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The Big Lebowski(1998)
"Dude" Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.
For more about The Big Lebowski and the The Big Lebowski Blu-ray release, see the The Big Lebowski Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on July 28, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: John Goodman, Jeff Bridges (I), Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, David Huddleston
Narrator: Sam Elliott
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
» See full cast & crew
The Big Lebowski Blu-ray Review
The Dude abides. . .but does this Blu-ray?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, July 28, 2011
In the cookie cutter copycat world of the film industry, you have to give Joel and Ethan Coen credit for one thing: they are individuals, obviously unafraid to pursue their artistic vision and instincts wherever those instincts lead them. Even a cursory review of the Coen Brothers' oeuvre reveals a startling variety of subject matter, approaches and styles: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn't There, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man and last year's remake of True Grit. Taking even one of these disparate properties can be a lesson in idiosyncratic filmmaking technique, one which eschews the Syd Field screenwriting dicta and tried and true directorial tropes and often throws caution to the wind with bracing results. But taken together as a whole, this series of films is simply an amazing achievement, certainly one of the most singular in contemporary film, and one which has made the Coen Brothers objects of both lavish praise and more than occasional disparaging scorn. How dare they? seems to be the mantra when the Coens don't toe the line as they're expected to (though one would think by this time The Establishment would have figured out the Coens aren't about to be toeing many lines). And it can't be argued that several of their films are at least partial misfires. And so where does The Big Lebowski fall (no pun intended, considering a couple of dreams Jeff Bridges' Dude character has in the film)? Lebowski was snuggled in between Fargo, arguably the Coen's most successful film in terms of audience appeal and critical praise, and O Brother Where Art Thou?, another incredibly original production which also generated significant box office and critical approval. And the consensus at the time of Lebowski's release is that it wasn't just a misfire, it was writing, directorial and production excess of such an extreme as to be largely unwatchable, despite an appealing cast and several at least fitfully amusing sequences. But something Rocky Horror Picture Show-esque happened along the way, and The Big Lebowski somehow attained a cult status perhaps unmatched in the Coen Brothers canon in the decade plus since its initial theatrical exhibition. The cult contingent insists Lebowski is the Coens' masterwork, a finely detailed and expertly crafted skewering of all sorts of conventions and one which may have a piquant political subtext. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. It can be stated quite positively that The Big Lebowski is certainly unlike any other film in recent (and maybe much more than recent) memory, an odd concatenation of a quasi-detective mystery and an indisputably bizarre character study. On the other hand, it also can't be denied that the Coens seem to be throwing everything they can think of at the screen in the hopes that something will stick, and that gives the film an at times overwhelming ambience that some may find off-putting.
Some semblance of the reassessment of The Big Lebowski can be gleaned from the fact that in the week this review is posted a major news story appearing on most major portals' news sites is that the funky bungalow in which The Dude (Jeff Bridges) resides has been put up for sale. It's rather unusual to see a news story of this type unless it's something as iconic as Dorothy's ruby slippers or the recent gargantuant Debbie Reynolds auction of Golden Age costumes and props (including Marilyn Monroe's Seven Year Itch dress which fetched a cool multi-million, more or less the same price being asked for the bungalow). But is this now vaunted "cool factor" really warranted? Well, yes and no. The Big Lebowski plays a bit like the Coen Brothers' Greatest Hits, at least up to its 1998 release date. The kidnapping subplot has elements of Raising Arizona, Julianne Moore's character speaks in a clipped, Katharine Hepburn 1930's style that is a mirror image of the Jennifer Jason Leigh character in The Hudsucker Proxy. We have the inept criminals that skirt around the edges of Blood Simple (and perhaps even Miller's Crossing), there's the labyrinthine plotting and multi- character interplay of Fargo and the hyperintellectualism of Barton Fink. But do all of these ingredients add up to a cohesive whole?
Part of what gives The Big Lebowski its undeniably slapdash feeling is that its lead character is a slacker stoner type who is just as apt to suffer from Busby Berkeley-esque hallucinations as he is to actually amble through anything approaching "normal" reality (this being a Coen Brothers film, normal is a decidedly relative term). The Dude's given name is Jeffrey Lebowski, a moniker he shares with a local tycoon (David Huddleston), and in a mix-up which sends the film's cartwheeling plot into full gear, some thugs bent on collecting a debt show up at The Dude's cottage by mistake, thinking it belongs to the rich Lebowski. Without giving away too much of this film's incredibly convoluted plot, The Dude is soon caught up in a kidnapping plot involving the tycoon's trophy wife Bunny (Tara Reid), as well as various sidebars including the tycoon's daughter (Julianne Moore) by his first wife, The Dude's manic depressive Nam veteran bowling league buddy Walter (John Goodman), their tag along moron Donny (Steve Buscemi) and, just for good measure, a competing league manned by a purple clad, sexually deviant John Turturro, as well as a trio of German nihilists (is there any other kind of German?) who are caught up in the kidnapping angle. Complex enough for you?
