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I had never seen this film before so when it came up for review, I jumped at the chance. A film currently just outside the top ten films of all film time on The Internet Movie Database ( and winner of amongst others,  several Oscars and several BAFTAs is obviously a well liked and respected picture. This is one of only three movies to win all the major awards at the Oscars (picture, actor, actress, director and screenplay) – the others being It Happened One Night from 1934 and Silence of the Lambs from 1991.

So something special you might say? Well, let’s find out shall we?

I'm not crazy officer, honest...
This movie has what we would now call an “All Star Cast” however at the time it was just a “cast”. Jack Nicholson takes the lead role of McMurphy. After being sent to jail McMurphy decides his time would be easier spent in a mental asylum. Convincing the prison staff he needs psychiatric care, he is deported to the local hospital for evaluation. In the hospital McMurphy meets the other inmates. These include Billy Bibbet (Brad Dourif – Child’s Play, Alien 4 and more recently, Lord of the Rings parts two and three), Taber (Christopher Lloyd – Back to the Future, The Addams Family), Martini (Danny Devito – Twins, L.A. Confidential) and Scatman Crothers as Turkle the hospital orderly (Transformers, The Shining, the voice of Hong Kong Phooey!).

He fits in with the patients shockingly well; however it is the head nurse who becomes the bane of his life. Nurse Ratched likes order and schedules. McMurphy doesn’t and it is his resistance to her daily routine that slowly starts the beginnings of many problems between the two.

It’s hard to talk too much about this film without ruining any of it for you. The main themes of the movie centre on the relationship between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, and McMurphy and the other inmates. McMurphy has a childlike attitude to many things and living with psychiatric patients only seems to further this.

Raise your hand if you are nuts
During the film the World Series season starts (baseball for those of you that aren’t aware of this) and McMurphy wants to watch it in the hospital television. Nurse Ratched does not want to change the patients’ daily routine and therefore is against this and so it is put to the vote, with the majority deciding. The patients seem too scared to vote so McMurphy loses the vote. He becomes enraged, screaming and shouting, but to no avail. Nurse Ratched’s calm demeanour only appears to further increase McMurphy’s anger. He might be sane, but he is also dangerous and therefore it is decided that he should be kept longer for more treatment in the hospital.

One of the most famous scenes happens when McMurphy breaks out of the hospital with his patient friends and takes them sea fishing, showing them how to bait their lines and cast off into the ocean. You can sense the great feeling of relief and freedom McMurphy experiences when the transition from confined asylum to open water takes place. Of course this lands him in a lot of hot water with the hospital staff, but it is over shadowed by the great bond he is building up with his fellow patients.

The quality of the acting in this film shines. It is easy to see why Jack Nicholson won an Oscar for his part here. The role was originally offered to James Caan however no-one has the intensity and sheer insanity behind the eyes that Nicholson can produce. I found the directional style to be a little dated these days. My main example of this it when conversations between people being are shot with one camera per person, flicking between them which I have found is typical of this era of movies. The use of the widescreen frame was well utilised, with people or often being to the side of the frame leaving the rest for scenery or other inmates in the background.

This re-released Special Edition DVD is presented again in 1.85:1; however this time round it is anamorphic. The print is virtually artefact free and looks great even after all these years. I have had the good fortune of being able to compare this release to the original non-anamorphic version and it is like a different film. The original release was not only dirty and poorly encoded, but the colours were over enhanced giving the people a slightly orange skin complexion. However the new transfer is not without its faults. Blacks tend to run into each other losing the definition of for instance, people’s dark suits. Nonetheless, the image is wonderfully sharp and the fact that the colours have been toned down to a more realistic level makes me realise how bad the original transfer must have been.

This shot from the original is blurry, and is overly coloured

While this shot of the SE is clearly sharper and has more realistic colour tones
More and more I wish for a DVD player with a 64Mb buffer of memory in it. Again, they layer change is in a very noticeable place which begs the question, could they really not put it anywhere else? It is not in the middle of dialogue or anything too disturbing, but it is as the camera is panning which makes it all the more noticeable. Interestingly enough, the disc is encoded for region two and region four which means our friends in Australia will be in for a treat soon (a week after the region two release according to the general press).

This film has been upmixed from mono into full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, however you probably wouldn’t know it. Had my amplifier not lit up like a Christmas tree, I probably would have assumed it was just Dolby surround. The left and right fronts are used, and since it is a heavily dialogue driven film, the front centre is used mainly. There is one point in the film when music kicks in and to hear it in my rear speakers, I had to walk up to one of them to make sure there was at least some sound coming out of it. If this was an action movie I would have been very disappointed with this, conversely since this is not a film dependent on explosions and gunfire, the sound is clean, crisp and totally adequate for this picture.  

Nurse Ratched is evil, there's no question about it
Being called a special edition, there should be several decent extras accompanying the release and you will not be entirely disappointed in this version. The first disc contains a page listing a few of the cast and production team, several pages specifying the many accolades awarded to this film, and a feature length audio commentary by the director Milos Forman and producers Michael Douglas (yes, the actor son of Kirk) and Saul Zaentz. This is different to the laserdiscs commentary which is just from the director. Michael Douglas provides some nice anecdotes and it is a reasonably interesting effort on the whole. However while its insights are astute, at the beginning they are not always particularly focused on what is going on onscreen making it feel a little detached. After they get into it a little more, it starts to become more resolute.

The second disc was not available in time for this review however I can tell you that it will contain “The Making of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" documentary running in at nearly an hour, eight additional scenes, Cast/Crew Career Highlights and the obligatory theatrical trailer. I suspect the documentary is the same that was used on the Pioneer Special Edition laserdisc.    

Not only was I mightily impressed with the film, this DVD release is not to be sniffed at. The picture for such an old movie is good and it is a vast improvement on the previous attempt. If you have not seen this movie then I would not only recommend it, but recommend this version. I am sure the original version will be pumped quickly into the sale sections of the DVD retailers however I would still say the extra cost of this version will be worth it. It is an engrossing story with top notch acting and involving characters. Nurse Ratched is evil and you will grow to hate her. The inmates each have their own problems and portray them fantastically. Jack Nicholson gives a performance with such energy and natural skill that you feel he could have adlibbed the whole movie. In one word, outstanding.

The reviewer would like to thank Andrew for the use of the original release of this disc.