Our review of National Lampoon's European Vacation (Blu-Ray), published August 10th, 2010, is also available.
"There it is kids, my motherland."
Chevy Chase has made a name for himself playing either smartly detached cynics (Fletch, Memoirs Of An Invisible Man, Caddyshack) or bumbling fools (pretty much everything else). In director Harold Ramis' classic National Lampoon's Vacation, Chase took on a role that would become his signature character: Clark W. Griswold. In 1985 Chase returned with his entire family (okay, so the kids were different) in the hit sequel National Lampoon's European Vacation. Much like the Star Trek films, National Lampoon's Vacation series is known to be good in the odd installments (National Lampoon's Vacation, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation), and not so good in the even ones (Vegas Vacation). Woefully, National Lampoon's European Vacation falls under the even category, but at least Warner has decided to put this one out in a first ever widescreen edition on DVD!
Facts of the Case
Everyone's favorite family is back to make a ruins of the ruins in National Lampoon's European Vacation! After winning the grand prize on the nationally syndicated game show "Pig in a Poke," Clark Griswold (Chase), his wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo, American History X) and their two children Audrey (Dana Hill) and Rusty (Jason Lively) are whisked off to Europe for a vacation they (and Europe!) will never forget! Of course, the fumbling but good-hearted Clark has their itinerary all marked out, including destroying Stonehenge, seeing 100,000 works of art in fifteen minutes, and having Ellen's nude picture plastered on every wall in Paris! If you think your family has a hard time on vacation, wait until you see what the Griswolds go through in National Lampoon's European Vacation!
I'm a Chevy Chase fan. I was there for him when the mostly unfunny Vegas Vacation was released theatrically (I even told my friends it was REALLY funny so they'd go see it and support Chevy's career). I watched his failed attempt at being a talk show host. I even came out to see his resurgence of sorts in such children's fare as Man Of The House and Snow Day. I feel that if anyone is a true blue Chevy Chase fan, it's moi.
My personal favorite Chevy Chase movie is easily 1980's National Lampoon's Vacation. Maybe it was because I could relate with having to do long car trips with the family. Or possibly because I am also a Chicago suburbanite like the Griswolds. Or maybe it's because it was just a damn funny movie. I'm leaning towards the latter. Of course, every hit movie seems to have a sequel, and in 1985 came National Lampoon's European Vacation. Mixed blessings abound.
I enjoyed this movie, but I didn't love it. Something seems a bit lost in the shuffle this time around. Harold Ramis handed over the reins to director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Clueless), and that may be where things went astray. Heckerling is a fine director, but maybe Ramis' manic touch is still needed to be imprinted on this story. John Hughes came back to co-write the script and come up with the story, but the gags feel weighted down yet empty. One trouble spot is the absence of wacky and weird Griswold relatives. What makes the original Vacation and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation so funny is seeing Clark and Ellen's interaction with their extremely weird family (especially Randy Quaid's obnoxious Cousin Eddie). This time around, we're subjected to watching the Griswold's trample through Europe alone, without a clue or a really humorous script.
However, there are some very funny moments peppered throughout this movie. I love the scene where the Griswolds visit Stonehenge and single-handedly dismantle it in a matter of seconds. Clark's participation in an authentic German dance will lead to complete disaster (well…duh), and the presence of Eric Idle (Monty Python And The Holy Grail) is always welcome in any movie.
National Lampoon's European Vacation is not a failed movie, though it doesn't live up to the comedic highs of the first Vacation movie. A few years later National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation would appear and rekindle my faith in this series. Then Vegas Vacation popped up and it went completely down the toilet. The best that can be said about National Lampoon's European Vacation is that it's not as bad as THAT installment. And it does have Chevy singing "The Hills Are Alive" from The Sound Of Music on a mountainside. That's worth at least something in my book.
National Lampoon's European Vacation is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. While I am certainly happy to see this movie presented in its original aspect ratio, I just want to ask Warner why they feel this lackluster sequel deserves such treatment, yet the original National Lampoon's Vacation and the funny National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation should get such shoddy full frame transfers? Oh well, back to the film at hand. Unfortunately, National Lampoon's European Vacation sports a fair amount of dust and dirt that mar the image on many occasions. The colors tend to have a slightly washed out look, though the black levels appear solid and dark. Overall, this is only a passable transfer that could have used a lot more work.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono. While I'm not a fan of mono soundtracks, this mix certainly works well within the confines of the film. A small amount of distortion is heard in a few areas, though this is a very clean soundtrack that features no excessive hiss in the mix. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, as well as a Dolby Mono soundtrack in French.
I don't think I've ever been as excited about a single special feature as I was with National Lampoon's European Vacation's commentary track by Chevy Chase. Talk about being set up for a major fall! This is easily the most boring and bland commentary I've ever heard. Out of 94 minutes, I think Chase speaks for a total of about a half hour at best (apparently no one informed Mr. Chase that during the film you're supposed to talk about the movie, not just watch it). Often coming off as smug and self-serving (he points out countless times how "this joke is funny" and he talks about himself A LOT), Chase needs a lesson in self-depreciation and the fine art of storytelling. The most interesting nugget I walked away with from this track was that Chase wears his game show pig costume each Halloween. Big frickin' whoop. It saddened me to find this track to be void of any genuine information on the production, and that without a script behind him, Chevy just ain't that funny.
Also included on this disc is an anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer for National Lampoon's European Vacation and a few selected cast and crew filmographies. .
I'm glad to see that Warner has finally released this movie on DVD, but I plead with them as a spokesperson for that masses: go back and redo the other Vacation films as well! No more full frame! No more full frame! And for the love of all that's holy, do NOT have Chevy Chase record another commentary track!
National Lampoon's European Vacation is acquitted, though Chevy Chase is found guilty of recording the worst commentary track thus far.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Chevy Chase
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