Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Edition - 1975 (2002) - Fantasy Films (Warner Bros.)
by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
Disc One - The Film
133 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced,
Digipack packaging with slipcase, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered
(layer switch at 65:47 in chapter 16), audio commentary (with
director Milos Forman and producers Michael Douglas and Saul
Zaentz), cast and crew bios, awards listing, film-themed menu
screens with sound, scene access (33 chapters), languages: English
(DD 5.1) and French (DD mono), subtitles: English, French and
Spanish, Closed Captioned
Two - Special Features
NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer
switch), The Making of One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest documentary, 8 additional scenes,
theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens with sound, languages:
English (DD 2.0 Surround)
While most free-thinking film fans have long since stopped using
the Academy Awards as any sort of reliable standard of excellence,
it's still fun to handicap them in the same way as you would a horse
race. In those terms then, it's exceedingly rare for a movie to pull
off an Oscar exacta, winning the five big guns, Best Picture,
Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay, either original or adapted.
So far, it's only happened three times. The first time was in 1934,
when Frank Capra, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert and screenwriter
Robert Riskin did it with It Happened One
Night. Most recently, Jonathan Demme, Anthony Hopkins,
Jodie Foster, and Ted Tally brought home a trophy case full of
statues with The Silence of the Lambs.
And in between those two sweeps came the 1975 classic, One
Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.
Based on the book by counterculture giant Ken Kesey, Cuckoo's
Nest tells the story of Randle P. McMurphy (one of many
defining performances by Oscar winner Jack Nicholson). McMurphy is a
petty criminal transferred from the prison work farm to the state
mental institution for observation and evaluation. Expecting an easy
ride until his assumed release date, McMurphy makes himself right at
home, becoming a role model and ringleader for the rest of the guys
on his ward. But he doesn't count on the iron fist of Nurse Ratched
(Louise Fletcher), a woman who will brook no wavering from the
strict rules she's laid down.
Clearly, Cuckoo's Nest is
dominated by the commanding performances of Nicholson and Fletcher.
This is a textbook example of an unstoppable force meeting an
immovable object. From the second these two lay eyes on each other,
we expect sparks to fly and we are not disappointed. But it must be
noted that Cuckoo's Nest is
also one of the greatest ensemble films of all time. The other
patients on Nurse Ratched's ward are filled out by some of the most
memorable character actors ever assembled, many of whom went on to
become famous in their own right and made their film debuts here.
Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, Vincent Schiavelli, and Brad Dourif
each turn in brilliant and specific portrayals. But for my money,
top acting honors on the ward go to the late Sydney Lassick as
Charlie Cheswick and the stoic Will Sampson as the Chief. Once
you've seen these two in this film, you never forget them.
For director Milos Forman, Cuckoo's Nest
was his first English-language film, following such great Czech
comedy-dramas as The Firemen's Ball
and Loves of a Blonde.
Probably because he isn't as prolific as most of his contemporaries,
Forman has never really earned a reputation as one of the world's
great filmmakers, despite winning Oscars for both this and Amadeus.
I've always considered him to be vastly underrated, with Ragtime
ranking high among my personal favorites of his films (he's also
responsible for a couple of more recent overlooked gems, The
People vs. Larry Flynt and the Andy Kaufman biopic Man
on the Moon). Cuckoo's Nest finds him working at the top
of his game, imparting a claustrophobic feel to the film that never
feels staged or theatrical. One Flew Over
the Cuckoo's Nest may not necessarily be Forman's best
film but it has endured. Unlike many, many other films from 1975,
Cuckoo's Nest has not aged a
day. Today it feels as fresh and original as it did the first time
Warner's re-release of the film marks a definite technical
improvement over their first attempt. The picture is cleaner and a
bit sharper than the prior release with no apparent edge enhancement
or digital artifacting. The soundtrack has also been given a clean
up and any faults here are inherent in the limitations of the
original recording, not the new remaster. Nothing to give your home
theatre a workout here but you shouldn't really be expecting that
from this film anyway.
The main fault with the original release of Cuckoo's
Nest lay in the knowledge that none of the extras from a
previous excellent laserdisc had been brought over to the DVD.
Warner apparently heard these criticisms and has attempted to make
things right by giving Cuckoo's Nest
the two-disc special edition treatment. Unfortunately, while their
intentions might be good, the results are a decidedly mixed bag. The
first disc boasts a feature-length commentary by Forman and
producers Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz. In fact, this is the
laserdisc commentary by Forman with separate interviews with Douglas
and Zaentz edited in here and there. The results aren't bad
necessarily. It's a reasonably interesting track with all of the
participants providing insight into the making of the film. But the
technical aspects of the track are a little frustrating. First of
all, after you select the commentary option from the menu, you'd
better be good and ready to listen to it. The disc launches you into
it immediately without so much as a chance to get comfortable in
your chair. Secondly, none of the participants are ever introduced.
Fortunately, most people know what Michael Douglas sounds like and
if you know that Forman speaks with a Czech accent, you can pretty
much figure out the last man standing is Saul Zaentz. But if you
don't know any of that, you're just going to have to play catch up
as they go along.
Disc Two features a 45-minute documentary, "based on" the
doc that appeared on the laserdisc. In regular English as opposed to
creditspeak, this means it's an edited-down, shorter version of the
earlier documentary. Why they decided to do this beats the hell out
of me. Certainly what's left is very much of interest, although it
fails to address the reaction and lasting effect the film has had.
After you get through the eight deleted scenes, all of which are
worth watching, and the theatrical trailers, you're done with the
second disc. This is one of the few times I can remember that I
spent less time going through the special features of a special
edition DVD than watching the movie itself.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
is undeniably a great film and Warner's special edition DVD is a far
better treatment of the film than their original disc. But when all
is said and done, I can't help but feel that there should have been
more meat on the bone. There's nothing inherently wrong with simply
porting the contents of a laserdisc over to a DVD. Criterion's Brazil
is the standard bearer for this type of set. But if you're going to
take that approach, why not go ahead and port the entire laserdisc
onto the DVD? Whether or not Warner's reasons for editing the
commentary and documentary into new configurations were justified,
whether they were for legal or aesthetic reasons, the effect it ends
up having is making the viewer feel like they're simply not getting
everything they should.