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National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/3/2009

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/19/2009

Why do we take such ownership of movies to which we have no connection? We didn't make the movie, we didn't finance the movie, but we will defend its honor to all comers. Why? Why do certain movies create such passion? Why do we feel a sense of victory if a once vilified film suddenly finds an audience? Thatís the cast with National Lampoonís Christmas Vacation. I can still clearly remember seeing this movie twice in the theater the week that it opened and having a ball. But, many claim that only the original Vacation film is worth watching. Somehow, Christmas Vacation has grown in popularity over the years and some now see it as a minor holiday classic. And my response to that is, ďHow could they not?Ē

Christmas Vacation reunites viewers with Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly DíAngelo) Griswold, and we see that not much has changed, save for the actors playing their children -- this time Juliette Lewis plays Audrey and Johnny Galecki plays Rusty. (Having different actors play the kids would become a running joke in the series.) In the first two Vacation films, we watched the Griswolds attempt to go on trips, but this time, they are staying home for the holidays. Clark is determined to create the best light-show ever and heís also waiting for his Christmas bonus, as he wants to surprise his family with his plans to put in a swimming pool. The in-laws (Doris Roberts, Diane Ladd, John Randolph, and E.G. Marshall) arrive and everyone attempts to settle in for a pleasant, although hectic family Christmas. Then, much to Clarkís surprise, Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and Ellenís sister, Catherine (Miriam Flynn), show up unexpectedly. Will Clark be able to have the perfect family Christmas which heíd envisioned with all of this lunacy in the house?

As with the first two films in the Vacation series, Christmas Vacation doesnít really has a story, as much as it has a simple plot -- The Griswolds are having their relatives over for Christmas -- thatís about it. Instead of getting in intricate story, we get vignettes showing the various mis-adventures of Clark and the family as they try to enjoy the holidays. From getting a Christmas tree to decorating the house to shopping to the family dinner, many familiar traditions are covered here. And this is one of the filmís strengths -- the fact that many scenes will look familiar to the audience. Even if youíve never experience them personally, they will probably look familiar. (For example, every neighborhood has that one house that puts out way too many decorations at Christmas.)

But, the movie isnít a slice of life movie, and nor does it want to be. It takes these familiar situations and takes them down a path of ďWhatís the worst that could happen?Ē And with fires, wild animals, and S.W.A.T. teams involved, we learn that answer to that question. Christmas Vacation reels us in with the familiar, both The Griswolds and holiday traditions, and then blows everything out of proportion. The result is a consistently funny movie. The humor here is never high-brow or abundantly clever (after all, this is a Chevy Chase film from the 80s, so you know that people are going to be falling down), but the movie is funny. Much of the humor comes from Cousin Eddie, who always steals the show in the Vacation films. Looking back, I honestly donít think that I knew that he was in Christmas Vacation, and it was a delightful surprise when he appeared on-screen. His oblivious redneck shenanigans have never been funnier than they are here, and he provides the most memorable moments in the film. (I canít see a rusty RV and not think, ďS***terís full!Ē.)

Of course, Christmas Vacation isnít perfect, but it certainly gets the job done. A sub-plot concerning The Griswoldís yuppy neighbors (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest) wasnít funny when the film first came out and it really feels dated today. And, obviously, many of the joke are cheap and very telegraphed. However, none of that detracts from the moments which work and the funny scenes here are excellent. Looking at the film 20 years later, itís nice to see how much of it still holds up and itís really shocking to see young Johnny Galecki as Rusty!

Christmas Vacation has a lot of sap on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The Blu-ray contained in this new collectorís set is that exact same disc which was previously released on December 5, 2006. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 18 Mbps. The quality of the image varies throughout the film. Some shots are very grainy and muddy, while some look OK. A mild sheen of grain is visible on most every shot, but itís dominant on some. The image is also quite dark at times. Overall, the colors look good and arenít washed out. This is only a minor improvement over DVD. The Disc carries a Dolby Digital 2ch audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constnat 192 kbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The audio fares much better than the video here, but this is still a pretty basic track. The stereo effects are good and the music sounds fine, but this isnít a very lively track and in the end, it does little to enhance the viewing experience.

The Christmas Vacation Blu-ray Disc contains only two extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY which features Director Jeremiah Chechik, Producer Matty Simmons, and actors Randy Quaid, Beverly D'Angelo, Johnny Galecki, and Miriam Flynn. This is certainly an interesting commentary, as it's very conversational. This was recorded in the early 90s, and the speakers reminisce about their work on the film. D'Angelo talks about her hair, while Quaid never seems to know what is happening. Despite the train-wreck quality happening here, a few nuggets of information do come through at times. The other extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film. The 20th Anniversary Collectorís Edition comes housed in a tin which contains a Santa hat, a set of four coasters, instant snow (?), a button, and a miniature Marty Moose mug.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long