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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Literature > Mental Illness > Counterculture > One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975/Blu-ray/Warner Home Video)

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975/Blu-ray/Warner Home Video)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B+     Film: A+



There are very few films that I have seen as many times as Milos Forman’s brilliant 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which not only remains as one of my all-time favorite films, but over time has only grown more poignant and has sealed itself as a genuine classic and masterpiece of cinema.  The film, even 30+ years later, still captivates new audiences and now finds its way to the world of High Definition via Blu-ray!


The film begins as we are quickly introduced to R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson in perhaps his finest and most memorable role) who is being checked in at a state mental hospital after causing some disruption at the local prison, he’s just a petty crook who can’t seem to fit into this world on either side of the bars.  He is sent for some ‘testing’ to see if he might actually be clinically insane, but it isn’t too long before McMurphy is disrupting the routine life of his fellow patience and under the disciplinary style of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher in her Academy Award Winning role).  What ensues next is perhaps one of the more interesting studies ever caught on celluloid as McMurphy makes attempts to adjust to his new surroundings it only seems that his attempt to fake insanity in order to stay out of doing hard time is only causing him to crack, which in turn makes him ‘insane’.  This paradox only makes the film stronger as we see the decline of McMurphy and yet there are several scenes that are noteworthy.


One scene in particular that is often overlooked is when McMurphy escapes from the courtyard, which one would think that he would high tail it for freedom, but instead he hijacks a bus and gathers up the other patience and takes them on a fishing trip, in which we actually see them ‘enjoying’ life.  There is a great moment on the dock when they are about to set sail and one of the dockworkers asks them what they think they are doing.  Without a blink McMurphy introduces the gentlemen to his ‘Doctor’ friends and uses the word “Doctor” before each of their names.  The man somewhat believes him and off they sail.  It’s a scene that is often overlooked, but McMurphy’s biggest incentive with his new friends is the fact that, unlike the nurses, he treats them like humans, not drugged up zombies.  He realizes that while they might have certain ‘mental’ conditions that they still enjoy life and things like fishing.  Their trip comes to an end where the police and hospital staff are anxiously awaiting their return to grab them up and send them back to the ward. 


While this scene is pivotal in many respects it is only countered a bit later when, after many attempts, McMurphy begins to realize that these ‘friends’ of his actually ARE clinically insane or actually DO have mental illnesses, unlike him.  Not only that, but he then finds out that most of them are there by their own powers and have the ability to leave at any time.  This baffles McMurphy who would do anything to escape, yet at the same time he has had several chances to break free and continues to stay, in particular a scene towards the end when he decides to throw a huge party and get everyone drunk, plus he gets some lady friends for some entertainment as well.  Nicholson plays the part so well and truly embodies the enigmatic mind of R.P. McMurphy who remains one of the most trivial characters ever created.


To this day the film is one of the most relentless in it’s approach and of course it’s controversial and often-talked-about and/or debated ending, which I think serves incredibly well and has the guts to be bold, daring, and yet intelligent in it’s entire execution, which harkens back to Forman’s earlier films like Fireman’s Ball and one of my other favorite films and perhaps one of his other notable works Loves of a Blonde.     


Not only would this film win 5 Major Academy Awards, but it would also give director Milos Forman a formidable career in Hollywood after making successful films in his native land of Czechoslovakia.  It would also catapult actors Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd and give opportunities to the other cast members as well, if nothing else it would seal their performance in this film as one of the greatest films ever made.  Several years ago Warner issued the film in a deluxe 2-disc special edition on DVD, this Blu-ray release is essentially the same extras as that release, but offers superior picture and sound, which has some positives and negatives. 


As far as the extras are concerned there is a terrific commentary track by Forman along with producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas, which is very interesting and covers a lot of interesting ground with the film, its origins and many other facets that will appeal to fans.  This is a great beginning, but the ‘making of’ is another terrific feature that again will please fans, there are also some additional scenes and the theatrical trailer included.  These are all in standard definition.


The 1080p 1.85 X 1 anamorphically enhanced High Definition transfer is significantly sharper, more refined, and looks more film-like than the previous DVD releases of the film, however it’s also a bit soft and lacks some of the depth that other Blu-ray releases have looked, however there are some great aspects to this transfer too.  The first is that in direct comparison to the DVD it’s obvious that the transfer here is cleaner with whites that are truer and not as dull and near-yellow as the case was with the DVD and its limitations.  Since the film has a very neutral (think sterile) color palette there are few moments of vibrant colors, which is intentional and the Blu-ray gives a sense of depth that the DVD was never able to handle.  Skin tones are far richer and more accurate as well, which again gives the film a greater sense of realism and helps transport the viewer in.  Black levels are more pronounced, but there are a few moments of noise and that might require a heavier restoration to improve upon. 


As far as the sound goes the film was given a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the previous DVD release, which was never sonically challenging and ‘got the job done’, but was nothing great.  I was hoping that some of the muffled-ness that was evident on the DVD would have been cleaned up with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, but instead we get a simply Dolby 5.1 on this Blu-ray as well, which is NOT acceptable in my mind since the packaging boldly advertises “High Definition Picture, High Definition Sound” on the front.  Even an uncompressed PCM 5.1 would have been sufficient, but I guess not, at least not this time around.  The result is mixed as the overall audio lacks definition and the pronounced effect that a good uncompressed sound mix is capable of, especially with a film like this that has lots of dialogue and moments where there needs to be discernable dialogue happening with the verbal jousting that happens, but the Dolby Digital just can’t keep up and the Blu-ray suffers because of that.  A real shame. 


Rounding off this Blu-ray release (and making up for the poor sound) is a terrific mini-booklet that serves as the packaging for the film that contains some great write-ups on the film and some great photos as well, which will serve as a good appeasement until a improved transfer arrives with better sound, but all-in-all these are picky details and the film (because it’s so good) doesn’t fail even with some minor performance issues.



-   Nate Goss


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