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Blu-ray Reviews

The Big Lebowski Limited Edition Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 63 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted August 16 2011 - 12:53 PM

The Big Lebowski is the Coen Brothers’ 1998 comic follow-up to their 1996 Oscar winner Fargo.  There’s almost no need for introduction, given the following this comedy enjoys.  Jeff Bridges plays The Dude, quintessential slacker/bowler/zen hero Jeff Lebowski, whose life is disrupted by a case of mistaken identity involving the title character.  But that’s just the bare bones of a movie that’s actually much richer when you see it.  The new Limited Edition Blu-ray uses what looks like the older HD-DVD VC-1 transfer, coupling it with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, and a few new PIP functions along with almost all of the extras found on the 10th Anniversary DVD from 2008.   Fans of the movie will want to check this out for themselves.



http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/THE BIG LEBOWSKI

Studio: Universal/Working Title

Year: 1998

Length:  1 hr 59 mins

Genre:  Bowling Comedy/Mystery/Zen Adventure/Coen Brothers


Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, VC-1 (@ an average 30 mbps)

Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 4.0 mbps), French DTS 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French


Film Rating: R (Pervasive Strong Language, Drug Content, Sexuality, Violence, Coen Brothers)


Release Date: August 16, 2011




Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, David Huddelston and John Turturro

Produced by: Ethan Coen
Screenplay by: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Directed by: Joel Coen


Film Rating:    3 ½/5



About 3 years ago, I published a review on this site of the 10th Anniversary DVD edition of The Big Lebowski, which was a 2-disc affair that piled on additional extras past what had been available on prior DVD editions.  The new Blu-ray, set to hit the street this week, takes those extras and ports them onto a disc with high definition transfers of the picture and sound, adding in a new trivia game and 3 PIP functions to round things out.  Since I’ve already been through this material before, I’m going to quote from the earlier review as far as the extra features go, and put my energy here toward the high definition picture and sound, and toward what new extras are available.


The Big Lebowski is the Coen brothers’ cult classic comedy about bowling, zen and everything in between. The plot is deceptively simple, dealing with the efforts of Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) to put his life back into order after being attacked in the name of another, much wealthier Jeff Lebowski. While the territory here is similar to the Coen brothers’ prior effort Fargo, things here are mostly played for humor and a wry sensibility. As with most Coen brothers’ films, this one goes on a bit long, and the characterizations tend to sail over the top (John Turturro wildly steals each scene he’s in, and John Goodman’s powderkeg character is practically a flesh and blood version of Yosemite Sam), but there’s a good time to be had here. The Coen brothers are nothing if not detail oriented, and like their other films, this one is luxuriously textured and stylized. The legions of fans this film has acquired over the years are a testament to the quality of the film and the fun that people have with it.

The new Blu-ray
is only the latest edition of the film available on DVD.  An initial edition containing both widescreen and pan & scan transfers was itself replaced in 2005 by a Collector’s Edition that added a better transfer and some special features. The 2005 edition also had a limited “Achiever Edition” packaging option that doled out some goodies in the packaging to boot. In 2008, a 10th Anniversary Edition was released, porting over the 2005 video and audio transfers and all the extras on that disc. In addition, more featurettes were included, to the point that a second disc was included to accommodate the new material.   A limited version of this edition including a bowling ball in the packaging was also made available at the time.  And of course, there was also an HD-DVD edition released in 2007, which had a VC-1 transfer, Dolby Digital Plus sound and only the 2005 extras.



For this year’s Blu-ray release, you’re looking at almost all of the extra features from the 2008 DVD, along with a 1080p VC-1 transfer, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and a trio of PIP U-Control functions.  A new interactive trivia game has also been included.  I believe that the Blu-ray is using the same VC-1 transfer as the HD-DVD but I have been unable to confirm this.  The issue here is whether the viewer wants to pick up the title on Blu-ray, and, as with other double dips, that’s really going to ride on whether the picture and sound upgrade is worth the repurchase.  (This assumes the viewer already owns the title, and I can guarantee that most of the fans already have at least one of the prior DVDs.)  In this case, the picture quality is a little soft, which was noted of the HD-DVD back in 2007.  It’s not bad – just not the optimal quality that could have been achieved with a new transfer.  It certainly wasn’t enough to distract me from the movie, and if you haven’t seen the many extras available here, it may be worth your time to check them out.


