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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: National Lampoon's Vacation



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#1 of 25 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted August 05 2010 - 03:19 PM

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National Lampoon's Vacation
Release Date: August 10, 2010
Studio: Warner Brothers
Packaging/Materials: Single-disc Blu-ray "ECO-BOX"
Year: 1983
Rating: R
Running Time: 1:38:00
MSRP: $24.98

  THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1 Standard definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 1.0 / Dolby Digital: French 1.0, Spanish 1.0, German 1.0 Mono
Subtitles English SDH, French, German SDH, Spanish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish N/A

The Feature: 4/5
With a new avocado green station wagon, a map of the United States, and lust for the open road, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is poised to transport his family across the country to Wally World, "America's Favorite Family Fun Park." Though wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), son Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and daughter Audrey (Dana Barron) don't quite share in his enthusiasm, they also won't be dying of boredom over the days-long journey. Faced with everything from losing all their cash to an unexpected detour through the desert, it will take all of Clark's good-natured determination to get them to their Los Angeles destination. Though he'll ultimately prove successful, actually getting into Wally World will require a different attitude altogether.

Compared to today's risqué, "R-rated" comedies, "National Lampoon's Vacation" - with its optimistic, bumbling protagonist and family bonding theme - comes off as downright sweet. Though perhaps not as innocent as "A Christmas Story," which came out the same year, it bears a similar through line that winds up celebrating the family at the same time that it details its woes. And though its misadventure-driven plot is effective in mining the laughs, the more critical will note the tenuous narrative structure that makes the movie feel more like a series of vignettes or sketches rather than a cohesive piece. However the sheer memorability of each scene overshadows any faults around how they're connected, making the film not unlike the recollections of our own family trips - fondly, if not always accurately, remembered.

Video Quality: 4.5/5

Presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec, the transfer approximates the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 frame. Though much of the film takes place outdoors or in brightly lit environments, black levels appear consistently stable and solid. Contrast tends to be a little limited in the darkest scenes - particularly with shadow delineation and detail - but displays an accurate range of values overall. Colors are muted - as many films were during that time - but retain a good sense of depth and stability. There are a few moments of softness - I believe source-related - but overall sharpness is quite good, with healthy, visible grain structure indicating no overuse of noise reduction or other digital enhancement measures.
  Audio Quality: 3/5
The 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is as simple as they come, but dialogue is consistently clear and intelligible and the music sequences exhibit very good detail and dynamic range. A high-pitched metallic squeaking during many of the car scenes is a bit too realistic, but it does demonstrate the track's high frequency reproduction capabilities.

Special Features: 1/5
Though not every extra from the 20th anniversary DVD made it over, the most substantial of them did, though the theatrical trailer is strangely absent. It makes for a slim set of features for such a popular film.

Introduction by Producer Matty Simmons, Randy Quaid, and Chevy Chase (:44): The three spend a few seconds goofing their way through an intro to what was then the film's 20th anniversary.

Griswold Family Commentary by Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, Director Harold Ramis and Producer Matty Simmons: As described by former HTF reviewer Herb Kane in his DVD review, "Ramis takes the lead here and takes us on a detailed tour of the movie discussing why certain scenes were shot in the manner they were. Discussed is the infamous ghetto scene in St. Louis, working with Eugene Levy and John Candy. Personally, I found this to be the most (only…?) interesting special feature."

Recap
The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 3/5
Special Features: 1/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5

Warner Brothers turns in an excellent video presentation and an effective audio presentation for one of the '80s most memorable comedies. A meager special features package doesn't do the film justice, but I doubt it will stop most fans from making the purchase. Those who already have the DVD might find it hard to justify a double-dip, but the quality of the video should provide enough incentive given the right price point.


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#2 of 25 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted August 05 2010 - 04:46 PM

1/5 for a movie with a commentary?  I don't get that.  1/5 seems like a score for a movie with a trailer and nothing else...


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#3 of 25 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted August 05 2010 - 05:37 PM

With some of the terms you use to describe the commentary in your own review of the title ("pretty flat and uninformative," "fans seem destined to become disappointed with this weak commentary"), I'm surprised you gave the Special Features something as high as a "C." Which perhaps just goes to show, yet again, that quantitative grades or scores aren't always the best reflection of qualitative statements.


