Universal Series •••½Picture/Sound •••• Extras ••••
The Coen Brothers' hilarious but initially underappreciated 1998 follow-up to their smash hit Fargo has acquired cult status over the last seven years, and it's easy to see why. A wild, unpredictable tale of mistaken identity and kidnapping, The Big Lebowski would be a wondrously off-kilter detective story if only it featured a detective. Instead, we get The Dude, a pot-addled layabout played by Jeff Bridges as if it were his calling, and a glorious assortment of oddball supporting characters played by the likes of John Turturro and Julianne Moore. The razor-sharp picture is far superior to that of earlier DVD editions, allowing the Coens' typically hyper-real sets and cinematography to shine. The bowling alley where much of the film takes place looks like a way station to a brighter, much funnier world. And a tight 5.1-channel mix weaves together a wide-ranging collection of popular songs. Extras include a half-hour documentary that, remarkably, has the reclusive Coens opening up about their style and technique. A three-minute slide show features the on-set photography of Bridges. And in a great sendup of special-edition gift sets, you also get an introduction by a fake film historian as well as a bowling towel and coasters. [R] English and French, Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish, Dolby Digital stereo; letterboxed (1.85:1) and anamorphic widescreen; dual layer.