                                                       

VIDEO QUALITY   3/5

The Big Lebowski has a bright and colorful 1080p VC-1 1.85:1 transfer that runs toward the soft end of things, but which still reveals many details.  Clothing threads and facial details are clearly visible to an  extent that belies any excessive noise reduction.  Also, there are moments of color that practically jump off the screen – particularly Bunny Lebowski’s loud green bathing suit.  Still, there is an overall softness at work here.  It doesn’t distract from the content at hand, but one wishes this could have been addressed with a new transfer.  From what I can tell, this is the same transfer used for the 2007 HD-DVD.  I have not been able to confirm this yet, but I’m standing by to hear in this thread.


AUDIO QUALITY    3 ½/5

The Big Lebowski has an enjoyable DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix in English, along with a DTS 5.1 mix in French.  The English mix really comes to life during the many songs played under the action.  The directionality I noted from the 2008 DVD has been enhanced and clarified by the higher definition audio.


SPECIAL FEATURES      3 ½/5

The Blu-ray presentation of The Big Lebowski comes with multiple special features, almost all of which are drawn the 2008 DVD release.  There’s a bit of PIP functionality, providing a music guide, a scene companion, and a running tally of the various f-bombs, “dudes” and catchphrases.  The usual BD-Live and pocket BLU materials are included.  There’s also a digital copy, and this Limited Edition also includes a little book containing a brief guide to the movie and an interview with the original Dude, Jeff Dowd.


Worthy Adversaries:  What’s My Line? Trivia Game – NEW ITEM:  This appears to be the only new non-PIP feature included with the Blu-ray release.  Given that the disc is already loaded with a host of SD extras from the prior DVD releases, it’s not surprising that the only new territory to mine is a trivia game.  This is an interactive trivia quiz that occasionally poses a question for the viewer based on the upcoming action.  You can play by yourself or against an opponent.


”Exclusive Introduction” from Forever Young (4:41, Non-Anamorphic, 480p) – This is the same mock-introduction from the Coen brothers’ favourite fake company that was available on the 2005 Collector’s Edition. “Mortimer Young” discusses his company and shows a horrifying example of film restoration for your pleasure. As on the earlier release, this featurette is non-anamorphic. But it’s still funny.

The Dude’s Life (10:06, 1080p)  (From the 2008 DVD) – This is a series of fun interviews with the cast about their characters. The fun starts with Jeff Bridges and the rest of the cast talking about the idea of The Dude being a Zen Master, and about Bridges’ performance. We then take a tour through the rest of the characters with the actors discussing what they were doing.

The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later – (10:25, 1080p) (From the 2008 DVD) – This is a retrospective look at the making of the film, including some on-set snippets here and there, and more interview material with the cast. Jeff Bridges admits that it’s one of the only films he still watches when it pops up on TV and describes the only minor disagreement between the Coen brothers he saw during the filming. The featurette ends with an open-ended question from the cast about the son of the main character, who must be ten years old now, and according to Bridges is “probably selling pot to all his friends.”

Making of The Big Lebowski (24:34, Non-Anamorphic, 480p) – This is the original making-of featurette from the first DVD release. This includes more discussion with the Coen brothers than any other featurette. It is non-anamorphic and holds the usual mix of interview material with film footage.



The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever’s Story (13:53, 480p) – This is an excerpt from a longer documentary (The Achievers) about the various “Lebowski Fests” over the ten years since the film’s release. This is a film by and about fans of the film who get together to celebrate the film, bowling and white Russians. To be honest, I found this length (under 15 minutes) to be plenty, but fans of the movie will no doubt want to see the full documentary when they can.


Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequences of the Dude – (4:18, 1080p) – (From the 2008 DVD) – This brief featurette explores the two dream sequences in the film, with comments by the Coen brothers and the cast describing their ideas and what it was like doing a Busby Berkeley number with a valkyrie and bowling pins.


Interactive Map – (From the 2008 DVD) - This is a collection of quick looks at the various locations used in the film around Los Angeles. Some of the comments here are pulled from the other new featurettes on this edition.

