HD DVD Title: The Big Lebowski
Screen format: 1080 P 1.85:1 VC-1 Encoded
First theatrical release: 6 March 1998
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Multiple including widescreen and fullscreen collectors editions
Director: Joel Coen
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, David Huddleston, John Turturro
Sound Formats: English, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Length: 1 Hour 58 Minutes
For every place and era there is a man who is called on to do extraordinary things. In urban Los Angeles during the early 1990s that man was apparently Jeffrey ‘The Dude’ Lebowski. The Dude is mistaken for another Jeffrey Lebowski (Huddleston), also a Los Angelino, but the second Lebowski is a multi-millionaire, a real Big Lebowski. All the Dude wants are reparations for a soiled rug that was damaged in the initial altercation caused by this mistaken identity, but he soon finds himself embroiled in a kidnapping plot against Lebowski’s trophy wife (Tara Reid), pursued by nihilists, and seduced by Lebowski’s daughter (Moore). Key to helping the Dude cope are his bowling team compatriots Walter (Goodman) and Donny (Buscemi). The Dude’s team has made the local semi finals, and if Walter and Donny don’t screw it up, they will face ace bowler (and know Pedophile) Jesus Quintana (Turturro). Finally, we learn the plight of the Dude through the gravelly throated interpretations of a mysterious stranger (Sam Elliot), who helps viewers connect the dots and come to understand just who the Dude is and what he is about.
If all this sounds both complex and contrived, be assured that it is but it doesn’t matter. The Raymond Chandler-esque plot isn’t really the point here, The Big Lebowski is a simple springboard for the twisted minds of brothers Joel and Ethan Coen to bring together some of their favorite actors, give them roles to chomp on, and run wild with.
While not every scene is hilarious, Lebowski has its fair share and, more importantly, features more interesting and memorable characters than most. It’s also a fan favorite for pure quotable line gold. Filled with startling dream sequences given over to bowling fantasies and broadway dancing fused with literal flights of fancy, ex-porno stars, and ravenous marmots, The Big Lebowski is a surreal trip into the head of Los Angeles’ unlikeliest of heroes.
Sound Quality: 3.5/5
Lebowski is chiefly a dialogue driven comedy, and the vocals are all crisp, clean and clear throughout. Featuring a wide sound stage that spills into the rears, mostly during dream sequences and the occasional musical contribution, The Big Lebowski has an adequate if not exceptional soundtrack. Speaking of the music, the tracks here define the term eclectic, ranging from Bob Dylan, Kenny Rogers (‘What Condition my Condition is in’), Elvis Costello, and Captain Beefheart all the way to Opera, Henry Mancini and even the Gipsy King’s Spanish rendition of Hotel California. All sounded great and help to ground this very odd story in some reality. Note that despite the Dude’s lost cassette tape plot point, there is no “Creedence Clearwater Revival” in this film.
Surround effects are minimal, but if you listen carefully you can pick them up in the bowling alley, the car chase, and even the wind swept vista at the end. Overall it’s nowhere near demo quality but given this films parentage and budget, it’s definitely in the right ballpark and you won’t feel like anything was truly missing sonically.
Visual Quality: 3.5/5
Visually Lebowski looks better than I’ve ever seen it, in particular detail level is much improved over what I remember on DVD and color saturation is pleasing and punchy. There are occasional pockets of noise and small areas of edge enhancement that were never distracting and again fit in with what would be reasonably expected of this film. There were also a few notable incidents of print damage what showed up as pops and crackles but these were very rare tho distracting when they did show. For the most part sharpness was very good, although facial close-ups sometimes seem a bit soft, probably intentionally so from the film maker’s perspective and not as any defect in this transfer. Again the dream sequences seem to have some of the deepest details and color palettes. In the end this is not a perfect looking film but it is satisfying and better than any previous DVD release.
Extra Features: 2/5
The three extras from the DVD collector’s edition are shoveled in here in standard definition. First off is a lame ‘Introductory’ sequence from a fake movie restoration house that really serves to insult the intended audience for this film who collect movies and want to see them at their best. Next up is a sequence of Bridges’ on set photographs which is mildly interesting. Finally a meaty ‘Making of’ Featurette goes in depth with interviews of cast and crew, especially the Coen Brothers, and discusses all aspects of making the film, how it was conceived and information about the real Lebowski character on which it was inspired. This is one of the better making of featurettes that I’ve seen, but altogether this collection of extras borders on the pitiful.
Overall: 3.5/5 (not an average)
The Big Lebowski is a welcome find in High Def, as visually it benefits from the added detail and color space that this format provides, tho no major restorative work seems to have been conducted. Sonically it sounds about the same as it ever has and that’s a good thing. Sadly there’s nothing new here on the extras front, so consider that when deciding whether this is a worthy upgrade or not as well.