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The Big Lebowski: Limited Edition Blu-ray Book Review

The Big Lebowski (1998) movie poster The Big Lebowski

Theatrical Release: March 6, 1998 / Running Time: 117 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Joel Coen / Writers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Cast: Jeff Bridges (Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski), John Goodman (Walter Sobchak), Julianne Moore (Maude Lebowski), Steve Buscemi (Donny Kerabatsos), Peter Stormare (Nihilist #1 - Uli Kunkel/Karl Hungus), David Huddleston (Jeffrey "The Big" Lebowski), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Brandt), Flea (Nihilist #2 - Dieter), Leon Russom (Malibu Police Chief Kohl), Sam Elliott (The Stranger), John Turturro (Jesus Quintana), Ben Gazzara (Jackie Treehorn), David Thewlis (Knox Harrington), Tara Reid (Bunny Lebowski), Philip Moon (Treehorn Thug Woo), Mark Pellegrino (Treehorn Thug), Torsten Voges (Nihilist #3 - Franz), Jimmie Dale Gilmore (Smokey), Jack Kehler (Dude's Landlord), James G. Hoosier (Quintana's Partner Liam O'Brien), Richard Gant (Older Cop), Christian Clemenson (Younger Cop), Dom Irrera (Tony the Chauffeur), Jesse Flanagan (Little Larry Sellers), Jon Polito (Private Snoop Da Fino), Aimee Mann (Nihilist Woman), Warren David Keith (Funeral Director)

Buy The Big Lebowski from Amazon.com: Limited Edition Blu-ray Book • 10th Anniversary Edition DVD • Instant Video

Joel and Ethan Coen had commanded respect and critical attention for the first five films they together wrote and Joel alone directed (according to credits, anyway) from 1984's Blood Simple to 1994's The Hudsucker Proxy. Their sixth movie as auteurs, 1996's Fargo, brought the brothers a whole new level of recognition, earning them a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and their first Best Picture nomination.
If the accolades changed the siblings' priorities, they didn't show it in their next film. Though it touched upon crime and circumstance, themes that intrigue them again and again, The Big Lebowski was no traditional prestige project, but then neither was Fargo. At its heart, Lebowski is a dark buddy comedy about a lazy, unemployed stoner slacker who devotes much of his time and thought to an amateur bowling league.

This 1998 film opens with a contrast between Sam Elliott's timeless, lyrical narration and the subject of it, one slovenly Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) of Los Angeles. With a newly-purchased carton of half and half in hand, the oft outlandishly dressed Lebowski returns to his humble abode to find it occupied by two aggressive men. One of them repeatedly dunks his head in the toilet, angrily asking about money, and the other urinates on his entrance rug. Turns out these two enforcers have the right name, but the wrong man. This Lebowski goes by "The Dude", is not married, and, though he has money troubles, they are not on the order of the amount he is said to owe the thugs' boss.

In what has come to be seen as a career-defining role, Jeff Bridges plays Jeffrey Lebowski, who prefers you call him The Dude, or His Dudeness, Duder, or El Duderino, if you're not into the whole brevity thing. Disabled millionaire "The Big" Lebowski (David Huddleston) and his obsequious assistant Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hire The Dude as courier.

The incident of mistaken identity and especially the urinated-upon rug (which "really tied the room together") prompt The Dude to locate the intended target of his home ransacking. He finds an older and much wealthier Jeffrey Lebowski (an amusingly cranky David Huddleston), who is neither sympathetic to The Dude's story nor fond of his lifestyle choices. The Dude doesn't mind, stealing from his namesake a replacement rug. This, however, is only the beginning of The Dude's troubles and his dizzying interactions with individuals of assorted social strata.

The "big" Lebowski's young, reckless trophy wife (Tara Reid) is apparently kidnapped with a $1 million ransom demand. For some reason, Lebowski entrusts The Dude to serve as his courier in the arranged transaction, an exchange which most certainly does not go down as planned, after The Dude's bowling partner and best friend Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) gets involved. An excitable Vietnam veteran who is steadfast about honoring the Jewish Sabbath and seizes every opportunity to mention the War, Walter gets the idea that the whole thing is a scam and one from which he and The Dude stand to greatly profit.

Also factoring into the increasingly absurd mess are Lebowski's eccentric feminist artist daughter Maude (Julianne Moore), a porn movie mogul (Ben Gazzara), a trio of German nihilists (led by Peter Stormare), and The Dude and Walter's frequently-silenced third wheel teammate Donny (Steve Buscemi).

Like Fargo and Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski displays the Coen brothers' ability to tastefully fuse mystery, crime, and comedy. This movie leans heavily on the comedy, which surfaces both in chatty, eminently quotable exchanges and indelible characters. As well as any of their films, Lebowski illustrates the Coens' curious dichotomy in that they are considered artists and dissected academically, but they also respect entertainment value and big laughs.

