplace? Paddy Chayefsky knew, apparently, as his prescient script tells the tale of a foundering network that takes advantage of radicals and the insane to boost ratings.

At the start of the film, long-time UBS news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is being forced to retire due to sagging viewership. Due to a number of personal concerns, his job was all he had, so he announces on the air that he plans to kill himself. Rather than seek counseling or support for the clearly-troubled man, the higher-ups - mainly boss Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) - decide to keep Beale on the air since his stunt sparked ratings.

This starts an escalating cycle of outrageous stunts and events designed to keep viewers glued to their screens. Beale gets his own “last angry man” show through which to preach his doctrine, while other seemingly-absurd programs also hit the air. Entertainment programmer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) is given the reins of the news division after throwback Max Schumacher (William Holden) is fired. She adopts a tone of outrageousness that brings droves of new eyes to the network.

All of this activity begs the question: how far will the TV folks go to maintain ratings? As given in Network, the answer seems to be “exceedingly far”, and frankly, it’s hard to dispute the film’s hypothesis. On one hand, much of the action seems absurd and is the kind of programming one would not expect to ever see hit the airwaves. The network’s solution to Beale’s declining ratings makes its point but seems ever so slightly ridiculous.

However, in this day and age, it’s tough to say where the line will be drawn. How unbelievable would many of today’s shows have seemed 30 years ago? Keep in mind that Network appeared not very long after a show like All in the Family could cause a stir because it allowed us to hear the flush of a toilet - how could they have foreseen what we now watch regularly?

As a satire and a prophecy, Network works well. In the former category, the best elements are those that concern a radical group who film their crimes as the basis for a weekly program. Some of Network’s most incisive moments come from the scenes in which we watch them become increasingly caught up in the world of high-stakes TV and learn how to “talk the talk”.

Network also boasts pretty solid acting. Most of the performers verge on being over the top. Dunaway always was a camp queen, and she can’t resist chewing a little scenery. However, those tendencies seem fairly appropriate for power-hungry Diana, one of the toughest women ever to grace a movie screen. She’s a vicious piece of work who won’t let anyone stand in her way, but Dunaway keeps her from becoming a simple mannish stereotype.

Dunaway won the Oscar for her work, as did Finch. In doing so, he became a famous piece of Academy Award trivia as the first actor to grab a prize posthumously; Finch died in early 1977 before the ceremony in the spring. He offers a nice turn as Beale. I’m not sure I ever bought him as a TV anchor, as there’s something slightly off-kilter about him that makes him appear wrong for that task, but he’s quite able to portray Beale’s changing moods and levels of sanity. He makes these variations seem natural and organic without becoming forced or staged.

Holden’s Max is nominally the movie’s lead, but in retrospect, he doesn’t seem to have much to do. He tries to assist Howard, and he eventually beds Diana, but otherwise he’s left without a lot of work. However, I suppose Max acts as the film’s symbolic center and stands in for the viewers through his affair with Diana. He’s tempted by her flashy and tawdry appeal but eventually realizes the emptiness and returns to the stability of his old life. There’s a not-too-subtle message made even more explicit by a monologue in which Max compares Diana to TV itself.

Probably the greatest flaw of Network is that it often comes across as heavy-handed and preachy. This seems especially problematic because TV is such an easy target. It’s not as though many support the small screen as a bastion of high-class intellectualism, so attempts to knock its frequent stupidity appear somewhat pointless and arrogant.

If Network was a call to people to wake up and stop accepting whatever the tube spoon feeds to them, it went unheeded. As a film, it suffers from some of the forced social commentary typical for works of its era, but it remains an interesting and provocative piece.


The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C-/ Bonus B+

Network appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture started as mediocre but improved as it progressed.

Oddly, the image got much better right around the halfway mark. For the first hour or so, I noticed a moderate amount of source flaws. The movie showed quite a few examples of specks, marks and blemishes. Happily, however, these essentially vanished after that point. The film’s second hour showed occasional specks but these were substantially less prevalent.

The image also looked a bit tighter and more dynamic. Overall sharpness was adequate to good. Some interiors tended toward minor fuzziness, but they were usually fine, and most of the film seemed clear and acceptably defined. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge enhancement.

Network went with a very subdued palette, and the tones tended to look a little drab at times. However, this seemed connected largely to the visual design; when the movie invested in brighter colors, they seemed accurate and lively. Hues remained somewhat erratic, but they were decent as a whole. Blacks also could be slightly inky, but those elements generally featured reasonable depth, and low-light shots were fairly smooth and clear.

Again, all these issues improved during the movie’s second half. The changes were most prominent in regard to the source flaws, but everything else got better as well. The image was sharper, brighter and more dynamic. Some of this came from the movie’s style, as the filmmakers intentionally made the flick less murky as it progressed. That didn’t explain why I saw fewer source flaws in the second half, though. This mix of highs and lows left the transfer with a “B-“.

