The Big Lebowski Blu-ray Review: Not Quite a Gutterball, but Close

The Film

There’s no film in the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre quite like The Big Lebowski, which seems to have generated as many fans because of its ethos as it has for its supreme quotability.

The Big Lebowski isn’t nearly my favorite Coen film, but it certainly rivals Raising Arizona for the one I pop in the most. Maybe it’s something about The Dude’s unflappably laid-back demeanor that makes it one of those movies you can watch just about whenever; maybe it’s the fact that nearly every episodic scene is a tightly packed comedy capsule. Talk to 10 different Lebowski lovers, and you’re sure to come back with a wide range of favorite scenes — and you could probably make a case for each.

Jeff Bridges stars as Jeffrey Lebowski — but please, call him The Dude — in a role that he’s only recently begun to break out of the shadow of. The Dude is the laziest man in Los Angeles County, according to the slightly mystical, maybe omniscient narrator known as The Stranger (Sam Elliott), but he’s forced into a world of blackmail and kidnapping when he’s mixed up with another Jeffrey Lebowski.

Nevertheless, he still makes time for bowling with pals Donny (Steve Buscemi) and Walter (John Goodman, who would steal the movie if Bridges wasn’t so damn funny), who orchestrates a plan to steal the ransom money while berating Donny at every opportunity.

The Dude remains pretty unfazed as he travels through a world of corrupt porn kings, severed toes, car-stealing high schoolers, and violent, rodent-wielding nihilists. His relaxed vibe stands in stark contrast to the pugilistic, Vietnam veteran, Jewish convert Walter, who ends up being chiefly responsible for most of The Dude’s troubles.

Unlike most of the Coens’ films, The Big Lebowski does not feel precisely crafted, but its shaggy, easygoing nature seems entirely appropriate considering the subject matter. They get pitch-perfect performances from each member of the cast, no matter how small the role. John Turturro’s flamboyant, pedophilic Jesus and Julianne Moore’s eccentric, deceitful Maude are certainly highlights, but Coen regulars Jon Polito and Peter Stormare also make impressions in a short span, carving out distinct characters in this slightly warped version of Los Angeles.

A true cult sensation, and one of the few modern cult films that actually holds up to repeated viewings, The Big Lebowski is an all-time comedy classic. And if you don’t like it — well, you know, that’s just like your opinion, man.

The Blu-ray Disc

The Big Lebowski is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. I’ll say this for Universal’s transfer — it’s watchable. That’s about the highest praise I can muster for this corner-cutting near-botch. Rather than opt for a new remaster, it appears Universal has simply slathered on a healthy layer of DNR and boosted the brightness on an old master. As far as DNR jobs go, it’s not the worst, and at least it looks consistently applied, but for a high-profile title like this, it’s not only unacceptable, but kind of mind-boggling.

Image clarity and sharpness is certainly improved over DVD, but fine detail has largely been obliterated by noise reduction, which gives faces and objects a perpetually too-smooth look. The color palette also looks to be a little on the yellow side as a result of artificial boosting, although one gets used to this. Film grain is nowhere to be found, losing some of the nuances of Roger Deakins’ photography.

As the film went on, I found myself forgetting about the digital manipulation and just enjoying the film, but there’s really no excuse for a lazy transfer like this one. Let’s hope Universal redoes it in the near future.

Audio is presented in a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that’s quite good, nicely mixing the film’s eclectic soundtrack with front channel dialogue and offering solidly immersive activity in the surrounds.

Special Features

The only strictly new features here are the 30-page Blu-ray book packaging, which features an interview with real-life Dude Jeff Dowd, trivia and photos, and a digital copy.

Still, there are some fairly recent extras from the 10th Anniversary DVD that are ported over, and these are all quite good. A ten-year retrospective features interviews with Bridges, Goodman, Buscemi, Moore and Turturro, and the same interview sessions are used for a featurette where each talks about his or her character and another about the dream sequences. A look at Bridges’ photo collection from the shoot, which he shot with a panoramic Widelux camera, is an excellent inclusion.

Also included are a pretty standard making-of with the Coens themselves actually sitting down for an interview and a look at the annual Lebowski Fest and its growth since beginning in 2002. A faux-introduction presents the film as a recently rediscovered treasure. An interactive map looks at shooting locations and photo galleries are also included.

Sort-of new features include Universal’s U-Control interactivity, which has a two-person trivia game (cumbersome, as it takes place during the movie), picture-in-picture versions of the interviews found elsewhere on the disc, information about the current song playing, and an utterly useless on-screen counter for “fucks” and “dudes.”

The Bottom Line

It’s not the worst Blu-ray Universal has ever produced, but despite its watchability, I’d hold out for a better transfer, although that may be hoping against hope.

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Dusty Somers

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