Temperamental Vietnam veteran Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), The Dude's friend and bowling partner, whips out his gun in response to a perceived foul. The artwork of The Big Lebowski's eccentric daughter Maude (Julianne Moore) has been commended as being strongly vaginal.

On the surface, this might look like just a quirky bowling comedy, perhaps the Coens' answers to the Farrelly brothers' stupid Kingpin. But the Coens don't do lowbrow; even when it looks otherwise (O Brother Where Art Thou?, The Ladykillers), the writers/directors bring intellect and vision. Lebowski has both of those things, even if its screenplay is one of the most profane to not carry the names of Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino.
For his reliance on the F-word and his disinterest in conventional success, Creedence Clearwater-listening, White Russian-downing The Dude boasts a rather impressive vocabulary and a profound sense of Zen. Even Walter, whose loaded gun is the perfect metaphor for himself, has some sound ideas and historical perspective buried deep within his angry rants.

Not too far from its end, the film starts to run out of steam, as its mystery becomes less engaging, its dialogue less funny, and its interest moves from creative storytelling to imaginative visual gymnastics. As a whole, this is distinctly less polished than some of the brothers' earlier and later movies. And yet, in terms of popularity, this one seems to rank near the very top. That's sort of surprising because, typical of the directors, the movie is not the most accessible. It was profitable in theaters, where it opened on the same March weekend Fargo did two years earlier, and especially compared to some of the brothers' less widely distributed efforts. But it was not a major player, its gross placing it in between Half Baked (which Universal has twice bundled it with) and Rushmore among 1998 releases. Like the latter, acclaim, word of mouth, and home video would help give it a cult following, a phrase Lebowski earns as well as almost any modern film.

The Coens have since been cemented as geniuses, their nearly annual output as guaranteed as any filmmaker's to elicit mention in year-end "best of" discussions. From their oeuvre, Lebowski is rivaled only by Fargo and Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men in reputation. It is not surprising to find the film's imminent Blu-ray debut currently ranking 13th on Amazon.com's top sellers list. Few 13-year-old films carrying a $30 list price and following a number of DVD editions could be expected to attract such notice. Aware of its fan base, Universal Studios Home Entertainment isn't giving the film some run-of-the-mill BD. Arriving over four years after the film's appearance on the failed HD DVD format, this disc is proclaimed a Limited Edition, treated to the increasingly common collectible Blu-ray book packaging, and even providing a digital copy (a rare inclusion for a catalog title).

The Big Lebowski: Limited Edition Blu-ray Book cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), DTS 5.1 (French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: August 16, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Hardcover Digibook
Still available on 2-Disc 10th Anniversary Edition DVD ($19.98 SRP), 1-Disc Widescreen Collector's Edition DVD ($14.98 SRP), and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as PolyGram DVD (1998), Gramercy DVD (2003), 1-Disc Full Screen Collector's Edition DVD (2005), Achiever's Edition DVD (2005), HD DVD (2007), and 10th Anniversary Limited Edition DVD (2008)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Big Lebowski looks pretty great on Blu-ray. The modestly-budgeted film appears in 1.85:1 widescreen and is free of any noticeable imperfections. Displaying few signs of its age, the picture remains sharp, clean, and reasonably vibrant throughout, never for a moment leaving you any less than satisfied. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is largely anchored to the front channels, but it delivers the heavy stream of dialogue with crispness and weight. While I expected more of the rear channels than barely audible reinforcement on prominent musical cues, I can't imagine this betrays the Coens' original design. Though unable to compare this to the film's numerous past DVD incarnations, I have no doubt that this presentation bests them by a clear margin.

Mortimer Young of the fictional Forever Young Film Preservation welcomes you to "The Grand Lebowski" and details the dramatic restoration efforts that have gone into it. John Turturro, whose brief but colorful turn as Jesus Quintana ranks among his most memorable film work, is one of five actors recalling the film in two 10th anniversary featurettes.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

If you've got a sizable Coen brothers collection, then you already know that Joel and Ethan aren't crazy about bonus features, or rather they're not crazy about recording audio commentaries and sharing deleted scenes.
Though this oft-revisited fan favorite doesn't upset that tradition, Universal still manages to collect a number of supplements here, many of them designed to enhance repeat viewings.

Such features begin with "Worthy Adversaries: What's My Line Trivia", which lets one or two viewers put their knowledge of the film's dialogue to the test. You can choose to have either The Dude or Walter represent you. Playback proceeds as normal, but every once in a while, the film pauses and asks you to pick the next line about to be uttered from four believable choices. Your Dude or Walter icon (surely a friend to burn-in) keeps track of your score throughout. Though cool, the feature pops up far too infrequently, at least in the single-player mode I chose. It also comes at a cost, disabling time code displays and pop-up menus.

