Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Big Lebowski Limited Edition Digibook Blu-ray Review

Bowling, nihilists, a stolen rug and the occasional acid flashback have never been funnier when one of the most popular cult classics in history, The Big Lebowski Limited Edition, debuts on Blu-ray August 16, 2011 from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.  From the Academy Award-winning Coen brothers, The Big Lebowski is a hilariously quirky comedy about bowling, a severed toe, White Russians and a guy named…The Dude.  Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski doesn’t want any drama in his life…heck, he can’t even be bothered with a job.  But, he must embark on a quest with his bowling buddies after his rug is destroyed in a twisted case of mistaken identity. Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro, experience the cultural phenomenon of The Dude in this newly remastered in high definition transfer that’s sure to provide longtime fans and first-time viewers alike with the best possible Lebowski experience.

Film (5 out of 5 stars)

The Big Lebowski is an unlikely yet clever blend of film genres that somehow works thanks to an excellent script and direction from the Coen brothers and especially because of the cast.   The movie’s plot could have come from a Raymond Chandler book with its femme fatales, questionable rich men, crooked lawmen, and it’s twists and turns. When you combine that framework with a stoner comedy with an extra dose of social commentary, bowling, (and some White Russians)  you have wholly original The Big Lebowski.

The movie starts with some wonderful all-knowing narration from Sam Elliot as he identifies Jeff Lebowksi or “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges) as he likes to be called, as one of the laziest men in Los Angeles.  From all appearances, the label seems to fit the disheveled man as he wanders the grocery store.  When The Dude returns to his seedy unkempt home, he is quickly assaulted and has his head shoved into his toilet by two henchmen that there to collect a debt to a man named Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara).  To emphasize their seriousness with him, one of the men urinates on The Dude’s rug much to his dismay.  The thugs are there to collect a debt that is owed by the wife of another Jeffrey Lebowski who is supposed to be a millionaire.  After seeing the squalor all around them, the goons quickly realize that they have attacked the wrong Lebowski and they leave.

Later, The Dude is commiserating with his bowling buddies Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi) as he is especially upset about his rug getting peed on since “it really tied the room together.”    When Walt points out The Dude should be compensated by the other Lebowski since it was his fault that this all happened in the first place.  When The Dude meets with the millionaire Lebowski and asks for compensation for his rug, he is verbally abused by the wheelchair bound millionaire and told to leave which he does after convincing Lebowski’s assistant (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) that he was told he could take any rug he wanted on his way out.

Unfortunately for The Dude, his string of bad luck continues since his house is broken into by a woman (Julianne Moore) who later turns out to be Lebowski’s daughter and two other men and they knock him out and steal his new rug.  As if that wasn’t bad enough for The Dude, he’s called back to see the “big Lebowski,” who tells him that his trophy wife Bunny (Tara Reid) has been kidnapped and held ransom for a million dollars.  He asks The Dude to be his intermediary with the kidnappers and deliver the money to them for her release.  When The Dude makes the mistake of telling Walter about the job and his suspicion that Bunny kidnapped herself to get the money to pay off her debts, Walter ignores the plan and throws out a ringer briefcase that has his dirty underwear in it instead of the money.  This starts a chain of events that includes a severed toe, a trippy Busby Berkeley inspired dream sequence, some beatings, a death, and a lot more laughs.

The more I see this film, the more I love it for it’s dark humor, great characters, and its originality. This is my favorite Coen brothers film and I can’t say enough good things about it although my wife doesn’t like it at all.  Jeff Bridges much like the rest of the cast is just perfectas the put upon Dude who really only wants some compensation for his rug.  He’s not too bright but he shows flashes of intuitive reasoning as he is able to figure out at the end what really happened.  John Goodman’s Walter is another great character and as he mentions in the extras, he’s one of Goodman’s favorite roles.  Walter is emotionally unstable with a hair trigger temper and isn’t afraid to pull a gun on someone for not following the traditional rules of bowling.  He also frequently refers to his time in Vietnam no matter what the situation is, which drive The Dude crazy.

The third part of their team is Donny which is played by Steve Buscemi in a far different role than the one he had in Fargo.  Donny doesn’t talk much but when he does, it’s usually to interrupt one of Walter’s angry diatribes to great comic effect.  I also have to mention John Turturro’s roles as the vain, arrogant, pederast Jesus who is their main competition in the bowling tournament.  He is almost like an evil version of The Dude as he refers to himself as The Jesus.  Turturro’s performance in that role is brilliant, creepy, and largely improvised.  The rest of the supporting cast is also great including Ben Gazzara, Peter Stormare, Sam Elliot, and some early film appearances from David Thewlis, Mark Pellegrino, Aimee Mann, Flea, and of course Coen brother’s regular Jon Polito.  If you haven’t seen The Big Lebowski, you owe it to yourself to find out why this small movie has become such a cult favorite.

Video (4 out of 5 stars)

The film’s 1080p (1.85:1) transfer is considerably better than the previous DVD release although I haven’t seen the HD-DVD edition so I can’t compare it to that release.  This transfer offers a lot more detail which is even more evident during daylight or well lit scenes like the bowling alley. Cinematographer Roger Deakins was asked by the Coen brothers to light the scenes realistically which is why The Dude’s apartment looks dismal while the millionaire Lebowski’s mansion looks glorious.  Due to that, a lot of the issues I might raise can be explained away as a creative decision. However, that doesn’t excuse the excessive crush that is present in several night-time scenes. There’s a variety of brilliant colors on display, especially Jesus’ garish purple pantsuit.  Flesh tones look natural and consistent throughout the movie including the dream sequences.  I would say that this is an above average transfer and definitely a step up from DVD but I wish it was better.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)

The Big Lebowski’s lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also an upgrade over the previous DVD release and it works well for this movie.  While this is primarily a dialogue driven movie, there’s several instances where the mix is allowed to open up such as the hand off scene where Walter drops a loaded Uzi out the window which starts firing as soon as it hits the ground.  The bowling alley scenes are also filled with some nice atmospheric effects that allow some directional cues across the channels too.  Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand and the score by Carter Burwell and the rest of the eclectic music collected by T. Bone Burnett sounds great as well and it’s well balanced with the rest of the mix.

