National Lampoon’s Vacation (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

If you were to take a poll of all of my immediate family members, I’m guessing that National Lampoon’s Vacation would be near (if not the top) the top of the list. Why? It’s simple, actually…every family out there considers themselves to be the Griswold’s – and mine is no exception. Most all of us have had to bear the ordeal of meeting family we don’t like, take trips that sound fun on paper, but later turn out to be disasters and a little too much “family time” can be just enough to push anyone over the edge. This is no better illustrated than in this movie. Director Harold Ramis has delivered a timeless movie, like most of his that just seems to make “sense” to everyone. With Caddyshack, my all-time favorite movie, he showed us that snobs and slobs could get along. Movies like Stripes, though filled with dated 80’s humor, were funny and with his masterpiece of Groundhog Day; he showed us that even the same day can be repeated. Though his more recent efforts haven’t been nearly as entertaining as his earlier ones, this stands out as being in his pantheon of great movies. Oh, and the great Club Paradise, who could forget that too!

But I digress…

Vacation is the story of the Griswold’s. Clark (Chevy Chase), Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall…this time), Audrey (Dana Barron…this time) and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo). Clark is a ” … genius with food additives … ” and wants nothing more for his family than to show them a great time on their family vacation. But unlike so many other family vacations, the Griswold’s aren’t going to take a plane out to sunny California; no they’re driving cross-country. Why, you ask? Why to go to Wally World, of course! Wally World is, of course, the movie’s equivalent to Disneyland (Disneyworld) and by the movie’s end we think that Clark is the only one who really wants to go; not his family. Having an almost obsessive upbeat and positive attitude, he gets his family to be excited about the whole deal and it’s off they go. Naturally, Murphy’s Law is in full effect here and anything that can go wrong does. They get their hubcaps stolen in East St. Louis, they run in with Ellen’s cousins (led by the funniest man alive, Randy Quaid) and get stuck taking their Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) to Phoenix (only for her to die along the way) and once they get to Wally World, well, let’s just say that it doesn’t live up to all their dreams.

Part of what makes the movie so much fun is that we can all relate to it. We’ve all been on the “trip from hell” and all remember it, but Clark is trying to show his family a good time, though he just doesn’t know when to throw in the towel and quit. The supporting cast is just as funny, Brian Doyle Murray makes a cameo appearance, Randy Quaid is perhaps the most memorable character as his loveable Cousin Eddie and John Candy has a great role in the end as a security guard. Suffice it to say that the players here make the trip worth remembering as well as the story. Now if you’ll notice that I added …this time to the names of Rusty and Audrey (played by Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron). Here’s why. Of the four Vacation movies, every one had a different actor to play the kids. First Rusty got older, then younger. It’s almost insane as we can’t tell which way they were going. Of course the parents, Clark and Ellen, remained the same as played by Chase and D’Angelo; but it’s something that we let go. If you’ve never seen the movie, then you’re in for a treat. The humor isn’t that dated and even today in the age of computers and cell phones, families must take vacations. This is everything that goes wrong with one.

Video: How does it look?

“Vacation” was, literally, one of the first DVD titles on the market back in 1998 and then five years later we were treated to a nice little Special Edition with its first ever widescreen transfer. Flash forward seven years and we’re treated to the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.77:1 and Warner’s VC-1 HD transfer looks good, though admittedly the film is showing its age in some respects. Colors are bright, but there’s some grain present throughout. Detail is improved from the standard DVD and there’s a bit of inconsistency on the overall contrast of the picture. Still, this is “Vacation” not “Citizen Kane”, so I highly doubt that you’ll be too much of a critic while watching the Griswold’s trek across America.

Audio: How does it sound?

The standard DVD was mono and this has been “upgraded” to a DTS HD Master Audio mono version. I’ve always had a “Forrest Gump” sort of attitude about anything in mono in that “mono is as mono does.” Well, I have to admit that if I knew nothing about home theater and sat down and watched this, it does sound fairly good. Yes, the center channel is the one doing all the work, but vocals are noticeably strong and though there’s no ambient effects from any of the other speakers, it’s really not that bad. It’s a step up from the standard DVD edition, no doubt about it.

Supplements: What are the extras?

It doesn’t seem so long ago that we got the 20th Anniversary Edition of “Vacation” complete with a truckload of extras. Well, this inaugural Blu-ray release seems to have dwindled in the supplemental department leaving us with only the commentary track (the same one used for the special edition DVD) and the one minute introduction by Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid. Nice to have? Yes, but the mere fact that we know there’s more out there and it’s not included here is a bit unnerving.

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