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Case Number 00917

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National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Warner Bros. // 1989 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // December 19th, 2000

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our reviews of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (HD DVD) (published December 18th, 2006), National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Special Edition (published October 16th, 2003), and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Ultimate Collector's Edition (Blu-Ray) (published December 25th, 2009) are also available.

The Charge

Yule crack up!

Opening Statement

Almost ten years after the original National Lampoon's Vacation was released, John Hughes returned to the series to write and produce the third National Lampoon's Vacation film, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Starring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold (the role he was destined to play), this holiday feast racked up strong numbers at the box office, making it an instant Christmas classic with all the slapstick trimmings Lampoon fans have come to love. Warner Brothers has released National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation on DVD in a package that's fit for a stocking stuffer, but not under your tree.

Facts of the Case

All Clark Griswold (Chase) wants is an old-fashioned Christmas with his family and relatives beside him. Apparently what Clark doesn't realize is that he's…Clark Griswold! Of course there's no way on God's green and gold earth that the Griswold's will have a fun, old-fashioned holiday. What they will have is disaster upon mishap upon misadventure that will leave you laughing for more.

It all starts as the Griswold family takes a ride into the country in search of the crème de la crème of Christmas decorations…the Christmas tree. Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), Audrey (Juliette Lewis, Natural Born Killers), and Rusty (Johnny Galecki) are dragged out to the middle of nowhere to chop down what seems to be the world's largest Christmas tree. Before it's over Clark will have done the inevitable: botched it up.

Back home, Clark discusses his plans with Ellen for this year's Christmas. Clark doesn't want to take a vacation anywhere. This year it's going to be different (those of you who've seen the other Vacation films know exactly where this is going). This year all the relatives are coming to visit…grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles and cousins…it's going to be a full house for the Griswolds. Ellen is worried that it might be too much to have everyone stay at their place. However, Clark assures her they can get through and have a great holiday (if you believe this, my bridge in Cambodia is waiting for you).

So starts the manic rush to get decorations up, shop for gifts, cook the meals, and mingle with company. Soon, the Christmas season for the Griswold family starts to look like a three ring circus. Everything comes full circle when everyone's favorite white trash relative, Cousin Eddie (played with maniacal energy by Randy Quaid) comes to visit. Other relatives start to trickle in, including cranky Uncle Louis (the late William Hickey), batty Aunt Bethany (Mae Questal), plus a whole slew of other oddballs and weirdoes.

Slowly Clark's dreams of a perfect holiday are squandered as the holy day approaches. With irritable neighbors ("Seinfeld"'s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest) and burning cats, it's going to take all of Clark's patience to weather this storm and have a decent "Christmas Vacation."

The Evidence

Good holiday films are hard to come by. The Santa Clause, All I Want For Christmas, Santa Claus: The Movie…the list of crappy ones goes on and on. Only a handful of Christmas films go on to become classics. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is one of those movies. I dare you to find someone out there who hasn't seen this film and didn't chuckle at least three times. Even if you're not a Chevy Chase fan (I gasp at just the thought), it's hard not to like the bumbling antics of the Griswold clan, fumbling their way through the jolliest holiday of all.

Chevy Chase may not be the most honored thespian at the table. He may make crap like Cops and Robbersons. But when it comes to the character of Clark W. Griswold, Chase has it down to a science. Starting as a merry soul, then delving into frustration and anger, Clark is the embodiment of all who have gone though the trials and tribulations of the holiday season. Who can't relate to having a bunch of relatives over that no one can stand? Or finding your turkey over cooked? Or having your Christmas lights balled up so tight it makes Al Gore look like Courtney Love? John Hughes' screenplay is able to find light in all the little nuances that make up one of the most joyous (and stressful) time of the year. When Clark is searching for the perfect gift for his wife at the mall, he sputters words like flying chestnuts as he pretends not to notice the store clerk's bountiful bosom. When a script calls for substituting the word "nippley" for "nippy," you know you have something special.

The rest of the supporting cast sparkles in tailor-made roles. Who can forget Randy Quaid as repulsive Cousin Eddie, emptying his sewage hose into a nearby water drain? Or William Hickey as Uncle Lewis, the cantankerous uncle we've all known, a downer at every family event. Mae Questal as Aunt Bethany practically steals the show with the weirdest dinner prayer you're likely to ever hear.

The movie also has a strong message in it, as all Christmas movies do. True, this has nothing to do with the birth of Christ or the Three Wise Men. Instead it speaks volumes about being with loved ones and family at the holidays, and that no matter what mishaps take place, always find fun and laughter in the little moments that make life special.

That, and never light a match near a sewage drain.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is, sadly, presented in a full frame version. No widescreen to be seen here. The version we do get in generally okay, though there were times when the film seemed to be really soft. Colors were bright with no bleeding, and the blacks were solid and dark. I talked to a studio head not to long ago about the possibility of a widescreen version of the National Lampoon's Vacation films, but it seems that there is little interest from Warner to do so. Nuts. Audio was presented and mixed will, the Dolby Digital 2.0 track making fine use of front speakers, though this is really just a mono track as other speakers are used solely for music purposes. Dialogue was easy to hear with no straining, and music and effects were mixed well with no harsh overlapping. Fine for what it is (which ain't much).

Supplements are scarce, including some cast and crew bios and a small section of production notes. Also included are four trailers from all the National Lampoon's Vacation films. They are presented in full frame and are fun to watch if you're a Chevy Chase fan (and would all three of you please email me as soon as possible? Thanks.)

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Well, I have to say that it really sucks fruitcake that Warner decided not to put these films out as a widescreen DVD. Though National Lampoon's European Vacation has yet to see light of day on DVD, National Lampoon's Vacation and Vegas Vacation are both out and are both in full frame versions. For a company that is exceptionally generous with its DVD offerings, seeing these funny films in such poor viewing is really down heartening.

Though I think National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is one of the best Christmas movies around, fans of more intellectual comedies will be disappointed in this slapstick farce. Not for everyone, but if you enjoy mindless entertainment with a hint of warmth, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is definitely for you.

And please, don't email me saying that Chevy Chase was never funny, or I'll have to hunt you down and stick flaming bamboo shoots up your toenails.

Closing Statement

The film is funny, the transfer passable, the extras practically non-existent. However, with a price tag of around $14.99 and lower, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is a great addition for your holiday collection. I try and watch it each Christmas with my family, and it seems that I never see my mother laugh quite as hard as when Chase is dangling off the gutter drain of the Griswold home. My great grandmother also used to dye her hair green during St. Patrick's Day, so we're not the most shining example of a "normal" family. Buy it and see for yourself.

And snapcases! I hate snapcases!!! They are the Devil-spawn!!

Merry Christmas.

The Verdict

A great holiday film that could have gotten a much better DVD version. Passable, but only because it's the only choice on the market.

Court dismissed!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 79
Extras: 50
Acting: 95
Story: 94
Judgment: 83

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Christmas
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• Production Notes
• Four Theatrical Trailers
• Cast and Crew Bios


• IMDb

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