Universal // 1998 // 118 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Neal Masri (Retired) // October 31st, 2005
They figured he was a lazy time wasting slacker. They were right.
"The Dude abides." -- The Dude
"That rug really tied the room together." -- The Dude
"Hey, careful, man, there's a beverage here!" -- The Dude
"I do mind, the Dude minds. This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man." -- The Dude
Someone stop me, this is one of the most quotable movies of the last decade.
The Dude is not your normal hero and the Coen brothers did not make a standard follow-up to the huge critical and modest commercial success of Fargo. Thank God for that. The Big Lebowski is one of those movies that will get under your skin and become a part of you. Or not. That's the beauty of this movie. It's a club that you join whose sole membership requirement is that you get The Dude.
The Dude (a.k.a. Jeff Lebowski) is an unemployed denizen of Los Angeles. His one true passion is bowling. He has a philosophy of life but even he can't quite tell you what it is. He gets himself mixed up in a kidnapping plot involving the wife of The Big Lebowski (a millionaire who, as fate would have it, is also named Jeff Lebowski). This is all quite by accident though, as all The Dude wants is a replacement for the soiled rug which really tied the room together. Will it all work out? Well, Dude, we just don't know.
It's a tricky thing being a cult classic. I imagine it's even harder to make a cult classic. Rule number one must be that you can't be trying to make a cult classic. That is, audiences decide for themselves what will be a classic and what cult they will create. Rule number two of being a cult classic is box office performance (at least initially) must be minimal and, for a major studio release, disappointing. Not many filmmakers are shooting for that, I would think. So, by definition, a cult film has to be a happy accident.
Joel and Ethan Coen are a different breed though. It is so very refreshing to see people who seem to be making exactly the movies they want to make, regardless of the business decisions driving almost all Hollywood releases. The Big Lebowski is a meandering stroll of a movie that defies convention and simple description. The Coen brothers' previous effort, Fargo, was very much about place. Fargo and its milieu were as much a character in the movie as any of the actors. In much the same way, the Coen brothers' fractured take on Los Angeles is a character in this film.
There is a new introduction to the movie for this DVD that starts things off in a typically off-kilter and oddly funny Coen brothers way. Without giving too much away of the only new content in the movie, it's an amusing if not really enlightening way to kick things off. The introduction is in keeping with the tone of the movie, but I don't think it adds that much.
The movie proper then opens with a sweeping shot looking down on L.A. from the hills of southern California. We then see a tumbleweed rolling down the city streets. In a not-so-subtle bit of symbolism, this tumbleweed is The Dude (Jeff Bridges). Rolling along on the random breezes of life, he is a pot smoking, higher IQ Forrest Gump. The Dude is a passive observer; he takes what life throws his way with an admirable aplomb. In short, The Dude abides. Jeff Bridges wears the role of The Dude like an old and comfortable pair of sweatpants. He loses himself in the role in a way that's totally believable. The Dude is someone you feel like you know by the end of the movie.
Our narrator, Sam Elliott, is typecast once again as a wise and weathered old cowboy sage. There is a reason typecasting happens. Typecasting can work beautifully sometimes, and it does here. As a matter of fact, the Coens even admit in the making-of documentary that they're not even sure what he's doing in the movie. The best they could come up with was that they liked his voice.
In getting into a discussion of The Big Lebowski, the notion of plot (or as many would argue lack thereof) is irrelevant. This is a story about its characters. The story is episodic in structure (which the Coens based upon the structure of Raymond Chandler's hardboiled mysteries). The Dude spends most of his time bowling with his friends Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi). Bowling in this movie is raised to the level of Zen art from and is central to the lives of The Dude's circle of friends. Both Goodman and Buscemi are eminently reliable character actors and they do not disappoint here. Goodman especially stands out with his vividly drawn portrait of a veteran who cannot let go of his Vietnam experience. The performances are all spot on. John Turturro makes the most of limited screen time with a turn as a pederast bowler named Jesus. If you can believe it, he comes off creepier than I can actually describe him.
It would have been easy for this movie to condescend to its characters. Slight changes in tone or in the performances would make these people seem ridiculous or pathetic. As they are presented, you can feel the love that all those involved have for these misfits (with perhaps the notable exception of Jesus). Their affection is contagious.
The catalyst for the entire movie is the damaging and subsequent loss of The Dude's carpet. The loss of the beloved carpet leads The Dude to the palatial home of The Big Lebowski (David Huddleston), a successful businessman who happens to share the same name with The Dude. The Dude quickly becomes involved with other members of The Big Lebowski's family including his sexpot trophy wife (Tara Reid) and his artist daughter (Julianne Moore). Ms. Moore's performance is little too self-consciously quirky for my taste, but it is admittedly at home in this profoundly quirky movie.
From there, the plot meanders into mistaken identity, kidnapping, ransom, intrigue, and pornography. There are dream sequences and a Busby Berkeley-style production number. There are German nihilists, performance artists, and the use of a ferret for intimidation. In all this, the image of Saddam Hussein renting out bowling shoes seems right at home. It's that kind of movie. So pour yourself a White Russian, sit back, relax, and let The Big Lebowski wash over you.
Video is sharp. The package states that this is an all-new remastered picture. It has been made from a very clean print and there do not appear to be any transfer issues. Quite frankly, in a brief comparison with the previous edition, I could not see much difference in video quality between the two. This new version may be a bit sharper, but that's about it.
As you might guess, in a film as dialogue driven as this one, audio is not exceedingly dynamic. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track does the job it's supposed to do in this type of move though. The rears kick in to accentuate the music, which is very much a part of the film. Also, the background noise of a bowling alley was very well reproduced. It would be easy to close your eyes and think that you were there. All that's missing is the sweaty rental shoes.
I was quite disappointed by the selection of extras. As one of the Lebowski faithful, I was looking forward to a much more deluxe treatment. There is a 24-minute making-of feature that appears to be vintage. The only conversation with a cast member is a few brief comments from Jeff Bridges in a vintage interview. It would have been very nice to hear from Buscemi and Goodman. A retrospective look back would have been very cool considering the following this movie has generated. The feature mostly consists of a sit down with the Coen brothers and some of their insights on the making of the movie. Quite frankly, I was hoping for much more.
There is also a gallery of still photos taken by Jeff Bridges during production. Mr. Bridges has a good eye and some of the images are pretty interesting, but I could not imagine looking at this feature more than once.
Lastly, there are production notes. This sort of feature was a bit interesting when DVDs first emerged, but I expect something more dynamic these days. There are a few interesting tidbits, but not very insightful stuff. All in all, I would not call the special features of Collector's Edition quality.
Don't let my negative comments about the special features scare you off. Just know that if you already own the previous edition, you should think hard before upgrading. The Big Lebowski is still a movie to relish and at this price point it's hard to go wrong.
Where in the world does Universal get off calling this a Collector's Edition? I've seen DVDs with comparable special features to this called "bare bones." If you count the fact that the original release had both a Widescreen and P&S version, it actually had more content in terms of time. This is truly a disappointment for the legions of fans looking for the royal treatment of this beloved title.
From a plot standpoint, The Big Lebowski is a gleeful mess. The loose focus of the movie is a perfect match for the loose focus of The Dude. Make no mistake; this movie is not for everyone. Like black licorice, people seem to love it or hate it. Those that do love it really love it. For those of us that love this movie, it goes down like a perfectly mixed White Russian.
The Dude is acquitted of all charges and should continue to abide. Not even the misnomer of calling this disc a "Collector's Edition" takes away from this delight of the movie. The Coen brothers are released on their own recognizance and commanded by this court to continue to march to a different drummer.
Review content copyright © 2005 Neal Masri; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* An Exclusive Introduction Featuring Mortimer Young
* Never-Before-Available Images (Photographed by Jeff Bridges)
* Making Of The Big Lebowski
* Production Notes