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4K Ultra HD Review: National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
I love Chevy Chase and you can't stop me.
Do you remember the first time you saw National Lampoon's Vacation? I do - my cousin brought the bare-chested and muscled Chevy postered VHS on a beach trip and my family cheered. I was six years old.
But maybe you don't remember - it kind of just feels like a part of the pop culture sphere. The Christmas sequel has been plastered on holiday sweaters and greeting cards. Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road" has become a summer vacation staple. And your own father probably quoted the line, "Why aren't we flying? Because getting there is half the fun," when trying to convince you of his own harebrained road-trip scheme.
The 4K Ultra HD 40th Anniversary release from Warner Bros. both serves as a reminder of the film's longevity - and surprises those, like me, who feel like the film can't possibly age. Bad '80s fashion, station wagons, and an actually funny Chevy Chase aside, it doesn't feel its age. It's timeless - fathers have been stressing (and cracking...and breaking) over vacations since the first cavemen traveled from one part of Pangea to another to see different dinosaurs, and they will continue to do so until the end of time.
Chevy Chase's Clark Griswold is that typical father. Vacations aren't a time for relaxation, they're a time for the maximum amount of fun that can be squeezed into his earned paid time off, ("This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun!") There's no time to actually go inside the St. Louis Arch, just time to drive by it. He'd rather risk killing everyone in a car accident than stop for the night at a hotel, possibly throwing the trip off by a day. There is, however, always time to visit "the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth."
Their destination is Walley World, the Disney World-like theme park, complete with Marty Moose. However, to Clark's dismay, the film is about the journey and not the destination.
Chevy, in one of his greatest roles (one he would perfect in the holiday tale), is the star of the show, but he's surrounded by the very best. Beverly D'Angelo as his wife Ellen is reason enough to buy this film in 4K. Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron are the second best sibling-pairing (that title goes to Christmas' Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki) in a series that recasts the duo in every film. Randy Quaid damn near steals the movie out from under them all as Cousin Eddie (okay, yes - the Christmas movie is better...but he also perfects this character in that film.)
Who could forget Christie Brinkley as The Girl in the Ferrari? Or bit appearances from Eugene Levy, Brian Doyle-Murray, or Imogene Coca as Aunt Edna? How about the fact that it doesn't even need John Candy until the movie's almost over?
That's really what makes the film so memorable, the deep roster of comedians, the endlessly quotable lines, and the non-stop joke machine that is this vacation gone wrong. Some of them have aged better than others (I'm not so sure about the racial jokes or police brutality bits after 40 years - and the dead dog thing really crushes this new dog dad), but regardless, it has all entered our cinematic consciousness.
It stands above so many '80s comedies not only because of its iconography, but because it's become synonymous with all things summertime: family vacations, road trips, summer breaks. Just as its admittedly better successor has become a favorite in many households' holiday rotations, this film has become a summer favorite. One that is endlessly rewatchable. Warner, in celebration of their own Centennial, has dropped this release just in time to be paired with barbecues and family reunions. Maybe you could even bring a copy to the beach house, just like my family did all those years ago.
The film is presented in its proper and original 1.85:1 aspect ratio for the first time, which may or may not be a surprise as the film has seen many a release over the years. Blacks are sharps, the desert landscapes are natural, and bright colors, like the Ferrari, shine.
The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio is clean and clear with no issues. Subtitles are included. And to answer your question, "Little Boy Sweet" accompanies Ms. Brinkley.
There's an old commentary track with director Harold Ramis, actors Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, and Dana Barron, and producer Matty Simmons. You can tell it's old because everyone gets along with Chevy and Randy. It's also been on every Blu-ray release, something that can't be said of any other special feature, as the disc is otherwise bare. Most notably, the 90-minute A&E retrospective Inside Story: National Lampoon's Vacation didn't make the leap, presumably because no Blu-ray accompanies this new 4K disc.
With such a nice release otherwise, it's unfortunate to be without a second disc for special features - especially if it already exists.
Spare me, Clark! I know your brand of family fun. Tomorrow you'll probably kill the desk clerk, hold up a Mcdonald's, and drive us 1,000 miles out of the way to see the world's largest pile of mud!
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