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The Net: Special Edition

The problem with making a movie that hinges on cutting-edge technology is similar to the frustration faced by everyone who buys a new computer: Give it a year, and it will be hopelessly outdated. The Net (1995) is no exception. While the idea of identity theft is still of-the-moment, the computers, cell phones, and modems Sandra Bullock, Jeremy Northam, and company use to wage their online war are so mid-'90s. (Props for anticipating online pizza ordering and travel booking, though.) That's why it's so interesting that the goal of the villainous Praetorians — to cause panic and destabilize society by using computer viruses to infiltrate public utilities, airports, government agencies, and financial institutions — seems more relevant (and feasible) now, in a post-September 11th society, than it did in '95. So don't be surprised if you find yourself rooting a little harder for Angela Bennett (Bullock) — the reclusive, vulnerable L.A. antivirus expert who finds herself abruptly "erased" when she accidentally stumbles on to the Praetorians' plan — this time around. Unfortunately, pro-Angelaism isn't enough to make this relatively pokey "thriller" work in the end. Any movie in which the main character spends at least half of her screen time sitting at a computer, typing, and talking to herself doesn't exactly scream "dynamic." And although he's ultimately proven to be a good find for Hollywood, Northam, who plays suave scoundrel Jack Devlin, comes across like a British version of a cheesy Alec Baldwin bad guy here. The Net does build up to a decently tense climax, but its moral — live your life off-line — feels heavy-handed; it seems the more apt lesson to take from this techno-fable is not to talk to handsome English strangers on the beach. Columbia TriStar's The Net: Special Edition, which replaces the original DVD release, boasts a beautifully remastered anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and a strong Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track (other options include French, Spanish, and Portuguese tracks, as well an array of subtitles). Topping the features-list are a pair of commentaries, one by producer/director Irwin Winkler and producer Rob Cowan (who also have recorded a track for Life as a House [2001]), and one by writers Michael Ferris and John Brancato. Both are fairly typical, as commentaries go — expect anecdotes, making-of details, and generous praise. For a distilled version of both tracks, opt for either of the disc's two featurettes (HBO's "Inside the Net" and the brand-new "The Net: From Script to Screen") instead; Winkler and Cowan are interviewed in both, and Brancato and Ferris show up too. Other features include trailers, filmographies, and printed production notes. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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