Publisher: Warner Bros
Mon, 15 November 2004
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Academy Awards: the most prestigious honour in the movie industry. However, sometimes you have to wonder what they are playing at. The winners, without pointing fingers- cough, Halle Berry, cough- are not always the most deserving. And some of the very best performances and films get no recognition whatsoever. Politics play a big part in the whole procedure, which is nothing new. Orson Welles was snubbed in 1941, despite directing what many people consider the best movie ever with Citizen Kane, because he got on the bad side of some powerful people. Similar things continue to this day and at times it really makes a mockery out of the whole ceremony.
As dubious as the Academy Awards can sometimes be, they do probably still get it right more often than not. In 1975 the academy gave 5 awards to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The film was re-released on VHS about ten years ago, with a grainy picture and horrible muddy audio. It was an unsatisfactory way to view the film and certainly did not do it justice. Now the movie is available on DVD with a crystal clear digital transfer and remastered dolbly digital 5.1 soundtrack. With the DVD version it is quite obvious that Cuckoo's Nest fully deserved all five of its Oscars. It is a classic movie, one of those rare gems that gets everything right.
Cuckoo's Nest tells the story of a rebellious, extroverted, free-spirited and charismatic fellow called Randle P. McMurphy. McMurphy is a petty criminal who has been getting into trouble his whole life (because, as he puts it, he "fights and f*cks too much"). Instead of spending his time in prison, McMurphy manages to convince those in charge that he is sufficiently unstable to be transferred to a state mental hospital. He assumes that will be a much more comfortable place to serve his time. But soon after he gets there it becomes clear that things aren't going to go as smoothly as he had planned.
Randle discovers that, despite the length of his prison sentence, the only way he can be released from the mental hospital is if the doctors in charge clear him. This means he is obliged to adhere to their very restrictive rules and regulations. The longer he spends in the hospital the more he begins to suspect that more is being done to break and control these men's spirits than mend them. He begins to see the hospital and its rules as something of a metaphor for life and society in general. Before long McMurphy finds himself becoming a hero and leader to the other patients. He also begins to truly care for his fellow inmates, finding that he has more in common with them than he'd like to admit.
Meanwhile, the frighteningly clinical and emotionally ice-cold Nurse Ratched strives to maintain her control over the hospital. McMurphy represents everything she loathes and his encouragement of the other men to stick up for themselves is to her nothing but insubordination. What starts off as a humorous rivalry becomes an increasingly dangerous battle between Nurse Ratched, McMurphy and the men he now leads.
One of the five Academy Awards for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was for the screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman. They adapted the script from a bestselling novel (which shares the same title as the movie) by the eccentric genius Ken Kesey. Considering just how dense and multi-layered the book was it is quite extraordinary just how much of its content and overall feel they managed to condense into the 130-minute screen version. The changes made for the film are not through lack of respect; they are merely sensible alterations necessary for a different medium. While it would be hard to claim that the movie is better than (or as good as) the book, it's fair to say that this is one of the few cases where it is not worse.
Jack Nicholson won the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of McMurphy. Nicholson has drifted almost into a parody of himself at times over the years. He seems to enjoy playing "Jack Nicholson movie star" more than any character. But he can, when the role calls for it, remind audiences that he is an actor with few peers. As Randle P. McMurphy Nicholson truly becomes the character. He has given some more subtle performances and he has given some more over the top performances, nevertheless there really hasn't been a better-suited role for Jack before or since.
The best actress award went to Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched. Rightfully so, as she gives one of the most believable performances I've ever seen. She is frightening for the scariest reason of all for any villain- she is fully convinced that she is doing the right thing.
Nicholson and Fletcher play off each so well, they could have probably made the film with just those two and gotten a fascinating result. But, amazingly enough, the rest of the cast is nearly as impressive. Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito are just two examples of the other wonderful actors involved.
Milos Foreman directed the film and guess what? He won an Academy Award for his efforts. Which is fair enough, since he basically did a perfect job of things and that's certainly not something that can be said too often. To finally see this movie with a magnificent picture, courtesy of the wonders of DVD, is a real thrill. With this special edition package you can listen to commentary from Milos, along with producers Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz.
Music is in Cuckoo's Nest used sparingly, which makes it all the more powerful. At the start and end of the film is where the music is most noticeable and that makes perfect sense in the scheme of things. As stated earlier, the sound on the VHS version of the film was utterly abysmal, whereas the DVD version is magnificent. As a matter of fact, the sound mix on the DVD is better than it was when the film was originally released in theatres.
The DVD is a two-disc set. The making of documentary on the bonus disc is very interesting, but the commentary on the main disc talks about nearly all of the same stuff. It is nice to see how much passion everyone involved with the making of this film had/has. Surely that is a huge factor as to how well it turned out. It would have to be said that, compared to most two-disc sets, Cuckoo's Nest isn't particularly impressive in terms of additional features. It is well presented overall though, with some classy looking packaging. And really the main appeal is simply having the movie itself, with perfect picture and sound quality.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest features an ending that is, all at once, one of the saddest and happiest of all time. An unforgettable finish for an unforgettable film.
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