Warner Bros. | 1975 | 133 mins. | R

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest first hit blu-ray two years ago, but Warner’s has released the film in a new collector’s edition packed with an impressive set of special features that make a double-dip a real consideration for fans of the film. Included is a feature-length that includes the participation of original author Ken Kesey. Since Kesey the author of the novel, left his post as screenwriter over disagreements with producers Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz, his thoughts add an interesting perspective to things. Beyond that, Kirk Douglas had given Michael Cuckoo, as something to do; the film went on to sweep the Academy Awards and earn classic status.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Collector’s Edition)After holding the film rights for more than a decade (and starring in a brief Broadway run), Kirk Douglas realized he was too old to play the lead, and passed the film on to his son Michael in hopes of getting it made. Filmed at a working mental hospital in Salem Oregon, the script, written by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, follows the basic outline of Kesey’s novel.

It’s 1963; Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a recidivist criminal serving a short sentence on a prison farm for statutory rape, is transferred to a mental institution for evaluation. He figures a stint at the hospital will be easier then prison. Bored by the monotonous routines and dull-minded company, McMurphy constantly harasses the presiding ward nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher). Wanting the other patients to show some emotion and experience life, McMurphy gets them to rebel against the hospital rules, and even steals a bus so they can enjoy a day of fishing on a hijacked boat. Realizing that his time spent in the hospital will not be taken off of his prison sentence, McMurphy tries to straighten up his act. However, he’s become too close to his fellow patients to “reform” completely. He has a particular special relationship with Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif), a neurotic who only seems to need a little encouragement to make it in the real world. McMurphy takes his defiance of authority too far, with disastrous results.

Directing the film, was the well respected but not yet well known, Milos Foreman, he made wise casting choices. Besides Nicholson and Dourif, Danny DeVito is perfect as Martini, a delusional gnome; Dale Harding (William Redfield), a high-strung, well-educated patient; and “Chief” Bromden (Will Sampson), a silent 6 feet 7 inches tall Native American; Christopher Lloyd is hostile and combative and Vincent Schiavelli’s slack-jawed neurotic has trouble concentrating; Sydney Lassick is a fussy sycophant.

Though some aspects of Cuckoo’s Nest appear dated, some moments remain fresh. Who can forget McMurphy’s basketball game with “The Chief”, and his glee at finding out The Chief’s secret: here’s one patient who knows how to deal with an oppressive system. Jack Nicholson clearly has a great time recreating a World Series game for his bunkmates after their TV rights have been denied, personally acting out all the roles. And to avoid ending on a note of doom, the filmmakers emphasize the story of one patient who symbolically walks away from the hospital and all that it represents.

Now, as I watch this film in 2010, it’s difficult to see McMurphy as the sympathetic symbol of the oppressed counterculture, as Kesey had intended. I can’t help but feel he was more a reckless and perhaps naïve individual, more than anything else.

The VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer of the film approximates the film’s original aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 frame. While not the most visually beautiful film simply because of the way it was shot, this is the best home video release of the film yet. Because of the lighting challenges with the multi/moving-camera set-ups, this is the rare film where the exteriors actually look more professionally shot and “controlled” than the interiors. Overall, it has a very natural film-like appearance with only minimal signs of element wear and tear and no obvious signs of digital manipulation.

The audio is provided via a 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Almost all the activity occurs across the front three channels with dialogue in the center and some stereo spread to sound effects and the film’s unusual and effective musical score. Fidelity is outstanding as one would hope from a digital rendering of a well-recorded and mixed magnetic track. The lack of activity in the surround channels likely improved the overall fidelity since the codec could dynamically allocate more bits to channels in use. Alternate language mono dubs are available in French, German, Italian, Spanish (Castellano), Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, Thai, and Turkish.

For this Collector’s Edition of Cuckoo’s Nest, Warner Home Video offers the same bonus features found on previous releases and includes for the first time the full-length documentary only seen on the Limited Edition laserdisc.

Audio Commentary — Pieced together from comments recorded separately, producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas with director Miloš Forman provide a very good and thorough track. Although there are moments of scene-specific comments, the audio is mostly centered on a historical background, covering alterations made from the novel and the input from cast and crew which helped to shape the film.

Documentary: Completely Cuckoo (SD, 86 min) — Directed by Charles Kiselyak, the in-depth documentary is a wonderful accompaniment to the film. Featuring a rare interview with Ken Kesey, the comprehensive film starts with the story’s genesis and the author’s personal experience working at a mental institution. Then it traces how the novel was translated into a stage play with the strong support of Kirk Douglas and how eventually planted the seed for a screen adaptation. But it wasn’t until Michael Douglas came along and finally turned into a reality for his first film as producer. With behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the film, the remainder of the doc follows casting decisions, production, shooting in a real state hospital located in Salem, Oregon and the movie’s unexpected award-winning success.

Featurette: “Asylum: An Empty Nest for the Mentally Ill? (HD, 31 min) — This short segment is a look at the significant changes made in providing help and treatment for the mentally ill since the film’s release. The piece comes with current interviews of Dr. Dean R. Brooks, his daughter with a medical background, and Michael Douglas.

Deleted Scenes (SD, 15 min) — This is a great collection of eight scenes which unfortunately didn’t make it to the final cut. Their inclusion or removal don’t affect the film in any damaging way, but for those who love this film, the scenes reveal more about the treatment the patients were receiving.

Trailer (SD)—The original theatrical preview rounds out the package.

The rest of the package consists of a 52-page, hardcover book, featuring an exhaustive essay by Charles Kiselyak, director of the terrific documentary Completely Cuckoo. He covers everything from production, script and casting to post-production, the film’s critical reception and wonderful insights on the plot. The book also includes a fold-out timeline noting significant dates about the novel and film, and it concludes with a chapter on biographies of the cast and crew. There’s also a manila envelope entitled “Patient File” with six glossy postcards of the cast. Topping things off is a full deck of playing cards with photos of central characters replacing the face cards and McMurphy as the aces.

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