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#4 of 25 OFFLINE   Scott Merryfield

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Posted August 05 2010 - 11:51 PM

Thanks for the review, Cameron. I am glad to read that the video transfer is decent. Hopefully European Vacation is the same quality.



#5 of 25 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted August 06 2010 - 02:33 AM



Originally Posted by Cameron Yee 

With some of the terms you use to describe the commentary in your own review of the title ("pretty flat and uninformative," "fans seem destined to become disappointed with this weak commentary"), I'm surprised you gave the Special Features something as high as a "C." Which perhaps just goes to show, yet again, that quantitative grades or scores aren't always the best reflection of qualitative statements.


No, they're not, but your review - quoting a prior reviewer - gives the commentary some praise.


I reserve "D"-level extras grades for discs that barely make an attempt: ones that include only some trailers or a couple of short promotional featurettes.  If a disc throws in a commentary, even if it's not very good, the disc will get "C"-level consideration; for me to give a "D" to a disc with a commentary would mean that the commentary is thoroughly awful.


The "Vacation" commentary does disappoint, but it's not a total disaster.  You ignored these quotes from my review:


"Occasionally, some decent notes do emerge. The best components relate changes from the script. We also learn of the flick’s original ending, and Ramis tells us why they re-shot it. A few nice anecdotes pop up along the way as well."


And that's enough for a "C" grade for extras.  I still can't figure out how a disc with a commentary your review describes as being pretty good gets only a 1/5 - that's essentially a "D-" or an "F"!


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#6 of 25 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted August 06 2010 - 02:48 AM

You make some good points. I probably penalized it too much for leaving off the theatrical trailer (which I admit I tend to appreciate more than commentaries in general), but I don't think it should go higher than a 2/5 for the Special Features given the absence of the trailer and the fact that there are no other items besides the throwaway intro and the commentary.


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#7 of 25 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted August 06 2010 - 03:36 AM

Thanks for the review Cameron.  I second Scott's comments about the video transfer.  I'll be replacing my DVD version with this.  Fingers crossed that European Vacation gets the same marks when you review it.



#8 of 25 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted August 06 2010 - 11:30 AM



Originally Posted by Cameron Yee 

You make some good points. I probably penalized it too much for leaving off the theatrical trailer (which I admit I tend to appreciate more than commentaries in general), but I don't think it should go higher than a 2/5 for the Special Features given the absence of the trailer and the fact that there are no other items besides the throwaway intro and the commentary.



I'm surprised you give so much weight to a trailer, as I regard that as a really minor extra.  Audio commentary = long chat about the movie's creation, while trailer = 2-minute ad.  I view commentaries as infinitely more valuable than trailers, but to each his own! /img/vbsmilies/htf/smile.gif


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#9 of 25 OFFLINE   Timothy E

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Posted August 06 2010 - 11:56 AM

I agree with Cameron that trailers for the film should be included as special features.  I also agree with Colin that a good commentary has more value than a trailer, and a commentary certainly takes more effort to produce than the inclusion of a trailer.
Since inclusion of the film trailer takes such minimal effort for the studio, however, there seems little excuse for failing to include the trailer(s).



#10 of 25 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted August 06 2010 - 12:17 PM

Van Ling actually provided some interesting info about the complicated rights to include trailers in one of his threads in the Insiders area. I believe this was for new releases though, not catalog.


I value trailers because they are one of a film's major promotional artifacts, a moving movie poster if you will. Considering the interest around collecting movie posters, I wouldn't be surprised if there are people who are just as enthusiastic about trailers. They say a lot about how a film was promoted at the time, including the audience targeted and the period's cultural climate. Considering that and the apparent simplicity of including it (at least in catalog titles), it is hard to understand its absence.


I recognize the effort involved in putting together a commentary, but I often don't find them particularly efficient and would prefer either the scene-specific approach used in titles like "Insomnia" or just putting that time and effort into a featurette, which often gets as much across in far less time.

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#11 of 25 OFFLINE   Mr. Pacino

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Posted August 06 2010 - 08:11 PM

Cameron,

another website mentioned German as a language. Can you confirm this?



