One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This marked the second DVD release of Nest; the original came out back during the format’s infancy, and it provided pretty weak picture and sound. Happily, this new version offered a radical improvement over that presentation.
Sharpness looked very solid. The movie came across as nicely crisp and distinct, and very few examples of softness occurred. Instead, the picture stayed accurate and detailed. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no notable concerns, but - as with many Warner Bros. DVDs - I did discern some light edge enhancement at times. Whereas the old disc suffered from a myriad of print flaws, this new one appeared surprisingly clean. It eliminated most of the grain and virtually all of the specks, marks, and scratches that marred the original DVD. The new Nest looked wonderfully fresh.
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 quite dark and rich, while shadow detail seemed fairly dense but not overly thick. Despite the annoying and unnecessary edge enhancement, I found myself very impressed with this new DVD of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which looked like a virtual night and day improvement over the original 1997 release.
I also noticed significant improvements when I listened to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The old disc included a Dolby Surround 2.0 mix, and the two showed very similar soundfields. Much of the track 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.
While both 1997 and 2002 DVDs demonstrated similar soundfields, the new one greatly improved the quality of the audio. Whereas the old disc featured some thin and distorted speech, for the new one lines sounded surprisingly natural and vivid. I often encountered problems related to intelligibility during the original presentation, but none of those occurred here. Dialogue still showed a little edge at times, but those levels dropped radically when compared to the old disc, 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. However, as I noted, those factors didn’t play a tremendous role in the presentation, so the improvements in the speech presented the greatest impact.
While the first DVD release of Nest included only some bland text supplements, the special edition packs a lot more. Most appear on DVD Two, but some pop up on the first disc. Most significant is 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.
Two other minor pieces round out DVD One. Cast and Crew offers filmographies for director Milos Forman, producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas, screenwriters Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, and actors Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. Awards lists the many prizes taken home by Nest.
With that we move to DVD Two. The main feature here is a documentary called The Making of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This 47-minute and 25-second program consists of the usual mix of movie snippets, images from the set and other archival materials, and interviews. In the latter category, we hear from director Milos Forman, producers Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz, original rights owner Kirk Douglas, screenwriter Bo Goldman, assistant director Irby Smith, actors Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli, actor/consultant Dr. Dean Brooks, and actor/impromptu casting agent Mel Lambert.
During the end credits, we hear that this program is “based on the documentary Completely Cuckoo”. That piece appeared on the 1997 laserdisc and ran about 86 minutes. I guess “based on” is just another term to indicate that “Making” radically edited the longer feature.
Actually, “Making” alters “Completely” in other ways. It loses some participants; for example, we find no material from author Ken Kesey, even though the entire first section of “Completely” discussed his creation of the book. Other participants in “Completely” vanish as well, but it seems very odd to lose someone so significant. “Making” also offers some different source material not seen in “Completely”. For example, the interview clips from Saul Zaentz come from apparently newer sessions. Most of “Making” comes straight from “Completely”, but a few of these variations occur.
Why’d they chop up the original so substantially? I have no idea. Perhaps they couldn’t get the rights to the full program. Obviously the DVD possessed more than enough space for the longer documentary, since disc two includes only a little more than an hour’s worth of material. The absence of the full-length piece seems disappointing.
Nonetheless, “Making” offers an entertaining and compelling documentary in its own right. It covers all the appropriate bases, from the genesis of the film through casting and many anecdotes about the shoot. The comments from the participants seem candid and informative, and they go over a nice array of topics. I’d prefer fewer clips from the film, however; those moments don’t dominate the show, but they occur too frequently. While the absence of the longer documentary remains a weakness, this one provides a lot of good information.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, DVD Two 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.
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 DVD radically improves upon the original 1997 release. It provides substantially stronger picture and audio quality and many additional supplements.
For those who’ve not seen Nest, this package merits a look. Actually, I’d recommend the special edition of Nest to pretty much everyone. Fans who don’t already own the old disc will definitely want to add it to their collections, and those who do possess the original should immediately replace it with the new one. Even if you don’t care about supplements, the significant improvements in picture and audio quality make it well worth your time.