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ANIMAL HOUSE

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  John Belushi, Tim Matheson, Tom Hulce, Karen Allen, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Bacon
Director: John Landis
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Color
Audio:  Dolby 5.1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See review
Length:  109 Minutes
Release Date: August 26, 2003

"Is this really what you are going to do for the rest of your life?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, hanging around with a bunch of animals getting drunk every weekend?"

"No!  After I graduate, I'm going to get drunk every night!"

Film ****

It has always fascinated me how so many good movies with a lasting impact on the medium were actually never supposed to happen and involve so many future stars in cinema.  In most of these success stories, the budget is low, the cast and creators are unknown, and the studio footing the bill has no idea what it has on its hands and often ignores the film or actively tries to stop its completion or release.  Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H definitely fits this bill, him being the only well-known part of the production.  Animal House  and M*A*S*H  are almost the same movie and plot except that the latter is the Army in Korea and the former is a bunch of kids in 1962 American academia.  And of course, Donald Sutherland starred in both.

The story is really pretty simple.  On the Faber College campus, the Delta House is well-known as the best party house and also has the lowest GPA.   It is also probably the biggest dump on campus.  As the movie opens, potential pledges are going from one house to another looking for action, and some of them are unfortunate enough to become pledges with the Deltas.  The dean naturally wants the fraternity gone, and since they are already on probation, he is looking for any excuse to ban them from campus forever.  We follow Bluto (Belushi), Otter (Tim Matheson), Pinto (Tom Hulce), and Boon (Peter Riegert) stumble through the days before the big showdown with the administration, trying to have as much fun as possible without being thrown out. 

Animal House is hilarious for its completely unapologetic lack of reverence for, well, anything at all.  It never takes itself seriously until the fraternity itself is being physically pulled apart and full beer cases begin to break (as opposed to empty ones being thrown out).  John Belushi's expression of horror in that scene and his completely politically incorrect attitudes about just about everything in the movie certified him a star.   The kids suddenly have to grow up after seven years of college and want to go out with a bang.

Being a regular West Wing viewer, it was doubly hilarious for me to watch Tim Matheson (who played the Vice President for a few seasons on that show) compare the attack on the Deltas to attacking America itself.  He really does come across like a leader, who still does not hesitate to bed his dean’s wife, carelessly throwing her clothes on the floor in a chic dorm room that would make Hugh Hefner proud.   

While everyone agrees that this film spawned tons of imitators which furthered the youth debauchery movement in film, what most viewers have missed is the movie’s let’s-just-have-fun feeling, before our age of political correctness when you could just play good rock ‘n roll at a party and dance with any cute girl you see and drink until you threw up and then go to class the next day when you discover their real ages or that they have boyfriends.  Not that I EVER did such a thing, of course…ahem…(EDITOR’S NOTE:  I went to college with Mark.  Illicit photos from those days may be posted shortly.)

Even the music is a star of the film featuring the weary, tired old Faber College theme as The Tradition and Louie, Louie being the theme of the young partiers.  Of course the best version ever of Shout is here in all its glory and Wonderful World plays while John Belushi cleans his dishes, reminding us of days when we thought fast food was actually good for you and better than cafeteria food (even when it was free).

Video ***1/2

The packaging claims that it is “better than the original” audio and picture quality, and it are as good a transfer as you could expect for an older film, though I can’t compare it with the original theatrical release of course.  There is some spottiness in darker scenes which is to be expected with older analog releases but it is not too noticeable.  

Audio **

Not too much use or rear channels, but the sound is crisp and the mix between the songs vs. dialogue works well.  Obviously it has been cleaned up.  An excellent effort especially for a low-budget film from many years ago.

Features ****

The features focus on how the movie came to be and emphasize how many magical moments were improvised or added on the fly, especially Belushi's.  This was largely due to budget constraints but worked just fine as it often does in great comedies.  Much praise and credit is spread around among a fine group of writers and producers who genuinely cared about each other and the production of a movie they believed in.  One of the cooler features is a setting allowing little trivia bits to pop up on screen like a pop-up video, but less annoying.

Summary:

While being drunk and stupid is indeed no way to go through life, it is still a nice period to relive now and then.   A movie which makes you say “I remember that!” even upon seeing it for the first time, Animal House is a welcome addition to DVD classics.