The film’s monaural soundtrack seemed less satisfying, as it did nothing to distinguish itself. The mix consisted almost entirely of dialogue. Effects were minor considerations; they seemed acceptably clear but played such a small role that unless they displayed serious distortion, they rarely mattered. The film also featured virtually no score. The most prominent music heard came from the Howard Beale Show theme. It sounded somewhat shrill and harsh when played, though it demonstrated decent range.

Dialogue was always intelligible, but the lines could sound rough. Quieter lines were acceptable though somewhat stiff and thin. Louder elements seemed brittle and displayed slight crackling. These problems weren’t bad enough to make the mix poor, but they led me to give it a “C-“.

How did the picture and audio of this special edition compare to those of the original DVD? Both offered improvements. The new disc’s audio was only slightly better, as it seemed a little brighter. Otherwise I felt it was very similar to the prior mix.

Picture showed much more substantial growth, however. It cleaned up the messier image of the previous DVD and also was better defined. It definitely displayed stronger colors. The prior disc was saddled with an anemic tone that made everyone look ill. Despite the problems I continued to see with the transfer, it clearly showed growth over the earlier DVD’s image.

More improvements come from the Special Edition’s extras. On DVD One, we find both the movie’s trailer - which also appeared on the prior disc – and an audio commentary from director Sidney Lumet. He offers a running, screen-specific chat. Lumet looks at the film’s themes, tone and visual style, cast, characters and performances, his background in live TV and the flick’s prescient elements, locations and sets, and a few production notes. We get a decent commentary but not one that stands out as particularly memorable.

The best moments come from Lumet’s memories of the early days of TV. I like his remembrances and think these become illuminating. He also tosses out some nice insights into the performances and other nuances. Unfortunately, there’s too much dead air, and at times Lumet offers basics that don’t really tell us much. He comes across as a curmudgeon when he berates the lousy state of modern TV. (Yeah, he’s correct, but that doesn’t make him sound like less of a sourpuss.) Lumet’s commentary has enough to make it worth a listen, though.

Moving to DVD Two, we begin with a new documentary called The Making of Network. This one-hour, 25-minute and 21-second program mixes movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Lumet, producer Howard Gottfried, editor Alan Heim, production designer Philip Rosenberg, director of photography Owen Roizman, newscaster/reporter Walter Cronkite, and actors Lance Henriksen, Faye Dunaway, Ned Beatty, and Kathy Cronkite.

The show covers writer Paddy Chayefsky and the script’s development, Chayefsky’s history with Lumet and how the director came onto the project, and Chayefsky’s vision for the story. From there we go through cast and characters, a spotlight on the movie’s signature “I’m mad as hell” scene, rehearsals and shooting the film, and many anecdotes from the production. We also learn about editing, reactions to the film and its legacy, the movie’s visual style and set design, and general thoughts. Finally, the piece includes notes from Walter Cronkite about his relationship with Lumet, a few comments about the early days of TV news and its development, and reactions to the film.

While “Making” covers a lot of good subjects, I can’t say I care for its disjointed presentation. Some of that stems from the fact it uses separate chapters and really exists as six featurettes connected together. Nonetheless, I’ve seen that format many times and think it works better elsewhere. Here it comes across as a bit scattered.

Still, we get more than a few nice tidbits about the film. Despite the somewhat less than coherent presentation, the show goes over the requisite subjects well. Some of this repeats from the commentary, but there’s plenty of new information to pique our interest.

Next comes Dinah! with Paddy Chayefsky. We find a 14-minute and one-second snippet from Dinah Shore’s old show during which she and guests like Steve Lawrence chat with Chayefsky. He discusses a little about the movie but mostly gets into his feelings about TV and where it’ll go. It’s good to see the late writer and also relate to how his thoughts have and haven’t come true.

Finally, the DVD includes Private Screenings with Sidney Lumet. Originally broadcast on the Turner Classic Movies network, this 54-minute and 25-second show presents an interview between Lumet and host Robert Osborne. They chat about Lumet’s career. They start with his origins as an actor, his move into TV and directing, and progress through thoughts about many of his films.

Obviously the show’s too short to dig into these with much depth, but “Screenings” makes for a terrific overview. Lumet proves consistently sharp and engaging as he discusses his work, and Osborne manages to prompt him well. I enjoyed this informative and well-paced program.

At this point, Network seems better remembered as a catch phrase than as a film, which is an ironic fate for a picture determined to knock such simpleminded behaviors. I found the movie to be a flawed but compelling work that had enough strengths to merit a viewing. The DVD suffers from somewhat weak audio, but it offers decent to good visuals along with a fairly positive set of extras.

This DVD is a good one to add to your collection, and that goes for all those who own the original disc. The new one substantially improves on the old one’s picture quality and it adds many new extras. It’s a solid upgrade.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.8965 Stars Number of Votes: 29
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