One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I thought this was a decent presentation but not a great one.
Sharpness was adequate most of the time. Some shots demonstrated quite good delineation, usually when the movie went outside. Interiors tended to be less precise, and since much of the movie took place indoors, that meant a lot of it showed average clarity. I got the impression moderate digital noise reduction affected the image and made it softer on those occasions. Though the image was never fuzzy, I thought it could’ve been a bit tighter.
While I noticed no issues with jaggies or shimmering, light edge haloes cropped up at times. Source flaws were a minor issue. Through the film, occasional specks and marks appeared, but these weren’t major.
Colors appear subdued but accurate. Nest wasn't exactly a Technicolor extravaganza, so the tones seemed more than acceptable. Skin tones looked a little pinkish at times, but overall, the hues remained clear and solid, with nice saturation and distinction. Black levels appeared fairly dark and rich, while shadow detail seemed reasonably dense but not overly thick. While I don’t expect Nest to jump off the screen, I thought this presentation was unimpressive.
Much of the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack remained essentially monaural. Some light ambience emanated from the side speakers through a lot of the movie, and music often showed nice stereo spread and separation, but much of the mix stayed pretty anchored to the front center channel. The surrounds provided general reinforcement, mainly related to the music.
During a few sequences, the spectrum broadened well, particularly when the gang went on their fishing trip. Heck, the introduction of the helicopter even provided some split-surround material. For the most part, the soundfield seemed fairly limited, but given the age of the movie and the nature of this chatty movie, I found the scope of the piece to appear more than acceptable.
Dialogue showed a little edge at times, but not much, and the speech appeared very good for the age of the material. Since so much of Nest deals with dialogue, the other elements seemed less important, but they also worked pretty well. On the infrequent occasions we heard the score, it sounded pretty good, with clear, accurate tones. Effects were acceptably crisp and realistic, though the entire track lacked significant low end, so they packed little punch. Overall, this was a pretty good soundtrack.
How did the picture and sound of this Blu-ray compare to the 2002 Special Edition DVD? Both were surprisingly similar. The audio remained virtually identical, as the Blu-ray offered the same Dolby Digital soundtrack; for reasons unknown, the Blu-ray omitted any lossless option.
I suspect the Blu-ray provided marginal visual improvements, but I didn’t discern anything that made it clearly superior to the DVD. Actually, the occasional shot looked stronger on Blu-ray – such as the first scene with McMurphy and Chief on the basketball court – but most of them were a wash. I didn’t think the Blu-ray looked bad, but I didn’t think it was a significant step up over the DVD, either.
The Blu-ray mixes components from the 2002 SE with new ones. We begin with an audio commentary with director Milos Forman and producers Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz. All three were recorded separately, and the material came from a mix of sources. The remarks from Zaentz and Douglas seemed to emanate from general interviews about the film, while Forman’s statements originated on the deluxe Pioneer Special Edition laserdisc package from 1997.
I own that set, and when I heard that Warner Bros. planned to issue this special edition DVD, I feared that they’d do little more than port over the commentary from the LD. Although Forman provided some good material on that track, he frequently said nothing, and the entire piece became a chore to screen.
Integrated with statements from Zaentz and Douglas, Forman’s remarks seemed much more useful. His material tended to be screen-specific, but the other two didn’t focus on that domain; the edited commentary jumped through different topics that usually dealt with the action onscreen in at least a tangential manner, but it remained diverse. Although the track still suffered from a few extended silences, its producers managed to fill the vast majority of it, and the details added a lot to my appreciation of the film. I learned a lot about the casting, the actors, the adaptation of the book, the locations, and many fine anecdotes about the production. None of the three participants distinctly dominated the track; I’d estimate Forman filled most of the commentary, but not to a heavy degree. Ultimately, I enjoyed the piece and thought it provided a nice look at the production.
The 2002 DVD presented an abridged version of Completely Cuckoo, a documentary created for a 1997 laserdisc release. The Blu-ray presents this program in its one-hour, 26-minute and 18-second glory. During the show, we hear from Forman, Douglas, Zaentz, author Ken Kesey, original rights owner Kirk Douglas, screenwriter Bo Goldman, first assistant director Irby Smith, actors Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and Vincent Schiavelli, actors/consultants Dr. Prasanna Pati and Dr. Dean Brooks, consultant Dr. Don Crane, former Oregon governor and first lady Bob and Pat Straub, former patient Gene Bailey, and actor/impromptu casting agent Mel Lambert.
“Cuckoo” offers an entertaining and compelling documentary in its own right. It covers all the appropriate bases, from the genesis of the film through casting thought sets/locations through many anecdotes about the shoot. The comments from the participants seem candid and informative, and they go over a nice array of topics. There’s an awful lot to like about the fulfilling program.
A new featurette entitled Asylum: An Empty Nest for the Mentally Ill? runs 30 minutes, 58 seconds and provides remarks from Douglas, Brooks, Brooks’ daughter Ulista and granddaughter Ulista Hoover, Oregon State Hospital patient Rex Gorger, Oregon State Hospital Director of Clinical Services Dr. Arthur E. Tolan, Oregon State Hospital Renovation Project Administrator Linda Hammond, and Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health Board President Hazel Patton. The program purports to tell us about the state of mental health care in America and issues related to mental hospitals.
That’s the idea, at least, but in reality, “Asylum” feels like a really long commercial for the Oregon State Hospital. Outside of Douglas, everyone in the show has some connection to the facility, and the piece essentially acts as an appreciation for the place and its role in society. “Asylum” never remotely threatens to become an engaging, provocative discussion of mental health care in the 21st century.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, the disc includes eight Additional Scenes. These run between 51 seconds and two minutes, 38 seconds for a total of 13 minutes, 20 seconds of material. Presented in the order they would have appeared in the film, we find some interesting footage here. I don’t know how much - if any - of it belonged in the final flick; much of it seemed a bit heavy-handed, and some of the shots developed the antagonism between McMurphy and the hospital staff too quickly. Nonetheless, I felt happy to get a look at this unused footage.
A slew of non-disc-based materials appear. A 52-Page Commemorative Hard-Bound Book comes first. Charles Kiselyak composes a long essay about the film’s creation as well as differences between the book and the movie as well as some cast/crew biographies. A fair amount of the info already appears elsewhere on the disc, but Kiselyak’s text summarizes things well. I especially like the discussion of the novel versus the flick, and the book adds a good component to the package.
Some advertising elements shows up as well. We get a Reproduction of the Original Press Book along with Four Mini-Reproductions of Worldwide Theatrical Posters. For the former, we find an essay about the film along with excerpts from newspaper articles. The latter gives us small copies of posters to advertise the flick in the US, Germany, Sweden and Italy. Both are fun additions.
Six Cast / Character Photo Cards give us color images of Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd and Brad Dourif. These are pretty lackluster, but I like the 52-Card Deck of Cast-Inspired Playing Cards. Different characters appear as Jack, Queen and King across various suites, but McMurphy is always the Ace.
While I remain unconvinced that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest deserved the Best Picture award for 1975, it remains a very fine piece of filmmaking. Occasionally it falls into some traps, but it usually stays compelling and provocative, and it also offers consistently excellent acting. The Blu-ray provides average picture quality, fairly good audio and a nice assortment of supplements.
Those extras arguably become the big selling point for fans who already own the 2002 DVD. I don’t see substantial improvements in terms of picture and audio, but the bonus features definitely surpass those of the earlier DVD set. However, it’s hard to argue these extras merit a repurchase, as this is a pretty pricey set just for a good collection of supplements. If you don’t own the 2002 DVD, though, the Blu-ray is clearly the way to go.
To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST