The Big Lebowski

Like a rabid pit bull in heat, “The Big Lebowski” goes right for the jugular. It’s a ferociously funny comedy that dares to be different. It’s no surprise that this collage of calamity comes from Joel and Ethan Coen, the dynamic duo whose last film was “Fargo.” “The Big Lebowski” harkens back to the brother’s “Raising Arizona,” a wild, free-for-all comedy with a gallery of bizarre characters and dizzying cinematography.


The Big Lebowski The stakes have risen in this comedy about bowling, kidnaping, Russian gangsters, soiled carpets and abstract art. It all comes together for The Dude, a Los Angeles burnout played with by Jeff Bridges. Anyone who has lived in Southern California long enough knows someone like The Dude. Terminally unemployed, he begins each day with a joint and a White Russian, and usually ends every evening hanging out with his friends. The Dude is a dinosaur, a throwback to the days when Cheech and Chong were actually funny. Still, he summons the courage to wake up every day and try to get on with his life. All that changes when he’s mistaken for another Lebowski, a millionaire whose young, trophy wife owes a lot of gambling money to a well-known adult film maker.

The misunderstanding leads to an assault in his apartment by two thugs, one who urinates on his precious living room carpet (it pulls the room together) to make a point. Infuriated, The Dude visits the other Lebowski, and winds up stealing one of his carpet in exchange. The rebellious act finds The Dude being recruited by the Big Lebowski to help get his kidnaped wife back. The lure of money is too big, so Lebowski agrees to be the bag man. The simple maneuver is complicated when The Dude’s bowling buddy Walter (John Goodman) insists on tagging along. Walter, a Vietnam Vet who still uses the war as an excuse for his outrageous behavior, suspects something is afoul and ends up screwing up the drop. From that moment on, “The Big Lebowski” is one contagiously funny moment after another.

The Coen’s even have the audacity to include a Busby Berkley musical number disguised as an adult film about bowling. The best thing about “The Big Lebowski” is that everything about it is unexpected. Bridges is sensational as the human fog bank who doesn’t have sense enough to hide his stash when he has police officers over to report his car being stolen. That scene alone, where The Dude tries to explain the circumstances behind his missing car while one of the officers peruses the stash, is worth the ticket price. Yet “The Big Lebowski” delivers so much more. Goodman is hysterical as the volatile friend whose over-the-top behavior constantly lands the buddies in trouble. Completing this trio of stooges is Steve Buscemi as Donny, another dim bulb who brightens up the screen every time he opens his mouth. Into the fold comes feminist/artist Maude Lebowski, the millionaire’s daughter from a previous marriage, who uses her body as a paint brush. Moore is delicious as the quasi-Teutonic woman who sees sex as an opportunity to get pregnant and nothing more. How all of these characters, and more, figure into the plot makes for engaging viewing.

The screenplay is filled with colorful dialogue and situations, all brought vividly to life by director Coen. Roger Deakins’ evocative cinematography and Roderick Jaynes and Tricia Cooke’s tight editing combine to make a slick looking movie. Deakins puts his camera is some of the most unusual places. “The Big Lebowski” may defy description, but I can’t deny that it’s the best film of 1998 thus far. A totally original, off-beat comedy that will leave you breathless from laughing so hard.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: Good
The Coen Brothers are known for their dizzying cinematography. Their early director of photography was Barry Sonnenfeld, who parlayed his trademark style into a lucrative directing career (“The Addams Family” and “Men in Black”). Their latest DP, Roger Deakins, has been with the duo for the past four films, and Deakin’s images are just as amazing and intricate as those of Sonnenfeld. All of that hard work is preserved on this deliciously crisp and clean digital transfer. The RSDL disc gives you the option of watching the film in a full frame or the original 1.85:1 widescreen version, and both are just absolutely superior transfers. The colors literally leap off the screen in a dance of reds, blues, greens and yellow. I didn’t notice a trace of digital compression artifacts. What I did notice were the rich, solid blacks and flesh tones so appealing you would swear they were live. The widescreen version has been enhanced at 16:9 for widescreen televisions.

HEARING: Excellent
When the characters roll their bowling balls down the aisle, the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is so accurate you feel the need to duck. I was thrilled with the intricately designed stereo mix that is pin point accurate. The dialogue mix is superb, making it easy to appreciate even the most intimate conversations. The musical track, filled with goofy riffs and popular songs, is lively and distortion free. The basses are impressive, especially when the bowling balls plow into the pins to create a thundering explosion that literally rocks the room. The sound is so vivid, I could swear I smelled rental shoe odor. The stereo separation is positively superior, while the ambient noises are so lifelike they catch you off guard. Just an absolutely enjoyable experience.

ORAL: Excellent
Closed Captions in English for the hard of hearing, subtitles in French and Spanish.

COORDINATION: Excellent
You put the lime in the coconut, and you shake it all up….”The Big Lebowski” features dynamic, neon- glow main and scene access menus that are fun to navigate and go down like a frothy tropical drink. The DVD also features an interview with Joel and Ethan Coen in a featurette called “Making of the Big Lebowski.” I’ve always wanted to spend a little time with these two guys, and what a perfect opportunity to do so. They discuss in length how the script came together (and how many of the main characters are based on friends of theirs), how they picked the cast (they said that Jeff Bridges was thrilled to tackle a role where he didn’t have to watch his weight), and how director of photography Roger Deakins captured the film’s dizzying shots. Very interesting and informative stuff, interspersed with clips from the film to emphasis a point. You also get cast and crew bios, plus the original theatrical trailer.

PROGNOSIS: Excellent
“The Big Lebowski” is one of 1998’s best films, and the DVD delivers the best possible presentation. It’s like getting a strike in every frame. When you’re finished, you feel ecstatic.

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: THE BIG LEBOWSKI
BIRTH DATE: 1998
HMO: Polygram Home Video



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