Our review of National Lampoon's Vacation (Blu-Ray), published August 5th, 2010, is also available.
"It's a long way down that holiday road…"
They say movies that truly connect with audiences often have a grain of truth in them. Actually, I've never heard anyone say that, but it sounds like sound advice, eh? If you were in the military, you'd be able to relate to war films. If you've ever been chased by a deranged mutant killer in a hockey mask through a campground, you can relate to slasher flicks. And if you've ever tried to take a family vacation with children, you can understand the appeal of the 1983 Chevy Chase vehicle National Lampoon's Vacation. Originally released in the early days of DVD in a disastrous pan and scan version, National Lampoon's Vacation is back for an all new 20th anniversary special edition care of Warner Brothers.
Facts of the Case
When über-goober Clark W. Griswold (Chase) attempts to take his family on the best vacation of their lives, disaster—and hilarity—strike at every turn. Clark, his beautifully patient wife (Beverly D'Angelo, American History X), and their two children, Audrey (Dana Barron) and Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall, Weird Science), are all on their way to Wally World, a Disney-esque theme park where blissful happiness awaits. But to get to that happiness the Griswold family will have to weather a crappy car, bad weather, street thugs, their grumpy aunt Edna (Imogene Coca), a family of wacky cousins (led by the irreplaceable Randy Quaid), the Grand Canyon, lost luggage, a SWAT team, and each other. It's an all-out trip to the loony bin as the Griswolds find out that sometimes getting their is half the headache.
I'm a die hard Chevy Chase fan. While I realize he's somehow lost his way when it comes to comedy, I still pray that he'll make some sort of universal comeback. Since the '90s rolled around Chase has been headed on a long, downward spiral. With such junk as Cops and Robbersons and Man of the House cluttering up his résumé, is it any wonder that the guy isn't in demand anymore? [Editor's Note: Well, unless you consider his AFLAC commercials…] Maybe he'll make another Fletch movie, or return to his glory days in the Vacation series. Heck, I'd even take a Three Amigos! reunion. I realize the likelihood of this happening is a million to one, but a man can always hope, can't he? Until that shining day materializes, we'll always have Chase in the gut-busting National Lampoon's Vacation.
Like Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator or Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, Chevy Chase was born to play the part of Clark Griswold. While subsequent entries in the Vacation series have been spotty at best (Christmas Vacation is a classic, Vegas Vacation stinks to high heaven, and European Vacation is somewhere in between), the original shows that Chase and director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day) fully realized what it took to make Clark so lovable. He's the everyman trying to do right by his wife and kids—with his two week vacation, the guy is attempting to be the best, most befuddled father and husband anyone could want. Chase's obvious overacting and comedic timing have helped make Clark a most memorable comedy character. In almost every scene Chase is able to find something funny to do—from sharing a beer with his son Rusty to diving in a pool with a naked Christie Brinkley, Chase commands the screen.
The reason that National Lampoon's Vacation has gone on to become a classic is because it's consistently funny—there are hardly any dead spots in the story. Director Harold Ramis (working from a great screenplay by a young John Hughes) keeps things clipping along as the Griswold clan runs headlong into one absurd calamity after another. From Imogene Coca's cranky Aunt Edna to Clark losing it upon their arrival at Wally World, National Lampoon's Vacation gets the laugh at almost every attempt. Ramis has surround Chase with a winning supporting cast, including Beverly D'Angelo as his adoring wife, a spunky Anthony Michael Hall as the quintessential brace face son, and Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie, an equally integral part of the series (Quaid would show up in two other Vacation movies). Even the late John Candy gets into the show as a bumbling security guard who can't stand being on the very rollercoasters he's attempting to protect. If the film is flawed in any one area, it's because it's stuck in a time warp. Oh, those nasty, cheesy early '80s!
National Lampoon's Vacation came at the zenith of Chase's career, and a time when comedies didn't rely on poop gags to get their chuckles. The characters are all extremely memorable without a bad seed among them. It's hard for me find any fault with the movie—no matter how many times I see it, I still laugh heartily. This is one vacation that's definitely worth the ticket price.
And now, if you'll all bow your heads with me and say a silent prayer for Chevy Chase's career…
National Lampoon's Vacation is finally presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I owned that terrible full frame version of the film and am thrilled to finally have this classic comedy in a widescreen version. Overall I was happy with how this transfer turned out, though it does show its age a bit. There are a few minor blemishes and imperfections in the print; however, they were never overly intrusive to the viewing. The colors are mostly solid and bright (oh, that metallic pea green!) and the black levels are evenly dark without any gray tints. I guess I'm willing to overlook a few flaws for the chance to have this movie in its original aspect ratio. Now if Warner would only get on the ball with a few other back catalog titles…
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English. Ah, the glorious sounds of the mono days. While I'm usually the first to complain about a film not getting a 5.1 remix, I have to admit that National Lampoon's Vacation isn't missing much without it. I think the movie retains a special kind of charm with just this old fashioned mono tint. The dialogue, effects, and music (so many memorable tunes!) are all clear of any excessive hiss or distortion. Though fidelity and dynamic range are lacking, Chase's rendition of "Jimmy Crack Corn" will put a smile on any home theater system. Also included on this disc are English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese subtitles.
For those of you who consider yourself definitive National Lampoon's Vacation fans, you're going to have to wait even longer for a definitive DVD version of the film. Until then, Warner has created this 20th anniversary edition that just doesn't cut the butter. Here's a rundown of what's been included on this disc:
Introduction by Chevy Chase, Matty Simmons, and Randy Quaid: Chase tells a few lame jokes (and nervously, I might add) while Quaid and Simmons mostly look on. I'm not sure why this was even included—it's a flaccid intro that serves no purpose.
Griswold Family Commentary Track: About a year ago I commented on how bad the National Lampoon's European Vacation commentary track was (featuring a solo Chase). This time around, Chevy is joined by Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, producer Matty Simmons, Randy Quaid, and recorded separately, director Harold Ramis. While this track is a notch up from the sequel, I have to tell you that this is a very disappointing commentary. First off, there's far too much dead space during the discussions. Chase, as usual, seems to be enamored with himself and his pratfalls. The production information is limited to a lot of "this scene is really funny" and "this scene was a lot of fun to shoot." While there is some interesting info to be found on this track (did you know Richard Dreyfuss' brother is in the film?), it's mostly Ramis who doles out most of the golden nuggets. I wish I could say I had a ball listening to this track, but the fact remains it's a very mediocre supplement.
"Family Truckster" Featurette Gallery: Come take a ride with the Griswold family in a fairly lame featurette gallery. Basically this is a gallery of clips from the film put to various music beats, punctuated by Chase, Simmons, Quaid, and Christie Brinkley commenting on a few aspects of the film. The most exciting thing was seeing what Dana Barron looked like 20 years later (as Martin Landau might say in Ed Wood, "she's a honey"). While it was a novelty to see some of these folks talking about the film, their appearances are all too brief and rather pointless. Had this been stretched out into a much longer feature it would have been a heck of a lot better.
Finally, there is an anamorphic theatrical trailer for the film, as well as those coveted "scene selections" all the kids are raving about.
I'm tickled pink to have this new edition on DVD. National Lampoon's Vacation is one of the all time classic comedies (I'll stake my career on it!) and while I wouldn't consider this to be a definitive DVD, it's miles above Warner's previous effort. The good news is that National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Vegas Vacation are also on their way in new widescreen editions. As Clark might note, "this is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy…"
While the supplements leave much to be desired, it's nice to finally see this film get a much deserved widescreen transfer.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Introduction by Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, and Matty Simmons
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