Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, John Candy, Beverly D'Angelo, Christie Brinkley
Every summer Chevy Chase takes his family on a little trip. This year he went too far.
Everything is planned. Everything is packed. And everything is about to go hilariously wrong. The Griswolds are going on vacation. In the driver's seat, of course, is Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), an Everyman eager to share the open road and the wonders of family togetherness with his wife and kids. Myriad mishaps, crude kin (Randy Quaid), encounters with a temptress (Christie Brinkley), financial woes, Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) on the roof, one security guard (John Candy) and 2,460 miles later, it is indeed a wonder the Griswolds are together. There’s never been a family vacation like it. Except perhaps for yours. And that helps explain why National Lampoon's Vacation remains so popular...and so very funny.
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Runtime: 98 min.
Release Date: 8/10/2010
• Audio Commentary With Director Harold Ramis, Producer Matty Simmons, and Actors Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, Dana Barron and Anthony Michael Hall
• Introduction By Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, and Producer Matty Simmons
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National Lampoon's Vacation [Blu-Ray] (1983)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 30, 2010)
A success at the time and a consistently popular film over the period since 1983, I think National Lampoon’s Vacation feels pretty hit or miss, but it generates a reasonable amount of entertainment.
Vacation focuses on the Griswold family: father Clark (Chase), mother Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), and teen children Audrey (Dana Barron) and Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall). Apparently Clark works all the time, so he tries to overcompensate for his time away from the family during their annual vacations. This year they buy a new vehicle to drive from Chicago to LA to visit the legendary Walley World amusement park.
If you’re looking for a plot, that’s pretty much it. Honestly, Vacation doesn’t really offer a story as much as it features a theme. We watch the family as they suffer various indignities during their drive. Most of these pour degradation upon Clark, and we see him slowly start to lose it. He becomes absolutely obsessed with the successful completion of the trip, and that monomaniacal focus leads to many comic opportunities.
Director Harold Ramis started in the sketch comedy world of SCTV, and we can clearly detect those origins in his earliest movies. Vacation was his second directorial effort after 1980’s Caddyshack, and it actually demonstrated some real growth in Ramis’ abilities. Caddyshack was a sloppy and often amateurish film, whereas Vacation comes across as much more self-assured and professional.
But it does remain true to Ramis’ affection for sketch comedy. For all intents and purposes, Vacation offers little more than a series of skits connected by the family trip theme. Of course, Clark’s slow mental disintegration helps tie them together, but most of them could stand independently.
I think the vacation theme helps ensure the continued popularity of the flick, though. Most of us can relate to the miserable long car rides taken with family, and Vacation mines that territory nicely. It plays up the absurdities of those treks but remains a close enough connection with reality to keep it human.
Virtually every Ramis flick suffers from inconsistencies, and Vacation doesn’t offer an exception. When it hits, it does so pretty well. The flick’s best bits remain memorable and amusing. The comedy misses the mark more than occasionally, however. The gags never become truly bad, but I must admit the movie contains fewer laughs than I recalled from viewings in the 1980s.
Still, Vacation continues to offer a reasonably amusing experience. Almost 30 years after its creation, Christie Brinkley’s performance remains atrocious, but the movie survives nonetheless. A fairly lively and funny flick, Vacation is a good ride.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus C
National Lampoon’s Vacation appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This wasn’t a killer presentation, but it looked fairly good.
Sharpness was generally positive. The movie rarely displayed terrific clarity, and some softness occurred. However, this seemed to be an artifact of the original photography, and the lack of definition wasn’t a severe issue; the flick still offered pretty good delineation. I noticed no signs of jaggies or moiré effects, and edge haloes were absent. Source flaws also failed to materialize in this clean presentation.
Especially since many Eighties movies featured dense tones, I thought the colors of Vacation looked surprisingly good. The film featured a bright palette, and the hues consistently came across as reasonably vivid and dynamic. Black levels were acceptably deep and rich, while shadows seemed clean and appropriately opaque. A couple of the low-light situations – like the one in the urban area early in the movie – were a little thick, but mostly these shots appeared well defined. All of this added up to a solid “B”.
I also felt pretty pleased with the monaural soundtrack of Vacation. Speech occasionally displayed a little edginess but showed no problems related to intelligibility. For the most part, speech seemed reasonably natural, despite a few instances of some awkward looping. Effects lacked much heft, but they retained acceptable fidelity and clarity, and they demonstrated no issues related to distortion.
Music sounded quite strong, as the songs and score were bright and rich. They featured surprisingly positive bass response and seemed pretty dynamic considering their age. One or two scenes demonstrated a little hiss and hum, but those issues failed to become excessive. Given the movie’s age and the limits of mono sound, I thought the mix worked quite well.
Also found on the “20th Anniversary Edition” DVD, we get a small mix of new extras. The set opens with an introduction from Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, and producer Matty Simmons. This lasts a whopping 40 seconds and is cute but extremely insubstantial.
Next we find an audio commentary that involves director Harold Ramis, producer Matty Simmons, and actors Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, Dana Barron and Anthony Michael Hall. Ramis was recorded on his own, while the other five sat together. Both sessions resulted in running, screen-specific tracks that were edited together for this piece.
Let’s do the math. Ramis’s solo commentaries usually seemed sporadically interesting at best, and Chase’s track for European Vacation was pretty much a dull disaster. Combine those two, add a few others, and what do you get? A pretty flat and uninformative commentary.
Occasionally, some decent notes do emerge. The best components relate changes from the script. We also learn of the flick’s original ending, and Ramis tells us why they re-shot it. A few nice anecdotes pop up along the way as well. However, much of the piece provides the most rudimentary material that doesn’t tell us much about the making of the movie. At times the participants do little more than narrate the film. In addition, a surprising number of empty spaces pop up along the way. With six speakers, one might expect no dead air, but gaps become a real problem. Vacation fans seem destined to become disappointed with this weak commentary.
Does the Blu-ray lose anything from the DVD? Yup. It drops a trailer and some short clips under the “Family Truckster” banner. I have no idea why these failed to reappear here.
Over the last few decades, National Lampoon’s Vacation turned into something of a comedy classic. I’m not quite sure it deserves that vaunted status, but the film still seems pretty amusing and entertaining in any case. The Blu-ray offers good picture plus fairly positive audio and a mediocre collection of supplements. This never becomes a great release, but it offers a satisfying version of a generally enjoyable flick.
To rate this film visit the 20th Anniversay Edition review of NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION