NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Chevy Chase,
Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Diane Ladd, John Randolph, E. G. Marshall, Doris
Roberts, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Commentary, Trailer
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: November 3, 2009
“Tis the season to be merry.”
“That’s my name!”
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation seems a yearly fan favorite for many; it always re-emerges on the top 20 selling DVD list every holiday. For me, however, it’s always been just a little off my radar.
I saw this movie when it first hit theatres back in the late 80s. I found it to be a crude, clumsy, slapstick endeavor that tried way too hard to please, much like its star Chevy Chase. The gags were forced and physical, the script lacked any real wit and insight, and it couldn’t seem to make up its mind as to whether or not it was a family movie with its flirtations with sexual innuendo and dropping one f-bomb that was completely gratuitous.
Nothing much has changed for me in the 20 years since. My best compliment about Christmas Vacation is that it’s a little bit better than the movies that immediately preceded and succeeded it in the series. But Chevy Chase, who had been a huge star for more than a decade at that point in his career, was starting to wear out his welcome. New comic talents were taking to the screen, and Chase’s bumbling, stumbling, all-shucks and golly-gee persona was becoming old hat.
He once again plays Clark Griswold, ever stalwart patriarch of the Griswold family, alongside his longsuffering wife Ellen (D’Angelo). This time, though, he’s not on the road…the family is coming to him for the holidays, and he’s fulfilling his dream of hosting a large family Christmas in his own home.
How does he do it? Badly, of course. From the overwhelming display of lights that made his house use almost as much energy as Al Gore’s mansion, to cutting down a tree without a saw, to the never ending parade of disasters, Clark is a man with good intentions but absolutely no clue as to moderation. “When’s the last time I overdid anything?” he asks his son. The fact that he can say it with a straight face shows how lost he is.
The arrival of Randy Quaid as his redneck brother Eddie brings some real comic relief as Quaid steals the show time and time again. But the movie walks a drunken line between family fare and taboo humor, and rarely seems to come up with an affirming message for the holidays. Family drives us crazy? We knew that.
Many love the film, and flock to it year after year, and I wouldn’t dream of denying them the pleasure. Christmas Vacation is just a film painted with too many broad strokes to find any real laughter, message, or sense of purpose for my taste.
BONUS TRIVIA: The late great Mae Questal, eternally the voice of Olive Oyl in the Popeye cartoons, plays the aunt.
There’s sadly nothing special to report here…the 80s remain a troublesome decade for modern video transfers, and not even the amazing technology Blu-ray has to offer can really bring life to this presentation. It looks its age, with some lifeless, muted coloring, noticeable marks on the print, and a generally flat appearance all around. High definition adds a bit more detail here and there, but it doesn’t seem like much work went into this one.
Likewise, this is one of the weaker audio presentations I’ve ever heard on a Blu-ray disc. It’s still the same 2.0 surround track, and it lacks dynamic range or any kind of multi-dimensional punch to even the bigger physical comedy moments. Spoken words are clear, but the music and effects just sound like they’re lying there, waiting for motivation.
Apart from the trailer, the disc also brings a group commentary featuring the director and producer along with stars Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Johnny Galecki and Miriam Flynn. The nice part about this edition is the packaging, which is a nice metal container that includes the movie and some other extras, including some instant snow powder, a Santa cap, holiday drink coasters with movie quotes, a Griswold family Christmas button, and, exclusively to the Blu-ray release, a miniature replica of the moose mug used in the movie.
The true mark of a classic is withstanding the test of time, and I’m surprised to say, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation has done that successfully for 20 years now. Fans of this Chevy Chase offering might be happy enough to have it on Blu-ray, but the overall lackluster effort for its big anniversary might leave some feeling like they got a bit of coal in the old stocking.