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Case Number 03414: Small Claims Court

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National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Special Edition

Warner Bros. // 1989 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 16th, 2003

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our reviews of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (published December 19th, 2000), National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (HD DVD) (published December 18th, 2006), and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Ultimate Collector's Edition (Blu-Ray) (published December 25th, 2009) are also available.

The Charge

Yule Crack Up!

The Case

All Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) ever wanted was an old-fashioned Christmas at home. All Clark received was chaos the size of the Chernobyl incident! When his family and friends come visiting for Christmas Vacation, Clark finds himself up to his eyeballs in wacky uncles, disgruntled in-laws, and a dog with a very serious mucus problem. With his doting wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo, American History X) and two children, Audrey (Juliette Lewis, Cape Fear) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki, TV's Rosanne), standing vigilantly by his side, Clark attempts the impossible: harmony and happiness at the holiday season. To make matters worse, Clark is counting on a bonus check from his gruff boss (Brian-Doyle Murray, Caddyshack) for a surprise pool he's purchasing for his family, and dealing with two high-class neighbors (including Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who find Clark to be the most annoying man on the planet. But as sure as Santa and his eight tiny reindeer will make their way Christmas Eve, Clark W. Griswold will have a merry Christmas—even if it means bringing down the house, and all 125,000 twinkle lights with it!

Because only a fraction of holiday themed movies exist—and only a fraction of those are any good—it's understandable why some people hold National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation near and dear to their hearts. The Vacation series has been uneven at best, spewing forth some classic comedy (the original film) and a real howler (Vegas Vacation stinks no matter which way you slice it). Though not nearly as mean-spirited or laugh-a-minute funny as the first Vacation, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation finds Clark and Company acting as loony as ever, to wonderful results—out of all the films this one features the most insanely humorous supporting cast. Yes, Chevy Chase is funny as the befuddled Clark and Beverly D'Angelo's Ellen does her best to be supportive of his inane ideas, as when Clark wants to cover the house in thousands of Christmas lights in one of the film's funniest scenes. But what really shines here (aside of all those twinkle lights) is the wacky cast of aunts, uncles, neighbors, and cousins convening at the Griswold house. Randy Quaid makes a return after an absence in European Vacation as Cousin Eddie, the only man stupid enough to dump raw sewage down a street vent. William Hickey (Prizzi's Honor) and Mae Questel (fun fact: she was the voice of Olive Oyl and Betty Boop) show up as Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany, two elderly caricatures crankier and more confused than a barrel of full of Robert Downey, Jr's on a six day coke binge. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation was written by John Hughes, an unstoppable comedy machine from the 1980s. As usual, Hughes finds a balance between physical comedy and sugary sentimentality. Chase has never been funnier and, sadly, Christmas Vacation would be one of the last times he'd make a decent comedy. I dare you to keep a straight face as Chase digs himself deeper and deeper into a hole while talking to a sexy lingerie assistant at a mall ("Sure is nippley outside. Did I say nipple?"). As the holiday season rolls around I always find Christmas Vacation and Bill Murray's underrated Scrooged to be a fantastic double bill. So, pull up a warm glass of eggnog (in a Marty Moose glass, of course) and have yourself a belly full of laughs.

The saving grace of this special edition disc is the fact that Warner has finally decided to produce an anamorphic widescreen presentation of the film (1.85:1). The previous full frame version was horrid with muted colors and the sides cropped to no end. This new widescreen version appears to be in very good shape, save for some wear that permeates the image (including a small amount of grain and some obvious edge enhancement). Otherwise, the colors are brighter and bolder than the previous incarnation with black levels appearing solid and defined. The film was made in 1989, and often shows its age—the image is never as crisp as one might hope. However, I'm not going to complain too loudly—I'm just glad that Warner has finally had the good sense to re-release this in its original aspect ratio. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English, a holdover from the previous DVD. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is a movie that definitely would have benefited from a new 5.1 remix—there are areas were directional effects could have been enhanced and spots where the music may have sounded richer. And so we're stuck with this mediocre track, which is hardly very impressive—the dialogue, music, and effects are all clearly heard, which is about all I can say about this track. Also included on this disc are English, French and Spanish subtitles and a Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono soundtrack in French.

Someone just got themselves on Santa's "naughty" list. Warner has really fumbled the ball with this new supposed "special edition" of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. What do you get? Lots of featurettes? Tons of deleted scenes? Oodles of interview footage? How about one measly commentary track! Yes folks, that's all that's been included on this new edition of the beloved holiday classic. Featuring actors Randy Quaid, Beverly D'Angelo (who was MIA on the Griswold reunion track for Vacation), Miriam Flynn ("Cousin Catherine"), Johnny Galecki ("Rusty"), producer Matty Simmons, and director Jeremiah Chechik, at the very least I can say that this commentary is better than the previous film's (Chevy Chase is thankfully absent this time around). Unfortunately, there is still far too much dead space on this commentary, as if everyone thought they were to watch the movie instead of comment on the production. Some of the participants are chattier than others, though it's nice to hear everyone laughing at various jokes and razzing each other. While I'm happy that Warner has included this commentary, couldn't we at least have gotten some interview footage with the cast or some kind of retrospective? I mean, they had them all in the same dang room together! Talk about being stuck with sour eggnog.

The only other extra supplement included on this disc is a theatrical trailer for the film presented in anamorphic widescreen. So far I've been disappointed with the extra features on each installment in this series. It's a shame that this is the best that Warner could cough up with.

Can you say "bah humbug"?

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Christmas
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary Track by Various Cast and Crew Members
• Theatrical Trailer


• IMDb

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