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Broadcast News: The Criterion Collection DVD Review

Broadcast News (1987) movie poster Broadcast News

Theatrical Release: December 16, 1987 / Running Time: 132 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: James L. Brooks / Songs List

Cast: William Hurt (Tom Grunick), Albert Brooks (Aaron Altman), Holly Hunter (Jane Craig), Robert Prosky (Ernie Merriman), Lois Chiles (Jennifer Mack), Joan Cusack (Blair Litton), Peter Hackes (Paul Moore), Christian Clemenson (Bobby), Jack Nicholson (Bill Rorich), Robert Katims (Martin Klein), Ed Wheeler (George Wein), Stephen Mendillo (Gerald Grunick), Kimber Shoop (Young Tom), Dwayne Markee (Young Aaron), Gennie James (Young Jane), Leo Burmester (Jane's Dad), Amy Brooks (Elli Merriman), Jane Welch (Anne Merriman), Marita Geraghty (Date-Rape Woman), John Cusack (Angry Messenger)

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Having created and produced "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", its two most successful spin-offs ("Rhoda" and "Lou Grant"), and "Taxi", James L. Brooks was already something of a legend in TV by the 1980s. That decade, however, would extend his legend much further. At the end of the '80s, Brooks lent his muscle to "The Simpsons". No one could have known it, but the animated primetime sitcom spun out of a series of shorts Brooks had commissioned for "The Tracey Ullman Show" continues to run today, twenty-two seasons and 475 episodes in. Six years before that landmark-to-be took to the airwaves, Brooks established himself as a talented filmmaker. Terms of Endearment (1983), his debut feature film as writer/director/producer,
became only the fourth movie in history to win a single person Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

Brooks' follow-up film, Broadcast News, came four years later. It tells the story of a romantic and professional triangle at a Washington TV network's news department. Comprising it: driven, neurotic producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), who works herself into regularly scheduled crying fits; her longtime friend and colleague Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), a hard-working reporter still waiting for his big break; and their new co-worker Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a shallow anchorman promoted from sports on a misunderstanding.

Tom's arrival at the station poses a threat to Aaron's anchor advancement prospects. Sure enough, Jane is soon having to collaborate with the daft new guy instead of her preferred partner. The new arrangement also has implications for their personal lives. Aaron, who has only somewhat come to terms with Jane not reciprocating the feelings he has for her, is crushed to see Tom, the apparent antithesis to all of Jane's journalistic principles, step in and sweep her off her feet. Both characters and careers are developed as opportunities arise with every major assignment and breakthrough.

Executive-producing Tom's first on-air report, Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is on the ball and in his ear. A bad case of flop sweat strikes Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) during his shot at weekend anchoring.

Broadcast News opens in the 1960s (with its leads in their youths), closes in the 1990s, and spends the vast majority of time in between in the then-present day of 1987. One look at the film and you'll immediately identify it as a product of the 1980s. Dealing with the TV news industry in the moment leaves this feeling so very dated today. There is nary a computer in sight, clunky tapes have to be hand-delivered, airport security is painless, and then there are those fashions (borrowed shoulder pads actually feature as a plot point). Though it couldn't have meant to, the movie illustrates just how quickly communications and the American workplace have been made over in two decades. This moment in time plays like a period piece and lends itself to cringes and Anchorman-style parody.

And yet, the film also holds up very well. Its language and emotional palette seem passé and scripted, but the themes it deals with carry airs of timelessness and universality. The movie actually feels quite similar to How Do You Know, Brooks' latest film, which I'm one of only around four million people that have paid to see in theaters. Like it, Broadcast News features Jack Nicholson in a supporting role, though here, as weighty but sparse network anchor Bill Rorich, he goes unadvertised and worked for $12 million less than the $12 million he was paid on the out-of-control How, which has mostly made news for being bad (overstatement) and a box office bomb (completely true).

It's not just the involvement of Nicholson (who has been in almost every Brooks-directed film) that draws comparisons. Broadcast News is an adult human drama with a sense of humor, something quite common in the 1980s but not so much today. That helps explain why fellow love triangle tale How Do You Know has been cast as an out-of-touch endangered species. It also explains why, in spite of that film's faults, it maintained some appeal for me. You come away from both films with the distinct sense that they have been crafted by a singular voice, shaped by real interpersonal experience. There is no feel of studio interference, test screening-inspired re-edits, uncredited rewrites, or jokes by committee. As writer, director, and producer, Brooks puts himself out there on a personal level, as perhaps only Judd Apatow does every two years these days.

Though new guy Tom Grunick (William Hurt) is more charismatic than sharp-witted, he stands a better chance of wooing Jane (Holly Hunter) than her longtime friend/colleague Aaron. In his first of two appearances in a James L. Brooks-directed film that didn't garner an Academy Award win, Jack Nicholson's moments as big shot New York anchorman Bill Rorich (seen here with Peter Hackes) are few but powerful.

Broadcast News is less comedic than Apatow's works and also How, Spanglish, and As Good As It Gets, the three I've seen of Brooks' four subsequent films (I don't think I'm alone in not having seen or even heard of the fourth, the Nick Nolte fatherhood dramedy I'll Do Anything).
What Broadcast delivers in place of hilarity is heart. The three lead characters are complex and fleshed out, dislikable in some ways and utterly sympathetic in others. Brooks doesn't make his love triangle easily resolved or destined for the only conceivable outcome audiences will support. He opts instead for something more realistic and in line with the unpredictable nature of life.

Broadcast News wasn't the smash hit that Terms of Endearment was, but it did gross over $50 million domestically, which translates to over $100 million today by steep movie ticket inflation. Even not adjusting, it grossed more than Spanglish and How Do You Know. Broadcast picked up seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor (the only nod given Albert Brooks, who is no relation to James). It was completely shut out, losing to The Last Emperor, Moonstruck, Wall Street's Michael Douglas, Moonstruck's Olympia Dukakis, and The Untouchables' Sean Connery.

Today, though, Broadcast News achieves something that of all the aforementioned movies has only been afforded The Last Emperor: admission into The Criterion Collection. Brooks' first entry to the prestigious series gets a 2-disc DVD and 1-disc Blu-ray, each claiming spine number 552.

Broadcast News: The Criterion Collection cover art -- click to buy DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.95
Clear Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($39.95 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Broadcast News retains its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is finally enhanced for 16:9 displays. The presentation is far from one of Criterion's nicest looking ones. Some grain is found throughout and it's a bit more than you would expect and want from a 1980s movie. The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack is also pretty simple. This seems a bit recent to not have a full Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but the score reaches out to the back and dialogue is always adequately crisp. And, of course, per Criterion's standard practice, James L. Brooks himself supervised the transfer, so if he's okay with it, who are we not to be?

There is no fair comparison between the movie's appearance on this new DVD and that of its original 1999 Fox DVD. The picture quality isn't terribly different (it's sharper and colors are mildly revised, typically deeper and for the better), but Criterion utilizes DVD's full resolution and the rear channel of Dolby Pro Logic over Fox's stereo track. Improvement is more noticeable aurally than visually, where grain seems to have increased along with the number of pixels used.

This "Mary Tyler Moore" clip of Lou Grant (Ed Asner) is highly relevant company for "Broadcast News." The Oscar-winning "As Good As It Gets" is one of three Brooks-written/directed films paid notice in "A Singular Voice."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Disc 1 contains just two extras. First and foremost is a brand new audio commentary by James L. Brooks and editor Richard Marks. Brooks does the majority of the speaking and he is very pleased with and passionate about the film. He's as personable as you'd like, recounting specifics of nearly every scene and the experiences that shaped production. About an hour in, he starts lacking things to say, but when he does talk, it's something worth hearing.

Also on Disc 1 is the film's very '80s theatrical trailer (2:18).
James L. Brooks on DVD and Blu-ray:
Strangely, this widescreen preview differs from the one that stood as the only extra on Fox's original DVD of the movie.

Disc 2's extras begin with the new 36-minute documentary "James L. Brooks: A Singular Voice." Covering the writer/director/producer's career in a largely chronological fashion, it starts with Brooks' television shows, moves to his movies, and closes with his "zeitgeist" (i.e. the creative environment his Gracie Films has provided for young artists). The documentary devotes a few minutes to each of his most important projects, benefitting greatly from the use of key clips.

Interviewed are actresses Marilu Henner and Julie Kavner, composer Hans Zimmer, director Wes Anderson, agency president Jeffrey Berg, "The Simpsons" writer Al Jean, and critic Ken Tucker. Among the excerpted properties are "Rhoda", "Taxi", "The Simpsons", both versions of Anderson's Bottle Rocket, Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets, Broadcast News and, of closest relevance, "Mary Tyler Moore." The doc skips Starting Over, Spanglish, and the aforementioned Nick Nolte movie. It could have run much longer and had many more interview subjects, but as is, it is easily the set's best bonus feature and a nice and appropriate overview of the decades Brooks has spent in entertainment.

