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The Big Lebowski

As a follow-up to their Academy Award winning Fargo, the Coen Brothers offered a seemingly lighter slice of cinematic pie with 1998's The Big Lebowski. But, as with all the Coens' films, it's a far richer, more complex movie than it seems on first viewing. After writing a check for 69 cents to buy a quart of half-and-half, Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski returns home to his crappy apartment and is assaulted by a pair of thugs who shove his head in a toilet and pee on his living room rug while demanding money. Determining that he's not the millionaire that they're looking for, they leave — leading The Dude to seek out the other Jeffrey Lebowski in town, in hopes of seeking restitution for his ruined carpet. After all, it "really tied the room together." This being the Coens, that's just the start of a hilariously complicated plot, based very loosely on Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. Encouraged by his loquacious, 'Nam-vet bowling buddy Walter (John Goodman) to seek out millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston) regarding the aforementioned rug, The Dude ends up taking a small job from the bigger Lebowski to deliver ransom money to kidnappers holding Lebowski's wife, after which he ends up as an amateur sleuth, tangling with "nihilist" kidnappers (led by Coen regular Peter Stormare), the sexpot Lebowski daughter who has an agenda of her own (Julianne Moore), a sophisticated pornographer named Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), and a slick, sleazy Mexican bowler (John Turturro) with a grudge. The film boasts a number of familiar actors — Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the Big Lebowski's assistant and Tara Reid is Lebowski's trophy wife, Bunny — but it does the most with the smallest amount of screen time for Steve Buscemi as Donnie, the third wheel on The Dude's bowling team, he rarely gets to complete a sentence as Walter continually shouts him down. Yet, when Donnie meets a surprising fate, it's actually quite poignant, given that we know virtually nothing about the character at all. Universal's "Collector's Edition" DVD release of The Big Lebowski (via Focus Features) replaces an earlier, more bare-bones edition produced by PolyGram. The new, digitally remastered anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is beautiful — extremely clean, with better color saturation and a crisper overall picture than on the previous release. The DD 5.1 audio (in English, French or Spanish with optional subtitles in English, Spanish or French) was good on the previous edition and it's equally good here. Other than the improved picture quality and a hilarious new introduction by Mortimer Young of "Forever Young Film Preservation," there's little here to trumpet it as a special "Collector's edition" DVD release — the "making-of" featurette (30 min.) is the same one offered on the PolyGram release, which at least offered the original teaser trailer. The trailer's not on this disc — there is, however, a nice gallery of photographs taken by Jeff Bridges during the shooting of the film, with handwritten notes on each. Cast and crew notes, keep-case.

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