Network Blu-ray Review
Portending the future of reality TV.
Network Film Review
Bitingly satirical and still frighteningly relevant the best part of four decades after its release, the 1976 classic Network continues to provide a scathing analysis of the ratings-driven media and the sheep public that fuel them.When long-time news anchor Howard Beale is told that he’s got two weeks left on air due to diminishing ratings, he announces to the world that he’s going to shoot himself in the head on live TV on his last day in office. Immediately fired, the powers that be soon reconsider their decision when the ratings skyrocket, with an ambitious female programming head keen to turn Beale into a one-man circus, and build a series of outlandish programmes around his increasingly off-the-wall antics. As he goes through a full nervous breakdown, the network merely seek to capitalise on the public thirst for this insanity, whatever the cost.With an all-star cast driving this piece, director Sidney Lumet’s charged socio-political satire takes no prisoners in its depiction of the media. Indeed, writer Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay became the blueprint for future satires, the inspiration for countless later projects, up to and including the recent, excellent Nightcrawler. Ultimately it’s a prescient piece which envisages a world driven by increasingly preposterous reality TV, and by flocks of individuals all desperate to have their own 15 minutes of fame. If only they could see their Orwellian vision come true in today’s TV industry.
Blu-ray Picture QualityNetwork comes to UK Region B-locked Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow, who deliver another strong and faithful representation of the source material although, in this particular case, said material isn’t particularly forgiving. Standing apart from Warner’s 2011 US Blu-ray, Arrow’s counterpart appears to have retained more detail and offers up a slightly different colour scheme which, hopefully is more accurate to the true intensions. Boasting a stronger bitrate, it’s strange to find the video still frequently buried in softness, but soft-focus certainly appears to have been the name of the game when Network was shot, because it’s rife with glazed candlelight moments giving it a hazy, frequently impenetrable edge.
Whilst it’s likely the best that this film has ever looked, the frequently softer-than-you’d-like source material will never be demo worthy.
Daytime studio shots promote some striking detail, but never at the expense of a healthy sheen of grain, which thinly veils the facial creases, skin textures, and clothing weaves beneath. Even the live programmes look excellent, dated only by the outfits and sets. The problems tend to come whenever Faye Dunaway is on-screen, as about half of the shots involving her seemed steeped in soft-focus (there’s only one particularly troublesome close-up when she’s talking to Holden in the street). Still, all of this appears to be in-line with the original source material and, supposedly, the intentions of the director, as there are plenty of other shots – day or night – which boast comparatively excellent detail, and surprisingly good focus. Overall, it’s a strong and faithful presentation which merely isn’t going to win any points as a demo release.
Blu-ray Sound QualityOn the aural front the accompanying LPCM 1.0 track is a strong uncompressed offering which promotes clear and coherent dialogue over and above all of the rest of the elements – only as it should be because clearly the script and spoken word are the most important aspects of the film. City streets provide some decent atmospherics, with plenty of honking horns and other traffic noises; bustling conventions, cheering crowds, clapping and network frenzy. Whilst there’s little room for these background effects to take centre-stage; to truly envelop you, the restricted track still does its best, and it’s a fine job, proving both faithful to the original mono audio whilst bringing a warm offering to the HD generation. Again, just don’t expect to demo it.
Blu-ray ExtrasArrow normally astound not only on the technical front but also in terms of supplemental material. Here, however, we lose out arguably more than we gain, with the loss of Director Sidney Lumet’s audio commentary and of the original feature-length 90 minute documentary from Warner’s US counterpart, in favour of an alternative documentary segment – The Directors: Sidney Lumet – as well as a Visual Essay and the original Theatrical Trailer.
Although not quite as comprehensive as some might have hoped for – arguably losing as much as it gains – this is another strong set of extras from Arrow.
Of course Arrow’s now-trademark The Directors Documentary is another compelling effort, featuring plenty of worthy interview segments from the various collaborators Lumet’s had over the years, and the Tune in Next Tuesday visual essay is an insightful piece. Both run at almost an hour in length, and make for strong contributions but you can’t help but mourn the loss of the Lumet Commentary at least.
Network Blu-ray VerdictThe late, great director Sidney Lumet’s charged socio-political satire takes no prisoners in its depiction of the cold-blooded media, and the gullible, bloodthirsty public that drive them in their desperate, endless chicken-and-egg loop.
It's with bittersweet irony that, in today's climate, this scathing critique of the media feels more like a model for modern reality TV programming.
Arrow have once again done a great job with this release, unfortunately unable to bring all of the previously available extras to this new release - so we miss out on Lumet's commentary - but still delivering the film with solid audio and the best video it's probably known since release, as well as its own set of strong extras. A great package and a great movie. Highly recommended.
You can buy Network on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £13.00
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