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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)

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#1 of 12 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted October 17 2003 - 11:11 AM

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National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Special Edition

Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1989
Rated: PG-13
Film Length: 97 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Enhanced Widescreen
Audio: DD Surround
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $19.98
Package: Snap Case

The Feature:
Much to the delight of the numerous Vacation Series fans, Warner Brothers has finally released a Special Edition Widescreen version of one of my favorite comedy classics, Christmas Vacation. Notice, absent from my description of comedy classics is the word “Christmas”. Sure, this is a Christmas classic, but I could watch this in Hawaii in mid July and laugh every bit as much as I would here in the great white north a week before Christmas.

Admittedly, I succumbed to the pressure of buying the fullscreen only edition back when it was initially released and I’ve been looking forward to this inevitable release for a long time. When comparing the previous fullscreen version to the new SE, the back of the boxes are totally different, the front covers however, are rather similar in that the newer version has a red border around the outside outlined with a string of Christmas lights and the words SPECIAL EDITION are printed at the very top of the box.

Brilliantly written (and produced) by John Hughes, Christmas Vacation features Clark Griswold (starring Chevy Chase) and the entire clan back to enjoy the Christmas festivities as only Clark could host. The movie starts with the family on their traditional search of a Christmas tree, finally locates one (suitable for Rockefeller Square) only after having engaged two other hillbillies in a bout of road rage. After the tree is dug (roots and all) and lightly trimmed, Clark sets out to decorate the Griswold home and install 25000 Christmas lights.

Of course, cousin Eddie and his family show up in the “R.V.” as does Uncle Lewis (played by the late William Hickey) and Aunt Bethany (played by the late Mae Questel… who was the longtime voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl from the 1930’s to the late 50’s). After Eddie shows up, the season is about to take a turn for the worst. Events include, but are certainly not limited to the turkey exploding, the family cat being electrocuted, the Christmas tree going up in a flash fire and a squirrel that terrorizes the entire gang…

Clark, thinking he is about to receive a generous Christmas bonus to pay for an in-ground swimming pool, winds up getting a one year membership to the jelly of the month club. As a result, Clark’s boss (played by Brian Doyle-Murray, brother of Bill Murray) is abducted by Eddie and returned to the Griswold home where he has to answer to the Christmas bonus cutbacks. Eventually, the S.W.A.T. team is called in to bring closure to this whacky family gathering.

Unlike the other three movies in the quadrilogy this isn’t necessarily a Vacation travel movie, it’s a family gathering that all of us can relate to. Rarely, a minute goes by where there isn’t another slapstick scene which serves to keep us laughing for the entire movie. And, as nobody but John Hughes does so effectively, while we laugh at 99% of the movie, there’s that 1% that seems to hit home on a somewhat solemn level which just makes us think.

Mele Kalikimaka, folks…!

After a brief comparison with the original fullscreen version, the new version seems significantly more improved. While the image is for the most part clear, it does show somewhat soft at times. The original version is somewhat similar so one can only assume its not transfer related. The black levels are adequate as is contrast level. Colors (while they looked muted during the opening few scenes – similar to the original version), looked accurate as did skin tone.

Film grain was at a minimum as was the amount of film dirt. I detected only a slight amount of light speckle and edge enhancement seemed to be virtually non existent.

Surely not a transfer that is even close to reference, but vastly improved over the original version and one that I’m sure will leave fans of the movie pleased.

I found the DD Surround track to be equally impressive. The movie features lots of music which is delivered richly and certainly fills the up front soundstage. Dialogue was clear, however, I found it to be mixed too low making it somewhat difficult to hear during some of the action and music sequences. The track’s dynamic level was better than average.

The use of surrounds was adequate although they could have been employed to a greater extent.

A DD Surround soundtrack that is better than average...

Special Features:
The first special feature is a Commentary that runs the full length of the movie voiced over by Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Matty Simmons, Johnny Galecki, Miriam Flynn and Jeremiah Chechik. There is a fair amount of dead time and as you might imagine, gets serious only occasionally. It is mildly informative and to be honest, I found Beverly D’Angelo particularly annoying occasionally. Duration: 97 Minutes.

Next up is a two page text listing for the Cast & Crew.

Finally, the Theatrical Trailer is included. Duration: 2.24 Minutes.

Final Thoughts:
The Vacation franchise has brought four great films to us over the past twenty years… however, in my opinion, none of which are as fast paced, brilliantly written and entertaining as Christmas Vacation. This succeeds as one of the best comedies ever brought to us on the big screen – period.

Combine the entertainment of this movie with a few decent extras and an A/V presentation that is vastly improved, and your decision to purchase should be an easy one. Highly Recommended…!!!

Released: October 7th, 2003
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 12 OFFLINE   Rik P

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Posted October 17 2003 - 11:16 AM

"Released: October 7th, 2003"

Dang, i forgot this was out. My wallet is getting thin here latley how about yall.Posted Image

#3 of 12 OFFLINE   Andrew Radke

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Posted October 17 2003 - 11:49 AM

Thanks very much for the review! Excellent job. I've been looking forward to this release for the longest time. I've yet to pick it up, but needless to say, I'll have the Ultimate Vacation Giftset within the next week or two. Out of all the comedies I've seen over the years, this is the one I've watched the most times, and I never even remotely get tired of it. To finally see it in its OAR for the first time will be a real treat as well.
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#4 of 12 OFFLINE   WillG



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Posted October 17 2003 - 12:23 PM

[quote] Unlike the other three movies in the quadrilogy [quote]

I love it how the upcoming Alien Boxset has made "quadrilogy" a household term around here
STOP HIM! He's supposed to die!

#5 of 12 OFFLINE   Travis Hedger

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Posted October 17 2003 - 01:19 PM

/me adds another one to the list of must buys. Why isn't Chevy in the commentary? Weird, he was in the regular Vacation commentary wasn't he?
HD DVD? Check! Blu Ray? Check! High Definition Satelite? Check! HD Gaming systems? Check! 100% High Definition across the board!

#6 of 12 OFFLINE   Adam_WM



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Posted October 17 2003 - 02:46 PM

So, the video quality is ok? ANother review I read said that it was the same transfer as the old DVD release. Basically, it still sucked.


#7 of 12 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted October 17 2003 - 03:57 PM

[quote] ANother review I read said that it was the same transfer as the old DVD release. Basically, it still sucked. [quote]
The old DVD is fullscreen and the new one is 16x9. Not the same transfer.

#8 of 12 OFFLINE   Paul Anthony

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Posted October 19 2003 - 05:03 AM

Thanks Herb for your informative review on "Christmas Vacation", I'll be ordering the boxset momentarily. Posted Image

#9 of 12 OFFLINE   Casey Trowbridg

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Posted October 19 2003 - 02:46 PM

I might have to pick this up soon. I'll be happy when October and November are over, so my wallet gets a break. Great review!

#10 of 12 OFFLINE   Greg_C_T


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Posted October 20 2003 - 02:35 AM

This movie is a post-Thanksgiving tradition for my friend and me. I held off on buying the original DVD release, but just bought this one. Thank you WB for releasing it OAR, and great review, Herb!

#11 of 12 OFFLINE   johnathan


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Posted October 30 2003 - 03:24 PM

Just watched the disk tonight. I have to say the transfer looks twice as good as the old one to me. Great colors and decent sharpness in most of the scenes ! A very enjoyable viewing experiance ! Thanks for the great review ! Johnathan
See my updated setup in the galleries section. Johnathan's Theater

#12 of 12 OFFLINE   kehi



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Posted December 15 2003 - 05:45 PM

This is a great classic, get ya in teh Christmas spirit Posted Image

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