Much like the journey itself, 'National Lampoon's Vacation' moves swiftly from one hilarious line and skit to the next, giving audiences little time to rest in between. Prior attempts at repeating the success of 'Animal House' with 'Class Reunion' and 'Movie Madness' proved box office failures and put the National Lampoon brand in trouble. But the story about a family road-trip suddenly turning into a cross-country voyage of wacky mishaps and travesties quickly became a smash hit and brought the brand back from limbo. Today, it's loved as a 80s classic and celebrated as one of the funniest American movies.
John Hughes, who was working as a staff writer for the magazine at the time, wrote the screenplay based on a family vacation to Disneyland from his childhood. Traveling from Illinois to California, the plot follows the Griswolds as they make their way to Wally World in Los Angeles, which looks mysteriously like Six Flags Magic Mountain. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) sees it as an opportunity to spend more time with his growing kids, Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron). Beverly D'Angelo struggles as his incredibly patient and supportive wife, Ellen, by continuously giving in to her husband's madcap whims. One debacle leads to another as they drive in an unsightly vomit-green station wagon.
Coming off the success of 'Caddyshack,' Harold Ramis ('Ghostbusters') made his second run as helmer to help with the magazine's fourth attempt at producing a Hollywood hit. Hughes' funny bone was evident even in the disastrous 'Class Reunion.' But as 'Vacation' demonstrates, his material requires a director that can pull it off the page, and Michael Miller just wasn't the man for the job. Ramis, on the other hand, shows that he knows funny and that he — on same level — shares the same sense of humor as Hughes. Basically, the movie is a series of situational sketches, a lampoon on the misfortune and hard luck of a father-knows-best sap. No matter how hard he tries, it all ends badly.
Of course, if not for the comedic timing and genius of Chevy Chase, 'Vacation' could have easily been a different movie. After nearly thirty years, his portrayal of a dad who wants to relive his own youth while also forcing his family on road-trip instead of the convenience of modern flying is absolute perfection. Amazingly, Chase transforms the pompous, cocky attitude of Clark into a lovable and endearing goof, delivering each bumbling line and mannerism with complete sincerity and believability. With the running motif of Christie Brinkley as the girl in the Ferrari to give the character a bit of mid-life crisis gag, Chase gives audiences one of his best performances and likely his most memorable character.
The rest of the cast also joins the hilarity to elevate this adventure into comedic gold, where the calamities of a family vacation are a laugh-riot. D'Angelo is excellent as the poor wife trying to keep her sanity amidst the craziness, and Randy Quaid is amusing as the proud, down-and-out cousin. The entire film is full of side-splitting one-liners, providing plenty of laughs even after three decades. 'National Lampoon's Vacation' should be remembered as one of John Hughes' great 80s films despite his not directing, and it can go down as one of Harold Ramis' best, even though he didn't write it. The movie is simply a wonderful comedy all around.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video releases this Harold Ramis/John Hughes classic to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD25 disc in the standard blue eco-case. The cover art is, in all honesty, as hideous as the green station wagon. Chevy Chase stands in the center with the Family Truckster flying overhead. I'm sure fans would much prefer the original poster art instead of this dreadful picture. The disc goes straight to the main menu with a still of the wagon in the background and the normal selection of options.
'National Lampoon's Vacation' arrives on Blu-ray with a nice, often average 1080p/VC-1 encode, which shouldn't be too much of a surprise for fans and owners of the 20th Anniversary Edition DVD from 2003. Framed in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the high-def picture definitely shows its age, although it looks to be in pretty good shape overall. Daylight scenes are the transfer's best feature, displaying excellent fine object details with accurately balanced contrast and brightness levels. The palette is very attractive and precise, with natural, healthy facial complexions. Primaries are noticeably bright and bold, especially reds.
Problems come from nighttime sequences and low-lit interiors. Blacks tend to be more pronounced, ruining delineation in the darker parts of the image. Resolution is weirdly over-saturated and rather poor. This can be seen throughout the movie's runtime, but the scene when Chevy Chase first talks to Christie Brinkley in the bar makes this fairly evident, fluctuating between mediocre and pleasing to the eye. Of course, this could all be chalked up to a troubled source and not an issue with the transfer itself since this looks like the same print used for the special edition DVD. The video is visibly 80s in appearance and soft in many portions, but by and large 'Vacation' looks pretty good in high-definition.
As with the previous DVD release, this Blu-ray edition of 'Vacation' comes with a monaural DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
Despite only one channel doing all the work, the lossless mix is surprisingly active and possesses a terrific presence in the center of the screen. Vocals are precise and intelligible, delivering every single line and piece of dialogue with crystal-clear clarity. Dynamics and acoustics are a big upgrade from its lossy counterpart, sharply rendered and unexpectedly wide. Music and discrete effects are very well-defined and fill the soundstage attractively while low bass provides a weighty depth to the track, which is impressive. There are a few scenes which could arguably benefit from the use of the rear speakers, but I'm not one to complain when a codec is true to the original design.
In the end, the 80s comedy classic sounds great on Blu-ray.
For the 20th Anniversary DVD, fans were none too happy to find a measly assortment of special features. For this Blu-ray edition, the collection appears to have shrunken to only two selections, which is a total downer. I have sinking suspicion that Warner Home Video is intentionally holding out for a 30th Anniversary celebration (complete with some stupid cookie tin or some other such crap!).
After nearly thirty years, 'National Lampoon's Vacation' still provides the laughter, moving swiftly from one situational comedy bit to the next. The story about a family road-trip suddenly turning into a cross-country journey of silly debacles became a box office hit and continues to be celebrated as one of the funniest movies in American pop-culture. The Blu-ray edition of the movie arrives with an average but still good audio/video presentation. The collection of supplements, on the other hand, is an unfortunate travesty, even worse than riding in a vomit-green station wagon for thousands of miles. As a complete package, fans will be hard pressed to replace their 20th Anniversary Edition DVD. Everyone else should at least give this 80s comedy classic a rent for a great night of laughs.