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National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

This holiday season, Warner Bros Home Entertainment is upgrading four of their most treasured Christmas classics to the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format. All of them coming with digital copy codes and the previous extras. The lineup includes National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, The Polar Express and Elf. Each of them was released on November 1st. You can order them by using the paid Amazon Associates links that follow at the bottom of their respective reviews. This particular review is covering the seminal 1989 holiday comedy masterwork, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

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Film

Originally posted on 12/10/2013 as part of the Naptown Nerd Vacation Retrospective.

As the holidays approach, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants to have a perfect family Christmas, so he pesters his wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), and children, as he tries to make sure everything is in line, including the tree and house decorations. However, things go awry quickly. His hick cousin, Eddie (Randy Quaid), and his family show up unplanned and start living in their camper on the Griswold property. Even worse, Clark’s employers renege on the holiday bonus he needs.

If you’ve only seen Christmas Vacation one time in your life or never…I guess I’m a little surprised.  I’m not going to act all ignorant and closed-minded telling you this movie is a family tradition for me since it came out back in 1989, because it is a tradition to watch this one for most families around this time of year (the ones that celebrate Christmas or like holiday movies).   I have this film engrained in my brain.  Its one where seeing these same jokes again are always welcome, comforting and still pretty damn funny.  Every year, the day after the Thanksgiving is usually when my family would pull the movie out to watch it.  And then, its usually pulled out again at Christmas Eve sometimes, too.  My Dad isn’t one for movies (he goes to them, has ones he wants to see/likes, but really doesn’t care all too much past that overall), but there are 2 he loves and watches over and over in his life and its this one and the Harrison Ford version of The Fugitive.  Being the movie fanatic/writer/historian I am, those movies hold a bit more sentimentality to me because its the one instance where my father shares the same kind of love, obsession and enthusiasm for film that I do.

The third entry in the series is much more true to form of what was successful in the first film and truly carries its spirit as well.  John Hughes is the lone writer on this one and you can see the difference.  While aesthetically the film is wildly different, its tone, progression and character are very much in sync with the first film.  And i’ll be frank, this is a comedy series and not some franchise full of artful expression, so when the aesthetic changes its not really “off” its just a product of looking like a film from its era.  The other 2 look closer to 70s films and this one looks more 80s or early 90s.  No harm in any of that, I just thought I’d explain myself for those of you who might not understand or grasp at what I’m reaching for.

The second film thought all the Griswolds needed for their next adventure was purely a vacation with whacksadaisical comedic situations that arise place to place.  It truly forgot about any sense of character or familiarity with the family.  While it works on a merely slapstick and raunchy level, it had forgotten why the comedy worked so much better in the first film.  The first film was about Clark pursuing his right of passage as an adult and father and go on the “perfect” American family trip.  It was all about getting this right and that right.  He wanted everything to go as traditional and old time as could possibly be.  The script then took those modern happenings and turn them on their head for Clark and made a satire of the “Great American Vacation”, adding some outrageous situations mixed with some relate-able ones.

Christmas Vacation works better than just the family taking another trip because 1) we’ve done that already and 2) its another situation and opportunity for Clark to pursue a right of passage.  He wants to finally be that grown up who holds the big Christmas Day festivities and dinner at his house like the “perfect” and traditional American family would.  This allows Hughes to take another old time situation and satirize it and make it real, putting very relate-able humor about family gatherings and such throughout.  You may not celebrate Christmas.  You may not be white.  You may not be middle class.  But I think there’s a strength here in this film’s ability to relate despite not being fully in tune in your life with the family on screen.  There’s something here in the humor that just parodies that of a family gathering and other members of the family and the difficulties and humor that comes with trying to get everyone together for a big event.  (Destroy me in the comment section if I’m way off here, but I’d like to think it works that way).

We go from an R rating here to a PG-13 and I don’t think the film suffers one bit from it.  We might not get an F bomb here and there or the obligatory boobies, but the humor can still be just as crude as its predecessors.  As a matter of fact, Chevy once again gets the top of his game as there are many sequences that he just KILLS in.  Even silly stuff that is obvious, like the department store nervous banter, he makes seem wildly original and enjoyable.  He even is given 2 nemesis in the form of some uppity yuppie neighbors.  Adding Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is ALWAYS a plus.  He’s got a great bit where he’s got a hockey mask and a chainsaw (I’ll always welcome a Friday The 13th reference, thank you very much) and the neighbors asks (about his tree) where he’s going to put that, to which he replies “Bend over and I’ll show ya”.  He says “You’ve got a lot of nerve talking to me like that Griswold” and Clark responds “I wasn’t talking to you” (in reference to the man’s wife).

