Certain releases must be classed as essential: some qualify through a proliferation of Extras material, some for the majesty of the boxset, and some solely for the film itself. The brand new blu-ray edition of the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski stands proudly astride all of those categories thanks to an attention to detail, and a dedication to giving the film's legion of fans exactly what they deserve. Yes the Extras are largely familiar, but it is the convergence of the pick of those features included across the numerous DVD releases of the film with the long-awaited high definition transfer, and the wildcard of a beautiful Limited Edition packaging that makes this one a definite purchase. For the Coens and Universal, the sale of the blu-ray was never likely to be a difficult prospect: The Big Lebowski has transcended the normal realms of film popularity and as such can count on a huge fanbase already. It is a phenomenon that has inspired a vibrant convention of its own and a myriad of Dude wannabes who saw in Jeff Bridges' berobed slacker a quasi-messianic saviour who is both anti-establishment and an establishment to aspire to in himself. And we all already love the film: if not you're unlikely to have your head turned by this new definitely-for-the-fans special edition, because The Big Lebowski is a Marmite type of film - for everyone who loves it and gets it, there are those who are simply unimpressed, unengaged or worse still, frankly confused by it. This is The Coens at the mischievous best. In light of the release and success of True Grit it is perhaps easy to forget that the dynamic film-making duo once so heartily and happily toyed with their audiences, revelling in their reputations as purveyors of the finest curios known to Hollywood. And that is exactly what The Big Lebowski does, smashing expectations and conventionally held "rules" for narrative precision in favour of a comic laxness, and a supposedly chaotic imprecision that defies the reality that the script is full of subtleties and intricacies that have inspired a multitude of philosophical and socio-political readings since it was first released. Just don't call it cult: the term after all can be a dangerous thing - not always the endearing term to signify films that were for some reason undeservedly shunned on general release, it can also be reductive classification that suggests success in spite of the quality of the film (think Boondock Saints for instance). And The Big Lebowski suffers from that dichotomy of definition itself: it is purposefully obtuse, yet another example of the Coens doing precisely what they like without concern for the conventions or canon of film-making, and as such has its detractors for being so patently weird. But it is still a feat of film-making quality, with the same typical Coens commitment to aesthetic quality and charm, some incredibly drawn characters and that wonderful unquantifiable cool that cuts through even the most conventional of its directors' films. And the fact that it wasn't particularly heralded at the time of its initial release isn't necessarily just confirmation that the film is a cult gem: instead it is the indication of how fooled the cinema-going populus were by Fargo, and where the level of expectation attached to the Coens had leapt to after that predecessor had won itself an academy award. The Big Lebowski was never inferior to Fargo, it was just different - it's like comparing milk and a white russian, yes they might resemble each other, but they couldn't be more different. But each in their own way is perfect. Story is not so important here: The Big Lebowski is instead a triumph of character writing and acting, and the plot is best considered merely a vehicle for the Series of Farcical Events development, and how that impacts on the dynamics among the gallery of impeccably odd characters. The script's quality is evident in its eminent quotability - whether it be the infamous "The Dude abides" pay-off, or something more colourful from the rest of the immaculately conceived script. Is it the Coens' best work? Arguably. Alongside Fargo it is certainly their most successfully odd-ball, and features their most enduring and memorable characters. That fact has a lot to do with the performances of the key players, who almost to a man are in career-high form: Jeff Bridges may be carving something of a twilight resurrection out for himself right now after almost threatening to fade away, but he has never been so gleeful, so mischievous in his acting as with The Dude. In supporting roles, John Goodman is just as brilliant as bored-with-life Nam Vet Walter, John Tuturro is effortlessly, ridiculousy zany as Jesus and even Tara Reid is perfect as Bunny (who'd have foreseen her fall from grace straight into the Big Brother House back in 1998?!). Once again, the Coens manage to tease out incredibly charismatic performances from their acting talent, a knack they seem to have managed in almost every one of their released projects (who else has ever got the best out of Nic Cage?), and such is that success that you can't ever imagine anyone else ever stepping into the shoes of any of the characters. New fans will have to go into the film fully accepting that the film is one of the single most self-consciously quirky releases ever to be met with such a mainstream level of success, and some will turn away before the end credits roll for that very same reason, but I would urge those newbies to stick with it, to enjoy the complexities and revel in the oddness as the perfect maelstrom-like counter-point to make The Dude's "relaxed" demeanour so obtuse. We aren't really supposed to judge The Big Lebowski by conventional terms at all, the greatest enjoyment to be had from its winding narrative and mind-boggling characters is in their oddity, and in not expecting anything. We must simply abide, and in doing so, we're in good company.
QualityHigh definition is exactly how The Coens' work deserves to be seen and celebrated: they are after all one of the most aesthetically biased directing teams ever to grace Hollywood - in comparison to the DVD releases, this high-def transfer is a huge improvement. It isn't the cleanest transfer in the world, but the grain and the murkiness that remains seems intentional, given the Coens' surprisingly dark pallette here which intentionally seems to draw focus to the brighter lit scenes set in the bowling alley (so we are more than aware that that is where life really happens in this universe). Detail is pretty good throughout, especially when the lights are turned on, and colours are bright and vibrant, which again is a major improvement on the DVD releases. Audio quality has also had a significant dial up - sound is as important a tool as visuals for the Coens, and the transfer does their sound design perfect justice. Dialogue, which is definitely the star on the audio side of things (it's a very talky film after all) is crisp and clean, and sound effects are especially impressive, particularly in the bowling sequences. Extras The packaging itself is a huge draw, especially for fans, as it comes in the shape of a full-colour booklet celebrating the film, and the goodies within aside from the film are up to the same level of quality. Lifted largely from other releases of the film on DVD, the on-disc extras offer a broad and entertaining mix of features that are sure to delight fans old and new. There's a definite celebratory, nostalgic feel here, with some fine behind-the-scenes material, and a nice look at some of the fan-made hysteria that the film has inspired. Particularly nice is Jeff Bridges' Photo Book, which has been included on a release before, though now there is the option to view all of his pictures as an on-disc album. Great stuff. An Exclusive Introduction (5 mins) The Dude's Life (10 mins) The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later (10 mins) Making of The Big Lebowski (25 mins) The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever's Story (14 mins) Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequence of The Dude (4 mins) Interactive Map Jeff Bridges Photo Book (18 mins) Photo Gallery (3 min) HD Exclusive: U-Control HD Exclusive: Worthy Adversaries: What's My Line Digital Copy 24 Page Colour Booklet The Big Lebowski is available to buy on blu-ray now.
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