|National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 07 October 2003|
Christmas time finds us with the Griswold family, our favorite dysfunctional slice of Americana. We begin as Clark (Chevy Chase) and the rest of the family (Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki) head out into the snowy Illinois woods to find the Griswold family tree. After a dangerous game of road rage with a pair of rednecks and a bone-chilling trek through the forest, they find it. The tree leads to a number of gags that basically serve to reiterate the fact that Clark always overdoes it or doesn’t think things through in his zeal to make his family suck the marrow out of life. For example, he forgets to bring a saw to cut down the tree, so he somehow manages to pull it out of the ground by the roots. Many of these tree gags are not really that funny in and of themselves and any related humor is achieved through performance.
Clark also has an ongoing battle stemming from his desire to have the greatest holiday light show on Earth, though for the longest time he can’t get them to work. When he finally gets them to work, much to the chagrin of the neighbors, Clark’s reverie is broken by the unexpected arrival of brother-in-law Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his family. Clark’s frustrations mount with the continued tardiness of his bonus and the callous nature of his nasty boss (played with enjoyment by Lampoon fixture Brian Doyle Murray).
After some more mishaps and misadventures, Clark finally receives his bonus, which is not what he had hoped for, loses his cool and yells at the entire family. Matters are made even worse by a renegade squirrel and Eddie’s dog, who tear through the house. But like all “Vacation” movies, everything works out in the end and family love and togetherness triumph.
Chase, D’Angelo and Quaid are great as always, but the script by John Hughes is pretty flat, as is the direction by Jeremiah Chechik. A lot of the gags just don’t pay off and were it not for Chase and Quaid, there would be few laughs. There are some sweet moments in the film, since it is a holiday movie, and these are well done, but too often the physical gags aren’t set up properly, which seems to be the main problem here. I don’t buy some of the humor, like the part where everyone is deathly afraid of a squirrel. Most people think squirrels are cute and I’m not aware of any information that would indicate that they are perilously dangerous. What hurts the most is the lack of various locales and situations, which is a defining characteristic of the first two “Vacation” movies and which adds many potentially funny situations. We get stuck for too long in and around the house here and it suffers because of that.
In terms of quality, the transfer is fair. “Christmas Vacation” is a 14-year-old film and there is nothing really noticeably egregious about the transfer, but it looks slightly dated and a tad faded. There aren’t any noticeable flaws or dust anywhere and, considering that it’s a comedy, all things being equal, it was never meant to look spectacular. The sound is only available in stereo, though it has been put through the Dolby Digital process and therefore, while not extraordinarily lively, still sounds clean.
The only special feature to speak of is the audio commentary, which is sparse at best, though it does contain some funny moments. This was director Chechik’s first feature film and he relates some of the difficulties and pleasures he encountered while making it. Quaid and D’Angelo are the best commentators, and longtime Lampoon producer Matty Simmons pipes in occasionally with some very amusing anecdotes and personal self-deprecations. There are a few long stretches where no one says anything and, for the most part, the commentary is amusing rather than particularly informative, which is fine, since the production didn’t seem to have anything particularly challenging about it.
There is one theatrical trailer and a section that on the menu claims to be cast and crew, but when you click on it all you get are a listing of about 10 cast members and who they play, with no additional information, as if the viewer couldn’t simply look at the end credits. When I see cast and crew info on a DVD menu, I expect at least some small biographies and other work they’ve done, but there is nothing else here. No wonder they don’t list this “Special Feature” on the DVD cover.
What I find slightly disingenuous is that this is touted as the “Special Edition,” but there’s nothing particularly special about it. Fans of “Christmas Vacation” will undoubtedly want this collection, but considering that this movie has been on NBC every year since 1991, people may as well save their money and record it off of TV. The transfer doesn’t blow one away and, besides the intermittent audio commentary and the trailer, there are no additions that are particularly exciting or noteworthy.