National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the third film in the Vacation franchise. The film is directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik. It stars Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, EG Marshall, Diane Ladd, EG Marshall, Miriam Flynn, Randy Quaid, Mae Questel, William Hickey, Nicholas Guest, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Doris Roberts. The screenplay is written by John Hughes. This is the second Blu-ray Disc release of the film (not counting reissues of the movie utilizing the previous disc’s transfer).
In National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, the Griswold clan is getting ready to celebrate the holidays, welcoming their extended family. Everyone’s favorite family man, Clark W. Griswold, Jr. (Chevy Chase) wants to fulfill his lifelong dream of having the perfect old fashioned family Christmas, but kids Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki) are oblivious, and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) has her doubts about her husband being able to pull it off. Clark must deal with an ungrateful boss (Brian Doyle-Murray), snotty neighbors (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest), bickering in-laws, a delusional and clueless elderly aunt (Mae Questel), and of course, the endless impositions of Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid). Will Clark pull off the perfect family Christmas with so many obstacles in his path?
In my household, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation has become something of a yearly ritual, and when it comes to the Vacation franchise it is exceeded only by the 1983 original. It is not a perfect film, but if you want to celebrate the holidays by laughing relentlessly for 97 minutes, the film does not fail to deliver.
No Vacation film would be complete without Chevy Chase as Griswold patriarch Clark. From lovable, well-meaning buffoon to a man who lets his dark side (in comedic fashion) out when things go awry, Chase steals the show here, just as he does in every Vacation film. And, of course, we have the always reliable Beverly D’Angelo as his wife, who tries to keep him grounded in reality, often with less than favorable results. The Griswold kids in this film are admittedly fairly one-dimensional and forgettable (it is impossible to top Dana Barron and Anthony Michael Hall in the original 1983 film) but they serve their purposes in the plot well enough.
The supporting cast is superb as well. Snobby, uptight neighbors portrayed by Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (of Seinfeld fame) are not in the movie for very long, but every appearance they make is priceless due to Clark’s endless holiday antics, with them ending up as the butt of the jokes every time. Clark’s uptight, ungrateful boss is played brilliantly by Brian Doyle-Murray (he played a Kamp Komfort clerk in the original 1983 Vacation), particularly in the film’s latter scenes. Mae Questel (the original voice of Betty Boop) provides plenty of over-the-top verbal humor in the latter half of the film with her delusional nature and presumed mental disorder; if you have never seen the movie before, her lines are sure to catch you off guard and get some unexpected laughs.
But, the one member of the cast who will get the most laughs, no matter how many times you see the film, is Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie. A relatively minor character in the original Vacation, and missing from European Vacation entirely, he comes back here with a vengeance. From the time of his arrival, he immediately becomes the king of the one-liners (“Shitter was full!"), and the absolute funniest thing about the film. From a lengthy dialogue about how he and his wife lost their money to a speech about his son preparing for a career in the carnival, Quaid does not have to try too hard to get laughs in this role. Absolutely no other actor could have played this part.
The overall tone of the film is a nice mixture of the best elements of the previous films, and this makes the end result all the more entertaining. The first movie in the series was heavy on witty, deadpan verbal humor, while the second focused more on physical gags, which only hit the mark about half the time. The third time truly is the charm in the Vacation series; Christmas Vacation serves up the perfect mixture of comical dialogue and over-the-top slapstick humor. The purpose of a comedy film is to get audiences laughing, and Christmas Vacation does not let up at any point.
It is ironic that one of the best films in the Vacation series is the one where the Griswolds do not even leave home! The overall package manages to be fulfilling and in the spirit of the season, but does so without coming off as contrived or overdone. In this sense it does not alienate those who normally would not be caught dead watching a Christmas movie. Christmas Vacation is the real deal, and one that serves up the laughs no matter how often you watch it.
Christmas Vacation was released on Blu-ray Disc in 2006, back when the format was still new. However, that disc was not too superior to the DVD, and was, essentially, the transfer that is used for the high definition broadcasts of the movie. It also lacked a lossless audio track; something not uncommon of a lot of early Blu-ray Disc releases.
It is important to mention, however, that based upon the way it was shot, Christmas Vacation is not the kind of film that is ever going to truly wow visually, even in high definition with a superior transfer. That said, the new disc is absolutely an improvement visually. The sea of video noise and the flat, murky feel on the old transfer are done away with; the picture has a much more natural looking grain pattern, with more vibrant colors and improved detail throughout. A few of the scenes in the animated opening credits sequence were a little too bright, with the outlines on Santa disappearing, but that is a very minor complaint. That said, this transfer is a substantial improvement over the old disc, but at the same time not exactly the kind of thing that will ever be “demo material” for your HDTV.
The audio issues were rectified as well, with the inclusion of a lossless audio track. The action-heavy slapstick sequences benefit the most from this treatment, but even dialogue receives a noticeable boost as well. Getting the movie looking better was a great thing, but I am pleased to say it sounds better as well.
The one real weakness with an otherwise great remastered disc is the lack of new bonus features. We get the same commentary track and theatrical trailer from the old disc, and nothing more. With such a diverse cast and a hilarious National Lampoon crew, surely they could have hunted down SOME of them for some new interviews or something.
Aside from the lack of new bonus material, this disc comes highly recommended. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation has stood the test of time and become something of a holiday staple in my household. The new transfer and audio track are superb, giving the movie the treatment it should have gotten in HD the first time around. The film is as hilarious now as it was upon its release back in 1989, and it definitely ranks as one of the best Vacation films. A highly recommended purchase!
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