The Big Lebowski [Blu-Ray]
Director : Joel Coen
Screenplay : Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1998
Stars : Jeff Bridges (The Dude), John Goodman (Walter Sobchak), Julianne Moore (Maude Lebowski), Steve Buscemi (Donny), David Huddleston (The Big Lebowski), John Turturro (Jesus Quintana), Peter Stormare (Nihilist), Sam Elliott (The Stranger), Ben Gazzara (Jackie Treehorn), Tara Reid (Bunny Lebowski)
Like a good Caucasian, Joel and Ethan Coen’s L.A.-based crime-caper-comedy The Big Lebowski is an acquired taste, but potentially addictive once you take to its perfectly offbeat blend of seemingly disparate elements. Largely misunderstood and/or ignored during its initial theatrical release, which came two years after the Coens’ critically acclaimed, multi-Oscar-winning Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski has since developed a fervid cult following of aficionados who appreciate its laid-back offbeat humor, Zen-like vibes, and infinite quotability. How many other cult hits, no matter how adored, have resulted in their own church?
It’s not surprising that the Coens would produce the most memorable cult hit since The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Ever since their film debut in 1984 with the tightly wrought Texas thriller Blood Simple, the Brothers Coen have been one of the most eclectic, original, and downright fascinating creative teams to work in modern Hollywood. Their films tend to be highly stylized, deeply embedded in a particular time and place, and populated by characters who are both bizarre and completely recognizable, usually caught up in highly unusual circumstances--which, in a nutshell, describes The Big Lebowski, although any attempt at summarizing the film’s many and varied pleasures risks minimizing what a profoundly wonderful achievement it is.
The action takes place in Los Angeles during the first Gulf War, and the hero (if you can call him that) is one Jeffrey Lebowski, who prefers to be referred to as “the Dude.” Played in one of those feats of immaculate casting by Jeff Bridges (who later reteamed with the Coens in True Grit), the Dude is shaggy, ragged, and always true to himself--bathrobe, cheap sunglasses, and all. He is an instantly memorable screen presence, a blissful concoction of faded ’60s radicalism and early ’90s slackerdom. Bridges’ performance is the kind that is too good to be nominated for an Oscar because it flies right under our radar with its lived-in perfection; he doesn’t so much play the Dude as he is the Dude, a simple man who has never quite made it out of his time and place and joined modern society He smokes a lot of pot, drinks a lot of White Russians, and is more than content to spend the majority of his time bowling with his two buddies, an amusingly psychotic Vietnam vet named Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) who is given to untimely ’Nam-inspired outbursts and an intense dedication to his adopted Judaism, and Donny (Steve Buscemi), one of those guys who always wants to be part of the conversation, but never quite makes it in.
The plot is set in motion when the Dude is confused with another Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston), the latter being a millionaire philanthropist whose trophy wife, Bunny (Tara Reid), owes a lot of (bad) people a lot of money. Since the central storyline and all its accompanying side-plots and Coenesque diatribes are far too complicated to get into here (and largely beside the point, since the film is really about tone and character), suffice it to say that the Dude becomes deeply involved with the Big Lebowski when Bunny is kidnapped and the Dude is asked to be a courier for the ransom money. By the time all is said and done, Walter has become deeply involved, as has the Big Lebowski’s daughter Maude (Julianne Moore), an avant-garde performance artist, a pornographer named Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), and a group of German nihilists led by Peter Stormare, who was so memorable as the silent but deadly kidnaper in Fargo. He doesn’t say much here either, but he makes the most of his screen time by turning the extremes of ideological conviction into absurdist farce.
In a sense, The Big Lebowski plays like an amalgam of all the Coen Brothers’ efforts up until that point. It shares their previous films’ strong sense of time and place, as well as their send-ups of movie genres and political and cultural ideologies. The very idea of pairing the Dude and Walter, the latter of whom probably would have shot the former during a peace demonstration in the ’60s, is testament to both the Coens’ twisted sense of humor and the way in which they find bizarre strands of humanity in the weirdest of scenarios (note the way Walter and the Dude get along by not getting along). As a whole, Lebowski’s closest cousin in the Coen universe is Raising Arizona (1987), with which it shares crazed caricatures, outlandish plot developments, surreal dream sequences (including a fantastic Busby Berkley-like dance number built around bowling and Vikings), and a general sense of cartoonish abandon that is nevertheless all of a piece. There is nothing serious about The Big Lebowski, but the Coens play it straight, which is why it has caught on with so many viewers: They dig its generosity and its genuineness.
The film was shot by veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins, in the fourth of his 11-and-counting collaborations with the Coens (they had previously worked on Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Fargo). Deakins always gives the Coens’ films a distinctive visual style, and here he does a brilliant job of capturing the bright colors of seedy Los Angeles in the early ’90s, whether that be the obnoxious purple polyester pant suit worn by the Dude’s bowling nemesis Jesus Quintana (John Turturro) or the strikingly manic dream sequences, one of which involves the dizzy spectacle of watching a strike from a bowling ball’s point of view. That particular shot is especially endemic of the Coens’ panache for turning our world inside out. Their talent lies not in their ability to reflect the norms of reality, but in the way they dig out the darkest and oddest corners of life, unearth them, and find the humor. In the end, the Coens will likely be most revered in cinematic circles for their more “serious” films, but those who appreciate their oddball sensibilities know that they will never make a movie better than The Big Lebowski.
|The Big Lebowski Limited Edition Blu-Ray + Digital Copy|
|Subtitles||English, Spanish, French|
|Distributor||Universal Studios Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||August 16, 2011|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|If you ignore the already forgotten HD-DVD release a few years back, Universal’s Limited Edition Blu-Ray marks The Big Lebowski’s debut in high definition. The transfer certainly looks good, a decided improvement over the previously available DVD releases, although there are some instances of obvious DNR and a slight softness that permeates the film. Detail level is still good throughout, and colors are definitely improved, with an intense boldness befitting the film (especially the dream sequences and all the scenes that take place in the bowling alley). While the image quality is a little hit-or-miss, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround soundtrack is a consistent winner, with great fidelity and expansiveness in the musical cues. Quite a bit of the soundtrack is front-stage-oriented with all the dialogue, but the various songs that fill the soundtrack are impressively robust, as are the ambient sound effects.|
|The majority of the supplements, including half a dozen featurettes, an interactive map, and an excerpt from the fan documentary The Achievers, will be familiar to those who bought the 10th Anniversary two-disc DVD special edition in 2008. In addition to the upgraded sound and image, the Blu-Ray features Universal’s U-Control, which have several benefits, including “Scene Companion,” a picture-in-picture option that allows you to watch cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage during key scenes; “Mark it Dude,” an onscreen counter that allows you to keep track of all the “F-Bombs,” “Dudes,” and “Dude-isms” in the film; and “The Music of The Big Lebowski,” which identifies the songs in the film and allows you to create a custom playlist of your favorites and purchase them from iTunes. Other new tidbits include the trivia game “Worthy Adversaries,” as well as various BD-Live options and a digital copy.|
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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