National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation DVD Review

They've been to Wally World. They've been to Europe. This season, things are a bit different. It's time once again to visit the Griswold family, this time for a little holiday cheer like only they can provide. "Christmas Vacation" is a somewhat unique film in the series, but it's hard to argue that it's not the best.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) simply wants the best for his family. This Christmas could shape up to the best ever, but a combination of visiting relatives and some outdoor lighting snafus create some problems. Things are still looking up though since his employers bonus check should put a smile on his face... or will that go wrong too?

Almost nothing can derail "Christmas Vacation." First time director Jerimiah Chechick takes a John Hughes script and turns into a masterpiece of comedy, a rare film in the National Lampoon series with heart. Even the credit sequence is great, a nice nod to the classic animated holiday movies of old.

The movie never really starts until Uncle Eddie and his family shows up, played by Randy Quaid. Yes, there are plenty of laughs before this point, but there isn't a person out there who doesn't have an Eddie in their family somewhere down the line. His clueless one-liners are delivered in a way where you have to play the line over in your head once or twice just to make sure you heard it right. It's not that he is hard to understand, but the comments are usually so off base, that you need to be sure that's what he really said.

Chase of course leads the way, just trying to keep the peace. He not only provides some great physical comedy, but you can just read his face as the frustration slowly builds. His reactions, particularly to a store clerk and Eddie, make for some priceless moments. He also provides a touching moment as he tells Eddie's daughter about Santa and that everything will be all right.

Made in 1989, it's pretty amazing to see just how far some of the supporting cast has come. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss plays the overly rich, snobby neighbor, Juliette Lewis plays the third generation Audrey Griswold, and Doris Roberts has a hand as Ellen's mother. Sadly, no matter how good they are, it creates the movies biggest problem.

As the film moves along, it seems like a new character is added in every 20 minutes. You want to see more of everybody, but for a standard 90-minute time frame, there are way too many people crammed in here. You can't even determine how some of them are related to the family. Also, why is called "Christmas Vacation?" They never really go anywhere other than to get a tree (funny) and go sledding (even funnier).

Regardless, this has to be one of the most under-appreciated holiday movies ever. Hardly a moment goes by when you're not laughing. How this one never got more recognition is baffling, but those that have found it certainly have to cherish it. (**** out of *****)

This is the second appearance for this holiday film on DVD. Thankfully, the pan & scan transfer of the original disc has been replaced with this new 1.85:1 widescreen one. It's a huge improvement, even if the movie shows its age. The print has some minor damage, though nothing too distracting. Grain is a problem in a few scenes but it relatively under control. Compression can only be detected during the opening animation. This isn't one of those transfers that will really show you the details, but it presents the movie in a fairly clean manner and that can be appreciated. (****)

Beyond the soundtrack (which does a nice job of filling the sound field), there's not much in the way audio here to be impressed by. This is a standard Dolby Surround mix that's really nothing special. The classic sledding sequence is the only one that really does anything with the LFE channel. Dialogue is clear with no distortion. This isn't a movie that needs a major audio reworking and it doesn't get one. No big deal. (***)

An audio commentary is included here, though Chevy Chase is oddly absent. Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid, Miriam Flynn, Johnny Galecki, Matty Simmons, and Chechick all get in on this one. They spend a lot of time laughing, but you can't really blame them. They do manage to point out mistakes in the film and Chechick talks plenty about his first time experience. The only other extra is the trailer. On a rather strange note, the back of this Warner snapper case shows a picture of a deleted scene. Why isn't it on the disc? (***)

Now, normally I close out my reviews with a few odd facts about the film. Or, maybe I'll complain about the sequel (which in this case offers up plenty of opportunity for complaints). But, there is one line in "Christmas Vacation" that for whatever reason has become a holiday tradition in my house and it just feels right to end with it. Uncle Eddie provides us with this unforgettable quote as he empties his RV's toilet into the sewer wearing a bathrobe, boxers, and black socks:

"Merry Christmas! Shitter was full!"

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