I’d never seen James L. Brooks’s Broadcast News prior to screening Criterion’s brand new Blu-ray release, but I had certainly heard enough about it to have lofty expectations. Unlike Brooks’s debut feature, Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News didn’t win the Oscar for Best Picture, it didn’t win any Oscars as a matter of fact. Though nominated for seven Oscars, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor won the lion’s share in 1988, and yet, Broadcast News is probably Brooks’s most celebrated film, even above his more recent Best Picture nominee As Good as It Gets and it came back into conversation after the recently released Morning Glory was unable to match its cadence.
Brooks, however, instead of being celebrated for past success, seems to find his work (perhaps unfairly) compared to previous triumphs rather than viewed at face value. Recent efforts including Spanglish and last year’s How Do You Know were met with biting criticism. It’s not only a testament to how highly regarded Brooks’s early work is held, but it also proves how hard it is to repeat excellence. However, as Broadcast News producer and consultant Susan Zirinsky (“48 Hours” producer) says in the special features, at least we’re still talking about the film 24 years later and for good reason.
Just watching Broadcast News for the first time I couldn’t help but begin listing the best newsroom dramas of all-time in my head and wondering what ones I was leaving out. Films such as Network, All the President’s Men, The Insider, Good Night, and Good Luck. and Zodiac immediately came to mind with plenty more left on the table. Then you have to take into consideration the comedic and romantic beats and it becomes something else entirely.
I also got to thinking about another aspect of films that’s frequently overlooked, or at least I tend to miss it more often than not, and that’s the sex scene that’s not a sex scene but really is. One scene in Broadcast News featuring Holly Hunter as in-your-ear producer Jane Craig and William Hurt as reporter Tom Grunick on his first big broadcast couldn’t have been anymore sexual as the aftermath of the scene implies. Proving you don’t need flesh on flesh to reach a heightened level of intimacy. By comparison, Albert Brooks’s bout with flop sweat in a similar scene later in the film could just as easily be considered a tussle with performance anxiety, too bad this film was released in 1987, I think there’s now an app for that.
This is a film that works from every angle, from Brooks’s screenplay and direction to the perfect cast to pull it off. This includes the three leads I just mentioned, but then smaller roles from Jack Nicholson, Robert Prosky, Lois Chiles and most certainly Joan Cusack all add to what amounts to one hell of an ensemble.
Criterion’s Blu-ray presentation is excellent, though I would argue this isn’t necessarily a film that needs the high definition treatment as it seems like it’s more of a luxury than a necessity. The special features are equal on both outside of a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition, and they are a batch of excellent features.
First is a brand new audio commentary with Brooks and editor Richard Marks. The commentary is primarily dominated by Brooks with Marks occasionally throwing in a thought or two to stimulate conversation, but for the most part this is Brooks’s show and he delivers. Brooks points out minor details such as elements of the sound design and even comments on the sexual aspect of the scene I mentioned earlier. His commentary on this disc doesn’t stop here and I’d say you learn almost just as much from his comments laid over the alternate ending and deleted scenes.
The alternate ending is something that helps shed a light on the complexity of the relationships in the movie, primarily because they’re played as real relationships and not made up movie relationships. The complexity comes out of the fact there are no easy solutions for real relationships so a director is left to wonder “What do I do with these people?” when the answer is simply “Nothing, just let them be.” It’s much easier to fit characters into the little “made for the movies” box, give them imaginary emotions and have them say things normal people would never say, and while Brooks occasionally dips into the world of the farcical for the most part it feels genuine.
As I mentioned earlier there is an interview feature with Susan Zirinsky (“48 Hours” producer) who served as something of an inspiration for Holly Hunter’s character and consultant on the film and there’s also a rather lengthy look at Brooks’s career told in three parts. The Brooks mini-doc traces his career from his days at the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Taxi”, to “The Simpsons” and then finally to his feature films. Composer Hans Zimmer, actresses Marilu Henner and Julie Kavner and many other contribute to the commentary.
Finally, there’s an eight minute vintage featurette and 18 minutes of archived interviews that you would likely find on something a studio would put out on a so-called “special edition” if they were to release it, but next to Criterion’s exclusive features they are laughable.
Overall, this is just another excellent addition to Criterion’s collection of great films. A Blu-ray purchase isn’t necessary and the DVD is priced at $5 cheaper at Amazon. You can’t go wrong with either selection; it just depends on your sensibilities.