The alternate ending finds Tom (William Hurt) and Jane (Holly Hunter) having a heated discussion in the backseat of a cab. The deleted character of Buddy Felton, gay aspiring newsman, has his several scenes pulled off the cutting room floor. Veteran CBS News producer Susan Zirinsky recalls influencing Holly Hunter's character in an interview taped last year.

In a long audio introduction, Brooks sets up an alternate ending (10:00) intended to be more fulfilling (it's not) but whose surprise design got ruined during the shooting. Brooks returns after seeing it for the first time since he rejected using it for some more comments.

In addition to that, we get a substantial reel of deleted scenes (19:25). Nearly half of them feature Buddy Felton, a young gay man auditioning for a job who becomes a news source to Bill Hurt's character. There's also a more graphic view of Tom's sex scene with Jennifer (a now-topless Lois Chiles) and follow-up disease talk, an extended version of Tom's coaching of Aaron's teleprompter reading, a couple of moments in the home of the news director (Robert Prosky), and more airport dialogue. Optional Brooks audio commentary is supplied for the lot, but it's not particularly enlightening.

The 17-minute "Susan Zirinsky" interviews the CBS News producer who advised and associate-produced Broadcast News. She talks about her involvement on the film, providing a clear model for Holly Hunter's character and contributing to the news scenes. It's a very cool piece.

They may not be related, but you'll want to call Albert and James Brooks the Brooks Brothers as they share couch poses, tones, and clothing styles in "Interviews and On-Set Footage." After an exciting montage of filtered news footage, Disc 1 settles on these test pattern color bars, which can't even be used for calibration, however that works.

An untitled featurette (7:55) from the original theatrical release promotes the movie while providing some interview comments from Brooks and two of his stars.

"Interviews and On-Set Footage" (18:38) shows us a lot more of the content from which the makers of the previous piece had to choose from. We get many more remarks from the two Brookses and Hunter plus some tenderly-scored B-roll of and between takes.

Like the cover, Disc 1's screen-filling main menu runs its montage through an old '80s television screen filter. After about 30 seconds (and on return visits), the same screen simply plays sounds and score over a static display of color bars, not to be confused with Criterion's presumably scarcely-used bonus calibration tool chapter. Disc 2 gives us static, silent version of the cover and Disc 1 menu design.

As usual, discussing the packaging requires mention of the set's final extra, Criterion's satisfying standard booklet. This nicely-illustrated sturdy 20-page includes credits, chapters, acknowledgements, transfer information, and, most interestingly, the essay "Lines and Deadlines" by Philadelphia Inquirer film critic Carrie Rickey. Part Brooks biography, part dissection of Broadcast News, Rickey's brisk article is fun, informative, and rewarding.

The staff tries to beat the clock and make it on air with a last-minute completion. Fun fact: Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter, and Joan Cusack would all go on to voice leading characters in Pixar animated films (Marlin, Elastigirl, and Jessie).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Broadcast News isn't a great film, but it is a good one made by someone with plenty to say. While it may seem remarkably dated at not yet a quarter-century old, that adds to the fascination and importance of its subject matter, which is itself trumped by the strong, complex human characters whose personal and professional lives are intertwined.

This may not be the most obvious James L. Brooks film admitted into the Criterion Collection, but the boutique studio doesn't seem to show it less love on account of that. The documentary, commentary, alternate ending, and deleted scenes are almost everything a fan could want, and the other inclusions are tasty cherries topping it all off. Although there are more worthwhile movies given more comprehensive Criterion sets, on its own merits, it's tough to find much to dislike about this fine 2-disc set.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy on Blu-ray / Buy Original Fox DVD

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Related Reviews:
Produced by James L. Brooks: Say Anything... • Big • Bottle Rocket • The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season • Forever Funny: T.V. Sets
New: Secretariat • Nowhere Boy • Hot in Cleveland: Season One • Animal Kingdom
1980s: Wall Street • When Harry Met Sally... • Good Morning, Vietnam • The Princess Bride • The Goonies
William Hurt: Vantage Point • Into the Wild • Tuck Everlasting | Holly Hunter: The Incredibles | Albert Brooks: Finding Nemo
Joan Cusack: Toy Story 3 • Toy Story 2 | Robert Prosky: Mrs. Doubtfire | Jack Nicholson: Chinatown
NewsRadio: The Complete Series • Zodiac • Funny People • Cyrus • The TV Set

Songs from Broadcast News:
Francis Cabrel - "L'Edition Speciale" (
Download from iTunes), Gladys Knight and the Pips - "Midnight Train to Georgia" (Download from iTunes)

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Reviewed January 25, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1987 20th Century Fox, Gracie Films, and 2011 The Criterion Collection. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.