National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (HD DVD)

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

When the name “Griswold’s” comes up, everyone automatically thinks of Clark and Ellen (Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo respectively)…then they think of their own family and how the two must be one and the same. That’s one of the enduring appeals of the “Vacation” series of movies, it appeals to most everyone who has ever been on a trip from Hell. The first two installments in the series showed us that the trips, though well thought out and organized in theory, can have disastrous consequences once Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong, will) gets involved. With the third, “Christmas Vacation”, there really was no vacation to be had. The family went nowhere and never even planned on it. In fact, the Griswolds stayed at home to enjoy the holiday season by themselves and the rest of their family came to visit them. Funny? Yes! If ever there is an instance in what can go wrong than a family vacation, it’s some “quality time” with the In-Laws. The franchise was a bona-fide hit by the time this 1989 part of the series rolled around, so much so that many consider this to be the best one of the four (the 1996 “Vegas Vacation” shall not be discussed). So what is it that keeps us coming back for more and more of the Griswolds?

Who knows? However, in this installment we find Clark as he is eagerly anticipating his bonus to buy the family a pool. We see that once again Rusty and Audrey have defied the age barrier and that Rusty (Johnny Galecki) is now about 12 years old again (he’s become shorter and evidently has regressed through puberty). Audrey (Juliette Lewis) is now older as well. I’m not quite sure what the logic is in keeping the parents the same, but constantly changing the actors. I think the funniest thing to do would be to do a fifth “Vacation” movie with the original kids all grown up with their kids and have Clark and Ellen as Grandparents. That’s just my two cents, though. Nevertheless, the Griswolds plan to entertain and Clark’s dream of lighting up his house is just one of many obstacles that he must overcome during this joyous Holiday season. The movie gets really interesting when Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) shows up with his kids. Eddie, left out of “European Vacation” has made notable appearances in the rest of the quadrilogy and is usually the high point of the movies. Another point of note is that this is an early appearance of Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (aka Elaine on “Seinfeld”). Could it be that her appearance in this movie got her the role in one of the best television series ever? It could be…

Nevertheless, worse comes to worse, Clark’s Christmas bonus turns out to be the “gift that gives the whole year around” and Cousin Eddie decides to do a little something about it. Describing slapstick comedies is something that takes a lot of skill, probably more than I have. However I can say this: if you’re a fan of the “Vacation” movies, then you’ll want to add this to your collection. This is probably Chevy Chase’s last good movie as he went really downhill after this. The supporting cast is great and Randy Quaid (I say once again) steals the show. Warner has wisely given this a new 16:9 transfer (as the original was full-frame) just in time for what will be the Holiday Season. Pretty smart, Warner. If anyone has any theories as to why the Griswold kids keep fluctuating between 11 and 16 years old, I’m all ears. Other than that, enjoy this Special Edition of “Christmas Vacation”. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Video: How does it look?

This might seem like an odd choice to be an early HD DVD title, but hey…it’s the holiday season and people will buy anything with the word “Christmas” in the title. This is a cleaned up version of the previous “Special Edition” standard DVD from a couple years ago. I did a comparison between the two and the HD DVD version certainly has the advantage. It’s not the best-looking transfer on the new format, nor was it really supposed to be. Everything is a bit sharper, some of the grain from the print has been cleaned up (though some still remains) and, as is the standard with HD DVD, everything just seems to be a bit cleaner and more crisp. Those wanting the definitive version of “Chirstmas Vacation” need look no further.

Audio: How does it sound?

The included Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 surround track isn’t that best out there, then again this is mainly a dialogue-driven comedy from the late 80’s so “dynamic audio” isn’t really the first thing that should come to mind. There are some ambient effects that play with the matrixed surrounds from time to time, but not much more. Dialogue is clean and easy to understand and that’s about all that can really be said. It’s a straight-forward track that more than delivers.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The exact same features that were present on the previous “Special Edition” are present here as well. And the only real extra is a commentary track by D’Angelo, Randy Quaid and some other key members of the cast. They seem to deliver a nice track here, and evidently had a good time working on the movie. Though it’s not your typical track (anything with Randy Quaid can’t be considered “typical”), it’s a fun one to listen to. The original theatrical trailer is included as well.

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