It’s strange to have watched the cult of The Big Lebowski grow since release. The film was Joel and Ethan Coen’s follow-up to Fargo, which was an academy award-winning crime drama with a funny center. After the disastrous The Hudsucker Proxy (which has also gained a cult following) Fargo put the boys back in good graces, but the story of Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), and the kidnapping that turns him into amateur sleuth with sidekick Walter Sobchek (John Goodman) was greeted as a sophomore slump. Now it’s revered as a masterpiece. Our review of the limited edition Blu-ray of The Big Lebowski follows after the jump.
The Dude (Bridges) is a guy who gets buy on limited means. Unemployed and proud of it, he loves white Russians and bowling. That’s pretty much all he does until two men come into his house and try to extort him for money that he obviously doesn’t have. They’re looking for the other Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston) – The Big Lebowski as it were – who is rich and has a trophy wife named Bunny (Tara Reid), and an assistant named Brandt (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). The Dude steals a rug from them to get his, and they end up hiring him to be a bagman for Bunny’s ransom. Dude and Walter smell something fishy, and then the drop goes bad.
From there, Dude is on the case, albeit in his stoned way, as he must deal with The Big Lebowski’s daughter Maude (Julianne Moore), three nihilists, porn producer Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), and thugs on top of the finals for their bowling team, which Walter and The Dude play in with Donnie (Steve Buscemi). Their main competition seems to be a flamboyant pederast named Jesus (John Turturro).
Based loosely on the works of Raymond Chandler, The Big Lebowski follows the narrative blueprint of The Big Sleep in that the central mystery is somewhat secondary, and on first pass all the machinations may be lost on first time viewers – especially those partaking along with the on screen players. And yet, it’s a rock solid narrative, and there’s also a narrator played by Sam Eliot who just shows up in the middle of the film to meet Dude. Why? No reason.
This was the Coens having fun, and though it feels like they’ve solidified their intentions over the last couple years and have banged out a number of films that could be called masterpieces, it’s worth remembering at the time that the Coens often felt like they might be trying to get one over on the audience. I don’t know if that sense applies any more – they just had their biggest mainstream hit with True Grit – and watching Lebowski now, it’s just pure fun. Perhaps it is indulgent, and compared to something like Miller’s Crossing or No Country for Old Men, it’s comparatively a trifle, but it’s got a great cast, and Bridges and Goodman play off each other brilliantly. And this is the Coen’s sense of humor to a tee, which rests on wordplay, low and highbrow humor (often at the same time) and out of nowhere left turns that are usually played for laughs. Though it’s never been one of my favorites of theirs, it is inarguably a fun ride.
Universal presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround. The film transfer is immaculate. There are three U-control options, one that offers comments from the directors and the cast and crew along with a narrator who talks about them, one for the music cues, and one that notes when the name Lebowski or Dude is uttered, whenever someone swears, whenever there’s drug and alcohol use, and whnever someone bowls. There are also a game that quizzes you on memorable quotes, and trivia questions while the film plays. Then comes the “exclusive introduction” (5 min.) – that was on the last special edition – from Mortimer Young. It’s a joke on restorations, and reasonably funny. It’s followed by “The Dude’s Life” (10 min.), which seems to be new and gets good current interviews from Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, John Goodman, John Turturro and old interviews with Joel and Ethan Coen. This is followed by “The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later” (10 min.) which offers the same people from the previous featurette.
There’s a making of from release (25 min.) that is an extended interview with the directors, with some comments from John Goodman. “The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever’s Story” (14 min.), follows the creation of the Lebowski fest, where fans gather to watch the movie and cosplay. “Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequences of The Dude” (4 min.), gets the cast to talk about the shooting of the aforementioned scenes, and then there’s an interactive location map for where things happened in the film, with one minute or less pieces on the locations then and now. There’s also “Jeff Bridges Photo Book” (18 min.) – Bridges takes photos during the making of and gives the book version to the cast and crew as a gift – and a photo gallery. There’s also a promo for Jeff Bridges’s No Kid Hungry campaign. All in all, it feels definitive. And it looks stunning, so there’s that.