National Lampoon was a humor magazine begun by former members of the Harvard Lampoon: Doug Kenney, Henry Beard, and Robert Hoffman in 1970. Over the decade, a number of comedic talents appeared in their pages as well as their ventures into others mediums like radio and theater. Their biggest success was 'National Lampoon's Animal House,' a low budget movie that went on to become such a box-office smash that it changed what was acceptable in mainstream Hollywood comedies.
Based in part on the college experiences of co-screenwriter Chris Miller, who had published the stories in the magazine, the movie tells the wild exploits of the rebellious Delta Tau Chi fraternity at Faber College in 1962. It's Pledge Week as the film begins, and freshmen Larry Kroger (Thomas Hulce) and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst) are checking out their options. Omega Theta Pi isn’t one, as the stuck-up members make clear with their actions. Kent then suggests they head over to Delta House because his brother Fred was a member, so that makes him a legacy.
The Deltas Pledge Party is a much different affair. Before they get into the house, Larry and Fred are greeted by rock 'n' roll music and a urinating Bluto (John Belushi in his breakout film), who inadvertently marks them. He offers them beer, which "don't cost nothin'" but is against the rules for freshman. The Deltas rarely follow the rules and just see college as a time to party, making it a much more appealing place for the young audiences that overwhelming connected with the movie.
One man aware they don't follow the rules is Dean Wormer (John Vernon who makes a great villain by playing it straight). He's sick of the embarrassment Delta House causes with their poor grades and ridiculous pranks and places them on double secret probation in an effort to run them out of the college. Wormer unleashes the Omega members to help his plans come to fruition and Delta fights back as best they can, leading to a hysterical climax at the homecoming parade.
The cast is outstanding. While Belushi made the biggest splash, the film is filled with impressive performances by a number of actors early in their career. Karen Allen and Kevin Bacon also made their debuts here. Mark Metcalf was so memorable as the uptight Omega prick Doug Neidermeyer, he reprised some scenes in music videos for Twisted Sister. The caliber of the screenplay, John Landis' direction, and the actors, is demonstrated through the revelation in the extras that some roles were specifically created for others. Otter was intended for Chevy Chase but he went on to star in 'Foul Play.' D-Day would have been Dan Ackroyd but his commitment to Saturday Night Live kept him away. Yet, Tim Matheson and Bruce McGill don't have you longing for what could have been, and it's difficult to imagine the movie without them.
With the passage of over 30 years, 'Animal House' no longer retains the edginess it once offered; however, the humor still delivers plenty of laughs due to the talents of all involved. The only negative is that some of the sexual material comes off as sophomoric. Though I don't think it was the writers' intention, it actually works in the context of these characters who are sophomoric themselves.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal presents 'National Lampoon's Animal House' on a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc housed in a blue case. After choosing a language, the disc goes directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
Not sure why Universal gives short shrift to catalog titles. This disc comes across like they were obligated to release something so they just cranked this out without much thought or care about the final product.
The video has been given a 1080p/ VC-1 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1 that is barely serviceable. Colors are likely the best thing about it. Reds are strong throughout. Yellows like the cheerleaders' outfits, are bright. Multiple colors within scenes look very good. When Neidermeyer addresses Flounder during ROTC, the green grass and dark olive of uniforms show good contrast. The red and orange sweaters of Otter and Boon respectively also look sharp. Whites appear consistent.
However, dark colors don't come through well. Not only do blacks crush but during the first scene in Wormer's office Greg's charcoal gray suit almost blends into the brown wall paneling. Even worse are his pants and Wormer's brown desk when see against the brown rug of the office. Shadow delineation is poor with night exteriors losing the most objects. This could be a result of what the source had to offer.
Infrequent white specks appear in frames. Grain is evident; distractingly moving on occasion. On fabrics, particularly sweaters, textures come through well, but other items, such as faces don't look sharp and natural. There are a few instances on aliasing due to clothing: Professor Jennings' corduroy outfit in his first scene and Wormer's jacket in the two shot at the parade.
Though it's stated there is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, it's hard to tell from listening to this center-heavy mix.
Music makes the best use of the surrounds as the songs and Elmer Berstein's score. Otherwise very little ambiance occurs, though there is some in the front left and right. There is no imagining, which is unfortunate as there was a perfect opportunity when Bluto moves the ladder across the house to take a peek at Mandy but it only thumps out the center channel.
There is a proper balance between the sound elements other than the intended, realistic overpowering of dialogue by music within a scene. The limited dynamic range is expected for a comedy of its age. The LFE doesn't have much to do. The music and bringing to life the Deathmobile during the climax are the two most noticeable.
I enjoyed revisiting 'Animal House' and think the comedy still holds up well. However, the quality of the Blu-ray specs and the paltry extras keep me from definitively recommending it as a purchase. The claim of "perfect picture" on the back of the case is just not accurate, so while worth seeing, it's not worth picking up unless you can find it for a very low price. Fans, it's worth a look, but wait for a good sale unless you have to have it right away.