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I WILL BE RETIRING FROM THIS PROGRAMME IN TWO WEEKS’ TIME BECAUSE OF POOR RATINGS.

In 1976 two of the key players in the Golden Age of Television, writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Sidney Lumet, delivered a coruscating attack – at once savage and hilarious – on the medium that made their names.

SINCE THIS SHOW WAS THE ONLY THING I HAD GOING FOR ME IN MY LIFE, I’VE DECIDED TO KILL MYSELF.

To speak Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning dialogue, Lumet enlisted a powerhouse cast list, including Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch (as ‘the mad prophet of the airwaves’ Howard Beale), Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty and Beatrice Straight. Five of them would be nominated for Academy Awards, three would win.

I’M GOING TO BLOW MY BRAINS OUT RIGHT ON THIS PROGRAMME A WEEK FROM TODAY.

As well as its four Oscars, Network was also garlanded with a quartet of Golden Globes, a BAFTA and numerous other awards. In the years since its release, its reputation has only grown: the Library of Congress granted it a place on their prestigious National Film Registry; the American Film Institute named it as one of the greatest American films of all time; and the Writers Guild of America declared its screenplay one of the ten best of all time. It remains a true classic.

SO TUNE IN NEXT TUESDAY.
(Taken from the Arrow synopsis.)

About the Transfer: Network is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with mono 1.0 sound. The High Definition master was produced by MGM and made available for this release through Hollywood Classics. Additional picture restoration was performed under Arrow's supervision at Deluxe Restoration, London.

Video


Arrow's presentation of Network differs slightly from the previously available US release of the film. The first thing that struck me was the contrast, which is nowhere near as 'hot' as the Warner disc. This has the initial effect of making Arrow's release look a little flat in comparison, but when you actually pause to analyse things it becomes apparent that the Arrow disc actually has the more natural presentation. Indeed, the Warner edition has some minor white and black crush, which isn't present on the Arrow version. If you've read reviews or looked at comparisons on other sites you might be forgiven for thinking that Arrow's release looks quite dreary, but this simply isn't the case when watching it in motion. It's a very natural, colourful affair, at least as much as the seventies aesthetic will allow.  

The image is a little on the soft side, but such softness would appear to be representative of the original photography. Fine detail is reasonably good, although once again the film's inherent softness prohibits the sort of razor-sharp look associated with modern features. Blacks are respectable, although more often a murky brownish colour than true, pure black. The encode is solid, delivering a well-resolved grain structure devoid of any obvious anomalies. Whatever additional restoration work was carried out under the auspices of Arrow Video appears to have paid dividends, as there are very few film artefacts to report (and those that do appear are small and unobtrusive). I've no doubt that a new master could eke a little more from Network's visuals, but Arrow did a commendable job given what they had to work with.

Audio


The LPCM 1.0 Mono track doesn't take too much reviewing. Network is a very 'talkie' film, so the importance of clean and clear dialogue reproduction is paramount. Thankfully the track handles this side of things well. Of course the overall presentation is rather narrow, dare I say limited, but any such limitations can be traced back to the source so there's little to complain about. It may not sound very exciting to modern audiences used to 7.1 channel surround sound, but it does its job admirably and without any obvious artefacts.

Extras


When it comes to bonus material Arrow's release is second best to Warner's, numerically speaking speaking at least. With that said, although it has fewer extras the content on Arrow's disc is actually very good. Here's what you can expect to find:

  • The Directors: Sidney Lumet – a 1999 documentary on the director, containing interviews with Jack Lemmon, Rod Steiger, Christopher Walken and others
  • Tune in Next Tuesday – a visual essay by Dave Itzkoff, the author of Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Walker
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mike Sutton and an American Cinematographer article by director of photography Owen Roizman, illustrated with original stills and artwork

The first featurette is another episode of 'The Directors' similar to the one found on Arrow's Thief Blu-ray. It follows a similar format, with many of the director’s collaborators and contemporaries discussing him and his work. Lumet himself is also interviewed. The second featurette, the 'visual essay', makes for an interesting listen and of particularly valuable to someone of my age, who was a mere child when the film was released. It contextualises the climate in which the film was made and provides a lot of useful behind-the-scenes information. I'd go as far as to say that this piece actually improved my appreciation of the film itself. The rest of the extras are more standard in nature, with the original theatrical trailer and the customary booklet full of interesting writings on the film. We also get the usual reversible artwork to seal the deal.

Overall


I can't say I was as enamoured of Network as other reviewers, both professional and amateur, but there's no denying that it is an intelligent, well-crafted, superbly acted feature film. However, as prescient as it may now appear, I grew a little weary of the constant stream of preachy monologues delivered by its screeching principal cast, not to mention its fairly heavy-handed, over-simplified condemnation of television audiences. Ultimately, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on, I just found it a little hollow. It would seem that I'm not alone in my reservations, as the film received a number of negative reviews upon its release. I'm not quite as fervent in my dislike—although dislike probably isn't the correct word—but I do fall into the 'it's good, but not that good' camp.

As to the disc, well it's another solid entry in Arrow's rapidly expanding catalogue; one that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to fans. Granted, the MGM-supplied master looks a little dated, but it has scrubbed up quite nicely all things considered. The audio is also remarkably effective for a mono mix, and while the supplemental features aren't as bountiful as usual for an Arrow release they are a definite case of quality over quantity.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

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