It's probably best when approaching a film as patently odd as The Big Lebowski to follow The Dude's lead and simply "go with the flow," enjoying the film for its odd assortment of characters and its twisty-turny plot machinations, without worrying too much about the details. Several revisionists have insisted the film is actually a thinly veiled critique of neo-Conservatism, and while there are certainly pointers in that direction (the repeated allusions to Saddam and the first Iraq war, as well as David Huddleston's weirdly similar appearance to Dick Cheney), that insistence may in fact be looking too hard to find meaning where there is none. What might be a more salient, generalized message to take away from The Big Lebowski is a much simpler one: there are those who drift through their lives, more or less happily dealing with the manifold trials and tribulations with which they're faced (and which they at least in part bring upon themselves), and there are those who try to mold fate to their own designs, usually failing spectacularly.
This is a film with probably a very narrow allure for the public at large. It doesn't have the mass appeal hooks of several bigger, more successful Coen Brothers outings, and it may in fact simply be too quirky for its own good. But in the cookie cutter copycat world of the film industry, sometimes a noble, completely original attempt is far, far better than the Xerox copies which seem to pop out of other filmmakers' cameras with depressing regularity.
The Big Lebowski Blu-ray, Video Quality
I frankly never saw the HD-DVD release of The Big Lebowski, but I have to wonder whether this is the same transfer, due to the VC-1 encode (in 1080p and 1.85:1). The film is not overly pretty, despite having been lensed by the magnificent cinematographer Roger Deakins (Kundun). Colors are bright, just this side of lurid a lot of the time (especially within the confines of the bowling alley), but are lifelike and suitably robust. Sharpness is certainly much better than the DVD, though there is attendant edge enhancement and some minor artifacting issues, including transitory aliasing, as well as some fairly noticeable crush in the nighttime scenes and Universal's typical DNR. Fine detail is quite good a lot of the time, again especially in the brightly lit bowling alley sequences, where everything from Turturro's plush velour purple jumpsuit to the shiny ambience of the bowling balls themselves are delivered with clarity and precision. Some of the film still looks relatively soft, as it always has, but on the whole fans of The Big Lebowski shouldn't have too much to complain about with this new Blu-ray.
The Big Lebowski Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There's no denying the nice, if subtle, sonic upgrade afforded to The Big Lebowski, courtesy of a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. While this is obviously a dialogue driven film, there's quite a bit of attention paid to its overall sound design, and the film features several wonderful moments of immersion as well as a slew of great (and sometimes rather funny) sound effects (listen for example to the kind of champagne cork-popping sound the bowling balls make as they exit the return mechanism). The film is filled to the brim with source cues, all of which sound excellent, and several of the more bombastic sequences benefit from this new lossless track. Especially impressive are quick but effective moments like the "handoff" sequence where The Dude and Walter are supposedly going to give the kidnappers their ransom (or are they?), leading to a car crash and then the roar of three motorcycles zooming off into the distance. LFE is wonderfully robust in this sequence and the panning effect is also very well handled. Fidelity is great throughout the track, and dynamic range is also very good.
The Big Lebowski Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Big Lebowski Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
There's no denying the fact that The Big Lebowski has become something of a cult sensation in the decade plus since its release. There's also no denying the fact that at least some of that acclaim has no doubt come from brothers-in-arms of The Dude, those who shall we say may be slightly herbally enhanced as they watch the film. Those without "assistance" (so to speak) may find The Big Lebowski simply too outré to be tolerated, but for a certain few (even those who haven't "enhanced" themselves), the film is wacky, weird and at least occasionally wonderful. This is definitely not the film to start with if you're new to the Coen Brothers (I'd recommend Fargo for that), but if you do have experience with Joel and Ethan's often discursive way with plot and character, as well as their completely idiosyncratic sense of humor, you'll most likely find a lot to love in this appealingly disheveled outing. One way or the other, it's pretty much guaranteed you've never seen anything quite like The Big Lebowski. Highly recommended.
The Big Lebowski: Other Editions
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The Big Lebowski Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Big Lebowski Blu-ray Cast Reunion Livestream - August 16, 2011
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that it will stream their sold out reunion Q&A, Lebowski Fest New York, via Facebook and Livestream. The event, which is being held to mark today's Blu-ray release of the film, will feature Jeff "The Dude" Dowd, ...
• This Week on Blu-ray: August 16-22 - August 16, 2011
While The Big Lebowski will always been remembered for the hilarious misadventures of one of the greatest slackers of all time – The Dude – it should also be recognized for its detailed character development that only the Coen Brothers seem to have been able to ...
• The Big Lebowski Limited Edition Blu-ray - May 24, 2011
The Dude is finally coming to Blu-ray. Universal Studios Home Entertainment has revealed all the details surrounding the Blu-ray release of the Coen Brothers' cult comedy classic, The Big Lebowski, which is officially confirmed for August 16th. The Limited Edition ...
» Show more related news posts for The Big Lebowski Blu-ray
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