Universal // 1978 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // May 31st, 2000
Christ. Seven years of college down the drain.
Do you mind if we dance with your dates?
Boon, I anticipate a deeply religious experience.
The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me.
My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.
Face it. You f***ed up. You trusted us.
Delta House is the worst fraternity on the campus of Faber college and Dean Wormer (John Vernon) will do anything to see them kicked out forever. Willing to go to any lengths, including the invocation of "double secret probation" and getting the scumbags from the competing Omega House to do his dirty work. Wormer uses rules, regulations and lies, putting the full weight of the college against our heroes.
Which means all the Delta's can do is fight back the only way they know how. They leave no keg left untapped, they believe that no trick is too low, no horse is dead enough and no parade is too sacred. After the final insult from Wormer, the Delta House Death Machine rumbles into town with its motto on the side, "Eat Me." Hell hath no fury like Deltas scorned. Its slops versus snobs and to the winners go screen immortality.
If any of the quotes above ring a fond bell, well, chances are you have seen Animal House at least once. If you are over thirty that number is probably a lot higher. Porky's, American Pie, Hollywood Knights, Road Trip and countless others would follow but Animal House was the original gross-out comedy and still the king.
It is not often when a perfect screen comedy comes along and Animal House is such a movie. Animal House is just plain, laugh-out loud funny. Everything about the movie works. The screenplay by first timers Doug Kenney, one of the unsung heroes of American comedy in the latter part of the 20th century, Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Caddyshack, Stripes) and Chris Miller (Multiplicity, Club Paradise) does not miss a beat or a joke. Written with the voice of experience, it stands as the single best lampoon of college life ever produced. Like all great comedies, Animal House's humor is timeless. It's jokes are no less funny and fresh today than they were some 22 years ago.
The film also has razor sharp direction from John Landis (The Kentucky Fried Movie, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London). Landis had just the right sense of humor and the sense of energy that was needed for the antics in Animal House. Truly the right person at the right time, it was one of the rare cases where words and image met in perfect harmony. Outside of one or two films, I don't think Landis has ever been better.
As Screenwriter Miller says in the documentary, every animal house needs a main animal and in Animal House the beast supreme is John Belushi (The Blues Brothers, 1941, Goin' South) as Bluto. Bluto was the role that made Belushi a superstar and a cultural icon to boot. With precious little dialogue, Belushi uses his considerable physical skills and manic energy, turning Bluto into a comedic force of nature. Watching Belushi never ceases to make me smile but it is always with a sense of what-might-have-been kind of sadness. Genius is not a word I throw around lightly but to me that is exactly what Belushi was. His talent was on par with the greatest comic actors film has ever produced but like so many before him his star burned out much too quickly. Animal House stands as a classic testament to his talent.
While Belushi holds the film together, strong support is also turned in by a great ensemble cast. Reading like a Hollywood who's who the other frat members include Tim Matheson (The Story of Us, Fletch, 1941), Peter Riegert (Infinity, Crossing Delancey, Local Hero), Tom Hulce (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Parenthood, Amadeus), Bruce McGill (Letters from a Killer, The Insider, Cliffhanger) and Karen Allen (Raiders Of The Lost Arc, Starman, Scrooged). All are perfect in their roles and each is given his or her moment to shine.
Another name who bears mentioning is that of Oscar-winning Composer Elmer Bernstein (Bringing Out the Dead, Ghostbusters, The Magnificent Seven). Landis, who was a family friend, asked the composer to write a score that played it straight, so that the broadness of the film would have something to play off of in the background. It was another stroke of inspiration and it was this score that launched Bernstein into what can only be viewed as a second career.
The Collector's Edition of Animal House was Universal's second crack at a DVD release for this "new" classic. The first was a terrible pan & scan version of the film which was quickly banished from collector's shelves. This one, thankfully, is an anamorphic transfer that maintains the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. While not a perfect picture it is probably the best the film has looked in quite some time. Detail and contrast is fairly strong with colors and fleshtones appearing natural and lifelike with no noticeable edge enhancement. I was able to detect no pixel breakup or shimmer in the image with blacks and shadows being remarkably solid. In fact the only area where the picture betrays its low budget, 22 year old roots is the print itself. The video is marred by enough nicks and scratches that they cannot help but be noticed. Its nothing to prevent enjoyment of the movie but they exist.
Animal House is less successful in the audio end of the release. While there is very little background noise or hiss to distract, the Dolby 2-Channel Mono is painfully thin sounding with limited fidelity. Dialogue is fairly clear but quite a bit of it just sounds hollow. I sat there more than once wishing Universal had done a 5.1 mix for this just so I could hear Bernstein's score better. Can anyone else say isolated score?
The main attraction of this disc is a documentary called "The Yearbook" -- An Animal House Reunion and it features interviews with almost everyone connected with the film. The sense of fondness that the principals have for Animal House is clear and all have their funny, little stories to tell. The main feeling that I got out of watching this was how much fun John Landis must be at parties. The man has boundless zeal and a true love for his craft. The documentary also serves as another reminder to the level of Belushi's talent with some behind-the-scene's footage shown of the late actor.
I suppose fans of Ingmar Bergman and of Woody Allen's middle, serious period (which some might say are the same thing), might not get Animal House but for me Animal House is just about perfect, so no gripes there. As a disc, besides the audio and video problems mentioned above, Universal could have done far more, especially with them labeling this a Collector's Edition. At about 45 minutes the documentary is much too short and superficial. Also, mention is made of how the first cut of the film ran 175 minutes. Surely some of that footage must remain and why was it not present on the disc? However, the biggest crime is the lack of a commentary track. What a missed opportunity to not be able to hear Landis, Producer Ivan Reitman and company talk about this movie for the entire running length. I can't imagine it would be funnier than the film itself but I'm willing to bet it would still be pretty entertaining.
A great movie, looking better than it has in a long time with some good supplements make Animal House a disc that belongs on every shelf. Click over to Reel.com and buy away!
Cast and crew of Animal House are thanked for an American classic that never fails to bring lots of laughs to this judge. Universal is also released with the hope that if they revisit Animal House a third time they will include more extras and make this a true Collector's Edition of a modern American classic. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* "The Yearbook" An Animal House Reunion
* Theatrical Trailer
* Cast and Filmmakers' Bios
* Web Links
* ACME Animal House Page