HD DVD Movie Review: The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski (Universal)
Featuring: Jeff “The Whole Brevity Thing” Bridges, John “Prior Restraint” Goodman, John “Click, Click” Turturro, David “Achiever” Huddleston, Julianne “Zesty!” Moore and Steve “I Am The Walrus” Buscemi

Let me start this review by pouring myself a Caucasian, settling myself onto my rug—y’know the one that really ties the room together, man. Spark a jay and I’m ready to go…

THIS IS ONE OF THE FUNNIEST MOVIES EVER MADE… Ever. But, y’know, man, like… some folks will never get it, man. It’s not for everyone, but you know who you are… in fact you’re reading this and feeling very Dude right now. The Brothers Coen graced their fans with one of the wittiest little twists on a Chandleresque-style Lost Ang-el-eeze mystery that goes absolutely nowhere, and has a terrifically fun time doing it. Its daylight noir, very much in the spirit of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown but played mostly for laughs. The comedy is not overt, beat-you-over-the-head stuff, but rather a deadpan absurdist take on the shamus yarn. But y’know, maybe that’s just like my opinion, man. I’ve watched this as a double-bill with Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye and am struck by the many similarities there are between the two films (not only because of their laconic leading men), as well as other L.A. gumshoe flicks I’ve seen. Of course, the Coens’ have a visual and narrative madness to their method that pretty much screams “whacky” when it’s not muttering “quirky.” The motley characters that populate Lebowski’s running time range from the silly (the nihilists who once fronted a band not unlike Kraftwork) to the sublime (Arthur Digby Sellers, the writer of the fictional TV show Branded, now confined to an ancient iron lung, both relics from another time), and the cinematic situations would be right at home in a Three Stooges short or a Samuel Beckett play. While the Coens’ Fargo may have the awards and the fond memories of mainstream fans, The Big Lebowski is seemingly meant for a different audience that just kinda gets the inspired insanity the Brothers Coen have wrought (a parking lot battle between the children of the 60’s and some 1990’s Euro-nihilists is a prime example).

This is definitely a movie that demands and rewards repeat viewings (take a good look at the check the dude makes out at the Ralphs market), and after a while you’ll find yourself quoting this dialog driven film and name checking the characters to friends and family… and if they’re in the know, they’ll give right back and then some. You can even find “random quote generators” on the Internet for the film (at least two of them are still running were started years ago) and that alone speaks volumes for the wit (and wisdom) that the Coens’ colorful characters constantly spew forth. The L.A. locations and the wicked sharp characterizations all play true to LaLaLand… but the Coens’ still find time to stray from “reality” to showcase a Busby Berkeley-style musical number that exemplifies all the retro-tropes that will have bowling fanatics rolling in the lanes with laughter and fans of Hollywood Golden Era musicals grinning from ear-to-ear. The movie has an impressive scope for being the story of a stoned-out throwback to 60’s idealism, but it’s the tiniest of details that sometimes make the film rise above the usual slacker epic. In the end, it’s a movie about a man who just is… “Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude.” And he will abide! This most excellent film is offered in a nice looking upgrade from the standard-def Collector’s Edition released a couple of years ago.

It’s a VC-1 encoded 1080p image on an HD-30 dual-layer disc (features are in 480p of course) with a widescreen 2.35 theatrical ratio for 16×9 screens. Again, this is only an upgrade in image quality for an already decent looking film (HD does do it justice. During the film’s prologue you can see the Dude’s check appears much clearer— note the date and the checks’ design—classic Coen details). It’s not particularly showcase quality, but it’s definitely suitable for average hi-def viewing. Colors are nicely saturated with no bleeds or edge enhancements while black levels are nicely balanced throughout. The Big Lebowski is well known for its musical soundtrack, not so much Carter Burwell’s score as the somewhat obscure pop songs and classic rock that play throughout the film… and there’s some seriously quirky selections here that you’ll want to hear again and again. The Gypsy King’s version of “Hotel California” is but one standout musical moment. The sound is another improvement over the standard-def release if only because the compression is at 1.5mbps for DD-Plus 5.1 Surround. It offers a well-balanced mix where the dialog is to the fore except during the moments where the songs tend to blare a bit and overshadow every other auditory aspect of the film. Much the same could be said of the standard-def releases audio, but there’s a warmer, more robust sense of sound here.

There’s a French DD-Plus 2.0 mix as well (640kbps) and subtitles are in English, French and Spanish. Now, Universal’s either got a total lack of understanding about this film and its strong cult classic status among fans or they’re just plain cheap and lazy when it comes to their older catalog of films. Perhaps they consider Lebowski too minor a film to beef up with better features. The HD DVD’s special features are exactly as they were in the standard-def Collector’s Edition. What we’re getting here is:

Special Introduction: Featuring Mortimer Young (who, according to the disc’s spec info, is) a practitioner of “non-uptight” film preservation. His restoration of the famous “toe scene,” presented here, will blow your mind.
• Photographs By Jeff Bridges: Images from the set of the film.
The Making-Of The Big Lebowski: Including interviews with the Coen brothers.

I’m of the mind that films with a strong fan base need to be considered for better treatment than a slap-dash release on video that’s destined for the cut-out bin. Universal has disregarded the extraordinary impact this particular film has had on film geeks and those with a strong commitment to this film’s loopy philosophy. It’s as if they have no frame of reference for their own damned film’s level of interest years after its initial release. It’s a film that simply requires more in-depth features. See, there’s this thing called Lebowskifest that, year after year, gains momentum in various cities nationwide. It’s where fan(atic)s of the film can dress up like their favorite characters (or props!), get together at bowling alleys for screenings of the film and also get in some bowling (between drinking plenty of Caucasians— that’s a White Russian for you undude types— and scoping out potential lady friends as well as protecting rugs that, y’know, really tie the room together). It’s a most unique experience and something Universal should have captured on film and included as a special feature… Lebowskifest is just one of the fan-centric communities and networks to have sprung up around this movie (there’s also a new religion called “Dudeism” in the parlance of our times, but that’s another story). I could go on and on, but perhaps you’ve gotten the point… it’s a movie that’s totally worth owning, though the HD DVD release doesn’t make one want to run out and go find an ATM.

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HD Report provides news, commentary, and information about 4k & HD channels, programming, digital media, Blu-ray, technology, video gaming, and more. We have been a Google News partner since 2006, and can also be found on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.

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