Network: Special Edition

Network: Special Edition (1976)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Interviews

MGM Home Entertainment released Sidney Lumet's "Network" as part of their early DVD efforts in 1997 and when part of the MGM library was sold to Warner Brothers, Warner Home Video re-released the same DVD in 2000, barebones as it was. Now, Warner Home Video is revisiting the title and finally gives it its dues. Presented as a 2-disc Special Edition, in time for the movie's 30th Anniversary, this is the version of the movie that film-connoisseurs will want to own.

In the 70s, TV was beginning its reign as the medium of choice for Americans to obtain their daily fix of news. Newspapers were suddenly relegated to the sidelines as TV was seen as the universal voice for entertainment and the news. Fast, and in your face, television had the ability to make an instant impression – which is also its greatest shortcoming to this day as this power to "impress" has been incessantly abused.

Trying to find ways to gain viewership – which directly translates into advertising dollars – the faltering UBS network is trying to get rid of their dry news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) in order to replace his time slot with something a little more popular. But when Beale goes on the air during one of his last days on the job to publicly proclaim that he will shoot himself live in front of the camera the following day, the ratings go through the roof, especially when his public on-air apology turns into a vehement flatulent rant. Instantly the network executives switch gear and try to turn Beale into a viewer magnet who goes on the air completely uncensored. Little does it matter to them that Beale has actually a mental meltdown and would require medical help, as the ratings continue to explode and with it the network's profitability.

Network veteran Max Schumacher (William Holden) tries to bring some sanity back to the network and attempts to give his friend Beale a helping hand, but soon he, too, belongs to the old iron and is fired – replaced by programming director Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), who he had had an affair with, no less.

As time goes on the network's attempts to increase their ratings get increasingly outrageous to the point of lunacy and when viewers begin to turn away from the UBS network in disgust, something needs to be done. Something drastic… live… on the air…

Even 30 years after its making, "Network" is an incredible film – maybe even more so, as we have witnessed countless times to what degree networks are willing to shame themselves and their programming. What has been merely a dark satire in 1976 has in many ways become even more than that today. It has become a social commentary on the status quo of network television in a time where has-been-movie-stars degrade themselves in front of the camera for another misguided shot at fame, where people are sold on a reality that is entirely scripted, and where the news have become mere propaganda and sensationalism without any depth or relevance. Everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame at any price, it appears and the networks are eager to comply by putting virtually anyone and anything on the air without any competence or scruples. As a result, as in many of his other films, Sidney Lumet has been prophetic in his vision once again, drawing a future that has since been shamefully overtaken by reality.

The movie is intense to say the least and a lot of it has to be contributed to the marvelous cast. Peter Finch is mesmerizing as Howard Beale, always on the brink of complete madness. Raving, he is a lunatic but with enough sanity to make you think, and at the end of the day, it is hardly surprising that in all the madness, he is actually the only person with a sense of sanity. Robert Duvall puts in his meanest and baddest mean-guy performance while Faye Dunaway is always quick to exploit every moment for her own advancement. Without any conscience and common sense, both characters complement each other perfectly as they wreak havoc on the network and its employees in their energetic and magnetizing portrayals. William Holden is on the other end of the spectrum, trying to bring balance to the chaos. Trying to make sense of this new world order he does not understand, struggling to come to terms with it, and eventually realizing that he is just not made for it.

Warner Home Video has created a brand-new transfer of the movie for this DVD release and it shows in every frame. Absolutely clean and clear, free of defects and blemishes, this is the best "Network" has ever looked. The natural color schemes and the deep blacks that define this picture are wonderfully reproduced here without a hint of bleeding or color distortion. Shadows are deep and never break up, giving depth to the image and creating the stark contrast for many of the deliberately created shots. No edge-enhancement is evident in the transfer and the compression is free of artifacts.

The imagery is complemented by a Dolby Stereo track that has also been treated, apparently, creating a natural sounding presentation that has good bass extension and clear high ends. It never sounds harsh and dialogues are pleasing and well-integrated at all times.

In terms of extras, this Special Edition also delivers the goods, starting with a commentary track by Sidney Lumet, in which he discusses the making of the film as well as many other important aspects of the media landscape and aspects the film touches upon. This commentary is extremely insightful and intelligent as Lumet holds the mirror up and compares the world of the 70s when the movie was made with today's oversaturated throwaway society. If there is only one feature on the disc you want to check out, make sure it is Lumet's illuminating commentary.

On the second disc you will find a 6-part Documentary that covers many aspects of the film, its history and relevance. Each one of the segments is exciting and full of valuable information.

Additionally, you will find writer Paddy Chayefsky's appearance on the Dina Shore show on this release, where he discusses the movie's material quite candidly. Another wonderful segment on the disc is an interview with Sidney Lumet, conducted by Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne.

Character driven and intense, "Network" is a movie masterpiece. Television has done a lot of great things for society, though sadly, real information and intelligent programming are not one of them. Television is like a heat-seeking missile, always trying to find its moving target at any cost until it runs out of steam and collapses. There is little to be proud of being the #1 rated news on television or having the highest viewership. In fact, if anything, it is a testimony for the networks inability to remain true to their journalistic integrity and serve up whatever the sensation of the day may be. Today it's a missing poodle, tomorrow a stolen sock from a clothesline and the day after it may be the fact that a starlet cut her hair by half an inch.

Relevant? Interesting? Important? Newsworthy? I think not! My word for it would be "Bullshit!" – to speak in Howard Beale's terms.

Fortunately "Network" is not nearly as forgettable as our TV soup-de-jour and this DVD will give you something to think about, so make sure to get your copy as soon as it his stores! It is a momentous masterpiece.