Few films resonate with audiences for several generations after their release quite like Sidney Lumet's 'Network.' The film perfectly captures a human attribute born out of modernity which seems universally relevant no matter the age of moviegoers. And today, possibly more than ever, Paddy Chayefsky's eloquent, sharply-written and provocative script still speaks to us with such eye-opening accuracy and insight. 'Network' displays an alien reality with ferocity and urgency, imitating the speed at which the world of TV production moves. People speak at full tilt in a foreign language while major decisions are made within moments, and money is always at the heart of every matter. The only difference between a board meeting and a terrorist organization talking distribution rights is the scenery.
The film opens with the statement that Howard Beale, a leading figure in the world of news reporting, has been fired. We know his prominence not because of narration, but because we're shown a screenshot with four televisions featuring the faces of Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, Howard K. Smith, and Beale presented as equals. Portrayed by Peter Finch in his last great performance before winning a posthumous Oscar in 1977, the longtime anchor for the struggling UBS network announces the next day that he'll kill himself on camera for all to see, calling to mind the suicide of Christine Chubbuck during a live broadcast. This leads to a publicity and ratings phenomenon which clues producers in to the possibilities of exploiting the spectacular and scandalous.
Lumet takes audiences on a bizarre, whirlwind ride of journalism gone insane, addicted to meaningless numbers and appeasing unseen conglomerates. He infuses the film with the same artistic brilliance and mastery displayed in 'Dog Day Afternoon,' 'The Verdict' and '12 Angry Men.' Working intimately with the words by Chayefsky, the camera is meant to heighten and reinforce the rapid-fire dialogue of the characters, not to dictate or impose upon their fluid, realistic conversations. A true actor's director, Lumet allows his cast to determine the direction and temperaments of their respective roles, each of them changing and affected by this breakthrough of exciting TV programming slowly spiraling out of control.
Faye Dunaway turns in a magnificent performance as the emotionally devoid Diana Christensen, a producer hell bent on creating shows for pure shock value. She is later described as "television incarnate," indifferent to human connection and who views life as a clichéd script. Concerned only with tapping into a new mass market, she talks TV jargon with the same fervor and stimulation as she would sexual climax. As the last great bastion of principled and honest news reporting, Max Schumacher, portrayed terrifically by William Holden, resists the corrupted direction the media is taking. He is, at one point, swept up and tempted by Diana's enthusiasm, but it's only a fleeting and momentary lapse of integrity. Robert Duvall plays UBS president Frank Hackett, so entrenched in Diana's excitement that he can't turn back despite a few glimpses of fear.
'Network' is a tragic satire — arguably, one of the finest ever written — with profound and prophetic allusions about the dark machinations of a fictional television station focused only on increasing profit margins. Next to Beale's "mad as hell" diatribe, a memorably intense sequence is Ned Beatty's, as CCA chairman Arthur Jensen, delivering an acutely insightful harangue of money being the one true god in the world. He stands at one end of a long conference table with a spotlight beaming down on him, speaking as if he were the voice of God, using the same words spoken by Beale earlier and exposing the Truth. Afterwards, Jensen stands right over Beale with more comments about who really controls the flow of information. Jensen's nondescript face barely perceptible is suggestive of the shadowy corporate figures who invest millions in the purchase of news organizations.
There's little disputing the fact that contemporary media outlets blur the line between sensational entertainment and pertinent information. Over that last few decades, from Jerry Springer and Sally Jessy Raphael to the 'Jersey Shore' series and Glenn Beck, the boob-tube has been working at redefining reality and pushing the envelope in pursuit of viewers and market share. When one of the largest news giants today with dubious ties to major corporations only reports an ultra-conservative worldview while asserting fair and balanced programming, Paddy Chayefsky's fictional story is a frightening foreshadowing. Howard Beale, the mad prophet of the airwaves, prefigures the moment when the line is crossed from reporting recent events without bias to ostentatious showmanship, when the value and worth of human life is determined by ratings and profit share.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video releases 'Network' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc in a blue eco-case. It features the same cover art as the two-disc special edition from a few years ago. When placed in a Blu-ray player, the disc goes straight to a still image with voice tracks playing overhead and the standard selection of menu options fill the bottom of the screen.
'Network' comes to Blu-ray with a terrific 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) that retains Owen Roizman's intentional look and feel. The photography commences rough and bleak, but as the story progresses, it seems to mature and appear more elegant. The high-def transfer displays this subtle development beautifully. The film opens with an average picture that would be acceptable for its age and period. Slowly, the fine details of hairs, clothes, and the random items which clutter network offices are sharply defined and distinct. Facial complexions are naturally textured and reveal every wrinkle in the actors' faces. A thin veil of grain washes over the image for an appreciable cinematic quality, and dimensionality improves along with the story.
Contrast is spot-on, with clean, brilliant whites and excellent clarity of background info. Colors are bright and accurate with good saturation levels and strong variation in the secondary hues. Given the movie's vintage and the period in which it was photographed, blacks are true and deep while delineation allows for plenty of visibility in the dark shadows of poorly-lit interiors. In the end, Sidney Lumet's ever-evocative satire makes an excellent-looking Blu-ray.
Accompanying the great video is a strong and satisfying lossless monaural track with generally brilliant fidelity and warmth. The character-driven film delivers accurate and articulate vocals so that we can hear every angry tirade of Howard Beale or every passionate utterance of Diana Christensen. The higher frequencies are never pushed too hard although dynamic range does remain clean and well-balanced. But the low end is surprisingly broad and highly responsive, providing the mix with an unexpected but considerable depth. Only audible issues to note in this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack are related to the original design. A few conversations with ADR are noticeable, making the high-rez track suddenly seem hollow and canned. There are some scenes also with a somewhat bland and narrow imagining, where background activity abruptly disappears.
All things considered, however, 'Network' sounds very good on Blu-ray.
For this Blu-ray edition of Sidney Lumet's classic satire, Warner Home Video ports over the same collection of bonus features as the two-disc DVD package from 2006, meant to celebrate the film's 30th anniversary. Although it would have been nice to see something new and fresh, this is still an attractive and healthy assortment of material, sure to keep fans occupied for a while.
Sidney Lumet's 'Network' is the amazing and powerful film that takes issue with television and news media outlets. From Paddy Chayefsky's eloquent script, the tragic satire about the machinations of TV programming and its trend toward furthering sensational entertainment hits it right on the mark and lives on as an ever-relevant piece of film art. This Blu-ray edition features a markedly-improved audio and video presentation that fans will appreciate, porting over the same bonus material as the two-disc special edition. The entire package comes highly recommended for those discovering the movie for the first time and offers a very nice upgrade for owners of the previous DVD versions.