• One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest



    Released by: Warner Brothers
    Released on: 9/14/10
    Director: Milos Forman
    Cast: Jack Nicholson, William Redfield, Brad Dourif, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Louise Fletcher
    Year: 1975
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    The Movie:

    Based on the novel by the late Ken Kesey (which was in turn based on some of his own experiences while working in a mental health facility in California where he experimented with different types of psychotropic drugs, something which was considered a very valid form of therapy in its time), One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is really and rightfully considered a true classic of American cinema of the seventies. It cleaned up at the Oscar’s and unlike most book to film adaptations, managed to capture the humor, the drama, and the unpredictability of its source material.

    Directed by Milos Forman, the film follows a man named Randall Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) who may or may not have faked insanity to get out a prison stint for statutory rape. He’s shipped off to a large scale mental institution in rural Oregon where he winds up befriending the different inmates (played by a fantastic cast of supporting actors such as a young Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, Danny Devito, William Redfield, Will Sampson, among others) and gets on the bad side of a controlling nurse named Ratched (Louise Fletcher). McMurphy’s more interested in living his life the way he wants than by playing by Ratched’s rules and as he convinces many of the patients to see things his way, they become more confident and less interested in doing exactly what they’re told. This, of course, has all manner of ramifications on the patient population and McMurphy himself.

    With the lead played by Jack Nicholson, delivering here what is arguably the finest performance of his career, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was shot on location in an actual asylum. To add to the authenticity the filmmaker’s had the actual director of the institution essentially play himself and used many of the patients in the ward where they were shooting as extras in the film. As such, the movie feels very real and anyone with a passing knowledge of how mental hospitals were run only a few decades ago will attest to the fact that many of the horrors we see committed here are also unfortunately all too real. The film’s focus isn’t on the nastiness of the institutional system, however, but on the change that McMurphy brings to the hospital’s population. For better or for worse, Nicholson’s rascally character does instill in previously weak men the confidence boost they need to at least try to stand up for themselves. While this is hardly a ‘feel good’ movie there are some rather inspiring parts that stand out and the McMurphy character emerges a true hero of the counter culture of the era in which the picture was made (or, if you prefer, when the book was written).

    From the camera work to the locations to the drab color scheme employed in the hospital and the surrounding grounds, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a picture where everything just comes together perfectly. The storytelling if emotional, evocative and wholly effective while the direction is flawless as is the pacing. The performances couldn’t have been better – it’s not just Nicholson who shines here but all involved (Fletcher took home an Oscar) – and the film remains powerful, thought provoking, entertaining, and intelligent.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The film is presented in a strong AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen transfer that offers up the picture in its original aspect ratio and in very nice quality. This still looks like a seventies film and it has that sometimes gritty aesthetic to it that works so well in its favor, but there isn’t much print damage to note outside of the odd speck here and there. Grain is present but not overpowering and the increase in detail over standard definition presentations is impressive. Color reproduction looks nice and natural and black levels are generally quite strong as well.

    There’s no lossless option supplied on this release, unfortunately, but the English language Dolby Digital. 5.1 Surround Sound track on the disc is a god one. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems to report with any hiss or distortion. A lossless track in the film’s original format would have been ideal but what’s here sounds good. Alternate Dolby Digital Mono tracks are offered up in French and Spanish while subs are provided in far more languages than this reviewer cares to list.

    The extras, which have been included on various other releases of the movie on DVD and Blu-ray over the last few years, start off with a commentary track from Milos Forman and producers Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz, each recorded separately and then spliced together into a fairly scene specific whole. Each participant shares the story of their involvement in the project, their admiration for the original source material and their appreciation of the performances and for the movie as a whole.

    More impressive is the hour and a half long feature length documentary on the making of the movie, Completely Cuckoo, which features input from most of the supporting cast (no Jack, sadly), Kesey, Goldman, the various producers and a lot of the consultants who worked on the picture. This forms a very comprehensive look at the making of the picture and also serves to detail its importance.

    From there, check out the half hour documentary Asylum: The Empty Nest, which is a fascinating look at the mental health industry as a whole since this movie was made. The piece covers the effects of mental health sciences on different aspects of society, how the purging of asylum and institutional facilities since the seventies have resulted in homeless and prison population increases and more.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are eight deleted scenes, the film’s original theatrical trailer, classy menus and chapter selection.

    If that weren’t enough, this deluxe edition has some pretty impressive gift set packaging. Inside the box, along with the disc, is a deck of cards, a collection of 8x10 glossy photos, a hardcover book containing fifty odd pages of liners, and some patient files.

    The Final Word:

    Despite the absence of a lossless audio option, this is otherwise a pretty great release of a legitimate classic of seventies American cinema. Everything from the cast to the score to the direction to the cinematography comes together perfectly and Warner’s Blu-ray release loads up enough extras and offers up a solid transfer giving the film the respect it truly deserves.