Warner Bros. // 1975 // 133 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 6th, 2010
If he's crazy, what does that make you?
"Who's the head bull-goose loony around here?"
R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson, The Witches of Eastwick) was sent to prison for statutory rape. Then he was sent to a mental institution, though it's unknown whether he's actually in need of mental help of whether he was only faking in order to get out of prison labor. It's determined that McMurphy will be placed under examination for a while before a decision is made on the matter. McMurphy certainly seems to have it together better than most of the other patients, including the shy Billy (Brad Dourif, The Wild Blue Yonder), the strong, silent Chief (Will Sampson, The White Buffalo), the explosive Taber (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future), the gleeful Martini (Danny DeVito, Death to Smoochy), and the befuddled Cheswick (Sydney Lassick, Man on the Moon).
McMurphy seems amused by his new surroundings for a while, but things turn nasty when he decides to start challenging the quietly suffocating authority of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher, Exorcist II: The Heretic). Their conflict initially serves as a form of entertainment for McMurphy and the patients under his persuasive influence, but as time passes his actions start to inspire brutal consequences. Does McMurphy have a chance of beating Ratched and the system she represents?
While Milos Forman's cinematic adaptation of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest differs from the source material considerably, the film managed to establish a reputation as a masterpiece in its own right. The film still holds up remarkably well 35 years later, serving as both a blisteringly angry and surprisingly hilarious indictment of a bureaucratic mental institution's passively dehumanizing treatment of its patients. Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched is regarded as one of cinema's most notorious villains, though hers is surely one of the most well-intentioned forms of villainy ever committed to film. Fletcher masterfully exemplifies the banality of evil, robbing men of their will to live with her sweetly oppressive sense of order.
Meanwhile, the role of McMurphy is one that Nicholson was born to play. It's a perfect example of an actor being in the right role at the right time, as Nicholson's established anti-authoritarian persona (developed through his roles in films like Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and The Last Detail) made McMurphy the ultimate Challenger of the System. As a result, it's all the more crushing to see McMurphy being buried by that system: if this man can't survive it, who can? The then-unknown thespians essaying the other inmates are simply superb across the board. Some would go on to have remarkable careers in film (DeVito, Lloyd, Dourif) while others would remain relative unknowns, but there's not a weak spot in the entire cast.
The film has already received some very fine analysis from Judge Dan Mancini in his review of the previous Blu-ray release, so I'm not going to spend more time talking about the film itself. Odds are if you're a fan of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and are hi-def enabled, you've already picked up Warner Bros. handsome digibook release from 2008. The question is whether or not this ultimate collector's edition is worth an upgrade (or at least worth a few extra bucks for those who haven't picked up the film yet). In terms of the transfer and audio, absolutely nothing has changed. The 1080/1.85:1 transfer is identical, and unfortunately the standard Dolby 5.1 Surround audio hasn't been upgraded to a lossless track. So, in terms of the actual film and its presentation you're not getting anything new.
All of the upgrades take place in the supplemental department, where the original extras (an audio commentary featuring Forman and producers Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz, some deleted scenes) are accompanied by an expanded version of the documentary that was on the first Blu-ray release (the 47-minute doc has been retitled "Completely Cuckoo" and expanded to 87 minutes -- this version appeared on the laserdisc release of the film) and a brand-new featurette entitled "Asylum: An Empty Next for the Mentally Ill" (30 minutes), which discusses the condition of mental hospitals. Oddly, this new featurette is not promoted on the packaging, while the prominently-promoted "All-new interview with Michael Douglas" is nowhere to be found. Douglas does pop up from time to time in the new featurette, so I guess that's what they were referring to? Very odd, but the new piece is quite good so I won't complain about the semi-false advertising.
Now, onto the numerous physical extras included with the set. Here's what you get:
* A 12-page booklet featuring reprints of newspaper articles written around the time of the film's release.
* 4 mini-reproductions of original worldwide theatrical posters.
* A 52-page commemorative hardbound book. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this book was not simply a reprint of the material in the digibook edition, but rather a fairly in-depth examination that's heavier on text than photos.
* 6 cast and character photo cards featuring Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Christopher Lloyd, Will Sampson, Danny DeVito and Brad Dourif. The photos are kept inside a "patient file" envelope with a little coffee stain on the outside. Now you can pretend you run your own mental institution!
* A deck of playing cards. The numbered cards are ordinary aside from featuring oversized clubs, hearts, spades and diamonds, but the jacks, queens, kings and aces feature the characters. Nicholson is featured on all of the aces, while other assorted characters populate the rest of the cards. Personally, I think they missed an opportunity by not making Nicholson the jack.
Warner Bros. has done a typically professional job with the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: 35th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, as the extras are high-quality and attractive. Personally, I don't the expanded/new bonus features or the physical supplements are enough to warrant someone spending $10 extra on the set, but I can easily see why some might feel differently. If Warner Bros. had upgraded the audio, I would have advised an upgrade, but since the actual film presentation is unchanged, I can't do so. Basically, it boils down to whether or not some playing cards and glossy cast photos are the sort of things you'd like to have.
Review content copyright © 2010 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (German)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 133 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Hardcover Book
* Playing Cards