Blu-ray Review – Network (1976)

Cover art for the 2015 Arrow Films Blu-ray release of Network

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 23rd March 2015
Runtime: 121 minutes
Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Paddy Chayefsky
Starring: Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight, William Prince 
Synopsis: An angry old news anchor is exploited as a TV prophet when he openly criticises his network on air.

 

It’s interesting how often a film acquires increasing relevance as it ages. The Truman Show predates the modern obsession with reality television and Office Space only becomes more timely as the years pass. However, few films can lay claim to this achievement more than Sidney Lumet’s delightfully satirical Network, which took a scythe to television almost a decade before even David Cronenberg’s Videodrome got there.

Shockingly, the quadruple Oscar-winning classic Network has never appeared on UK Blu-ray, but it now arrives on the high-definition format courtesy of Arrow Films.

Set in a failing television network, the film follows eccentric news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch), who threatens to shoot himself on air after announcing he has been sacked. With the help of a dynamic programming expert (Faye Dunaway), the network takes Beale’s anguished rants at the state of the world and turns them into a subversive ratings hit.

| "I don’t have any bullshit left. I just ran out of it, you see."

There’s a beautiful irony at the centre of Network. Peter Finch’s character – horrified at the power of television – finds himself absorbed by the medium and used as an accessory to strengthen it. Finch’s performance is masterful, carefully treading the line between insanity and total clarity, going big whilst maintaining emotional depth. His posthumous Oscar for Best Actor couldn’t have been more well-deserved.

Equally impressive is Faye Dunaway, who was also garlanded with an Academy Award. As she is told late in the film, her character is “television incarnate”, uncaring and uncompassionate, driven only by ratings. Even during sex, her only concern is audience share. Dunaway’s performance is icy and it’s a mark of her strength that the question of a woman in a man’s world never really feels like an issue.

Finch and Dunaway receive glittering support from an ensemble of A-grade performances. However, the third star of Network is definitely Paddy Chayefsky’s script. It’s a satirical gem, navigating the murky waters between comedy and drama with incredible confidence. For every moment of melodramatic hilarity, there’s an incisive point to be made – and that’s incredibly impressive.

| "The whole world is becoming humanoid – creatures that look human, but aren’t."

Arrow’s new high-definition presentation of the film is gorgeous, with Lumet’s beautiful interiors and Owen Roizman’s exquisite cinematography completely at home in the enhanced image. Finch’s iconic “mad as hell” speech is a feat of direction as much as performance and this new transfer really brings it to life.

The most shocking and indeed important thing about Network, though, is that it still feels current today, even as it nears 40 years since its release. Its message about television’s overwhelming and troubling power only holds more true in the world of 24-hour rolling news. As award-grabbing writer Aaron Sorkin said: “If you put it in your DVD player today you’ll feel like it was written last week.”

 

Special Features

Extras include Tune in Next Tuesday – an exhaustive, if sluggish video essay from Dave Itzkoff, author of a book on Network. There’s also a 1999 doc on director Sidney Lumet and the original theatrical trailer for the film.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

One of cinema’s greatest satires, Network is a feat of filmmaking that shows how dramatic cinema at its best can turn topicality into timelessness.

Boasting a script that radiates intelligence and a whole ensemble of awards-worthy performances, Network is a true classic, transferred into beautiful HD for this Arrow Films release.

More relevant in the modern landscape than it ever was in the 1970s, Network is an absolute must-see. Don’t change the channel.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

Network is available on Blu-ray now courtesy of Arrow Films.

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