National Lampoon’s Animal House appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Rumor has it that director John Landis rejected the initial transfer created for this “Double Secret Probation Edition” of Animal House because it looked too good. That wasn’t a problem with the mediocre presentation found here.
To be fair, given the flick’s vintage and low-budget roots, there’s only so much that can be done with the visuals. Nonetheless, I’d like to see the transfer Landis shot down, since this one came with a mix of unnecessary flaws. Actually, print defects weren’t too bad. Grain stayed within reasonable levels, and although I saw occasional specks and marks, these weren’t excessive. They distracted but not in a tremendous way.
Unfortunately, edge enhancement reared its ugly head and put haloes around many objects. These affected sharpness, particularly in wide shots. Close-ups looked fine, but wider images tended to seem soft and tentative. The majority of the flick looked decent in this regard, though, mostly because the cinematography favored closer shots. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized.
The film favored a natural palette that varied in quality. Sometimes the colors looked nice and vivid, but other times they became murkier. In particular, flesh tones could seem flat and brown; they actually almost appeared colorized at times. For the most part, though, the colors were fine. Blacks were deep and firm, but shadows seemed more erratic. Many low-light shots came across as a bit muddy. Despite the flaws, the transfer was strong enough for a “C+”.
In addition to the film’s original monaural audio, the DVD included a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. This remix failed to reinvent any wheels. The side speakers featured some mild stereo imaging for music, though only Elmer Bernstein’s score offered genuinely positive delineation; the pop songs heard on the track sounded more like semi-stereo to me, as they spread to the sides but failed to display clear separation.
Effects didn’t do much, either. They created a minor sense of ambience and that was about it. The surrounds remained quite passive, as they never made themselves known through the film. Maybe they had something to do, but if so, they kept quiet about it. This was a decent soundfield given the film’s focus, but it didn’t do a lot to stretch beyond its monaural roots.
At least audio quality seemed pretty good. Speech came across as natural and warm, though some dubbed lines distracted. Music was fairly robust and full, especially in terms of Bernstein’s score; those aspects fared the best. Effects tended to be more lackluster, but they remained perfectly acceptable given their vintage. At no point did this soundtrack excel, but I felt it sounded good enough for an age-adjusted “B-“.
When we move to extras, we open with a documentary called The Yearbook: An Animal House Reunion. This 45-minute and 16-second show mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews with director John Landis, producers Ivan Reitman and Matty Simmons, writers Chris Miller and Harold Ramis, Executive in Charge of Production Sean Daniel, head of production Thom Mount, script supervisor Katherine Wooten-Beattie, casting director Michael Chinich, editor George Folsey, Jr., John Belushi’s widow Judith Belushi Pisano, costume designer Deborah Nadoolman, composer Elmer Bernstein, and actors Kevin Bacon, Peter Riegert, Karen Allen, Stephen Furst, James Widdoes, John Vernon, Tim Matheson, Mark Metcalf, Verna Bloom, and Bruce McGill. “Yearbook” looks at the project’s origins and script development, getting backing for the flick and bringing Landis on board, cast, characters and performances, locations and anecdotes from the shoot, Landis’s work on the film, editing and score, and the movie’s reception/legacy.
“Yearbook” provides a pretty good look at the flick. I like the inclusion of most significant participants, and it moves at a brisk pace. The show covers most of the important areas and does so in an entertaining and informative manner. This is a very good little documentary.
Unfortunately, no audio commentary shows up here, but we do find Did You Know That? Universal Animated Anecdotes. This text features runs along with the movie and throws out various production notes. These pop up infrequently, but they can be pretty interesting, especially when we learn about alternate casting options.
For something fun, we go to the 23-minute and 22-second Where Are They Now? A Delta Alumni Update. Landis tells us that he wants to update his “documentary”, so we find out what happened to some of the movie’s characters. I won’t tell more than that since I don’t want to ruin surprises, but I will that it’s amusing and a lot of fun.
Next comes a Music Video. MXPX plays “Shout”, and it’s a rendition that will make no one forget the original – or any of the eight million covers. It’s a shockingly generic take on the tune that seems eminently forgettable. The video’s dull as well; it just mixes cheap lip-sync footage with movie clips. Skip it.
In addition to the flick’s theatrical trailer, we find some text components. We find decent though brief Production Notes as well as Cast and Filmmakers listings for 16 actors along with Simmons, Reitman, Ramis, Miller, Landis and writer Doug Kenney. Finally, a few ads open the DVD. We get promos for Scarface, the “High School Reunion Collection”, and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
One of cinema’s enduring comedy classics, I think National Lampoon’s Animal House holds up pretty well after 30 years. While I don’t believe it’s quite as good as its legend indicates, it does amuse. The DVD offers average picture, decent audio and a good mix of extras. I’m not wild about the transfer, but the disc mostly satisfies.
To rate this film, visit the Widescreen Edition review of ANIMAL HOUSE