National Lampoon’s Vacation 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. That factor alone will entice many viewers, as the original release of Vacation on DVD presented it fullframe only. Will they feel happy with what they find in this new transfer? I think so, as it provided a very solid picture.
The movie exhibited solid sharpness. Virtually no softness cropped up during the film. Instead, it looked nicely crisp and detailed at all times. I noticed no issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects, but a little edge enhancement popped up occasionally. Print flaws seemed quite minimal for a film of this era. Periodic specks or bits of grit showed sometimes, but not frequently. For the most part, the flick remained nicely free of defects.
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 nicely vivid and dynamic. They never seemed too heavy, and they also were tight and firm. 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. Vacation just barely missed getting an “A”-level grade, as the image seemed consistently impressive.
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.
For this “20th Anniversary Special Edition” of Vacation, 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 prior 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.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer - presented anamorphic 1.85:1 with mono sound – we find Cast and Crew entries. As usually occurs with Warner Bros. DVDs, these include no biographies or filmographies; it’s just a static screen that lists some names.
Lastly, the Family Truckster Interactive Feature lets you click on various parts of the car, with differing results. Sometimes you just get a montage of movie clips, but other segments are more informative. Click on the rear door and you’ll get a three minute and 45 second featurette in which producer Matty Simmons and stunt coordinator/driver Dick Ziker discuss the design of the car and the execution of various elements related to it. Select the rear tire and we see a two-minute piece in which Christie Brinkley and Simmons chat about her “big scene”. Choose the front tire and get 69 seconds of notes from Brinkley about how she spent all her down time on the film.
The selection of the front bumper includes 58 seconds from Dana Barron as she details why she didn’t play Audrey in the other Vacation flicks. The windshield displays a car radio. Click the first button and Barron quickly introduces the setting. When you choose the different buttons, you get snippets of different Griswold musical moments from the flick. These also show very brief outtakes from the Simmons/Chase/Quaid introduction plus a video montage of Brinkley scenes introduced by Christie. Overall, the “Truckster” area presents some fun material but nothing terribly special.
Over the last 20 years, 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 DVD offers surprisingly good picture plus fairly positive audio and a mediocre collection of supplements. The latter come as a disappointment, but the generally high quality of this release means that it merits my recommendation.