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Big Lebowski, The (Limited Edition)

    Ian Jane

  • Big Lebowski, The (Limited Edition)

    Released by: Universal Studios
    Released on: 8/16/2011
    Director: Joel Coen
    Cast: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore
    Year: 1998
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    The Movie:

    Arguably Joel and Ethan Coen's most revered film, the movie tells the story of Jeffrey 'The Dude' Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), a pot smoking slacker who is mistaken for a millionaire with the same name (David Huddleston) when two thugs show up at his apartment looking for the money his supposed wife owes him. They stick his face in a toilet and piss on his rug before they realize that there's no way this guy is a millionaire and off they go. Upset that the rug that tied his room together has been pissed on, The Dude tracks down the other Lebowski in hopes of getting compensation. After some small talk with his assistant, Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman), he gets his meeting but leaves without getting what he wants. He swipes a rug on the way out, gets propositioned by the trophy wife, Bunny (Tara Reid) - who offers to suck his dick for a thousand bucks - and heads out to meet up with his bowling buddies, a disgruntled Vietnam vet named Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) who has recently converted to Judaism and a dopey guy named Donny (Steve Buscemi).

    He complains to his friends about his situation and then later gets a call from Brandt. It seems Bunny has been kidnapped and the elder Lebowski believes that the rug pissers are the culprits. He hires The Dude to make a drop off, to give the kidnappers the million dollars in cash they demand for her safe return, but Walter decides to help The Dude by giving the crooks a bag full of his underwear instead. Before you know it, The Dude is involved in all manner of trouble, and he's in hot water with everyone from porn tycoons to a trio of nihilists to Lebowski's feminist artist daughter (Julianne Moore) to a psychotic Hispanic bowler named Jesus (John Turturro) with a pedophilic past - and then there's a stranger (Sam Elliott) who pops up to offer some kindly sage advice…

    Initially a financially unsuccessful follow up to the Oscar winning Fargo, The Big Lebowski may have become one of the biggest sleeper hits of the nineties but it didn't happen overnight. The film did not set the box office on fire the way Fargo did (and it had a much bigger budget than that earlier film) but, of course, as we all know it's gone on to become something of a cultural milestone even influencing its own annual convention in the form of Lebowski Fest. Hell, there's even a store in New York City that sells NOTHING but Big Lebowski related stuff. The film is now quoted constantly by obnoxious frat boys and has gone on to become a staple of American pop culture - this can usually ruin a movie for a lot of folks, but in this case, it's not hard to push aside the incessant fan worship and just appreciate the fact that it really is a well made and amazingly well acted movie.

    Filled with more bizarre plot twists than M. Night Shyamalan could ever hope to dream up, it's a movie that stays interesting upon repeat viewings and holds up to multiple screenings thanks to a multilayered plot and a really impressive attention to detail. The performances are excellent across the board (this IS the movie that Jeff Bridges will be remembered for above all others) to the point where it's hard to disassociate some of the cast members from their characters here. The dialogue is snappy and funny without seeming fake or forced thanks in no small part to not only the writing but also the delivery, while the cinematography, color schemes, set design, lighting and music all do a great job of putting is smack dab in The Dude's bizarre world.

    Call it a crime story, a character study, a comedy, or a satire - you'd be right, but what really matters is that it's one of the more remarkably original big studio productions of the last two decades, and it remains a high point in the Coen Brothers' catalogue, a filmography littered with high points.


    The Big Lebowski sports a good VC-1 encoded transfer (a port from the HD-DVD?) that generally looks pretty good. Framed at 1.85.1 widescreen, the 1080p high definition image does show some edge enhancement and some darker scenes show a few minor compression artifacts and crush but otherwise this is a pretty good looking picture here. Colors are well defined and reproduced quite nicely as are skin tones, though some noise reduction results in some waxiness here and there. Detail is generally strong, though this varies a bit from scene to scene - the dream sequence, for example, doesn't come across with as much fine detail as the shots from the brightly lit bowling alley or the shot where The Dude talks to Bunny while she's sunbathing on the porch. Texture looks very good as well - the scene where Jesus is pulling up his socks and getting ready to bowl in his purple velour jump suit is a prime example, and check out the fiber and texture in some of the sweat pants and sweaters that The Dude wears in the movie. If the image isn't perfect, it is, overall, quite a good and a big improvement over what DVD was able to provide.