Special Features (4 out of 5 stars)

There’s a lot on this disc including a lot of extras that were on previous releases of the film.  While there’s a ton of quantity, I wish there was more quality – at least some in-depth extras and commentary tracks would have been nice.  What is here is welcome however and there’s a nice mixture of goodies.  Some extras however like “The Dude Abides” and the “Ten Years Later” ones seem to have just been split up to pad the disc since they footage is taken from the same interview.

  • U-Control – Universal’s exclusive feature that lets the viewer access bonus materials without leaving the movie!
  • Scene Companion - Watch cast and crew interviews, behind the scenes footage and more during key scenes with this picture-in-picture companion.  I enjoyed this option which allowed me to hear comments from the Coens but it’s intermittent.
  • Mark It Dude – This onscreen counter really ties the film together. Keep track of all the “F-Bombs,” “Dudes,” and “Dude-isms” in the film with this extra.
  • The Music of The Big Lebowski - Instantly identify the songs heard while watching the film and create your own custom playlist of your favorites and even purchase them from iTunes!
  • Worthy Adversaries: What’s My Line Trivia – Test your Lebowski knowledge by finishing lines of dialogue during the film. Play as Walter or The Dude or in two-player mode against friends.
  • BD-LIVE – Access the BD-Live™ Center through your Internet-connected player to watch the latest trailers and more.
  • pocket BLU - The groundbreaking pocket BLU app uses iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, PC and Macintosh to work seamlessly with a network-connected Blu-ray player. Also available on the iPad, owners can enjoy a new, enhanced edition of pocket BLU made especially to take advantage of the tablet’s larger screen and high resolution display. Consumers will be able to browse through a library of Blu-ray content and watch entertaining extras on-the-go in a way that’s bigger and better than ever before. pocket BLU offers advanced features such as:
    Advanced Remote Control - A sleek, elegant new way to operate your Blu-ray player. Users can navigate through menus, playback and BD-Live functions with ease.
    Video Timeline – Users can easily bring up the video timeline, allowing them to instantly access any point in the film.

    Mobile-To-Go – Users can unlock a selection of bonus content with their Blu-ray™ discs to save to their device or to stream from anywhere there is a Wi-Fi network, enabling them to enjoy content on the go, anytime, anywhere.
    Browse Titles – Users will have access to a complete list of pocket BLU-enabled titles available and coming to Blu-ray Hi-Def.  They can view free previews and see what additional content is available to unlock on their device.
    Keyboard – Entering data is fast and easy with your device’s intuitive keyboard.
    uHEAR – Never miss another line of dialogue with this innovative feature that instantly skips back a few seconds on your Blu-ray disc and turns on the subtitles to highlight what you missed.
  • Jeff Bridges Photo Book – For more than 30 years, Jeff Bridges has been snapping pictures on movie sets.  The accomplished photographer presents exclusive shots taken on the set of The Big Lebowski providing personal commentary on each photo.  I’ve always enjoyed seeing Bridges’s photos for each film he’s worked on and this is a nice addition to the extras.
  • The Dudes Life: A ten minute look back at the movie with Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi and John Turturro talking about their performances and their delivery of the Coen Brothers’ dialogue that became classic movie lines.
  • The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later – A freewheeling conversation with the cast about the film’s decade-long reign as a cult classic, including Jeff Bridges prediction about how the “little Lebowski” that the Dude and Maude made that fateful night turned out!  Turturro admits that it took him awhile to fully appreciate the movie.
  • The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever’s Story – An in-depth look at the popular Lebowski Festival, formed by the legion of fans in honor of the film.  We see the fest from its humble beginning to the huge event it is today and the people that made it happen.
  • Flying Carpets & Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequences of the Dude – From aerial flights over Los Angeles with his bowling ball chasing Maude on a flying carpet, to the large scale “Busby Berkley” dance sequences as The Dude goes flying through the legs of all the bowling pin headed dancers, this featurette examines how these trippy scenes were made.
  • The Making of The Big Lebowski - A behind the scenes look that includes interviews with the Coen Brothers. This extra is pretty much the only place you can see the Coen brothers which is unfortunate.
  • Photo Gallery – A brief slideshow of Jeff Bridges’ on-set photography.
  • Interactive Map – Take a tour of the locations of The Big Lebowski, then and now along with some scenes from the film to compare.  I always like these kind of extras to see how things have changed over time.  I wish more Blu-rays had this feature.
  • An Introduction – Featuring “Mortimer Young”, a practitioner of “non-uptight” film preservation.  This fake intro is a nice way to get into the right mind-set for the movie.
  • 28 Page Companion Book - An exclusive interview with Jeff Dowd – the real-life inspiration for The Dude.

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars)

The Big Lebowski is a very funny movie that I can whole-heartedly recommend.  A lot of people may not appreciate the Coen brothers type of dry and dark humor, but I love it.  This movie has an amazing cast that played roles that were tailor made for them.  This Blu-ray is definitely worth upgrading to if you have the DVD version as the picture and audio quality are superior to it and the added high def extras are also a nice bonus.
Order your copy today!

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