When I saw the Coen Brothers’ Big Lebowski at the BAMPFA in 2014, I loved the movie but hated the horrible DCP. This exceptional comedy clearly needed a better digital transfer.
I’m glad to say it now has one. More on that below.
The Big Lebowski is a Raymond Chandler-type film noir story, except that the protagonist isn’t a tough, street-smart private detective. He’s a drunken pothead slacker who cares only about bowling and calls himself The Dude (Jeff Bridges). The concept, on its own, is hilarious. The execution is damn near perfect.
But it’s more than just a comic riff on a popular genre. There’s a thin, barely grasped sense of Zen to the movie – as if you could throw yourself out into the universe and everything will come out okay…unless it doesn’t.
Consider Sam Elliott’s prairie philosopher narration, which sort of sets the scene but is stylistically at odds with everything else in the picture. Or John Turturro’s utterly bizarre turn as a bejeweled bowler named Jesus. Or the dancing dream sequence that mixes Saddam Houssine with Busby Berkeley.
The great supporting cast includes Julianne Moore at her most aristocratic and Philip Seymour Hoffman at his most obsequious. John Goodman stands out as the Dude’s friend Walter–a Vietnam vet with a very bad case of PTSD. This is a guy who pulls a gun to settle an argument over bowling scores. On one level, Walter is the sort of dependable friend who will always have your back. On the other, he’s crazy, dangerous, and doesn’t think things through. The Dude gets into a lot of trouble because of Walter’s shenanigans.
The Big Lebowski is a blissfully vulgar movie. It might not have as many f-bombs as Goodfellas, but Lebowski‘s f-bombs are funnier.
Three formats in one package
The new 20th-Century Anniversary Edition of The Big Lebowski offers three ways to watch the movie.
- A Blu-ray, which is what I’m reviewing here.
- A 4K Ultra HD disc, which offers four times the resolution of Blu-ray. I will discuss this improved image in a future Blu-ray vs. 4K article.
- You can stream or download the movie. Using a provided code, you can set up an account through Movies Anywhere that will let you watch the movie in 4K through the PPV service of your choice. It’s a hassle to set up, and you’ll have one more company taking another bite out of your privacy, but you’ll be able to watch the movie without a disc.
How It Looks
Outside of a 35mm print, this is the best I’ve ever seen The Big Lebowski. The new 4K restoration, reduced to 1080p for the Blu-ray, looks fine. It was obviously mastered by someone who knew what they were doing (something I couldn’t say for the previous digital master).
[Update: I have since discovered that the Blu-ray was from an older 2K scan and master.]
Which isn’t to say that this is a showcase Blu-ray. It’s not that sort of movie.
How It Sounds
I have no complaints with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix.
And the Extras
As near as I can tell, most of these are from the ten-year anniversary Blu-ray edition.
- My Scenes: Like Criterion, Universal allows you to bookmark favorite moments in the movie.
- U-Control: When you watch the movie with this feature on, an icon will occasionally pop up with some trivia. Personally, I would have preferred a commentary track.
- Worthy Adversaries: What’s My Line Trivia: You can watch the movie while playing a trivia game about the movie.
- An Exclusive Introduction: 5 minutes. In this very funny satire of film historians, “Mortimer Young” of Forever Young Film Preservation discusses how The Grand Lebowski was lost and then restored (in reality, it was never lost). For what it’s worth, a Blood Simple DVD I used to own contained a hysterical commentary from Forever Young.
- The Dude’s Life: 10 minutes. Conventional but well-done piece with the actors talking about their characters.
- The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later: 10 minutes. Once again, it’s all about actors talking, only this time about the film’s initial bad reception, how it turned into a classic, and about working with the Coens (apparently a wonderful experience).
- Making of The Big Lebowski: 25 minutes. This is an old extra, in standard definition, made when the movie was young (or not yet finished). This time, the Coens, rather than the actors, do most of the talking.
- The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever’s Story: 14 minutes. An amateur documentary about Lewbowski festivals. I didn’t know such things existed.
- Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams:
The Dreaming Sequences of The Dude: Four minutes. Again, the actors talk.
- Interactive Map: A map of LA, where you can click on locations to learn about them.
- Jeff Bridges Photo Book: 18 minutes. Bridges walks us through a booklet of photos he took during the shoot with a special panoramic camera. Sometimes interesting but mostly boring.
- Photo Gallery: Three minutes. Some of the photos from Bridge’s photo book, with music instead of narration. Less boring.
- Learn More About the No Kid Hungry Campaign: 32-second public service message. Bridges apparently is involved. Also, they talk about a target date of 2015.