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NETWORK

NETWORK ($25) 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. In the 1990’s, news has become entertainment, while everything on television literally lives and dies by the ratings. 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 and Ned Beatty.

MGM Home Entertainment offers NETWORK on DVD in both Letterboxed and cropped presentations on opposite sides of the disc. The cropped presentation does lose a bit of the image, but is otherwise fine for those who prefer this type of presentation. The Letterboxed presentation does feature the anamorphic enhancement for wide screen televisions and restores the film’s 1.85:1 theatrical proportions. The Letterboxed transfer itself is respectable, but is of course limited by the quality of film stocks used during the 1970’s. Many movies from this period just don’t dazzle viewers because film negatives and film prints from the 70’s tended to be somewhat grainy, while the colors were drab and favored earth tones. NETWORK is not exempt from this 1970’s "tradition." Without a major effort to re-time all the colors in the film, I doubt that NETWORK will ever look much better than it does on this DVD. I don’t want to give the impression that NETWORK looks bad on DVD; indeed NETWORK is typical looking for a film produced during this era. Digital compression artifacts were somewhat noticeable during the darker moments of the film, but were never too bothersome.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack was crisp and reproduced with reasonable fidelity. Subtitles were available on the DVD in English, French and Spanish. The interactive menus are animated and very slickly produced. Through the menus one can access a theatrical trailer, an interactive quiz and a brief history of the Neilsen Ratings System.

NETWORK is one of the great works of the cinema and certainly belongs in every serious film collection. Absolutely recommended.

 
NETWORK 



ENHANCED FOR 16:9 TELEVISIONS 

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DVD reviews are Copyright 1998 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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