National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

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?

Though a new 16:9 transfer is provided, it’s certainly not one of the best I’ve seen. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio is fairly clear and clean throughout, but some flaws on the print seemed to have eeked their way into the final product. Edge enhancement isn’t really much of an issue and though you’d think a Christmas movie would be all bright and shiny, it tends to have somewhat of a dull look and feel to it. That being said, this is the best the film has ever looked and I was fairly impressed in comparison to the old DVD (one of the original DVD’s o the market). Technology has come a long way in such a short time and for all the errors that I noticed, it’s still a pretty good presentation.

Audio: How does it sound?

On the other hand, there is a Dolby Digital soundtrack that left me fairly impressed. As a general rule, comedies don’t have that strong of a soundtrack (especially those made in the 1980’s). However, the dialogue sounds very natural and I was impressed by the use of the surrounds. Little things like the sled scene and the tree in the living room sounded better than I’ve ever heard them. While it’s not something that will wake the neighbors, it’s certainly an improvement over the previous release. Nice job here, Warner.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Though labeled as a “Special Edition”, 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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