The Big Lebowski: 10th Anniversary Edition
1998 (2008) - Polygram (Universal)
review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B
"Well, I do mind. Uh, The Dude minds. This will not stand, you know? This aggression will not stand, man!"
AT LAST... after ten long years... we FINALLY get a DVD special edition of The Big Lebowski that's actually worth your time and money! If you've been reading The Bits for any length of time, you'll know by now that we are BIG fans of this Coen Brothers classic around here. But how best to describe the film to the... ahem... uninitiated?
Maybe you could think of it as a hard-boiled bowling comedy. Or a post-hypnotic kidnapping caper. A magical musical keggling mystery? Hell, I don't know. What I do know is that there's acid flashbacks, severed toes and a Viking babe with nice horns and a trident. Oh, and league play. A lot of league play.
|Jeff Bridges plays The Dude, a.k.a. Jeffrey Lebowski - quite possibly the laziest man in all of Los Ann-gull-as County (which would place him high in the running for laziest worldwide). The Dude arrives home one evening and is ambushed by a pair of thugs, who not only rough The Dude up, but also piss on his beloved carpet. Now... The Dude can endure all manner of slings and arrows, but that carpet really tied the room together, you know?
As it turns out, said carpet-pissers were really looking for another Jeffrey Lebowski - an over-achieving Lebowski from Pasadena (no relation). So at the suggestion of his bowling buddies, Walter (John Goodman) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi), The Dude visits his older and far wealthier name-sake in the interest of seeking justice and what-not. A welcome reception The Dude does not find in Pasadena... but he does get himself a new carpet. Briefly, anyway. The Dude also unknowingly stumbles into the middle of an extortion scheme involving Lebowski's hot young replacement wife, his detached and somewhat frosty daughter (who's twice his wife's age, naturally), a Hefner-esque playboy pornographer, a group of New Wave nihilists, a teenaged (and history-impaired) car thief, a bargain-rate gumshoe, an admiring cowboy... and Saddam Hussein. It's... well, you know... complicated. And damn funny.
As fans will no doubt be aware, Universal released a collector's edition (so called) of this film on DVD back in 2005. This new DVD contains the same video and audio quality - basically the same master. It's anamorphic widescreen, with improved color and contrast (over the original Polygram DVD), but there's a bit of compression artifacting visible here and there. In addition, the entire image looks just a little too digital. It's certainly adequate, but it could be better. Audio-wise, the film's soundtrack, which features an eclectic mix of artists (from the Gipsy Kings, to Bob Dylan, to Elvis Costello, to Kenny Rogers and back again), is well presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The music is full sounding and the dialogue is clear at all times. It's not demo material, but it does the job.
But here's what's REALLY cool: This new 2-disc set features ALL of the extras from the collector's edition - the Mortimer Young introduction, the 25-minute The Making of The Big Lebowski featurette, the gallery of Jeff Bridges photos and the production notes - PLUS it adds nearly an hour of additional all-new material! You get no less that FOUR new featurettes (most in anamorphic widescreen), featuring new retrospective interviews with Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore and John Turturro. The Coens even appear a couple times in previously unseen vintage interviews. The Dude's Life (10 mins) and The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later (also 10 mins) are both general looks back at the film by the cast, featuring very funny comments, stories and behind-the-scenes footage. Flying Carpets & Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequences of The Dude (5 mins) focuses on the two 'out of body' moments from the film. There's a featurette called The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever's Story (14 mins, shortened from the longer Achievers documentary) that examines the history of our favorite annual fan gathering, not to mention the fans themselves. It's worth noting that this includes additional interviews with some of the more obscure cast members, and you also get to see some of the various fests over the years. You even get an Interactive Map of all the L.A.-area locations in the film, complete with footage from the film and video of the locations today, in case you've ever wanted to make the pilgrimage yourself. (And what Achiever wouldn't?) The film's theatrical trailer is here too (it was missing from the previous DVD), as is the 'redband' trailer for the Coens' new film, Burn After Reading... which looks pretty good so far.
Best of all, however, you get a featurette called Jeff Bridges' Photo Book (18 mins). During the making of the film, Bridges took dozens of behind-the-scenes photos, and he had them made into a book as a wrap gift for the cast and crew. In this piece, Jeff actually takes you page by page through the book, and he recalls the stories and anecdotes each shot brings to mind. Best of all, you actually get to SEE each image in big, B&W anamorphic widescreen as he talks. The featurette cuts back and forth from the photos to Jeff turning the pages, talking and cracking himself up. It's really wonderful stuff.
The only thing that's missing here (that you MIGHT want to keep) is the film's teaser trailer and the cast bios that were on the previous Polygram DVD. Other than that, you can completely get rid of the previous Universal versions. Sure, this new edition isn't loaded compared to some other DVD special editions, but you really don't need a lot here - the film pretty well speaks for itself - and what you DO get is great. I found myself laughing pretty much all the way through the new material. Frankly, my only real complaint about this 10th Anniversary Edition is that it's not yet available on Blu-ray Disc. The film was released on HD-DVD previously, but the transfer wasn't much to speak of (not really that much of an improvement over the DVD), so it's possible that the elements need more work before a Blu-ray version can be released. I REALLY hope Universal's already hard at work on it, however, because I want it big time.
Until then, this new DVD should make fans very happy. By the way, it's also available in a special limited version packaged in a replica bowling ball, if you're so inclined. (It's like $10 more on Amazon.)
As a film, The Big Lebowski just gets better with age. To my thinking at least, it's the Coen Brothers' best work to date. At least once a month, I find myself pulling this title off the DVD shelf for another spin, and I love it a little bit more with each viewing. The Big Lebowski is a bizarre and nearly perfect comedy. Thankfully, it remains... as ever... every bit as stupefying.