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I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore…

NETWORK ($20) is without a doubt the most brilliant satire on the idiot box known as television, as well as the network executives who program it and the sheep that tune in to it with religious fervor. Paddy Chayefsky must have been clairvoyant, because his 1976 screenplay is unbelievably accurate in depicting the future of television. By the 1990’s, television news had devolved into little more than infotainment, with it literally living and dying by the ratings, just like everything else on the idiot box. Chayefsky’s Oscar winning screenplay savages the news division of fictional television network, where everyone is made to answer to the profit hungry corporation that recently acquired the network.

Peter Finch was awarded a posthumous Oscar for his outstanding portrayal of Howard Beale, a veteran network news anchorman who suffers an on air breakdown after being fired. Beale vows to commit suicide on air during his final broadcast, but is instead yanked from the airwaves. For public relations reasons, the network allows Beale to go on the air one final time to make amends for his suicidal statement. Instead of an apology, Beale goes into a mad tirade that brings in the kind of ratings that his news broadcasts never did. The network notices Beale’s improved ratings and puts him back on the air despite his obvious mental illness. Now billed as the "mad profit of the airwaves", Beale makes his triumphant return. The network news is replaced with "The Howard Beale Show"- a program that resembles some of today’s more bizarre infotainment programming.

NETWORK also stars Faye Dunaway as Diana Christensen, the cold, calculating programming exec that turns Howard Beale into the network’s top moneymaker. William Holden is Max Schumacher, the head of news division who is unceremoniously dumped by the corporation, when the network news is absorbed into the entertainment division. Robert Duvall is the corporate hatchet man, Frank Hackett, looking for a way to turn the money-losing network into a profitable entity. Beatrice Straight took home a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Louise; Max Schumacher’s long suffering wife who is brushed aside when Max becomes enamoured with a younger woman. The cast of NETWORK also features Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty, Lane Smith, Conchata Ferrell and Tim Robbins.

Warner Home Video has made NETWORK available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. NETWORK has been greatly enhanced by a fine 1080p presentation that maximizes every bit of visual detail to be found in this 1976 production. Still, much of NETWORK was shot with diffusion lenses, so the cinematography doesn’t exactly bristle. Additionally, the seventies era film stocks show a respectable grain structure that adds texture to the image, even when the photography itself is somewhat diffuse. Color reproduction is the best I have ever seen on this title. Like a typical seventies movie, NETWORK has a very earthen tone appearance, which is a combination of the then available film stocks and production design. Primaries are very well rendered, whenever they make an appearance. Blacks are a little inconsistent, but the whites do hold their own. Contrast is fairly smooth. Shadow detail drops off into the abyss rather quickly. The elements from which NETWORK has been mastered appeared quite clean. Grain is ever present, and is sometimes a little heavy, which keeps the presentation wonderfully film-like, and makes for a near perfect rendition of this vintage movie.

NETWORK is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. This is a vintage track that is only limited by its monaural origins and mid-seventies recording technology. Thanks to the lossless encode, the tracks proves to be a bit more robust than it had sounded in the past. Sound effects come across quite well, without any significant thinness. Dialogue is crisp and the actors’ voices a nice sense of character. French and Spanish Dolby Digital monaural tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials. Starting things off is a running Audio Commentary with director Sidney Lumet. Next up is The Making Of Network, a nearly ninety minute, six part retrospective program that looks back at the classic production. From the Turner Classic Movies Cable Network comes Private Screenings With Sidney Lumet, which features the NETWORK director in a fifty-two minute conversation with TCM host Robert Osborne. From the March 2, 1977 episode of Dinah! is and interview segment between Paddy Chayefsky and host Dinah Shore. A Theatrical Trailer close out the supplemental materials.

NETWORK remains one of the great works of the cinema, one that belongs in every serious film collection. The Blu-ray presentation offers some very nice improvements over SD DVD. Absolutely recommended.


Network [Blu-ray] (1977)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright 2011 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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