National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation Review
Chevy Chase returns in the Griswold family’s third (mis)adventure, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Deciding to stay home at Christmas, Clark (Chase) and his family (Beverly D’Angelo returns as wife Ellen, while the kids are this time Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki, as Audrey and Rusty) invite the parents and grandparents to celebrate the occasion, but as always not everything goes to plan, and things quickly begin to spiral out of control. Nice-but-dim Uncle Eddie’s arrival doesn’t help things, the ‘had it up to here’ neighbours are getting itchy trigger fingers, Clark’s boss is stalling on the much-needed bonus cheque, there’s something living in the Christmas tree, and the septic tank is ready to explode. Suffice to say, things aren’t turning out to be ‘a good old fashioned family Christmas’.
This film was made just before Chevy Chase started looking very bored in all his films, and is cited by many as the best of the ‘Vacation’ films - a summation I wouldn’t altogether disagree with, though I’ll always have a soft-spot for the original. Like the first two films (Vacation and European Vacation), John Hughes (famed for the likes of The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty In Pink, and Weird Science) writes while another directs – the first two film’s directors Harold Ramis and Amy Heckerling have become household names, so it’s a little surprising Christmas’ man at the helm went on to make such dirge as The Avengers. Nevertheless, director Jeremiah Chechik doesn’t show many frailties here, stringing together the episodic, sketch-like narrative not allowing much time for the film to get bogged down, though he perhaps hits the ‘sentimentality’ button one too many times.
Christmas Vacation is probably so well-liked because it captures the spirit of the festive period, and this is almost entirely down to the writing of John Hughes. He’s proven time and time again that familial values, growing-up and the little things in life, are what he’s good at pointing his magnifying glass at, and while this particular film is more lightweight than some of his work, all these things are prevalent during the period where Santa starts oiling up the sleigh, and fattening up the reindeer. It’s a film easy to enjoy, and even easier to relate to, whether it’s problems with the Christmas tree, Grandparents arriving but not being altogether there, the decorations, the gifts, the turkey, Hughes effortlessly encapsulates the magic of the period, and does it with sugar-coated glee.
Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo still have that little spark between them that makes their on-screen marriage such a joyful comedic partnership, but it’s Chase who has most of the work here. He gets able assistance from the ever-watchable Randy Quaid as Uncle Eddie, and the grandparents offer some comedy gems but Chase gets all the best stuff including not being able to find his words when dealing with a beautiful, large breasted, female shop assistant – ‘…it wouldn’t be the Christmas shopping season if the stores were any less hooter…’, quickly corrects himself, ‘hotter than they are.’ His failed attempts to get the Christmas lights to work and his hilarious bewilderment when he first realises Eddie has turned up, really hit the funny bone, but it’s the dry as a bone delivery of the line: ‘Bend over and I’ll show you!’ in response to his neighbour’s question, ‘Where are you going to put a tree that big?’ that stands out. His neighbour, standing next to his girlfriend says, ‘You’ve got a lot of nerve talking to me like that!’ to which Clark replies, ‘I didn’t mean you!’
Full of funny moments and one-liners, and sporting good performances from the main roles, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation should warm the coldest heart, and is the perfect film to watch during the holiday period.
The picture is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1, and is the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio. The image is clear, showing a good deal of detail and sharpness. Colours are a little bland, but skin tones are natural, and the print is free from any noticeable age defects though some specks of dirt can be seen now and again on very close inspection.
The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0, and does a perfectly acceptable job. Dialogue is clear and there is good separation between the speakers. Listening in Dolby Pro-Logic 2, for instance, does help to add some spatial ambience to the film, but having a little activity in the rear speakers doesn’t make it any better than watching it with just two channels.
Audio Commentary featuring the director and prodcuer with actors Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Miriam Flynn and Johnny Galecki - Perhaps the best thing about this track is that it doesn’t feature Chevy Chase who hardly graced the commentary tracks on the first two film’s region 1 DVD releases. Without him then, the people involved here provide an entertaining commentary that does sound a lot like a group of friends reunited. There’s a lot of what I’d describe as throwaway detail, that really doesn’t mean much to the viewer but clearly has some substance between the speakers, but nevertheless, there’s plenty of anecdotes and some interesting incites from the director.
Theatrical Trailer - An entertaining trailer that sells the film particularly well.
Finally, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation gets a widescreen release, which is perhaps more important than anything else, with so many people wanting this film available in its original aspect ratio. Apart from that there isn’t much to shout about, though the commentary is pretty good.
For ‘feel-good’ Christmas cheer – look no further.