Big Lebowski exists because people gave it a second chance. That’s not typical of any film industry, movie fans the one-and-done type, but audiences saw something here: A master of zen surrounded by a populace of crazed eccentrics, million dollar heists, and bowling. Lots of bowling.
It’s a movie that is as much about bowling as it is adjective-laden dialogue, carefully constructed back-and-forth debates between bowling buds. Well, all of that and a rug. It’s really a movie about a rug.
The Dude (Jeff Bridges) just exists on a different plane, non-confrontational in the extreme, sucking in what life throws at him with total stoner enthusiasm. Most of the movie takes that attitude, including a trio of flaky dream sequences, all within the mind of character who does so little.
Big Lebowski becomes about the secondary characters because it has to be, a driving force to push The Dude forward on his quest to secure a kidnap victim, a rug, a few gallons of White Russians, but just not on league night.
Vietnam vet Walter (John Goodman) lights his short fuse even when he shouldn’t, the proverbial ying to Dude’s yang. Danny (Steve Buscemi) is here for the drinking games, his lines there to shake up dialogue trees and let Walter vent for a brief second. The trio almost nonchalantly go about their way, except for Walter. He sees profitability and a chance to stick it to a con-artist as the ransom attempt increases its southward spiral.
Maybe the film has hung on, leaped into our subconscious, and created its own brand of fandom because it never slows down, even if The Dude wants to take it all in leisurely. The Coen Brothers crafted a script with constant loopy character introductions, absurdly appropriate plot-twists, and a passive sense of danger as The Dude is always popping someone’s radar. If there’s one thing to say for The Dude and his crew, it’s that they’re never boring. The Dude abides.
Here’s a test for any Universal catalog disc these days: Pop the disc in, wade through the constant irritation as it loads a fresh preview from the internet (how about not?), and then land at your selections. The video playing behind it? That will tell you if it’s typical Universal. That’s just how blatant the studio has become, those first images sitting behind a play movie option already drenched with clear DNR and nonsensically applied edge enhancement. No need to even dive into the film further.
No doubt this one was sitting on the shelf for awhile, a VC-1 encode no longer typical for Universal. The master is the immediate source of some suspicion, dotted with minimal damage, but enough to wonder why this stuff hasn’t been cleared up yet. There have been prints of the film out in video form since what, 1998? How is damage still a concern? Despite the egregious use of DNR, it still pops in, a speck here, scratch there. If you’re going to take the time to smother the grain into non-existence, why not take care of such simple imperfections?
The damage is minor, hardly even worth mentioning in the annals of catalog titles, but Universal deserves it. It shows how little they care, even for a fan base as rabid as Lebowski followers. The film is no longer relevant to Universal; they’ll trash whatever is hiding in their vault. Remember the fire the studio had a few years back? A print that went through that fire and water logged damage would probably look closer to the original source than this fiasco.
Only a handful of shots retain any fine detail, the stuff that, you know, everyone bought Blu-ray anticipating to see? What’s left on this transfer is simply because of logistics, tight close-ups already overloaded with facial detail. Anytime the camera pops back into a natural state for framing, the whole thing becomes mud. Skin turns plastic or waxy (depends on the shot), clothing becomes a blob, environments unnaturally soft, and the sharpening applied only adds to the tremendous mess they’ve created. Thankfully, since the grain has been completely voided, it doesn’t add any additional complexities for the encode to find itself in trouble. It’s not like the codec or compression even matter when you’ve turned the movie into a cartoonish facade anyway.
Colors are bland, flesh tones forced into an orange-ish corner they can’t escape from, reds feel oversaturated, and the black levels crush into infinity. It’s not like the DNR would have let the detail in anyway, so we’ll leave it at a wash. Contrast doesn’t have too much pep in its desperation to salvage any dimensionality, almost like it gave up. Blu-ray purchasers should too when it comes to Universal.
Big Lebowski’s audio asset is music, loads of it peppered throughout the film and timed to coincide with events. It’s fair to assume there’s a layer of fidelity we’ll never hear as long as Universal it at the helm, but on the whole, Lebowski renders itself sonically pretty well. The DTS-HD affair is provided a crisp source, dialogue carrying a natural weight and the smooth, downtrodden songs reaching a pleasant peak.
Bowling pins are split with a fierce crack, surprisingly crucial to the film’s aesthetic as a whole. No, there’s not much going on in terms of audio design, much of this one forever pushed into the center where it will stay. That’s fine though, The Dude as mellowed as this audio track. The music offers the escape, blending itself into the stereos with a calming presence, and even a little into the rears when called for. The dream sequences pop exceptionally well.
There’s a lot to go on in terms of bonuses here, some old, some new, some ancient in technology terms. The first option in that lengthy bonus menu is a trivia pop-up game titled Worthy Adversaries. Two Lebowski buffs can challenge this quote-fest as the movie takes a backseat. An Exclusive Introduction has a phony film preservationist presenting the film with the Coen’s sense of humor. The Dude’s Life is a 10-minute look on why The Dude has become the icon that he has, explaining the appeal even if it didn’t work on you.
The Dude Abides defines the film with a retrospective, cast and crew interviewed. A making-of has been around forever, this piece a DVD relic although no less informative if you’ve never caught it. The Lebowski Fest is a documentary clip focusing on a convention for fanatics of the movie. Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams details the idea and the creation methods of the dream sequences.
An interactive map takes viewers to the shooting locations, providing a then-and-now look at where these images were captured. A Jeff Bridges photo book looks inside all of the photos the actor took while on set. A separate photo gallery just offers the images, no interviews and chatter. Three U-Control features include The Music, scene comparison with various commentary and video snippets, and Mark it Dude which counts up the profanities and other offensive material.