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Irwin Winkler
Sandra Bullock, Jeremy Northam, Dennis Miller, Diane Baker, Wendy Gazelle, Ken Howard
John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris

Her driver's license. Her credit cards. Her bank accounts. Her identity. DELETED.
Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and brief strong language.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0 Portuguese Dolby Surround 2.0
English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai

Runtime: 114 min.
Price: $24.95
Release Date: 4/2/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director/Producer Irwin Winkler and Rob Cowan
• Audio Commentary With Screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris
• “The Net: From Script to Screen” Featurette
• HBO “Inside The Net” Featurette
• Theatrical Trailers
• Filmographies
• Production Notes

Score soundtrack

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The Net: Special Edition (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Back in the mid-Nineties, Hollywood embraced the computer world. At that time, computers took a leap forward for a few reasons. CD-ROMs allowed programmers to pack much more information into their products, which led to the brief fascination with full-motion video (FMV) games. A few of these worked fairly well, but most offered pretty crummy experiences. Nonetheless, many viewed them as the next step in “interactive entertainment”, and many “B”-list actors resurrected their careers with roles in these projects.

Happily, that trend died, but the other major computer issue of the era has only grown since then. That’d be the Internet, the service that currently allows you to read my wonderful prose. (So much for it being a tool for good!) The Internet was in its relatively infancy during the era, but it impressed many people with its ability to spread information.

Hollywood hooked onto the spookier potential of the Information Superhighway with flicks like 1995’s The Net. This flick looked at how things could go wrong when computers ruled the universe. We meet programmer Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock). She’s an expert in all things computer related, especially when it comes to busting viruses. However, she’s intentionally isolated from others. Some bad relationships and a mother with Alzheimer’s Disease leave her feeling alone, and she seems to prefer to keep away from others in person. However, she does maintain a fairly active cyber-life socially, where she interacts with many other nerds.

Matters take a turn for the worse when she goes on a vacation. First off, a colleague flies to meet with her, but he never arrives after a mishap causes him to crash his plane. With no knowledge of this, Angela heads on her vacation after a glitch delays the flight; hackers mess with the system and briefly shut down the airport.

While on her beach trip, she meets a handsome rich dude named Jack Devlin (Jeremy Northam). He seems like the perfect guy but she soon learns otherwise. Before her vacation, Angela received a floppy disc that contains a curious way to enter many forbidden Internet spots. She keeps this with her and Jack wants it. After he threatens her life, she escapes and tries to head home.

However, she lost her purse along the way and runs into problems when she tries to prove her identity. Computer records identify her as “Ruth Marx”, so desperate to return home, she accepts that name as a sham way to get back to the US. This turns out to be a bad move, as it creates a trail to keep her in that identity. Someone’s messing with her; when she gets home, she finds someone moved out her furniture and sold her house! Because Angela remained so isolated from others, no one in the neighborhood can confirm her identity, and the computer records show Ruth Marx to be a criminal.

The cops try to take “Ruth” into custody, but she flees. The rest of the movie follows her attempts to reclaim her life. The plot involving the powerful floppy intensifies and Angela needs to find a way to get things back to normal without also letting the villains win.

Although some films of this era got too involved in now-dated cyberjunk, The Net doesn’t come across as too heavily mired in its period. Its plot remains applicable now, and surprisingly, the equipment or scenarios don’t seem too quaint or silly. Yeah, the flick stretches reality at times, but I didn’t feel this was a big concern. At its heart, the movie is a Hitchcock-esque thriller that uses technology as a twist, but it doesn’t obsess over those issues.

That factor helps make The Net entertaining seven years after its initial release. I thought it featured a good plot at its core. Issues of computer personality theft are more relevant than ever today; The Net actually seems somewhat prescient in that regard. Granted, it’s not normally going to be as easily to do so as we see here - how many people are as unknown to others as Angela? - but the anonymity of the Internet means these kinds of concerns can be an issue.

The Net doesn’t provide a stellar examination of these topics, as it mainly exists to be a thriller. It succeeds reasonable well in that regard. Little about The Net stands out from the crowd, but it seems like a pretty well executed mystery flick. The plotting gets somewhat convoluted along the way, but it kept me fairly involved and entertained along the way.

Bullock’s presence helped. She added a humanizing and warm attitude that made the material more successful. Angela never became a fully real personality, and it seemed hard to believe that an attractive woman like her would be so isolated and unsuccessful with human interactions, but Bullock allowed these issues to appear at least reasonably believable. It’s a good little performance that brought some life to the film.

For some reason, I remembered The Net as a bad film, but my memory was faulty. To be sure, the flick doesn’t do a ton to stand out from the crowd, but it offers a fairly entertaining and compelling little thriller. The then-novel Internet applications are integrated well, and they don’t feel artificial or forced like I might have expected. Ultimately, The Net overcomes some potentially stifling technological trappings and offers a pretty good flick.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B / Bonus B-

The Net appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite a few small concerns, the picture looked quite good overall.

Sharpness seemed solid for the most part. I saw a smidgen of softness in a few wide shots, but those instances were rare. Otherwise, the image appeared nicely crisp and well delineated. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, but I did see a tiny amount of edge enhancement on a few occasions. Print flaws remained modest. Some light grain appeared occasionally, and I detected a speckle or two, but otherwise this was a clean and fresh presentation.

Colors looked positive. The film used a naturalistic palette and the DVD rendered them accurately and clearly. Throughout the movie, hues were vivid and distinct, and the DVD handled some red lighting nicely as well. Black levels appeared deep and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy without excessive opacity. Overall, the image fell short of “A” level but it came across as a good picture nonetheless.

Also good but unspectacular was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Net. The movie featured a generally modest soundfield. It remained fairly heavily oriented toward the forward spectrum most of the time. Within that domain, the audio showed good stereo separation and imaging, while effects seemed decent. For the most part, they remained ambient in nature. A few louder scenes showed some good movement and panning, but much of the mix stayed pretty quiet. Surround usage kicked in with general reinforcement of the music and effects. I heard some acceptable split surround audio at times - such as when a plane flew by - but for the most part, the rear speakers padded the mix without much unique material.

Audio quality seemed solid for the most part. Speech appeared natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects came across as accurate and fairly vivid. They showed good clarity and lacked any issues related to distortion, and they also offered pretty good bass response when appropriate. Music was clean and vibrant and also gave us nice depth. Overall, fidelity was positive for the track, with bright highs and rich lows. The Net only earned a “B” because of its lack of environmental ambition, but it suited the material fairly well.

This new special edition of The Net replaces an old movie-only DVD of the film that came out back in 1997. Actually, “replaces” isn’t correct, for the original disc remains in print with a lowered list price of $14.95. It may be more accurate to indicate that the special edition supplements the old one, mainly because it adds a bunch of supplements! (Note that the case of the special edition also states that it provides a “new 16X9 widescreen high definition transfer” of the film; I never saw the original, so I can’t compare the two. Actually, I couldn’t even find a review of the old disc anywhere!)

On the new version of The Net, we get two separate audio commentaries. First we hear from director Irwin Winkler and producer Rob Cowan. Both men were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. Unfortunately, they offered a pretty dry and forgettable piece. On occasion, they provided some good notes. They gave us a few compelling discussions about the characters, and they also offered neat tidbits like the fact that Bill Gates almost played a prominent role.

However, the commentary suffered from quite a few empty spaces. When the men did speak, they often did little more than describe the on-screen action and reinforce the same points. If you listen to this commentary, you’ll hear the word “again” repeated ad infinitum; they constantly tell us the same information, and they rarely related anything we didn’t already know from watching the movie. Overall, the track was dull and not worth a listen.

Next up we get a commentary from screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, both of whom were also recorded together for their running, screen-specific track. On the positive side, they offered some good information during their piece. They related notes about the development of the story as well as the changes that they made between drafts and the alterations imposed by the filmmakers. They don’t bother to hide their disdain for some of the material they didn’t write - most of which appeared in the film’s third act - and the commentary occasionally resembled MST3K as they mocked the action.

Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, this track also offered some exceedingly large empty spaces. When they spoke, Brancato and Ferris were lively, engaging and amusing, but they talked during far too much of the commentary. If you can make it through all of the ghastly gaps, you’ll enjoy the included material, but it could be a tough road at times. (At the very least, cue up the pier amusement park sequence - the catty remarks there were hilarious.)

Next we discover two different documentaries, one old and one new. In the latter category comes The Net: From Script to Screen. This 19-minute and 25-second program combines movie clips and new interview material with Winkler, Cowan, Ferris and Brancato. While not too redundant after those audio commentaries, I thought this was nonetheless a pretty bland piece. The participants covered the origins of the flick as well as casting and some aspects of the technological side. Really, they said very little of interest. Cowan and Winkler dominated and mainly told us how great everyone was. To boot, it included far too many movie snippets for this kind of program. It wasn’t a terrible documentary, but it added little to the experience.

Even less compelling was the HBO special called Inside The Net. However, at least that 20-minute and 40-second program had an excuse since it existed for promotional purposes back in 1995. The show offers some shots from the set, clips from the movie, and then-current interview bits with Winkler, Cowan, Sandra Bullock, Jeremy Northam, computer security specialist Dan Farmer, computer supervisor Todd Marks, and a mix of other computer professionals at the end.

All we found here was a glorified trailer. The program suffered from a very heavy number of film snippets, and the interviews provided very little depth or insight; they mainly discussed the plot and the characters to interest us in the flick. The scanty behind the scenes shots also included little that seemed compelling. Skip this bland and unmemorable “documentary”.

Lastly, we encounter some standard DVD features. We get Filmographies for Winkler, Bullock, Northam and Dennis Miller as well as some quick but useful Production Notes in the DVD’s booklet. It also provides trailers for The Net as well as The 13th Floor and Bullock’s 28 Days.

While The Net won’t make anyone forget Hitchcock, I must admit it offers a surprisingly entertaining and compelling little thriller. It’s aged fairly well and it seems reasonably engaging and lively, though not something special. The DVD provides solid picture and sound plus a disappointing roster of extras.

I must say that though the supplements look good on paper, the reality is less stimulating. We find two very spotty commentaries plus two dull and uninformative documentaries. I can’t recall another disc with that level of content that I gave a “B-“ for extras, but though there’s a lot of material here, the quality seems bland.

As such, for anyone who wants to own The Net on DVD, I’d steer them toward the old movie-only version. It’s quite cheap now, and I’d be surprised to learn that picture and sound quality are noticeably superior for the new disc. If you’re completely fascinated with The Net, the special edition may merit your money, but otherwise, the less costly version seems to be the way to go; the new supplements simply don’t merit much attention.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 18
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