    A rock solid English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is included, as is a French language DTS 5.1 Surround Sound mix with optional subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish. Surround usage isn't as bombastic as it might be in the latest and greatest Hollywood action extravaganza but it sure does sound great for what is a very dialogue intensive movie. There's a lot of great ambient noise to take in during the bowling alley scenes and the music used in the movie sounds excellent. Dialogue is clear and well balanced and there's nothing to gripe about here, the movie sounds great.

    Universal knows is well aware of the substantial cult following around this film and so have done a pretty good job loading up the disc with extras, starting with the interactive content that you can access by way of the buttons on your remote and by enabling the U-Control functionality built into the disc. There are a few options you can dig into as the movie plays out, the first and most interesting of which is the Scene Companion, which is basically a picture-in-picture track that will throw some scene specific behind the scenes clips, interviews and featurette clips at you when you enable it. The Mark It Dude option a goofy feature that allows you to track the creative profanities and catch phrases used in the movie, if that's your thing. The Music of The Big Lebowski is a bit more interesting, it actually helps you identify the different pieces of music used throughout the movie and offers up songwriting credits and what not. If you're web enabled, you can actually connect to iTunes and get yourself some of these songs if you want (though at the time of this writing the BD-Live site wasn't fully operation yet so this didn't get tested for this review). The Worthy Adversaries: What's My Line Trivia bit is a fun text based track that allows you to play against the movie in a fun trivia and line reading contest. It's not something you'll do more than once but the hardcore Lebowski fans will probably get a good kick out of this.

    As far as the HD featurettes go, the Jeff Bridges Photo Book (17:30) is a great look at Bridges' skills as a photographer. Part slide show, part interview we get a look at many of the behind the scenes shots he took on set and some input from the star as to why he does this, what he enjoys about it, and how he feels about certain shots (most of which are very, very cool). The Dude's Life (10:08) is a quick collection of short interviews with Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi and John Turturro about the characters in the movie that's worth watching to get some input from the cast but which is ultimately not all that deep. Similar is The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later (10:27), which gathers up the same players to discuss how the film has gone on to become such a cult hit and to explain why they feel it has lasted as long as it has and actually increased in popularity over the years. Flying Carpets And Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequences Of The Dude (4:20) is a pretty great bit that shows how the dream sequence was shot and put together - given that it's one of the more iconic moments in the film, it's nice to see that it got a bit of attention, though it could have been twice as long and still been interesting.

    Universal has also included a couple of SD featurettes, starting with The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever's Story (13:53), which is a quick clip from a documentary called The Achievers which explains the allure and appeal of the annual Lebowski Fest held every year in the United States (and which just recently celebrated its tenth anniversary). Here like minded individuals gather to bowl, drink white Russians and screen the movie, sometimes with a star or two in attendance (Bridges has shown up in the past). More substantial is The Making Of The Big Lebowski (24:35) which is a rare chance to see the Coen Brothers sit down and talk about the movie they made here. It can be a bit basic and more than a little promotional in nature, but the good outweighs the bad and if you want to hear Joel and Ethan talk about The Dude, this is where it happens.

    Rounding out the extras is a still gallery containing a bunch of Jeff Bridges' behind the scenes photography, a typically bizarre Coen Brothers style intro to the movie, an Interactive Map that examines the locations that were used in the film and compares them, then and now style, and which offers up some contextual notes on them.

    The disc is BD-Live and pocketBLU enabled and of course animated menus and chapter stops are included. The disc is packaged inside a nice, sturdy, full color hardcover book that includes a time line to the plot, some of Bridges' behind the scenes photos, an interview with Jeff Dowd (the real life inspiration behind The Dude) and more.

    The Final Word:

    The Big Lebowski is the biggest (mainstream) cult film of the nineties for good reason - it holds up really well to repeat viewings, in fact it improves with them, and remains not only a genuinely funny film but a really interesting and creative one as well. Universal's Blu-ray looks good and sounds good and contains a pretty decent selection of extra features as well - nicely done all around.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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