Photo Gallery (3:25, Non-Anamorphic, 480p) – This is the same collection of photos taken by Jeff Bridges available on the 2005 Collector’s Edition. But it’s nice to see these shots in isolation and the viewer can always freeze frame on each page.



Jeff Bridges’ Photo Book (17:28, 1080p) – (From the 2008 DVD) – This is probably the best part of the whole edition, right here. Jeff Bridges sits down and shares his photo book with the viewer, talking about each photo and what was happening when he took it, and having a good enough time that he continually bursts into giggles. The featurette ends with a plug for Jeff Bridges’ website, where he sells copies of the book. (Although if you go there, you’re in for a pretty wild ride...)


No Kid Hungry PSA (0:32, 480p, Full Frame) – This PSA advertises the child hunger group supported by Jeff Bridges.

There are also three U-Control PIP functions available here:


The Music of The Big Lebowski PIP – This function provides information about whatever song is being played on the soundtrack at the moment.  There are options for making a playlist of the songs and/or purchasing them from iTunes.


Scene Companion PIP –  This function pops up here and there to offer pertinent quotes or background informations while you’re watching the movie.  The quotes are sometimes spoken by an anonymous voice, and sometimes by various members of the cast and crew directly in what look like excerpts from the actual featurettes on the disc.


Mark It, Dude PIP – This function is an on-screen tally of the essential parts of the movie – namely the f bombs, the utterings of “Dude”, and the utterings of important quotes.


BD-Live – The usual BD-Live functionality is present.


Pocket BLU – The usual pocket BLU functionality is present.


Digital Copy – Instructions for downloading a digital copy of the movie are included in an insert in the packaging.  The download code may not work after 12/31/2012.  This insert, by the way, also includes an ad for the various other Universal comedies recently released on Blu-ray, and an ad for Lebowski tee shirts from 80sTees.com.  The back of the insert is a PSA for NoKidHungry.org, an advocacy group supported by Jeff Bridges that works to alleviate child hunger.


Digibook – A handsome little book is included in the packaging.  Most of the book is just filler promotional material about the movie, but as Robert Harris has noted, the cover has been embossed, and there is that interview with Jeff Dowd, the original Dude.



The movie and special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French. The usual chapter and pop-up menus are present.  When you first put the Blu-ray into the player, you’ll see a few BD-Live trailers for upcoming Blu-ray releases.


IN THE END...

The Big Lebowski continues to entertain, and the new Blu-ray happily contains almost all of the extras from the 2008 DVD along with high definition picture and sound.  I believe that the picture may be the same one found on the 2007 HD-DVD, and it is a bit soft, but not to the level of distracting me from the movie itself.  Fans of the movie will want to rent this if they don’t already own it.  I have a feeling that the really big fans have already picked it up. 


Kevin Koster

August 16, 2011.


Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:


Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode

Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver

Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player

PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)

5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)

2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)

Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer 



#2 of 63 ONLINE   dpippel

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Posted August 16 2011 - 03:24 PM

Thanks for the detailed review Kevin. While I agree with you about the audio and the extras, I'd be pushing things to rate the video on this transfer at 2.5. It's overly soft, the DNR is very distracting, and there's even some haloing here and there. All in all a lousy job by Universal IMO. If you own the HD-DVD or the 10th Anniversary DVD, I don't think there's any good reason to buy this Blu-ray if you're expecting a big jump in image quality. Very sub-par in my book.

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#3 of 63 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted August 16 2011 - 03:29 PM

Doug, thanks for the response and for adding your voice.


I didn't catch the halos - could you tell me where you're seeing those?


You have a point that if you already own the 10th Anniversary DVD, the only reason to upgrade is really the transfer, and that's something people will need to evaluate.


Be aware that the HD-DVD does not have the extras from the 10th Anniversary DVD, so just having that means that you likely have the same transfer as the Blu but without the new documentaries or the examination of the photo album by Jeff Bridges.



#4 of 63 OFFLINE   gomezfan69

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Posted August 16 2011 - 08:40 PM

There was a comparison at AVS which showed the blu-ray to look quite different from the HD-DVD.

