Big Lebowski, The: 20th Anniversary Edition (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Oct 18, 2018
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Big Lebowski, The: 20th Anniversary Edition (4K UHD Review)

Director

The Coen Brothers

Release Date(s)

1998 (October 16, 2018)

Studio(s)

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment/Gramercy Pictures (Universal)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: B

The Big Lebowski: 20th Anniversary Edition (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray)

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Review

“Well, I do mind. Uh, The Dude minds! This will not stand, you know? This aggression will not stand, man!”

How does one describe The Big Lebowski? Maybe you could think of it as a hard-boiled bowling comedy. Or a post-hypnotic kidnapping caper. A magical musical kegeling mystery? Hell, I don’t know. What I do know is that there’s acid flashbacks, severed toes, and a Viking babe with horns and a trident. Oh, and league play.

Jeff Bridges plays The Dude, aka Jeffrey Lebowski – quite possibly the laziest man in all of Los An-gul-es County (which would place him high in the running for laziest worldwide). The Dude arrives home one evening and is ambushed by a pair of dim-witted thugs, who not only rough The Dude up, but also piss on his beloved carpet. Now... The Dude can endure all manner of slings and arrows, but that carpet really tied the room together, you know? As it turns out, said carpet-pissers were actually looking for another Jeffrey Lebowski, an over-achieving Lebowski (no relation) from Pasadena. So at the suggestion of his bowling buddies, Walter (John Goodman, in a role based in part on John Milius) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi), The Dude visits his older and far wealthier namesake in the interest of seeking justice and what have you. A welcome reception The Dude does not find in Pasadena, but he does (briefly) get himself a new carpet. The Dude also unknowingly stumbles into an extortion scheme involving Lebowski’s young trophy wife, his detached and somewhat frosty daughter (who’s twice his wife’s age, naturally), a Hefner-esque playboy pornographer, a group of New Wave nihilists, a teenaged (and history-impaired) car thief, a bargain-rate gumshoe, an admiring cowboy, and Saddam Hussein. It’s... well, you know... it’s complicated. And damn funny.

I first saw this film in college, during its original theatrical release, and I remember walking out of the theater thinking, “What the hell was that?” It was just weird, completely unlike any of the Coen Brothers comedies that had come before or anything else I’d ever seen. But then I saw it again on cable… and again… and again. And I laughed more with each new viewing. Almost every frame and moment has something weird, something wonderful, some strange throwaway line, little detail, or background nuance that you appreciate more as time goes by. The cast is fantastic, right down to the smallest supporting player, including the likes of Julianne Moore, David Thewlis, John Turturro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Elliot, Peter Stormare, David Huddleston, and more. The T Bone Burnett and Carter Burwell produced soundtrack is a gem from start to finish. Truly, this is one of the most inspired and brilliant comedies I’ve ever seen. It just took a while for me (and everyone else) to realize it. But now, I’ve been to multiple Lebowski Fests (which are a blast and a highly recommended pop-culture experience). One of my prized possessions is a replica of The Dude’s Ralphs Club Card. And I am incredibly grateful that Universal has delivered the film to its fans in 4K Ultra HD.

The Big Lebowski was shot on 35mm film using Arriflex cameras and spherical lenses. For this release, it was scanned (presumably from the OCN, master interpositive, or some combination of each) in native 4K and graded for high dynamic range (in HDR10). It’s presented on Ultra HD at the proper 1.85:1 flat aspect ratio. Photographed by the great Roger Deakins, the film has long had a specific but moderate grain texture. And its optical shots have the usual softness, so you have to watch past the opening titles to really fully appreciate the image. But this new 4K scan offers significantly more fine detail than we’ve ever seen before at home. You’ll see every thread in the Dude’s robe, all the scuffs on his bowling ball, and the fine patterns in the weave of his favorite rug. Not only is the detail significantly improved over the previous Blu-ray release, it’s also far less processed and digital looking than ever before. Past Blu-ray and DVD issues have tended to be plagued by edge-enhancement, DNR, and other unwanted processing. But the image has never looked more untouched and natural than it does here in 4K. What’s more, the film’s coloring has always been pushed toward the warm. That look has been retailed here, with HDR and wide color gamut employed to deep both hues and shadows, while giving the highlights a more natural pop. They’re not eye reactive, but they’re certainly luminous. It should be noted that the very nature of this film is that it’s never going to be considered a reference quality image. But it’s never looked this good before.

The audio on 4K disc been upgraded to object-based DTS:X, from the previous Blu-ray’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio offering. The mix retains essentially the same tonal quality, character, and clarity as before, while adding a bit of vertical channel lift. This makes itself especially apparent in The Dude’s dream sequences, as well as his first encounter with Maude. The mix won’t especially test your sound system, but it’s solid and represents the best quality for this film. Additional audio mixes are available in French, Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese 5.1 DTS, with optional subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese.

The 4K disc itself has no bonus features, but this package does include the previous Limited Edition Blu-ray. (No, it’s not remastered… and as a general rule you should always assume the BDs in 4K sets aren’t remastered unless the studio announces otherwise.) That Blu-ray includes the following content, some of it created for the BD and some ported over from previous Polygram and Universal DVD releases:

  • U-Control: Scene Companion
  • U-Control: The Music of The Big Lebowski
  • U-Control: Mark It, Dude
  • Worthy Adversaries: What’s My Line Trivia
  • An Exclusive Introduction (SD – 4:40)
  • The Dude’s Life (HD – 10:08)
  • The Dude Abides: The Big Lebowski Ten Years Later (HD – 10:27)
  • Making of The Big Lebowski (SD – 24:35)
  • The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever’s Story (SD – 13:53)
  • Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams: The Dream Sequences of The Dude (HD – 4:20)
  • Interactive Map (HD – 14 segments)
  • Jeff Bridges Photo Book (HD – 17:30)
  • Photo Gallery (SD – 3:25)
  • No Kid Hungry PSA (SD – :32)

Missing is the film’s trailer, which was available on one of the early DVD releases, and also the lovely Digibook that came the Limited Edition Blu-ray. There is, however, a Gift Set version of this 4K release that includes a replica bowling bag, a replica of The Dude’s sweater (to hold the 4K case), a miniature bowling ball pencil holder, and a replica rug polishing cloth. You can find that here for about $50. The package also includes Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert.

The Big Lebowski remains one of the Coen Brothers’ best films to date. It’s almost infinitely rewatchable and it only seems to improve with age, something that’s more apparent than ever on 4K Ultra HD. No, this release isn’t going to blow your mind with eye and ear candy. But if you know and love the film as I do, you’ll really appreciate the improvements here. Plus the disc is selling for just $18 on Amazon at the moment. The Big Lebowski is a strange and nearly perfect comedy. Thankfully, it remains... in 4K as ever... every bit as stupefying.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)

 

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