#12 of 25 OFFLINE   Christian Preischl

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Posted August 06 2010 - 08:53 PM

It's not mentioned on the cover, but German is definitely present on the disc (I have it). When it comes to incomplete (or wrong) info on the cover, Warner certainly are the worst offenders.



#13 of 25 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted August 07 2010 - 01:58 AM



Originally Posted by Christian Preischl 

It's not mentioned on the cover, but German is definitely present on the disc (I have it). When it comes to incomplete (or wrong) info on the cover, Warner certainly are the worst offenders.


Yup.  I never trust the covers anyway.  When I write up the specs in my reviews, I'll start with what it says on the cover, but I always check audio and subtitle options on the disc itself.


And I add info about subtitles for the SUPPLEMENTS, too.  Why?  Just because I'm awesome! /img/vbsmilies/htf/laugh.gif


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#14 of 25 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted August 07 2010 - 02:02 AM



Originally Posted by Cameron Yee 

Van Ling actually provided some interesting info about the complicated rights to include trailers in one of his threads in the Insiders area. I believe this was for new releases though, not catalog.


I value trailers because they are one of a film's major promotional artifacts, a moving movie poster if you will. Considering the interest around collecting movie posters, I wouldn't be surprised if there are people who are just as enthusiastic about trailers. They say a lot about how a film was promoted at the time, including the audience targeted and the period's cultural climate. Considering that and the apparent simplicity of including it (at least in catalog titles), it is hard to understand its absence.


It's perplexing when a DVD includes a trailer and a subsequent DVD or BD doesn't, but it might be a rights thing.


I do think all DVDs/BDs should include the requisite trailers, and I know a lot of people like them, but I'll always regard them as a basic/token extra.  It takes little effort to include a trailer, and personally, I find most of them to be pretty boring.  There are some great ones out there that are fun to watch, but most are forgettable.


Like I said, I think they should appear, but they're way down on my personal list of preferences.  Commentaries are by far #1 for me, and good documentaries are #2.  Deleted scenes, featurettes, outtakes - those are all more interesting than trailers to me.


I'd view gag reels and music videos - well, most music videos - as beneath trailers...


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#15 of 25 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted August 07 2010 - 02:25 AM

This is true on both counts. It's one of those things I have a recurring habit of forgetting to verify, but this should get me to remember better in the future. :)

Originally Posted by Christian Preischl 

It's not mentioned on the cover, but German is definitely present on the disc (I have it). When it comes to incomplete (or wrong) info on the cover, Warner certainly are the worst offenders.




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#16 of 25 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted August 07 2010 - 03:39 AM

Sounds like I may have had the scenarios reversed. The way I read the info, it seems like new releases - not catalog - would stand to have a better chance of including the trailer since current cast contracts would include special features as a consideration.


http://www.hometheat...40#post_3633094


Scroll up to Post #565 if the screen jumps down to the bottom.


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#17 of 25 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted August 07 2010 - 06:24 AM

Might just be my favorite comedy of all time. There are many great ones but the original Vacation is just genius at every turn. Can't wait for Tuesday! Great review.


#18 of 25 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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Posted August 10 2010 - 06:42 AM

I'm surprised that nobody's mentioned the replacement of one of the most epic, iconic movie poster images of all time with utterly run-of-the-mill new cover artwork.  :(


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#19 of 25 OFFLINE   Powell&Pressburger

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Posted August 10 2010 - 08:33 AM



Originally Posted by Aaron Silverman 

I'm surprised that nobody's mentioned the replacement of one of the most epic, iconic movie poster images of all time with utterly run-of-the-mill new cover artwork.  :(



Oh we've all noticed it. It is usually a main topic over at blu-ray.com. I can't believe they had to change the cover art for this and European Vacation. It is one of the worst switchovers ever! the Font can't even be beat on the original poster artwork. I myself would have rather paid more money to the original artist than be stuck with what we have now.


Someone posted replacement inserts on some sites that are much better.


Stop the Replacing of original Studio Opening / Closing logos! They are part of film history.

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#20 of 25 OFFLINE   Powell&Pressburger

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Posted August 10 2010 - 11:59 AM

Looks like WB's replaced the WB logo preceding Vacation. That new logo doesn't work. I wish I could fire and send whoever makes that decision to replace the logo's and send them out the door. They obviously don't appreciate nostalgia of their films.

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