Universal // 1998 // 118 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // July 12th, 2007
"Way out west there was this fella I wanna tell ya about. Goes by the name of Jeff Lebowski. At least that was the handle his loving parents gave him, but he never had much use for it himself. See, this Lebowski, he called himself Â'The Dude,Â' Now, Â'DudeÂ' -- there's a name no man would self-apply where I come from. But then there was a lot about the Dude that didn't make a whole lot of sense. And a lot about where he lived, likewise. But then again, maybe that's why I found the place so darned interestin'."
The Big Lebowski has blossomed from throwaway film by Ethan and Joel Coen (Miller's Crossing) into a full fledged classic, adored by countless scores of fans. And while there have been some curious addition to the Universal HD DVD library, this one is perhaps a quiet second when it comes to most anticipated high definition releases. So how does it look?
It's a little bit unfair to try to sum up the plot of The Big Lebowski, written by the Coens, but I'll do my best. Jeff Lebowski, a bowling enthusiast known as The Dude (Jeff Bridges, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) has his apartment broken into and is physically threatened to find out the location of some money. When it's determined that is he not the right Lebowski, his carpet, one that "really tied the room together," is urinated on. He finds the right Lebowski, along with his very young wife Bunny (Tara Reid, American Pie). Soon after, he finds out that Bunny has been kidnapped, and Bunny's ransom should be delivered by The Dude. So Lebowski's assistant Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote) asks The Dude to do this, all the while The Dude and his bowling partners Walter (John Goodman, Barton Fink) and Donny (Steve Buscemi, Fargo) are rapidly advancing through their bowling league. And that's just a small part of the story, there's also a slightly eclectic group of characters that The Dude runs into, not even counting those he bowls against.
I've grown a lot into the sensibilities and overall dialogue enjoyment of The Big Lebowski over the years. But what drove me into the film at the start was the music. T-Bone Burnett and Carter Burwell put together a film score and soundtrack that was unlike anything I'd experienced to that point in film. Sure, Tarantino is fond of lesser appreciated genre songs and helped propel surf guitarist Dick Dale back into the spotlight, but the music in the film is pitch perfect and without fault. You've got the Latino group the Gypsy Kings, covering the Eagles classic "Hotel California," and doing it in Spanish to boot; and a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers" that uncovers a sad melancholy to it. Combine it with songs from Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and you've got yourself a driving album for the ages.
The film does a lot of things at once, but it helps to illustrate how colorful and varied the characters are that The Dude runs into on an almost nightly basis. It is a virtual quilt of quirks and idiosyncrasies, the number of which could fill up a football field. You've got Jesus (John Turturro, Do the Right Thing), a convicted sex offender who has a perverse love of bowling, and even The Dude says that Jesus "can roll, man." Smokey (Jimmie Dale Gilmore, The Thing Called Love) is another bowling competitor that Walter pulls a gun on because of a seemingly minor bowling rules infraction.
Then you've got the unseemly people that The Dude interacts with in order to get Bunny freed. There are the nihilists who believe in nothing, and are inhabited by Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea (Back to the Future Part II) and Peter Stormare (Dogville). The pornography producer Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara, Road House) who Bunny presumably owes money to; Lebowski's daughter Maude (Julianne Moore, Magnolia) who is repulsed by her stepmother but seems to pursue the need for a child with The Dude. Am I leaving anyone out? I'm sure I am, but they have to be experienced rather than described about.
With the memorable characters comes dialogue that's elevated from memorable to downright legendary. The film's 1991 setting is in the days and weeks leading up to the first Gulf War, and newsreel footage and famous soundbites from President Bush are incorporated into The Dude and Walter's vernacular. The dialogue frequently runs into one another but can all be easily followed and enjoyed. It is the prototypical film that becomes more and more enjoyable with each viewing.
From a technical perspective, the VC-1 encoded transfer in a 1080p presentation maintains the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and actually improves on the standard definition video quality of the disc. >From the jump, the image stays pretty sharp and clear, and what blacks exist are pretty solid. The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is capable, with low end activity that comes through when needed, since the movie is full of great music, and the dialogue comes through as clear as a bell.
Like others, I'm downright crushed that the film is devoid of decent supplemental material. I understand and am well aware that the Coens aren't the most DVD-friendly directors out there, but there's a dated "making of" featurette and some stills taken by Bridges and that's it. A commentary? A new retrospective featuring new interviews? Anything? Oh well, I can't make too much of a fuss. The Dude abides.
Despite the downright criminal lack of decent bonus material on it, the high definition incarnation of The Big Lebowski represents a recommended upgrade if you own an HD DVD player. That's the only thing you're really paying for, and I think you'll notice the difference.
Careful man, there's a guilty verdict here for Universal's negligence of this modern classic and a not guilty verdict for The Dude!
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
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
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* Original DVD Verdict Collector's Edition Review
* Official DVD Site
* Visit the Lebowski Fest!