Is it worth shilling out for Lebowski's third showing on DVD or better to wait for the Blu-ray?
If you're a Lebowski fan or member of the continuously growing "Achievers" group, you probably already own The Big Lebowski on DVD. Maybe you own both editions, even though the difference between them is little more than slightly better audio and video. You don't need me to tell you whether the movie is worth owning. Consider this an addendum to my review of the previous edition from waaaaaaay back in 2005. Here I look at the latest batch of extras.
For those with a Blu-ray player or planning to get one, it's virtually guaranteed that this edition will be re-purposed for a high-definition release sometime in the next year. With that in mind, you're probably asking the same question I was before being handed a freebie review copy -- Do I buy the 10th Anniversary Edition or wait for the Blu-ray? And if buying, do I spring for the plastic-bowling-ball "limited edition" for an extra 10 bucks?
We'll start with the packaging. The standard release is a typical plastic case with two discs inside. There is new cover art on the outside (see image on left) featuring The Dude, Walter, Maude, Donny, and The Jesus with a bowling ball and pins. It's a pretty cool design, actually, and I kinda dig it. The limited edition version offers the same two discs packaged inside a bowling ball similar to the one pictured on the cover, albeit smaller and, well, plastic (see right). The ball splits in half and the two discs are housed in the center. And that's it. No special toys included, like a toe with nail polish or a case of Walter's dirty undies. Just a plastic ball. While I guess it might look cool on your shelf, it's certainly awkward if you've got the standard display of DVDs. And when I opened mine, the discs fell right out. Personally, I'd give this a pass. But if you feel the need to fill your shelves with more useless crapola (and hey, I'm as guilty as anyone) then pay the extra 10 bucks.
Pop in Disc One for a new, animated menu derived from The Dude's bowling dream with Maude and the leggy ladies. I thought the last edition looked good. This one might be a little crisper, but probably not enough so to warrant the purchase unless you have a top-notch setup.
The first bonus feature on Disc One is an introduction from Mortimer Young of Forever Young Film Preservation. This introduction, like those found on other Coen special editions, is an amusing send-up of PBS introductions. Mortimer Young, an elderly man with a pipe in a library setting, refers to the movie as The Grand Lebowski. He plays an "un-restored" version of the toe scene, which looks like a bootleg copy shot handheld in a theater. He then shows off the "glorious" Italian remastering. It's all a joke, of course.
"The Dude's Life" is a 10-minute doc, which attempts to explain his massive appeal. Jeff Bridges offers an amusing story about how many Buddhists consider The Dude a Zen master. It features new interviews with the majority of the cast. The Coens, sadly, don't appear to have participated in any new interviews for the disc. And I'm not sure what this has to do with The Dude exactly, but John Turturro talks about his hopes for a spin-off sequel to The Big Lebowski in which The Jesus drives a school bus. I know I'd watch it!
"The Dude Abides" is another 10-minute doc, this time discussing Lebowski's unprecedented post-release success. Like all the other docs on this edition, there are new cast interviews. Perhaps the best nugget is Bridges' thoughts on what The Dude's son would be up to these days: "Probably selling pot to all his friends," he guesses.
"Production Notes" is a text-based feature that gives the production's backstory and offers some interesting factoids, such as the Busby Berkeley Musicals homage for the dream sequence and the Raymond Chandler origins of the story. Finally, Disc One has the original theatrical trailer, which does not appear to have been remastered.
"The Making of The Big Lebowski," about 25-minutes long, is the exact same doc found on the two previous editions. It's informative and interesting to see what was being said about Lebowski a decade ago, but most have probably already seen it.
"The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever's Story" is a 14-minute doc on the history and origins of The Lebowski Festival, which began back in 2002 in a Baptist bowling alley in Louisville, Kentucky. This is an entertaining little doc and offers up some great insight into one of the most truly bizarre social gatherings ever created.
"Flying Carpets and Bowling Pin Dreams" runs four minutes and explores the movie's two memorable dream sequences. The Coens are interviewed here, which I doubt is new, but it's newer than the stale "Making Of" interviews we've all seen repeatedly from the first DVD edition. The best part is a story from Bridges about inviting his family for a visit to the set before realizing he was slated to sail under the skirts of the leggy ladies of the bowling dream sequence. His wife, Susan, found out about the scene and convinced the Coens to play a pretty great prank on Bridges. I'll let you hear the story from the man, himself.
"Interactive Map" is exactly what it says, a map of the various Lebowski locations. Click on any location and you get a short video telling where the location is and what it looks like today. Sadly, the bowling alley from the film, The Hollywood Stars Lanes, was torn down a few years after production. An elementary school now stands in its place.
"Jeff Bridges' Photo Book" is my favorite extra on the edition. While it might not seem like the most-exciting extra in the world to have a guy show you a book of his black-and-white photography, Bridges is like a grandfather showing you family photos and offering recollections. Boring normally, yes, but we're talking about stories from The Dude here, folks. This one runs a whopping 17 minutes and offers some of Bridges' most revealing insights. For those who don't already know, Bridges is a photography buff who makes up these photo books for every movie he's involved in and later gives them out to cast, crew, and press. It's a great extra for true fans.
Rounding out the disc is a "Photo Gallery" showing off most of the same stills taken by Bridges. Not really worth looking at if you've just watched the previous extra.
And that does it. So, the million-dollar question -- or $20-grand-and-a-beeper question, as the case may be -- is it worth buying? For fanatics, this is an easy yes, especially considering Amazon's current $13.99 price, which includes tax and shipping. If you're into saving cash, or bones, a rental should suffice until the inevitable Blu-ray edition. It's a massive improvement over the disappointing 2005 Collector's Edition, but there's certainly room for improvement. A commentary would be nice, if not from the Coens than perhaps from Bridges and the cast. It might also be nice to see a deleted scene or two, if indeed they do exist.
If you've never owned The Big Lebowski on disc and aren't concerned about high-def, this is easily the best edition yet. It's also good to finally see Focus and Universal responding to the fan demand for more Lebowski. Either way, it's the perfect excuse to gather some fellow "Achievers," stir up a Caucasian, and watch The Big Lebowski for the 800th time.
The Big Lebowski Rating:
10th Anniversary Edition Rating: