Universal // 1998 // 118 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // September 9th, 2008
They figured he was a lazy, time-wasting slacker. They were right -- until they pissed on his rug.
Ten years ago, The Big Lebowski debuted to a largely confused populace. A box-office disappointment, it was perhaps too off-kilter for the time. From Sam Elliot's (Ghost Rider) opening narration, to the bizarre bowling antics of sex offender Jesus (John Turturro, Barton Fink), to the prescient typecasting of Tara Reid, the movie is something of an assault on the viewer's sensibilities. Still, the film slowly developed a cult following on video. The DVD before the court, The Big Lebowski -- 10th Anniversary Edition, represents the third release (fourth if you count an HD-DVD release) of this genre-bending film. Is the third time the charm?
This release is available in both a standard and limited edition, in which the DVDs are housed inside a bowling ball.
OK, I'm sick and have just chugged the better part of a bottle on Nyquil, so let's make this short. Über-slacker and bowler Jeff Lebowski (Jeff Bridges, Iron Man), better known as The Dude, gets caught up in a screwed-up kidnapping plot when he is mistaken for Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston, Postal), a millionaire paraplegic with a nymphomaniacal trophy wife named Bunny (Tara Reid, American Pie) and a bohemian sister (Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights). Before he can drink a White Russian, The Dude finds himself in the middle of a Chandleresque mystery, beset on all sides by people with suspect motives. With strange people threatening him at every turn, how is The Dude going to make the league bowling finals? While mentally ill-equipped for the role of gumshoe, The Dude embarks on a righteous quest to achieve restitution for the soiling and subsequent theft of the rug that really held his apartment together, making him the right man at the right time. However, discovering the truth doesn't always bring the guilty to justice, and the price of truth is always more than you're prepared to pay.
The Dude is accompanied by his best friends and bowling buddies, Walter (John Goodman, Blues Brothers 2000), a Vietnam vet who somehow links every situation back to 'Nam, and Donny (Steve Buscemi, Fargo), a mild-mannered guy who loves bowling and hopes that one day he will be allowed to complete a sentence.
There's also a dream sequence in which the Dude finds himself in the credit sequence for a porn movie, Gutterballs, featuring a Busby Berkley sequence in a bowling lane with Julianne Moore in a golden Brunhilde outfit. And Saddam Hussein renting bowling shoes.
Oh, did I forget to mention that this is a Coen Brothers movie? Sorry about that.
The Coens have always had a knack for getting strong performances, and this film is no different. Jeff Bridges may be one of the most underappreciated actors out there, and his performance as The Dude is a highlight of a stellar career. The Dude is a slacker, utterly passive, reactive rather than proactive -- and yet he is the protagonist of the film. That's a hell of a thing to pull off. Without going into details, the other leads are almost as good. Half the fun is watching this fairly complex kidnapping plot develop around people whose main goal in life is to make the finals of their bowling league. It's all about perspective, and The Dude's perspective suits him just fine.
For many people, the real question is if this new edition warrants an upgrade. The answer is probably "almost." If a commentary track had been included, it would be a no-brainer, but the new extras, while pretty good, probably don't warrant an immediate upgrade. "The Dude's Life" and "The Dude Abides" are a sequence of recent interviews with the cast. There's a 15-minute documentary on Lebowski Fest, a celebration of the film held every year in Louisville, Kentucky. There's a nice bit on the dream sequences of the film with remembrances from Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. There's an interactive map showing all the locations, but it adds little to the proceedings (and if you're viewing it on a computer, you can't use your mouse to navigate -- you have to use the keyboard arrow keys).
There's no mention of the film being remastered; however, the picture does look a little better. There are only a few short extras on the main disc, so my guess is that the disc was recorded with lower compression. Roger Deakins cinematography is as evocative as ever, from the grunge of The Dude's apartment to the glossy sheen of the bowling lane. The soundtrack doesn't do much with the 5.1 mix, but it is particularly effective with the background music.
The lack of a commentary track is the only thing missing here. While you do have to be in a certain state of mind to appreciate the movie's rhythms, it's an amazing ride.
It occurred to me that three of the Coen Brothers' movies revolve around screwed-up kidnappings -- Raising Arizona, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski. Maybe these guys have issues...
The story at times gets a little too surreal for its own good; however, any plot disconnects are easily finessed by Jeff Bridges' transcendent performance. If you have the first release, you'll probably want to upgrade. If you've got the Collector's Edition, though, you might want to wait until the price drops a bit.
The Dude still abides. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 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
* Exclusive Introduction
* The Dude's Life (New)
* The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later (New)
* Production Notes
* The Making of The Big Lebowski
* The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever's Story (New)
* Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequences of The Dude (New)
* Interactive Map (New)
* Jeff Bridges Photo Book
* Photo Gallery