Critics' Picks : New Dvds

October 16, 2005

Big fun for disciples in the cult of 'Lebowski'

THE BIG LEBOWSKI: COLLECTOR'S EDITION / / Universal / $19.98

THE BIG LEBOWSKI: COLLECTOR'S EDITION ACHIEVER'S EDITION / / Universal / $49.98

Beloved by stoners and stoner wannabes everywhere, 1998's The Big Lebowski stars Jeff Bridges as Jeff Lebowski (aka The Dude), a devoted slacker and profligate bowler who somehow gets embroiled in a film noir-caliber caper involving a rich man, his sexy young wife, a kidnapping, a marmot and a trio of destructive Germans. Although the movie didn't earn much at the box office ($17.4 million in the U.S.), it quickly became a cult favorite, quoted endlessly ("Hey, careful man, there's a beverage here!") by fans who adored its offbeat humor and its refusal to kowtow to any convention, cinematic or otherwise. Its anarchic spirit still is a joy to behold, especially whenever John Goodman is onscreen as Walter, a Vietnam vet who's prone to making snap judgments on everything, with often disastrous results. It's hard to see what binds him and The Dude so closely together, but then again, what did Laurel ever see in Hardy?

The first-rate cast includes Steve Buscemi as a guy who's always a tick behind, Julianne Moore as a feminist who paints in the nude, John Turturro as a prancing Hispanic bowler named Jesus, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the millionaire's faithful servant and Tara Reid as the kidnapped trophy wife. There's also a great soundtrack, including a Busby Berkeley-style dream sequence (featuring Moore dressed as a Viking) to the tune of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)."

Overseeing the mayhem are the Coen Brothers, producer Ethan and director Joel, who wrote the script together -- making this required viewing for anyone who thought the Coens' collective genius began and ended with Fargo.

l Special features: Not much to get excited about, really. The film looks and sounds great (it's been digitally remastered, which is rapidly becoming standard practice), and there's an amusing new introduction, by an alleged film restorer, that skewers the notion that a film only six years old needs restoration. There's also a collection of still photographs by Bridges. A 26-minute "Making of" documentary is nothing but contemporary interviews with the Coens, Goodman and Bridges, with a few minor insights (for all the talk of Lebowski's "existential comedy," the Coens note they always saw the film as an "aging pothead" starring in a 1940s detective film). The Achiever's Edition offers scant incentive to shell-out an additional 30 bucks; all you get is a bowler's towel, a couple of coasters with quotes from the film, a half-dozen hard copies of Bridges' pictures and an oversized box that will wreak havoc with your DVD filing system.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

BATMAN BEGINS (DELUXE EDITION) / / Warner Home Video / $30.95

This offers Bat-fans even more of a chance to lose themselves in their own macabre Bat-worlds. Directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento), the 2005 film stars Christian Bale as Gotham City's No. 1 protector, Michael Caine as butler Alfred, Cillian Murphy as the demented Scarecrow and Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, the damsel Batman needs to rescue. Bonus features include a look at the various cinematic incarnations Batman has gone through since the early 1980s and a 72-page comic book.

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