|National Lampoon's Vacation|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 19 August 2003|
Based on a John Hughes short story which ran in the famous National Lampoon magazine, "Vacation" follows the Griswold family (Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, with Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron originating the roles of Rusty and Audrey, and the late great Imogene Coca as Aunt Edna) as they drive from Chicago to the happiest place on Earth -- Wally World. From the very first scene--where SCTV alum Eugene Levy sells Clark (Chase) the wrong car; a station wagon that couldn't have more wood panelling if it were built out of your Irish-American grandfather's den -- everything that can go wrong does, to hilarious effect.
Spawning three sequels -- one funny ("Christmas Vacation"), two less so ("European Vacation", "Vegas Vacation") -- the first is arguably the best, due in large part to the fact that everyone who has ever taken a road trip with their family can relate to Clark's genuine desire to give his family everything on this vacation that he can't give them during the year, and failing miserably. A classic farce, Director Harold Ramis understands that this sort of comedy works best when played completely straight, and from start to finish, the film provides laughs aplenty. Particularly cringe-worthy (and not a scene which will endear the film to any pet owner, let alone animal activist) is the sequence where the family is stopped by a State Trooper after a night of camping because Clark had tied Aunt Edna's dog to the rear bumper and then completely forgotten about him. A subplot involving a young Christie Brinkley as a young woman in a Ferrari seducing family-man Clark is pure male-fantasy, and may cause ladies in the audience to roll their eyes, but it does provide laughs in the bleaker second half of the film.
This new edition provides a brand new, remastered transfer which is crisp and clean, although the color palette still seems slightly washed out at times, too red and yellow at others. However, it is still miles ahead of any version you might have seen previously--on video, DVD, or television, if not spectacular. The Wally World sequence stands out, with the cartoon palette of the theme park saturated and vibrant, as is the Monument Valley sequence, with the mountains immortalized by John Ford westerns rendered in subtle shades of pink and red. However, the film does at times show its age, even if the print is clean and defect-free.
The film's mono track is decent, but nothing to write home about. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand, and never overpowered by the film's soundtrack. However, due to the dialogue-heavy mix, it's not clear whether the film would really benefit from the full 5.1 treatment. Still, given the fact that this is a special edition, it would have been nice to see more of an effort put into the "special" features.
Likewise, in terms of supplemental features, one would have hoped a 20th Anniversary Special Edition might have included more special material. The new intro is lackluster and skippable --Chase, Randy Quaid and producer Matty Simmons basically thank you for purchasing the new disc -- and the "Family Truckster" feature is in effect a "clip show," as you use your remote control to click on various parts of the station wagon, and as a result are treated to clips from the film relating to each character.
The best extra on the disc is easily the group commentary track, dominated by Ramis and Chase (D'Angelo is oft-mentioned, but somewhat conspicuously absent). While some of the track is given over to nostalgia, it provides excellent anecdotes about filming, as well as the evolution of the script. Although Ramis discusses the original ending (which was much darker than the one finally used, which features an hilarious comic turn by the late John Candy as a Wally World security guard), the "alternate ending" is not included anywhere on the disc, a fact which will no doubt disappoint fans of the series. While the lack of deleted scenes is disappointing, the disc stands well on its own and will be a welcome addition to the home film library of Chevy Chase fans, as well as fans of Ramis’ other comedies ("Stripes," "Meatballs," "Groundhog Day," etc.).