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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Office Space: Special Edition with Flair!

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Office Space
Special Edition with Flair! - 1999 (2005) - 20th Century Fox

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/C-

True story: About ten years ago (pre-DVD, pre-Bits), I was doing video production and computer work for a corporate division of Mazda. You know... zoom, zoom, zoom? The job was mind-numbingly dull, but more interesting film and video gigs were scarce then, and this paid the rent well enough in the meantime. We're in our offices one day, just doing our thing, when a bunch of dark suits we'd never seen before suddenly show up. Before you can say "efficiency expert," my co-workers and I are asked by our branch manager to participate in this new "QS-9000 quality improvement process." So for months we documented the way we did our jobs, and planned how best to plan, and flow-charted ourselves to death. Finally, we at long last achieved QS-9000 certification! It was an "impressive achievement," and clearly a "mark of excellence," and were told by our bosses how "extremely proud" we should all be of ourselves. We're all expecting bonuses or raises or something, right? A couple months later Mazda closes down the branch and lays us all off. On a Friday, because people are statistically less likely to snap when they're fired on a Friday.

Luckily, by a strange coincidence, I saw Office Space for the first time a few days later... and I have NEVER laughed so hard at anything in my entire life. Seriously, I get a smile just thinking about that afternoon. It saved my sanity, let me tell you.

The white collar cog in this particular corporate machine is Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston). Peter's just another poor tech industry slob, wasting his life away in 9 to 5 chunks at Initech - a might-as-well-be-nameless computer firm in Anywhereville, USA. Peter and his co-workers Samir and Michael (last name Bolton - it's just a coincidence) spend all their time updating bank software for the 2000 switch. Their boss is a mind-numbing ass and every day is the same as the last, with no promise of anything different as far into the future as one can see. As might be expected under such conditions, Peter's become a little depressed. But after a quick visit to the occupational hypno-therapist, his whole outlook changes. Peter suddenly stops caring about anything except his friends, that cute girl he finally asks out to lunch one day (as in Jennifer Aniston cute) and watching kung-fu movies all afternoon long. One thing's for sure: He doesn't care about his job at Initech anymore... and he most certainly doesn't care that he's stopped going. Naturally, Samir and Michael think he's cracked. But when, to their shock, Peter suddenly finds himself on the fast-track to Initech management, the trio finally decides to stop fighting the system... and start taking advantage of it with an eye toward early retirement.

Director Mike Judge's polemic on life in corporate America is admittedly a little uneven. The story begins as basically a one-note song. You're treated to one corporate situation gag after another... but it's the note itself that counts. The pitch here is perfect. Every single joke here is something that anyone who's pushed paper in an office can relate to. There's the smarmy, passive-aggressive way the boss asks you to work on the weekend, the way someone's always complaining that you forgot the cover sheet on your report, the way every damn door handle gives you a static shock. And every staffer at Initech is someone you know - that ever-perky customer service girl whose cheery bubble you're just dying to burst, the stress-case engineer who's perpetually worried about getting downsized, the office organizer, the ever-nodding "yes" man, the strange fella who sits in a corner and mumbles quietly. Sure, the film sort of unravels a bit in the last act, but everything up to that point is pure gold. Judge and company absolutely nail the daily trials of white collar life - every damn little detail is SO right on, that you'll be both laughing and seriously creeped out at the same time. And let me tell you... there are a couple of truly great moments in this flick. I'll just say this: Computer printers will never feel safe in America again.

It's about damn time Fox has gotten around to releasing this film in anamorphic widescreen! The previous DVD release was in non-anamorphic letterbox widescreen and full frame only - a crime that's needed solving for years now. The quality of the new transfer is quite good. The image is clear, if a little soft at times. Contrast and color are both adequate, although the film's palette is somewhat colorless by design. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, but this isn't the kind of film where the surrounds are used for anything more than ambiance. The soundtrack is great though. The Geto Boys' Still has never sounded so sweet to my ears before. A/V-wise, this disc is a nice improvement.

You should know however that this isn't really a special edition, despite what it says on the cover. This DVD was originally to have included audio commentary with Judge, some of the animated Milton shorts the film is based on and more. None of that is here. I don't know if Fox pulled the plug or Judge did. Either way, it's disappointing. Still, the new DVD does have a few extras. You'll blow through them pretty quickly, but they're nice to have. There's a retrospective featurette that runs about 30 minutes. It features a new interview with Judge himself, and someone thankfully made an effort to track down Livingston, Gary Cole (Bill Lumbergh), Stephen Root (Milton), David Herman (Michael Bolton) and Ajay Naidu (Samir Nagheenanajar) for their comments. They each talk about how the different characters came to be and how they played them, how the gags were developed, what the movie's come to mean to them, etc. You get to see a little bit of unused footage (especially of the Bobs). As I said, the piece is only 30 minutes, but they're thankfully very good minutes. It's also anamorphic, which I certainly appreciate. Also included on the DVD are eight deleted scenes. Some are better than others and the quality isn't great, but a couple of them are quite funny and they're all in anamorphic as well. There's an anamorphic theatrical trailer, the menus are all cleverly animated (featuring funny quotes by the different characters) and there's some DVD-ROM content as well (audio clips, screensavers, etc.). There's also an Easter egg, but don't get your hopes up - it's just a page of credits.

I'll be honest, I was hoping for a lot more on this disc. Fox's Office Space: Special Edition with Flair! doesn't really have all that much flair. It does, however, have a better-looking version of Office Space. Just the fact that the film is anamorphic is reason enough to make the upgrade, and while the extras are far from filling, they are at least tasty. Think of it like this: This new DVD is better than the previous edition, and it's better than a stack of TPS reports, Michael Bolton's entire album catalog or a box of shinny red Swingline staplers. Okay, maybe not the staplers. The staplers are cooler. But if you love this film as much as I do, the new disc is still a must-have. Simply put, Office Space is required viewing for anyone who's ever gotten the memo... and gotten the memo... and gotten the memo....

The Big Lebowski: Collector's Edition

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The Big Lebowski
Collector's Edition - 1998 (2005) - Polygram (Universal)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/D+

"Well, I do mind. Uh, The Dude minds. This will not stand, you know? This aggression will not stand, man!"

How do I even begin to describe The Big Lebowski? I mean, how would you? 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.

Universal claims that this new "collector's edition" DVD features digitally remastered picture, and I suppose it does look little better than the previous Polygram release... but not by much. It's anamorphic widescreen, with improved color and contrast, but there's a bit of compression artifacting visible here and there. In addition, the entire image looks just a little too digital. I'm wondering if this was actually a new film transfer, or just a digital cleanup of the existing Polygram video master. It's certainly watchable, but it's not as good as it should be. Audio-wise, the film's soundtrack, which features an eclectic mix of artists (from the Gipsy Kings, to Bob Dylan, to Elvis Costello and back again), is well presented. The music is full sounding and the dialogue is clear at all times. It's not demo material, but the video and audio quality is solid.

On the features front, the new DVD includes the same behind-the-scenes featurette that was found on the previous edition. The Making of The Big Lebowski runs about 25 minutes and includes interviews with the Coens, Bridges and a few others involved. The disc also includes production notes. Oddly, the film's theatrical trailer is missing (you'll have to keep the original DVD if you want it). The only new features here are a gallery of photos Bridges took during the making of the film, and an illuminating video introduction by Mortimer Young of Forever Young Film Preservation. You might recall Mortimer from a similar intro on Fox's Blood Simple DVD. I'll admit, this put a smile on my face. It's true that the Coens aren't big on elaborate special editions of their films, but I have to believe something more could have been done with this disc. I'm told that the DVD producers took their cameras to the recent Lebowski Fest in L.A. earlier this year. Bridges and some of the cast were there - surely footage of that could have been included. However, this IS Universal we're talking about here. You expect less from them... and they usually deliver it. Ah well.

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. This new edition isn't really much of an upgrade, but hey... if you don't own the film yet or you're just dying to see Jeff's pictures, here's your big chance. In any case, The Big Lebowski is a bizarre and nearly perfect comedy. Thankfully, it remains... as ever... every bit as stupefying.

Bill Hunt
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