The side characters here are all pretty funny, and you can almost see members of your own family in almost every one of them.  Or you have some sort of shared experience.  Maybe its more just a midwest thing or whatnot.  I dunno.  Like I said, feel free to share your thoughts below and tell me how wrong I am.  There’s a sort of dark humor and realism going on with a lot of the dialogue and family member relationships and interaction in the film.  There’s a touching moment following Clark’s failure with getting the Christmas lights, after his in-laws mock him that his parents come over and encourage him and you can instantly get a sense of love, family and parenting that Clark had as a kid and where his desire for these perfect, traditional family events comes from.  The good sense of character and such from this movie makes it easy to go along with the more outlandish and over the top moments as well.

How could I discuss side characters without discussing the return of Cousin Eddie!  Randy Quaid truly steals this show the minute he arrives.  If there’s one thing people love from this movie, its Cousin Eddie and rightfully so.  Quaid sells it like its his normal everyday life (shit, in retrsospect…maybe…).  The man has been quoted all to hell from this movie.  And at ugly Christmas sweater parties there’s sure to be at least one person sporting his dickie-fied swagger.  Like I said about this movie either, Eddie feels a natural progression from his character we saw in the very first film.  Also from the first film, this one’s ending is very much a retread of the first one’s original ending that we know about, this time with Eddie holding hostage Clark’s boss.  The film does end in a way that acknowledges this series.  A fresh take an old joke.  Oh, and who the hell doesn’t get a big laugh at “Shitter was full”?

For this round of Griswold kids we have likely the most recognizable of the clan.  Johnny Galecki who would go on to some fame in Roseanne and is now a household name with The Big Bang Theory.  Also Juliette Lewis who had a run with some fame in the 90s.  She’s kind of simmered down here over the last decade, but do you want to tell me what either of the other previous Audreys have done outside of Vacations?  They’ve swapped their age and made Rusty the younger one and its not really bothersome.  I like the decision to make Audrey kind of dumb here.  She’s given much more comedic things to do than the previous films.  In the past 2 she kind of felt like “Meg” from Family Guy.  I think, while utilized slightly less this time around, these 2 iterations of Rusty and Audrey are kind of more memorable in a sense of them being funny characters this time instead of “just the Griswold kids”.

There may not be any “Holiday Road” this time around to jam to, but that’s about the only thing this one doesn’t have when transferring the spirit and life of the original into it.  This movie is a laugh out loud hilarious romp that the humor goes beyond the screen.  Say one of Cousin Eddie or Clark’s memorable lines to somebody and you’re bound to get a laugh or a line back.  You might even find yourself having a full blown discussion of what you like about the movie.  Its pretty layered too, there’s a lot of additional stuff you’ll begin to notice upon multiple viewings.  Its still got some of the slapstick from European Vacation, but it works well into this story’s tone and isn’t eye-rolling.

Video

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review from the standard Blu-ray included with this release, not the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: A few years ago, Christmas Vacation was re-released to Blu-ray with a new 4K transfer that improved the image for this one a hell of a lot. This 4K debut showcases that restoration in proper form. Now, this isn’t a super leap, but its an improvement as blacks and colors saturate better within the crisper image, that shows off more detail. There’s more to it than just the image to upgrade, but its been a couple years so you can buy again for the uptick.

Depth: Depth of field improves to give the image a little more breath with some solid pushback on display in many of the interior sequences. Movements and camera pans are more confident now with no issues regarding motion distortions.

Black Levels: Blacks improve to very natural levels with plenty of good visibility and discernible patterns, textures and finer details more prominent now. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are quite strong with a bold, natural appearance where reds, greens and yellows really pop. Lights and displays really glow off the screen with the addition of proper HDR.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial features and textures are quite clear as day and present some more finer points in any reasonable distance in the frame.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English (Remastered) 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English (Original Theatrical) 2.0 DTS-HD MA, French 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Dutch, Spanish

Dynamics: The surprise here on the release isn’t the video quality, its the addition of a new 5.1 track to listen to the movie by. Not only that, the original theatrical stereo mix is available here in lossless. The 5.1 adds a bit more heft to the film with a little louder presence and some more oomph in the lower end sounds. Its a front-heavy mix, but its one with much more punch and clarity.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Stumbles, crashing, glass shattering, loud engines, chainsaws and more provide a good rumble and bump from the subwoofer.

Surround Sound Presentation: As mentioned up top, this is front heavy mix. Rear channels do add some bits, but its a lot of ambiance and musical contributions. However, the front channels do feature some improved placement and travel across the room.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Vocals are crisp and clean.

Extras

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation comes with the standard Blu-ray edition and a redeemable digital code. The theatrical trailer is only found on the standard Blu-ray.

Audio Commentary

  • with Randy Quaid, Beverly D’Angelo, Johnny Galecki, Miriam Flynn, Jeremiah Chechik; and Matty Simmons

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:24)

Summary

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is one of my personal favorite holiday films and one of the best sequels you can find. This comes with the proper presentation of the 4K transfer done a few years back as well as a new 5.1 track by which to hear it. The film still lacks in the extras department but this release is a worthwhile upgrade.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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