#5 of 63 ONLINE   dpippel

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Posted August 17 2011 - 02:32 AM

Jason - It does indeed look different from the HD-DVD, although it's probably the same transfer run through the digital wringer as it were.


Kevin - I'll get some time codes for you regarding the haloing. It's not egregious but is noticeable here and there. I only mentioned in the context of the other issues this presentation suffers from.


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#6 of 63 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted August 17 2011 - 03:35 AM

I need to ask if the comparison was made between people who have been watching both transfers, or if it was from screencaps.

If the latter, I'd prefer to hear from those who have seen the HD-DVD.


Doug, if you're saying this is a tweaked version of the transfer for the HD-DVD, you'll know better than me.  I've only seen the 10th Anniversary DVD.  The real question is what they would have been tweaking.



#7 of 63 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted August 17 2011 - 05:02 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Kevin EK 

I need to ask if the comparison was made between people who have been watching both transfers, or if it was from screencaps.

If the latter, I'd prefer to hear from those who have seen the HD-DVD.


Doug, if you're saying this is a tweaked version of the transfer for the HD-DVD, you'll know better than me.  I've only seen the 10th Anniversary DVD.  The real question is what they would have been tweaking.



Only for Kevin.


I've checked the HD vs. the BD, and the answer seems to be that the transfer is the same.


HD looks every bit as good as the BD, if not a bit better.  Both have slight ringing.  Both have a slightly softened image to reduce grain, most likely toward easier compression at the SD level.


Both decidedly okay, with a huge nod in the direction of the HD disc, as it's using 2006-7 technology, lower data speeds, etc.


I believe this proves that BD is no greater than HD, given the appropriate master.


The look of cinema?


We don't need no stinking look of cinema.


RAH




"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#8 of 63 ONLINE   dpippel

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Posted August 17 2011 - 05:19 AM

Like Robert, I own both and have been directly comparing the BD with the HD-DVD. IMO the HD-DVD presentation is the better of the two, as I'm still seeing pretty major DNR on the BD that is not replicated on the HD-DVD (which has its own problems).


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#9 of 63 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted August 17 2011 - 05:41 AM

For those who never owned a Toshiba HD player, I'm going to go out on a limb with a suggestion.


For those wishing to purchase Universal titles originally released in HD, one can pick up a used (or new) Toshiba HD player, and as many HD discs as you like, all at very low prices.


Avoid the need to spend more dollars on inferior Blu-ray products.


You read it correctly.


I'm advocating the use of Toshiba HD players.


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#10 of 63 OFFLINE   Scott Calvert

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Posted August 17 2011 - 06:36 AM

For those who never owned a Toshiba HD player, I'm going to go out on a limb with a suggestion.


For those wishing to purchase Universal titles originally released in HD, one can pick up a used (or new) Toshiba HD player, and as many HD discs as you like, all at very low prices.


Avoid the need to spend more dollars on inferior Blu-ray products.


You read it correctly.


I'm advocating the use of Toshiba HD players.


RAH

Still using mine for The Thing, which Universal significantly downgraded for BD.

#11 of 63 OFFLINE   Jeff Robertson

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Posted August 17 2011 - 06:47 AM


This is what I am doing for the majority of my Universal films in HD. If we're lucky enough to get it done right on Blu, I will pick it up. So far, there have been very few examples of that.


Originally Posted by Scott Calvert 



Still using mine for The Thing, which Universal significantly downgraded for BD.






#12 of 63 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted August 17 2011 - 07:48 AM

I picked up the UK Blu-ray of The Thing, specifically to get the special features left off the US Blu-ray.  Was the transfer identical  to the US Blu-ray or was there a difference, if anyone knows?



#13 of 63 OFFLINE   Lord Dalek

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Posted August 17 2011 - 08:00 AM

Considering the rage over the usual Universal DNR overkill, this line by everyone's favorite "worst critic ever" gave me a good chuckle.




Universal Studios Home Entertainment's Blu-ray of The Big Lebowski is a handsome HD transfer that conveys all the color and warmth of Roger Deakins' cinematography.

 


That's all he wrote about the transfer. That one vague underwritten sentence.... way to go Glenn. Way to go.


