Reviewed by Chris Galloway
PolyGram, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], subtitles: Spanish, French, single side-dual layer, 22 chapters, rated R, 98 min., $24.95, street date 10/27/98.
Directed by Joel Coen. Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, John Turturro.
Joel and Ethan Coen's The Big Lebowski finds Jeff Lebowski (Bridges) the victim of mistaken identity. Two thugs break into his apartment in the errant belief that they are accosting Jeff Lebowski, the Pasadena millionaire--not the laid-back, unemployed, `stuck in the 70s' Jeff Lebowski who calls himself the Dude.
The Dude's first mistake is paying a visit to his wealthy namesake in the hopes of getting a replacement for his soiled carpet. But instead of a Persian loaner, our reluctant hero and his buddy Walter (Goodman) are swept up in a Coenesque comedy/thriller of extortion, double-cross, deception, embezzlement, sex and dope.
It takes guys as simple as the Dude and Walter to make a story this complicated...and they'd really rather be bowling.
I heard one critic refer to this movie as (not quoted exactly) "The There's Something About Mary of art films." I agree with that statement. It is, under a certain definition, an art film and to those artsy-fartsy types it would more than likely be as offensive as Mary was to others. If there is a difference between the two it's that this one is a hell of a lot funnier and doesn't (really) depend on crude humor.
I saw it with a friend while going to school. We were basically the only two people in the theater, other than two couples. My friend and I thought it was the funniest thing we had seen in quite a while. We couldn't stop laughing. The couple in front of us couldn't either. I noticed the couple a little further down wasn't. Well, the guy was, but the female I could hear clearly. She said "This is the dumbest thing I have ever seen!" And while I thought it was great, I might as well mention right now that the stats suggest 1 in 6 won't like it.
Critics did pan it from some of the reviews I saw on its initial release, and it was very unjustly done. I received the feeling most critics were expecting the team behind this, the Coen borthers, to come up with another Fargo. No, this isn't Fargo, but I'm glad it isn't. While I did enjoy Fargo, I'm sorry, but I would watch The Big Lebowski over it any day. While this one lacks plot, it's still quite smart, very fast, contains some of the most interesting characters and still one of the funniest movie I have ever seen.
While I say there is little plot, its little plot is still very complicated. Jeff "Dude" Lebowski (who just goes by "Dude"), played by Jeff Bridges, is jumped by two thugs in his own home. They want money back his wife apparently stole from a big Porn King named Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazara). A mistake is obviously made since Dude is not married and is not the rich millionaire Lebowski the two were supposed to go after. One of the goons, though, answered the call of nature on his rug.
With the help of his bowling buddies, Walter (John Goodman) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi) he is talked into approaching the other Jeff "Big" Lebowski (David Huddleston) to ask for compensation on his rub because it was him that the two goons were after. Plus, that rug did "tie the room together." Next thing Dude knows is he's pulled into a conspiracy involving the kidnapping of the Big Lebowski's wife, Bunny (Tara Reid, looking very hot). Very funny complications follow as Dude finds himself targeted by a mad millionaire, a group of Nihilists, a Porn King, a freaky Spanish bowler (John Tuturro), an eccentric painter and a ferret.
There are many funny situations in the film but what makes the film so enjoyable are its characters. The more you watch it, the more you learn and the more you laugh. Dude is the best out of them all, a lazy, laid back, pot smoking loser. He doesn't have a job nor seems interested in one. He is also quite stupid, whose knowledge seems to come from things he may have watched on TV. As Walter, John Goodman is perfect and I was hoping he would be looked at for a nomination but I knew it wouldn't happen. Suffering from a sort of shell shock, he is able to relate everything to Vietnam, even when someone asks him to leave a diner. As well, he takes his bowling very seriously, as he points his gun at a man he accuses as a cheater - right on the lanes! "This isn't Vietnam. This is bowling! There are rules here!" Buscemi's character isn't given too much to do. Every time he speaks up he is told to "shut the f*&$ up, Donny!" by Walter. And if he does get something in, it's pertaining to an event already covered minutes ago. Peter Stormare plays the lead Nihilist and is very amusing as well. As is John Tuturro as Jesus. He only appears in the film for 5 minutes as a pedophile, foul-mouthed bowler but steals the movie. Julianne Moore plays Maude Lebowski, and while she is definitely an intriguing character, she could never reach the heights as some of the others.
I could go on but I won't. So many characters, so little time left before my hand cramps up typing this out. All I can say is this movie is one of my all-time favorite comedies. I know some people have problems with it because of its lack of a plot or the fact it's not Fargo. In reality the plot doesn't matter but the characters do and they work very well. It's great fun with a lot still going for it.
The DVD from Polygram is also a very impressive release. The movie is presented on a single sided, dual layered disc. Both a widescreen and full screen version are available on one side, giving the option at start-up as to which format you wish to watch. The widescreen version is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and has been enhanced for widescreen TVs.
The picture is mint. I wasn't expecting a movie like this to look this good. Skin tones are perfect as are black levels. All colors are sharp and never fade. Jesus' purple jump suit looks very bright and well saturated (I find purple one of the colors that can look off). In fact everything is perfectly saturated. There are the occasional neon lights but I didn't notice any chroma effects. Night scenes are easy to see and day scenes are not blinding.
The movie is sharp throughout. I did not notice a soft spot at all. Jagged edges don't exist. I noticed a moiré effect here and there but it's nothing too big. If there is one flaw the picture suffers from it's a spec here and there, but I only noticed 2 or 3 instances of this happening. But all I can do is congratulate Polygram on a fantastic video transfer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is also good but nothing too special. The movie doesn't depend on heavy special effects or loud noises. There is the occasional gunfire and car crashes. The front soundstage receives the most use here, since the movie is a dialogue driven film. Panning is excellent, though. The music soundtrack is what uses the back channels as well, and these are very good moments. The music is old but it didn't sound harsh. The only other time the surrounds are used is for atmosphere like in the bowling lanes, where the gang hangs out quite a bit. A couple car bang ups seem to use the surrounds. However, the .1 channel is never really used. To be honest, I never noticed it used.
The supplements are scarce but we get a couple. We get an interesting half hour documentary on the making of the film. It is basically an interview with the Coen brothers and I found it quite involving. The film is based on a friend of theirs and they just wanted to write an adventure with him as the central character. They also talk a bit about their past projects and a bit about themselves. I found this pretty fascinating and a nice treat. There is a layer change halfway through.
The other supplements are all basic. You get some cast and crew bios on the key characters as well as John Tuturro and Sam Elliot (who is the narrator, and even sits to have a beer with Dude). The Coen are in there as well. They are somewhat informative and contain more than most but they are not too special. You then get a teaser trailer that tells you nothing.
And I believe that covers it. Not much but what it does have I found worthwhile. I recommend this DVD highly, though. Picture and sound is terrific and the movie is absolutely funny. You definitely have to check it out.
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