National Lampoon's Vacation Blu-ray Review
Before they toppled Stonehenge or hosted the most dysfunctional Christmas gathering ever or thwarted Wayne Newton’s devious ways, the Griswold clan embarked on a pilgrimage to see a moose. The destination: Walley World.
And since getting there is half the fun, patriarch Clark (Chevy Chase) decides to skip the airways and packs up the group—wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), son Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall, later replaced by Jason Lively, Johnny Galecki and Ethan Embry) and daughter Audrey (Dana Baron, later replaced by Dana Hill, Juliette Lewis and Marisol Nichols)—and heads west from Chicago to California.
Stops along the way include St. Louis (no, they don’t go in the Arch), Dodge City (where Clark gets a shotgun pulled on him) and the Grand Canyon (where they discover beloved, mothball-smelling Aunt Edna has died). And then there is the detour in Coolidge, Kansas, where a third of the population is made up of absent-minded relatives: Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid), his wife Katherine (Miriam Flynn) and their two children (John P. Navin, Jr. and Jane Krakowski in her debut), who try to squeeze a few thousand dollars out of their visitors. About 2,500 miles later, they reach their destination, where they’re greeted by an empty parking lot, a pudgy security guard (John Candy) and a pre-recorded message: “Sorry, folks! We’re closed for two weeks to clean and repair America’s favorite family fun park.”
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION was directed by Harold Ramis (whose debut was slobs vs. snobs classic CADDYSHACK three years earlier) and written by John Hughes (who would later pen 1985’s EUROPEAN VACATION and 1989’s CHRISTMAS VACATION). For the script, Hughes adapted a short story he wrote for National Lampoon, itself based on a family vacation he went on as a child. That could be why so much seems so genuine. Even if your old man never took you on a cross-country road trip and even if your old man never forgot to untie the dog from the bumper, the journey is molded from familiarity both good and bad.
Hughes’ script is one of his best and undoubtedly his sharpest, up there with FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986) and PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987). But VACATION wouldn’t be half as funny without its cast. Hall and Bannon bicker like they’ve been sharing a room for a dozen years; Quaid and Flynn play dense to perfection; Chase and D’Angelo have a great chemistry that lasted through even the weakest VACATION entries.
But it’s Chase behind the wheel, and this is a stellar display for the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alum, who has made a lifelong career out of playing lovable smartasses. Clark W. Griswold is the Chevy Chase character: eager to please, determined to seduce, intent on triumph, hell-bent on laughs, capable of pratfall at any second.
VACATION BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with VC-1 codec. For this 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, Warner Home Video has used the same transfer featured on the initial 2010 disc. While the transfer itself is fine for an ‘80s comedy (with accurate colors/tones and decent details in daytime sequences), it’s a bit disappointing that the studio opted not to clean up the video presentation further.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0; Spanish Dolby Digital. Subtitles in English, French and Spanish. The audio transfer is also the same one found on the 2010 Blu-ray, with clean dialogue and a lively soundtrack (notably Lindsay Buckingham’s “Holiday Road”).
Commentary by Harold Ramis, Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, and Matty Simmons: This track, which dates back to 2003, is dominated by Ramis (apparently recorded separately) and features a lot of information found in the below documentary, but is still worth skipping around to hear the rest of the participants reminisce about the production.
Inside Story: NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION (1:24:49): This feature-length special that aired on A&E in 2011 offers an entertaining and thorough look at the making and legacy of VACATION, touching on any aspect fans would want to know about, including the origins, shoot and release. Interviewees include cast/crew members both major (Ramis, Chase, D’Angelo) and minor (Eugene Levy, Jane Krakowski, stunt coordinator Richard Ziker).
Introduction by Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid and Matty Simmons (0:44): The trio introduce VACATION on the occasion of its 20th anniversary.