EDIT: Oh and yeah he gave it his usual vague "excellent" rating he gives practically everything to except George Lucas movies.



#14 of 63 OFFLINE   Dave H

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Posted August 17 2011 - 08:36 AM

I watched the Blu-ray last night (60" ISF'd SXRD A3000 and Oppo BDP-95) from about 9 feet back at the processing on this disc is just too much. The DNR in particular is extreme. There is also quite a bit of EE more notable in some scenes. This is one of my favorite comedies, but an awful product. This studio causes so much frustration.

#15 of 63 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted August 17 2011 - 09:18 AM

I'll say again that not everyone agrees that this is "the usual Universal DNR overkill".   Some people believe that to be the case.  Some people, including myself, do not.  I'm trying to be careful about applying such labels.  In the case of Fast Times, I had issues with the transfer and I made them known.  This one did not cause me anything like that level of frustration.


That said, I hope the writing I've been doing here over the past four years hasn't qualified me for the winner's circle of "everybody's favorite worst critic ever"...



#16 of 63 OFFLINE   Walter Kittel

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Posted August 17 2011 - 12:37 PM

I viewed the Bd release earlier today and then spot checked the HD-DVD version. It appears to be the same transfer. There is some ringing in both versions and it appears identical to my eyes, in regards to this aspect. I believe the HD-DVD has a little more detail, but I did not see a huge difference. I would agree with Kevin that DNR "overkill" is not a factor on this transfer. It does not display the smoothness or smearing that one can see on some of the more egregious examples. Casually watching the film, for the sake of watching the film I believe I personally would have a difficult time distinguishing the transfers in a blind A/B test. Details in faces seems to separate the transfers to a small degree and might be the key aspect separating the two. If you own the HD-DVD version then a purchase of the Bd version might not be warranted. (As I stated in another thread - I have experienced a surfeit of Warner Bros. HD-DVD failures and have slowly been repurchasing on Bd regardless of vendor, but that is just me.) I'd give the video a slightly generous 3.5 out of 5, mostly on the basis of the color performance. If you do not have an HD version of the title it is worth seeking out. Not a great disc, but an adequate one, IMHO. - Walter.
Fidelity to the source should always be the goal for Blu-ray releases.

#17 of 63 OFFLINE   Lord Dalek

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Posted August 17 2011 - 01:17 PM



Originally Posted by Kevin EK 

I'll say again that not everyone agrees that this is "the usual Universal DNR overkill".   Some people believe that to be the case.  Some people, including myself, do not.  I'm trying to be careful about applying such labels.  In the case of Fast Times, I had issues with the transfer and I made them known.  This one did not cause me anything like that level of frustration.


That said, I hope the writing I've been doing here over the past four years hasn't qualified me for the winner's circle of "everybody's favorite worst critic ever"...


Oh no, it takes a certain level of vague underwhelming cut and paste to approach the level of inaccuracy found in the reviews of Glenn Erickson.



#18 of 63 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted August 17 2011 - 01:56 PM

Then I shall endeavor to do more with the cutting and pasting...


I admit that I do build my reviews from a template, but I change the materials within them.  The video and audio sections are complete rebuilds - except that when I had the 40" I learned to put a note in the video area to acknowledge this.  Now that I'm on the 65", I just have an equipment pileup at the bottom.


For this review, I realized it made sense to use the features descriptions from my earlier review, since they were the same.  But I did qualify which ones were presented in HD after rechecking them.


If you'd like to see a review of special features gone wild, look up the review we did of the James Bond Blu-rays Volume 3.  At a certain point, I was almost completely overwhelmed by the volume of material and it took me almost two days to just compile the list.  I feel for the people who wrote the reviews of the LOTR Extended Editions...



#19 of 63 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted August 17 2011 - 01:57 PM

Walter, thanks very much for taking the time to do that A/B check with the HD-DVD.

And thank you to everyone who has been contributing to this.  The more eyes, the better.



#20 of 63 OFFLINE   Walter Kittel

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Posted August 17 2011 - 03:03 PM

Kevin - You're welcome. Agreed; the more eyes, the better. - Walter.
Fidelity to the source should always be the goal for Blu-ray releases.