Other playback enhancers fall under Universal's "U-Control" heading. Though you can only activate one at a time, you can shuffle from one to the other without leaving the movie. It's too bad the line trivia seemingly can't be paired up with these, since none of them are overflowing with content. "The Music of Big Lebowski" provides helpful song credits for tunes as they are featured. Like a sporadic picture-in-picture commentary, "Scene Companion" shares facts, cast/crew quotes, and interview snippets, laying video, readings, and graphics over the film and its soundtrack. "Mark It, Dude", meanwhile, keeps count of utterances of "Dude", the F-word/variations, and other "Lebowski-isms", though its numbers and icons could really use some clarity.

U-Control also offers uHear, which, at the pressing of a button, repeats recent lines you might have missed with English subtitles displayed. It's a nifty feature that should become a standard, even if it's not often of use here. (Although, you otherwise don't seem able to run subtitles with the other U-Control modes activated.)

"An Exclusive Introduction" (4:40, SD) is not what you might expect, unless you've already seen it. It is a welcome message from Mortimer Young, head of Forever Young Film Preservation. He stuffily and long-windedly introduces "The Grand Lebowski", which he demonstrates has been extensively restored from degraded elements. This windowboxed message from the fictional studio executive is a spoof that no doubt entertains the Coens, who included a similar thing on Blood Simple.

"The Dude's Life" (10:05, HD) reflects on the characters with separate remarks from Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, and John Turturro. "The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later" (10:27, HD) has the same cast members discuss the film's legacy, their favorite lines, and their memories of filming. It's lightweight, but still a neat retrospective.

In a seemingly calculated bit of oddness, writers Ethan and Joel Coen pick at their fingernails throughout "The Making of 'The Big Lebowski'." This young woman paying homage to The Dude is just one of many fans attending Lebowski Fest, a tradition celebrated in "An Achiever's Story."

Though it sounds like it could be a standard promotional EPK piece, "The Making of The Big Lebowski" (24:35, SD) is in fact a thorough and substantial (albeit unsightly) featurette from the time of production. It collects insightful thoughts from the Coens and their cast members on the story, tone, inspirations, characters, and collaborators. For some reason, the Coens nervously pick their fingernails clean while speaking throughout.

"An Achiever's Story" (13:53, SD) is an excerpt from the feature documentary The Achievers on fans' annual Lebowski Fest. It details the origins of the yearly gathering that celebrates Lebowski. It starts with the humble first southern event and watches it move and grow, with celebrity appearances and increasingly creative costumes. I suspect it might have been worthwhile for the full movie to be licensed, but most viewers should find this sample sufficient.

"Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequences of The Dude" (4:20, HD) briefly discusses the movie's two fantasy scenes, with actors recalling their filming and, in older footage, the Coens citing their influences.

The Interactive Map's shorts point out the Los Angeles locations used in the film, here charting the opening tumbleweed's highway path. This awkward-looking reunion of "Fargo" baddies Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare is one of dozens of photos shot, shown, and described by Jeff Bridges.

An Interactive Map places fourteen markers around a hilltop view of downtown Los Angeles designating locations from the film. Selecting any one of them treats you to a dryly funny 30-45-second short (HD) on the real location and its role in the film. It's a cool activity you don't need to be an Angeleno to appreciate.

"Jeff Bridges Photo Book" (17:30, HD) is a featurette that lets the actor show off the book of his artistic black & white on-set stills he gave to cast and crew members. The piece is well compiled and his comments make this feel like a friendly visit instead of just a typical gallery. We do, however, get one of those (3:25, SD), a scored slideshow that moves quickly through many of Bridges' already displayed photos.

Finally, there is a 30-second PSA for Jeff Bridges' No Kid Hungry campaign.

A BD-Live section lets you stream trailers for various current Universal properties (including Bring It On: The Musical) as well as some exclusive content pertaining to other films and their Blu-ray releases (like a Judd Apatow Funny People Q & A). Not must-see stuff, but not bad as far as BD-Live freebies go.

As proof of how confusing all these Blu-ray technologies may seem, a "How to" section provides six multi-step tutorials on features offered here.

Not all of The Big Lebowski's DVD bonus features make the cut here. The teaser trailer from its original 1998 PolyGram DVD has never resurfaced, nor have that disc's cast/crew bios (an early DVD staple that has become obsolete). The production notes from the 2005 editions do not reappear, presumably supplanted by the book's more distanced remarks.
Everything from the 2-Disc 10th Anniversary Edition DVD is retained, with its new additions being the only HD extras here. The playback enhancements are the only bonus features newly created for this Blu-ray. In addition, the tangible bonuses of the movie's two premium collector's sets (photo cards, character coasters, a bowling towel, bowling ball packaging) obviously do not feature here.

