DVDs: Bonus Points Movies

A 'Lebowski' DVD Fans Can (Almost) Abide

By JEN CHANEY
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008

There are people who live and die by "The Big Lebowski," the one-time box office dud that has blossomed into a pop culture phenomenon over the past decade. They quote the film's pithy Coen brothers dialogue. They attend the Lebowski Fest, an annual extravaganza that celebrates all things associated with this Raymond-Chandler-meets-L.A.-slacker cult favorite. And they worship at the altar of Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski, the film's bathrobe-wearing protagonist (a sublime Jeff Bridges), who hangs out at a retro bowling alley, punctuates every sentence with "man," slurps ceaselessly on White Russians and finds himself caught up in a bizarre kidnapping case.

These are the individuals who will undoubtedly purchase "The Big Lebowski: 10th Anniversary Edition" ($19.98), released today. Actually, they will probably buy the slightly more expensive but undeniably clever limited edition set ($34.98), which includes the same two discs but houses them in a case shaped like a bowling ball. Hardcore Jeff Lebowski lovers (and quoters) surely must be thinking what I'm thinking: Placing that ball on my home entertainment center would really tie the whole room together.

Still, kitschy packaging doesn't necessarily make a DVD worth buying. This particular collection comes with seven hit-or-miss featurettes and an introduction to the movie by faux historian Mortimer Young, whom Coen brothers aficionados will recognize from the filmmakers' "Blood Simple" DVD. Several of the extras -- like the documentary footage of Lebowski Fest and the interactive map of L.A. locations featured in the film -- are great fun and will appeal enormously to those who consider themselves "Achievers," the unabashed, most loyal fans of "Lebowski." But others -- especially the supremely dated "Making of 'The Big Lebowski'," which was filmed in 1998 and really looks it -- are just weak.

Sadly, the picture quality of the movie, which has not been remastered for this edition, also appears somewhat grainy on larger, high-definition televisions. Clearly Universal Home Entertainment put some care into designing that bowling ball. Why not put the same effort into delivering a really sharp print of the film and a robust round-up of deleted scenes, commentary tracks and a longer, fresher behind-the-scenes documentary?

Perhaps Universal thought the devoted-but-not-necessarily-mammoth fan base wouldn't generate enough profit to justify a jumbo-sized buffet of bonus features. Or maybe the studio is holding back for an eventual Blu-ray release. ("Lebowski" was issued last year in HD-DVD, the now defunct high-definition format.) Whatever the case may be, here's hoping an even better version eventually arrives, one that the fans (and The Dude) can not only abide but truly celebrate.

Most Honest Bonus Point: Are you one of those people who only saw "The Big Lebowski" once and doesn't get what all the fuss is about? John Turturro -- who plays the perverse, bowling-ball-licking Jesus in the movie -- totally feels you. "It wasn't until the fourth time, [when] I saw it with my son, that I realized how hilarious of a film it is," he explains during the featurette, "The Dude Abides: 'The Big Lebowski' Ten Years Later.'" He's right by the way; this is one of those offbeat comedies that gets funnier after multiple viewings.

Most 'Fan'-tastic Bonus Point: "The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever's Story" is an excerpt from the feature documentary "The Achievers," and explores how the "Lebowski"-palooza evolved from a small event at a Baptist bowling alley in Louisville, Ky., into a multi-city craze. "Imagine the best party you've ever gone to, and then double it," says one regular attendee.

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