The Big Lebowski Review
I was once at a party when the subect of my favourite song came up. A quite respectable gentlemen opined that what I had found moving, beautiful, and a little bit sexy was to his mind "boring drivel". We could both agree that the artist responsible, a somewhat gruff and shouty Irishman, was a magnificent musician and a seminal songwriter. We could both agree that many of our musical tastes coincided. But we both could not agree that my pouring my drink over his head was a proportionate response to this one area where our views were divergent.
It's always strange to me that people see the same thing so differently as to one be in rapture to it and the other bored to tears. Still, this is a fact of life, and it's a good reminder that even when we can all agree something is good or bad that our reasons for doing so are often markedly different. The film on review is such a case in point. Everyone I know who has seen The Big Lebowski likes it tremendously even if their motivations to do so come from completely different places and experiences.
Some see a lark, a convention of whimsy and caricature. Some see a role model in The Dude. Some see a drinking game or a familiar entertainment that has generated call and response and become an interactive pleasure. What I see is a love of cinema, of what is possible from the written word through performance and what can happen to smart ideas realised with imagination and flair. For me, The Big Lebowski is the hard boiled detective thriller re-imagined, Dashiell Hammett re-told through the eyes of a slacker.
Set at the time of the first Gulf war with Bush senior telling Saddam Hussein that "this aggression will not stand", The Big Lebowski deals with The Dude's efforts to navigate a potential kidnapping, the world of pornography, and performance art of an altogether different type. The Dude is mistaken for a seemingly wealthy fellow Lebowski whose young bride is soon at the mercy of unidentified kidnappers, and The Dude is told "her fate is in your hands" as he is tapped up to deliver the ransom. With the woeful help of his friend Walter, and the challenges of Fascist cops, dim heavies and nihilists, The Dude is soon in the midst of some strange shit.
Whilst the characters and idioms are very much of the time, The Big Lebowski is deliberately modeled upon the cinematic detective thrillers of the golden age of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Sympathetically, Julianne Moore pitches her character Maude somewhere between Katharine Hepburn and an aristocratic feminist, the oddballs and goofballs of the endless caricatures are modern takes on the Peter Lorres, Sidney Greenstreets and character actors of the 40's and 50's.
Shot through with great music from The Dude's own golden age, the movie is peppered with great scenes, including some of the best dream sequences ever filmed. The segment where the Dude finds himself knocked out a la Dick Powell and enters a Wagnerian journey of bowling, castration anxiety and Kenny Rogers is worth seeing the whole film for. This inventiveness, this quirkiness that has always marked a Coen Brother's movie, is here at the height of their powers.
And so I repeat, some love the nonsense, some love the music and some love the love of cinema. And it seems that as the years pass, more find something else to love and follow. And perhaps that's the principal joy - that there's so much to love and so little to have to tolerate. And.. well that makes me good feeling it's out there.
This set is provided on a region B locked BD50 and the new transfer offered here is a VC1 encode. The new transfer is a disappointment with some heavy use of DNR rendering faces rubbery and lacking detail. Colour boosting also seems to have happened with some hues far too warm, and I am afraid that not all the contours and edges look as natural as I would prefer. To be honest, I prefer the transfer on the old HD-DVD that came out when that format was heading for the exit.
The audio is a much better story though, with a lossless master audio track a real boon for the great soundtrack. Sequences such as Maud's painting really come alive with excellent movement through the channels and plenty of atmosphere generated from the sub-woofer. A myriad of other languages are available as well, and there are even options to adjust the mixing of PIP audio.
The menu design here is very HD-DVD and far from elegant. Many picture in picture (PIP) options are offered with a score being kept if you are playing any of the drinking games related to the dialogue, a 2 player trivia game, some text boxes adding greater info to some scenes and a specific music text commentary offered as well. Newer HD featurettes are offered which interview the cast about the legacy of the film, the cult following that it now has and the dream sequences. Bridges is a gas throughout these, clearly showing that the Dude is no great act for him with his very laid back approach, and all of the main cast contribute with Turturro suggesting Jesus should return for a sequel.
A map of LA gives background on locations used in the film, and Bridges introduces the rather proficient photos he took on set which are also available in a standard definition reel on the disc.
Older extras from previous releases are offered in standard definition with the joke intro, the Coens interviewed as they studiously pick their nails, and a short feature on the Lebowski festival that has sprung up since the film and the people who attend.
All in all, a nice haul of special features hamstrung by an ugly menu.
A great film gets great extras, however the transfer is rubbery and the disc design ropey.