The menus run a lively montage, while various selections prompt memorable lines to play. With a BD-Live connection, you get rotating ads for a number of recent Universal Blu-ray releases, some offering the chance to view bonus feature samples. You can deactivate this if you choose. The same connection enables fresh, timely, new ads to precede menu loading some of the time. The disc doesn't resume playback automatically, but it does support bookmarks on the feature presentation.

The players of "The Big Lebowski" are profiled on these two pages of its Blu-ray book.

The disc is packaged on a standard, sturdy hub that adorns the back page of a hardcover book whose height falls between DVD and Blu-ray standards. I've yet to figure out why studios feel that Blu-rays and books go together in a way that DVD never did (more disposable income?), but Blu-ray books are a lot nicer to look at and classier to display than standard plastic cases. The 30-page book here, whose front cover is embossed (and its bowling equipment textured), opens and closes with a creative roadmap through the film's windy plot with amusing graphics and quotes. Needless to say, it's designed for those who have already seen the movie. The book proceeds to celebrate the film with analysis, a White Russian recipe, an interview with The Dude's real-life inspiration Jeff Dowd, an overview of the cast of characters, some of Bridges' behind-the-scenes photos, discussions of the film's cult following and annual festival, and a challenging 22-question quiz (I got 14 right). It's a pretty swell companion book; maybe not something you'd buy on its own, but you'd feel okay displaying it on your coffee table (assuming your company is not offended by a lot of profanity).

The aforementioned digital copy is not included on a wasteful DVD-ROM. Instead, you can download it from an official site with the provided authorization code. With Internet connections as fast and reliable as they are today, I'm not sure why this isn't the standard procedure. The 4-page booklet holding directions and your unique activation code uses its other pages to promote other Universal catalog comedies on Blu-ray, Big Lebowski t-shirts, and No Kid Hungry.

Bowling teammates The Dude (Jeff Bridges), Donny (Steve Buscemi), and Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) have different reactions to the taunts of Jesus Quintana.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though I don't consider The Big Lebowski one of the best films of the '90s or among the very best efforts of the Coen Brothers, it remains an appealing comedy, with lines, characters, and moments more memorable than most films offer. If you've ever enjoyed the directors' offbeat style and distinctive storytelling, then you should like this beloved dark romp.

The movie is treated to a pretty solid Blu-ray debut here, with a pleasing feature presentation, a decent collection of recycled bonus features, and a nice companion book. Fans will need no encouragement to pick this up, which they can do with no reservations.

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Limited Edition Blu-ray Book / 10th Anniversary Edition DVD / Instant Video


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Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by the Coen Brothers: True Grit • A Serious Man • No Country for Old Men (3-Disc Collector's Edition)
Jeff Bridges: Tron & Tron: Legacy (2-Movie Collection) • The Men Who Stare at Goats • Stick It • Iron Man
Julianne Moore: The Kids Are All Right | John Goodman & Steve Buscemi: Monsters, Inc. | David Huddleston: Santa Claus: The Movie
1990s Movies on Blu-ray Disc: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Criterion Collection) • The Usual Suspects (Blu-ray Book) • Dead Man

The Big Lebowski Songs List (in order of use): Sons of the Pioneers - "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", Bob Dylan - "The Man in Me", Esquivel - "Mucha Muchacha", Monks - "I Hate You", Captain Beefheart - "Her Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles", The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir - "Requiem in D Minor", The Gipsy Kings - "Hotel California", Llona Steingruber, Anton Dermota and the Austrian State Radio Orchestra - "Glück Das Mir Verblieb" from the opera Die Tote Stadt, Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Run Through the Jungle", Booker T. & the MG's - "Behave Yourself", Meredith Monk - "Walking Song", Piero Piccioni - "Traffic Boom", Dean Martin - "Standing on the Corner", Debbie Reynolds - "Tammy", Elvis Costello - "My Mood Swings", The Rustavi Choir - "We Venerate Thy Cross", Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Lookin' Out My Back Door", The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra - "Pictures at an Exhibition", Santana - "Oye Como Va", Yma Sumac - "Ataypura", Henry Mancini - "Lujon", Teo Usuelli - "Piacere Sequence", Kenny Rogers & The First Edition - "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)", Jeff Bridges - "Branded" Theme Song, The Eagles - "Peaceful Easy Feeling", Big Johnson - "Viva Las Vegas", Nina Simone - "I Got It Bad & That Ain't Good", Moondog with Orchestra - "Stamping Ground", Townes Van Zandt - "Dead Flowers", Shawn Colvin - "Viva Las Vegas"

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Reviewed August 14, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1998 PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Working Title Productions, and 2011 Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
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