Based on a script by the late John Hughes (miss him yet, Hollywood?), National Lampoon’s Vacation is a comedy that works for anybody subjected to a summer vacation with an overzealous parent at the helm. Still, the best laid plans of mice and men…and, boy, do they ever go wrong as one family travels from their home in Chicago to the sun-soaked skies of Southern California. Directed by Harold Ramis, this 1983 comedy arrives on Blu-ray without a single dip in its blistering energy and refreshing pace with only a few minor hiccups.
National Lampoon’s Vacation focuses on the family that is The Griswolds: Clark (Chevy Chase), his deliciously hot wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) and their two kids, Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) as they hop into the new family wagon and make their journey to meet the beloved Marty Moose at the gates of Wally World, an obvious jab at Mickey Mouse and Disneyland. Of course, nothing goes right. Clark gets sold a vehicle he didn’t want from a shifty-eyed Eugene Levy and, upon visiting his wife’s cousins in Kansas, Eddie (Randy Quaid) and Catharine (Miriam Flynn) and their multitude of kids, discovers that even Ellen’s Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and her ankle-biting dog, Dinky, have other plans for their “family” vacation – a trip that includes a skinny dip with Christie Brinkley, a robbery, a couple of deaths in Arizona, and a hostage situation with the late John Candy in California.
Good times, right?
Good, good times.
And, Vacation is still funny. Even after all these years. Chase was born to play the bumbling character of Clark Griswold – even if he does perfect the performance two movies later in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Here, though, the freshness of the character is fully realized in sequences that have him accidentally projecting a license plate through the air as he searches for the gas tank of his new car and mindlessly putting dirty dishes away that his wife hands him to wash. It’s the small things with Chase, and then, when he’s finally at the breaking point – after an unneeded walk through the desert - the hysterical hell he unleashes on the security guards at Wally World (after famously punching Marty Moose in the nose) is a riotous act of a man in the manic throes of desperation.
Yet, no one else loses their cool. Not the kids. And certainly not D’Angelo, whose performance of the supportive wife is rich with patience and understanding. Call here the great equalizer. She’s the Yin to Chase’s Yang. While it may be a tad unbelievable in real life, D’Angelo’s performance brings a bit more temperament to Chase’s hysterics and grounds him with great finesse. As a result, they are a pretty iconic on-screen couple that audiences never tire of.
While National Lampoon’s Vacation, as directed by Ramis, might suffer from being a bit too episodic to tell a wholly complete story, it is still a great start at something unforgettable and completely relatable. So far, there have been four movies in the series, and I keep hearing of a fifth and final one. It’s always impressive to me when a comedy series can do that and this film, just like The Griswolds, somehow manages to never wear out its welcome.
Available on Blu-ray - August 10, 2010
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, German SDH, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono; French: Dolby Digital Mono; Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono; German: Dolby Digital Mono
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
The film arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 1080p high definition widescreen transfer that doesn’t have many flaws. Yes, it is a tad grainy but given the age of the film, that is to be expected. This won’t impress hardcore videophiles, but it certainly isn’t something to complain about.
With a bit more “bottom” in the audio mix than previous DVD releases, the sound on this disc is an English language DTS-HD 1.0 track, though alternate Dolby Digital Mono tracks are encoded in French, Spanish and German. Subtitles are offered up in English, French, German, Spanish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.
- Optional feature-length commentary is provided by Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, director Harold Ramis and producer Matty Simmons. This is a pretty interesting track, complete with insight into the making of specific scenes, the adlibbing of Chase, the woes of directing the film within the time frame, and just some interesting stories from the set. This might not be a laugh-fest, but it is certainly active and pleasing.
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