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The Big Lebowski – 20th Anniversary Edition (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Two decades the Coen Bros followed their heavily acclaimed and Academy beloved film Fargo with the neo-noir comedy The Big Lebowski. The film straight up bombed and the critics didn’t see to care much for it either. Little did we all know, it would became what is probably the biggest cult film of the 1990s and all time. This film is the bible to some people and one that is absolutely loved and worshiped (In a very literal sense even…seriously, look it up) by hordes. And in a fun twist of fate, the film has become the first Coen Bros movie to make its debut or leap/upgrade to the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format. In addition to having the standard version, there is one that comes with a few extra goodies and special packaging. The film was released on October 16th, but is ripe for the order the moment you click the Amazon link following the review!

Film 

Jeff `The Dude’ Leboswki is mistaken for Jeffrey Lebowski, who is The Big Lebowski. Which explains why he’s roughed up and has his precious rug peed on. In search of recompense, The Dude tracks down his namesake, who offers him a job. His wife has been kidnapped and he needs a reliable bagman. Aided and hindered by his pals Walter Sobchak, a Vietnam vet, and Donny, master of stupidity.

Twenty years ago, on its opening weekend, I sat with a few friends in a completely empty theater to watch The Big Lebowski. It was the hotly anticipated follow up to a film we loved the year before, Fargo. We found The Big Lebowski to be quite outstanding and couldn’t believe people weren’t going to see it. We all picked it up on when it released on VHS later on and it still felt like nobody was giving it the love it deserved. Critics didn’t even like it. Now, check it out…here we are…EVERYONE knows this damn movie and its almost over loved. But, damn it feels good to know the film received the respect, love and admiration I was hoping for it 20 years ago.

I’ve always loved going back to The Big Lebowski. Despite the absurdity and hilarity on display in the film, its far more clever and intelligent than it might get credit for and some of its fandom may realize. The films pays off in spades with rewatches with plenty of easter eggs, details, foreshadowing and nods to its own self that one may not have noticed. And since its the Coen Bros, I’m sure none of its a stretch at all. As I’ve grown older, seen more films, learned more in films studies and the like, its also a film knee deep in its love for Hollywood, noir and classic cinema. Hell, the first couple times I saw the film, I had no idea it shared its skeleton with The Big Sleep. And that’s super obvious considering both of their titles.

My love (And others) for the film was put on display earlier this year with a terrific and INSANELY informative audio commentary I took part in earlier this year to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary with Jim Dietz and Yancy Burns for Aaron Neuwirth’s OUT NOW WITH AARON AND ABE.  I’m someone who doesn’t like to repeat myself, and especially in the same year, my thoughts with the film (From months ago) are probably going to sit in the same place. This commentary is well worth your time and you don’t even need to be watching the film to enjoy (Serves mainly as just a discussion). We go over what makes this film such a success and do a deep dive into the career of the Coen Bros as well. Take a listen. Enjoy!

Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Color me impressed with the transfer on the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray debut of The Big Lebowski. Being shot on film its a natural transfer being native 4K. Unlike the previous Blu-ray run of the film, if they stick with this transfer on subsequent editions, nobody is going to be crying and demanding they re-do it. Long gone is the DNR look with what felt like a lot of smoothing and a bit of dull feeling. The image feels much more crisp and sharp, with a big uptick in details showing in the screen. Also the color timing in the film is much more on point than it was ever with familiar scenes (AKA the whole movie) taking on a whole new life. Its The Big Lebowski as you’ve never seen it before or likely the best its looked since 1998. Colors are really strong and just take a look at things like Carl Hungus floating in the pool just to see what a fresh take this is. The film is much more colorful, crisp and full of life here.

Depth:  The depth of field is much improved, providing a lot of the “new” feeling to this. Characters are well rounded and moving around smoothly, cinematically and in what feels like a good spacious area. No distortions occur due to any sort of rapid movements.

Black Levels: Blacks are now much more natural and deep, darkening many more scenes. There is a much better degree of shadow in scenes and different degrees of saturation in the definition. Many scenes outside the bowling alley look a lot better. For a quick comparison, just skip right to the Kenny Rogers scored grand dream sequence after Jackie Treehorn drugs The Dude. No crushing witnessed during the viewing for this review.

Color Reproduction: Here’s where the film really comes to life and takes on a much improved and new to the eyes look. First off the HDR is pretty damn awesome and complimentary here. Neon lights are very present in this film and they all glow off the screen and stand out. Ditto headlights, lamps and such, especially in the dark. Other colors, like the bowling balls, candles and articles of clothing are all rather bold and pop right off the screen. Bunny Lebowski’s green bikini at the top of the film really stings off the picture here. Many filtered scenes are much stronger and more apparent, adding a good crispness to the image.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are a bit more tan in a natural way and keep a consistent appearance from beginning to end of the film. What’s great here, as mentioned before, is how much more facial detail is present with the natural texture and no smeary or smoothened look present anymore. Stubble, pores, wrinkles, dried paint, blemishes and more are clear as day from most angles.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English DTS:X (English 7.1 DTS-HD MA compatible), French 5.1 DTS, Spanish 5.1 DTS, Japanese 5.1 DTS, Portuguese 5.1 DTS

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese

Dynamics: The Big Lebowski see itself upgrading to a DTS:X mix for this release, which is probably a bit much, but it works. Nothing goes completely overboard. What’s welcoming is that it just opens the film a bit more. The sound mix is now a little more free and open sounding than it was before. Its a pretty well balanced mix that isn’t super duper but its well above average and serves the film well.

Height: The above contributions are more complimentary than anything. You can hear extra elevator music in the supermarket, stuff in the bowling alley and such. There is a bullet that goes whizzing overhead during the failed money drop.

Low Frequency Extension: Most of the booming in the subwoofer comes from car crashes, bashing and music beat.

Surround Sound Presentation: Movement is accurate and rolls pretty good through all the channels. The film doesn’t ask for anything extravagant and the mix doesn’t overdo it. They are all accounted for, but most of the work from the surround and rear speakers provides environmental ambiance.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp, good attention to mouth sounds and diction captured in this mix.

Extras 

The Big Lebowski – 20th Anniversary Edition comes with the standard Blu-ray edition and a digital copy of the film. All extras are found on the standard Blu-ray disc, which is the same one previously available.

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

Jeff Bridges Photo Book (HD, 17:30)

Photo Gallery (SD, 3:25)

Learn More About The No Kid Hungry Campaign (SD, :32)

Summary 

The Big Lebowski is one of the best cult movies ever to hit us and such a joy to constantly revisit. Its a film that’s much smarter than some may think. Even probably more brilliant than some of its biggest fans realize. This new Blu-ray transfer is also brilliant and it just pops right off the screen. No new bonus material, but pretty much everything has already been said in previous featurettes. What’s important here is that the film finally looks good on home video and that’s why I’m making it a 4.5, dude.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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