Any film that says mass media is detrimental to culture is going to seem prescient to some degree, and NETWORK’s looming foreshadowing of corporate cosmoly, exploitation news, amorality of media, all of it tracks neatly to the present day. This is very obvious and self-evident not only in the film but all the amounted discourse around it as well. For all the sharpness of the script, there’s an expository quality to the dialogue in which characters spout ideology (e.g. a couple continually describing their relationship in television terms).
Sometimes this really works, like in the scene where the film briefly takes a surrealist bent, as society is redefined in terms of corporate systemics rather than any of the paradigms the media frames it in. Sometimes it grates, like the directness of the discussion concerning murder towards the end, or the refrain of Howard Beale’s repetitive, directionless monologues. That latter case is part of the point of how the media and neoliberal society package up and sell even their supposed criticism, but so much of the film is devoted to an affair that burns out it’s thematic relevancy in the first real conversation framing it in televisual terms, so there’s a stretched, almost didactic feel to the film at times, like it’s one of the programs the fictional UBS network broadcasts.
It’s not subtle, by any means (the intermittent narration jars, and the iconic setpiece scenes are often strung together with interminable business and affair dealings), and its prescience isn’t exactly alarming in its specificity so much as just rightfully and cynically keyed into the systems at play in the 1970s, which continue to be in play today. It’s a sharp, direct satire, but its supposed revelation quotient seems more in line with Beale’s aimless discourse than anything particularly structural. Three and a half desk lamps, and a primal force of nature.