The Big Lebowski: Limited Edition
August 11, 2011
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen,
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, David Huddleston, Peter Stormare, Ben Gazzara, Tara Reid, Sam Elliot,
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 underperformed at the box office. However, the Coen brothers’ film found new life on video and has since become a cult film favorite, inspiring countless websites and even an annual convention known as the Lebowski Fest that has been running for three years. So, it would make sense that the studio would go back to the well for yet another edition of this film on home video, this time on Blu-ray.
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 veteran, 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) whose young trophy 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 humorous and an 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 film. 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 1970’s 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 a conventional narrative in favor of atmosphere, colorful 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.
The transfer on this disc really highlights the bright color scheme that the Coens used for The Big Lebowski with some excellent detail. The film’s awesome soundtrack gets a nice showcase on a DTS 5.1 surround sound, which should show-off your sound system. This new edition carries over all the extras that were on the 10th Anniversary edition, which include:
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.
“The Dude’s Life” features Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, John Goodman, and John Turturro reminiscing about the film, its legacy and their characters. It is obvious that these actors had fun making the film and still regard it fondly. Turturro gets the best moment when he talks about his idea for a spin-off film focusing on his character.
“The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later” is a nice retrospective look at the legacy of this film. Cast members talk about its initial lackluster reception among critics and audiences only to gain a dedicated cult following over the years. The cast is quick to dispel the notion that dialogue was improvised – everything was scripted. This is a nice look at the film.
There are the standard production notes that could have easily been downloaded off the Internet.
Also included is a theatrical trailer.
“Jeff Bridges Photobook” has the actor take us through all of the photographs he took on the set of The Big Lebowski and then presented to cast in a book upon completion of the film. There are some really good candid shots and Bridges is quite the talented shutterbug.
Next up is “Photo Gallery,” a three-minute montage that condenses the previous extra, which seems rather pointless now.
Also included is the 30-minute promotional video entitled, “The Making of The Big Lebowski.” 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.
“The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever’s Story” features excerpts from The Achievers documentary, which chronicles the annual festival that celebrates the film with bowling and a screening. It also allows fans to dress up as their favorite characters and meet one another and bond. It started in 2002 and has been going strong ever since.
“Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams” takes a brief look at “Gutterballs,” the Dude’s surreal dream sequence and how it was done.
There is an “Interactive Map” allows you to visit key locations in the film with a clip juxtaposed with the actual locations as it looks now.
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.
New to this edition is the U-Control function, which allows you to watch the film with cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes footage while viewing the film. Another feature allows you to watch the film with a running count on the number of curse words and “Dude-isms” used throughout. Finally, you can watch the film with a text commentary that identifies each song as it plays, which is handy for such a track-heavy motion picture.
Finally, there is a trivia game that allows you to be either the Dude or Walter as you try to complete various memorable lines of dialogue from the film. Cute but hardly essential.
A nice touch is the accompanying booklet, which features liner notes, a brief interview with the real dude, Jeff Dowd, how to make your own White Russian, a quiz and a guide to all the characters and the actors that played them.