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The Big Lebowski: Collector’s Edition DVD Review

The Big Lebowski: Collector’s Edition

February 6, 2006

Director: Joel Coen,
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, David Huddleston, Peter Stormare, Ben Gazzara, Tara Reid, Flea, Jon Polito, Sam Elliot, ,

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DVD Review

It started with a rug that “really tied the room together” and how a simple case of mistaken identity can cause a whole lot of trouble. The Big Lebowski (1998) was just too odd for mainstream audiences and promptly tanked at the box office. However, the Coen brothers’ movie found new life on video and has since become a cult film favourite, inspiring countless websites and even an annual convention known as the Lebowski Fest that has been running for three years.

Set in Los Angeles during the first Persian Gulf War, the Coens weave a decidedly unconventional tale about a man known as The Dude. Jeff “The Dude” (“or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.”) Lebowski (Bridges) is a laid-back kinda guy, an aging Hippie who spends his days drinking White Russians, smoking pot, and bowling with his buddies—Walter (Goodman), a bitter Viet Nam vet, and Donny (Buscemi), a not too-bright surfer. One night, two thugs invade the Dude’s home, rough him up, and urinate on his rug. It seems that they have him confused with another Lebowski, a rich millionaire (Huddleston) who’s young wife (Reid) owes money all over town. Bummed at having his prized rug ruined, The Dude decides to contact the other Lebowski and in doing so becomes immersed in a very strange, convoluted plot that involves nihilists, a kidnapping, Busby Berkley dream sequences, British performance artists, and, of course, bowling.

Most films do not take the time to flesh out their respective worlds or the characters that live in them but this is not the case with the Coens. The world that they create in The Big Lebowski is populated by a humourous and often bizarre collection of characters and this includes fully-realized ones, both major and minor, that have their own unique habits and mannerisms. You have the obnoxiously narcissistic bowler named Jesus (Turturro) who is also a convicted pederast, feminist performance artist/painter Maude Lebowski (Moore) who wants the Dude to help her conceive a child, and, of course, the Nihilists, failed Euro-pop musicians who prove to be one of the more formidable antagonists for the Dude and his buddies.

You would think that all of these wildly eccentric characters would overshadow the main character, but they merely enhance the wonderful performance by Jeff Bridges, who is the heart and soul of this movie. Some of the funniest moments are how he reacts to these weird characters that he meets. From the first time we see him, Bridges is The Dude. And even though he is a down-and-out loser, there is something undeniably likable about him, and this is due in large part to Bridges’ performance.

The Big Lebowski may not have the dramatic weight or substance of Miller’s Crossing (1990) or Fargo (1996) but that is sort of the point. It is more of a comedic odyssey or romp through a surreal landscape known as Los Angeles. The Coens have done what Robert Altman achieved in the ’70s with The Long Goodbye (1973): use the hard-boiled world of Raymond Chandler as a starting point to satirize Los Angeles culture. Like Altman’s film, The Big Lebowski dispenses with conventional narrative in favour of atmosphere, colourful characters and insanely quotable dialogue. The joy of this film is in watching the entertaining diversions, subplots and minor characters. You’re not supposed to really care about if the convoluted storyline is resolved or not. That is merely window-dressing for the Coens to showcase this highly engaging world that they’ve created.

I daresay that The Big Lebowski is the Coen brothers’ best film to date. It is the perfect mix of their flashy style, eccentric characters, and distinctive dialogue. It is a rare comedy that can be watched over and over and never gets old. They have created a richly detailed world that is so inviting and entertaining that you want to revisit it again and again. The Dude abides.

Special Features:

Once again, Universal complete drops the ball in the extras department. This should have been a no-brainer and instead, as the Dude would say, “You fucked it up!”

The film is introduced by Mortimer Young, the old, pretentious windbag film preservationist who savaged the Coens’ Blood Simple (1984) on his “audio commentary” for that film’s DVD. Likewise, he basically serves as a goof by the Coens as they parody the notion of special editions, director’s cuts and restored prints.

Gone is the nice teaser trailer from the previous version. Okay, no big loss.

Next up is “Jeff Bridges’ Photography,” a nice three minute montage of photos the actor took on the set of The Big Lebowski. There are some really good candid shots and Bridges is quite the talented shutterbug.

Also included is the 30 minute promotional video entitled, “The Making of The Big Lebowski” from the previous disc. While not nearly as informative or exhaustive as the book of the same name that was released in conjunction with the film, this promo is worth watching if only to see Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, and, in particular, the interview-shy Coens talk about their film.

Lastly, there are the standard production notes that could have easily been downloaded off the Internet.

For what it’s worth, the transfer of the movie has improved significantly from the previous edition now that it no longer has to share disc space with the pan and scan version. But that is not enough to warrant double-dipping unless you really feel the need.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 90%

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