Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blu-ray Review: 'The Big Lebowski: Limited Edition'

Fuck it, Dude, let’s go bowling.

I didn’t love “The Big Lebowski” the first time I saw it. It feels good to finally admit that. By the time 1998 rolled around I’d been a big Coen Brothers fan since first watching “Raising Arizona” in 1987, and had seen everything they’d put on film. “Fargo” only solidified my affection, so when their next film, “Lebowski”, came out, I went to a Sunday afternoon matinee that first weekend. Walking out into a drizzly March afternoon in the Pacific Northwest, I’d enjoyed myself well enough, but it wasn’t anything that blew my hair back. I wasn’t the only one with a less-than-enthusiastic reaction, and the film was neither a critical nor commercial success.

Home video is where “The Big Lebowski” really hit its stride and found an audience. This film makes a definite case for repeated viewings. With the ability to watch and re-watch you are afforded the opportunity to drink in and truly appreciate the subtle jokes, Walter’s priceless rants, and the random weirdness that makes “The Big Lebowski” so great. Watching it now I can’t see how I had such a tepid reaction my first time, and the film has blossomed into a full-blown cultural phenomenon. There are constant midnight screenings, t-shirts and bumper stickers printed with quips of dialogue, websites, chatrooms, and even regular festivals and conventions. Hell, at work we have three phones, each with a name. One is “Walter”, another “The Dude”, and we call the third “The Jesus”. (Let it be known that I had nothing to do with this.) “The Big Lebowski” isn’t “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” or “Rocky Horror” in terms of nerdy fan obsession, but it isn’t far off.

It seems fitting that since the home video market is so responsible for the popularity of “The Big Lebowski”, now it is getting special edition Blu-ray Book release. I’ll try not to waste too much of your time with plot details, as I’m going to assume that most of you are at least marginally familiar with the movie. It is essentially the Coen Brothers’ loose retelling of Raymond Chandler’s 1939 detective novel, “The Big Sleep”. Remember the use of the word “loose”. There are distinct similarities between the two works, but they are, obviously, vastly different entities.

Instead of Chandler’s hardboiled private investigator, Philip Marlowe, the story centers around a burn-out, ex-hippie stoner named Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), know as “The Dude” to his many friends and well-wishers. Floating through life on a cloud of smoke, his daily routine consists primarily of getting high and bowling with his buddies, Walter (John Goodman), an easily agitated Vietnam vet, and Donny (Steve Buscemi), a na├»ve milquetoast who often unwittingly walks right into Walter’s rage. After being mistaken for another Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston), a wheelchair-bound millionaire no less, the Dude is compelled to navigate a seedy criminal underworld that includes kidnapping, blackmail, murder, and modern feminist art, among other things.

At a basic level, what the Coens did is drop a laid-back slacker into the middle of a tense, twisted detective story, just to see what would happen. The result is a frantic mish-mash of comedy, mystery, and cinematic trickery that, while it can be overwhelming at first glance, is one of the most unique and entertaining films in a generation. Endlessly quotable, the re-watch potential for “The Big Lebowski” is through the roof. Like I said, it is one of those films that gets better with age, and no matter how many times you’ve seen it, you can pop it into your disc playing machine, and watch it again and again.

You are entering a world of pain.

Besides a sharp, clean picture, “The Big Lebowski” Limited Edition Blu-ray Book comes with a ridiculous number of extras, a list that it is truly worthy of the “Special Edition” tag. With the package you get a digital copy of the film, as well as a 28-page booklet that features exclusive interviews, trivia, and photos from the movie. But wait, there is so much more:

There are a trio of interactive “U-Control” features; “Mark It, Dude”—an on-screen counter that keeps track of the “dudes”, “Lebowski-isms”, and “f-bombs” throughout the movie—think the “Carnage Counter” on the “Red Dawn” DVD; “Scene Companion”—which lets you watch behind the scenes footage, interviews, and assorted other extras while you watch; and “The Music of ‘The Big Lebowski’”—a feature that identifies the songs on the soundtrack and lets you build a custom playlist.

“An Introduction”—This is the least entertaining of the bonus features. It is a faux intro from a faux film industry type that just doesn’t hit the mark and is tired rather than entertaining. It is only four minutes, but feels much longer.

“Worthy Adversaries: What’s my Line Trivia”—This is exactly what it sounds like a “Lebowski” trivia challenge. The kicker is that you can play solo, or test your knowledge head-to-head with a buddy. Won’t that sound like fun after a couple of hearty bong rips.

“The Dudes Life”—This 10-minute featurette is taken up mostly by Bridges discussing his process as an actor, and some specific preparations he employed to get ready for his role as The Dude.

“The Dude Abides: ‘The Big Lebowski’ Ten Years Later”—After a full decade has elapsed, members of the cast and crew are interviewed about the legacy of “The Big Lebowski”, with a large emphasis placed on the Coen’s and the unique way in which the brothers work.

“Making of ‘The Big Lebowski’”—An older inclusion, this is a pretty standard making-of feature, though it is interesting to hear the characters discuss their roles and the film not only before it was released, but before it became a true cult phenomenon.

“The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever’s Story”—Features clips from Eddie Chung’s film “The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans”, a documentary about the people behind “Lebowski Fest”, an event that has since become an annual gathering of like minded Dude devotees.

“Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequences of The Dude”—Exactly what it sounds like, this extra explores the “Kafka Moments”—as the Coens call them—where “The Big Lebowski” flies off on surrealist tangents. Don’t ask me how I know, but these interludes are the closest thing to a glue-sniffing hallucination that I’ve ever seen captured in a movie.

“Interactive Map”—Flip around and choose between significant locations from “The Big Lebowski”. Each entry comes with a brief, usually less than a minute, glimpse at the places where the movie was filmed, and a bit of trivia about each spot in the greater Los Angeles area.

“Jeff Bridges Photo Book” and “Photo Gallery”—This is exactly what it sounds like.

And to top off the whole thing there are a handful of online Blu-ray features for you to explore. All in all this is a great package, especially for die-hard fans of “The Big Lebowski”.

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