‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is considered a Christmas classic to many film buffs.  I vaguely remember watching it back in the day and even a few years ago.  Of course, everyone knows about Cousin Eddie and his antics, as people usually love to dress up like the character along with Clark Griswold.  However, watching the film in 2022, I have to say, it’s just not funny.  The late, great Gene Siskel used to call these types of films, “A comedy without laughs.” If your one goal is to make the audience laugh and you fail at that task, your comedy is dead on arrival.  However, I understand comedy is subjective, so what I find unfunny might be hilarious to someone else out there.

Christmas is right around the corner, and Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is doing anything and everything in his power to make sure it is absolutely perfect without any flaws.  He’s not afraid to go all out on presents, finding the perfect tree, and, of course, twinkling lights.  At first, he thinks he will be spending it with his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and their two children Rusty and Audrey (Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis) along with some in-laws.  However, he did not plan on the appearance of the crude Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his camper, which comes ripe with fecal matter and doesn’t exactly look great outside the Griswold home.

I can’t say there is much of a plot to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”  It is simply Chevy Chase doing bad slapstick for a little over ninety-minutes with odd facial reactions as he stumbles and bumbles through situations with family and co-workers.  I didn’t find him very relatable or interesting.  He’s a sarcastic personality, but he doesn’t come across as a likable goof.  He’s mostly an obsessive-compulsive personality that is putting too much emphasis on lights, a Christmas tree, and getting a Christmas bonus to install a pool. He seems more concerned with making everything just right instead of spending actual time with his family. When I was watching the film, I thought to myself, “Why is he making such a fuss?”  He’s making a fuss, so we can watch him fail over and over again in what is supposed to be comedic fashion, but the laughs were few and far between.

The film has a great supporting cast: Doris Roberts, Diane Ladd, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Sam McMurray, to name a few.  The problem is the characters are not fleshed out well enough.  You have your standard in-laws without much to say or do except act like goofy cartoons. I found the film to be very hokey and one-dimensional. A really good Christmas movie needs to be funny or heartfelt, or even both, and this one is neither.  The Clark Griswold character is annoying, the in-laws are irritating, and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) isn’t given anything to do except play the exasperated wife. The children are just there to be annoyed as well.  I felt as though they had the ingredients, the actors, and the idea for a funny movie here, but they didn’t have a story to go along with it.

Let’s look at it this way—who can’t relate to the holidays and family drama?  Most people love the holidays, myself included, but they know they can come with certain baggage and drama either from your own family or from in-laws.  It’s a highly relatable concept.  There is material here for a funny comedy about dealing with the stress of Christmas and all of the various personalities interacting with one another. However, too often, the film relies on Clark falling down, getting hurt, or making bizarre facial reactions as he does slapstick comedy.  For me, personally, this film was not a funny or enjoyable experience.  It was quite tedious.  I know I’m probably in the minority on this one based on the popularity of this film over the past thirty plus years.

* ½ out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  The film is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 97 minutes.  It comes with a digital copy of the film as well.

4K Info:  The HDR is strong on this film here.  This is a very vivid, clear, and vibrant picture.  They cleaned up a lot to make this film look full of life on 4K.  It’s a great looking transfer.

Audio Info: The film comes on the following audio formats: DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, English Stereo, and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English, Spanish, and French.  The audio is on-point from start to finish.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary featuring Director Jeremiah S. Chechik, Randy Quaid, Beverly D’Angelo, Johnny Galecki, Miriam Flynn, and producer Matty Simmons.

Theatrical Trailer

Should You Buy It?

I think you knew before reading this review how you felt about the film itself, so you are probably looking for information on the visuals and the audio of the film along with the special features.  Sadly, there is only one real special feature here, and it is a commentary track that has been used on other releases of this film. I’d say the audio and video are 3 out of 4 stars.  I really enjoyed looking at the wintery images of the snow and outdoor scenes, the faces look a lot cleaner, and the overall picture is quite beautiful to look at on 4K HDR. It’s a big upgrade over the grainy Blu-Ray release.  If you are a fan of the film, you will be very happy with how the film looks and sounds on 4K.  The audio is consistent throughout and not too loud.  It can stay on the same volume throughout the film.  If you want to own this film on the best possible format, this is the way to go.  It’s a quality release.  If you are like me and not a fan of the film at all and don’t find it funny, you can safely pass on this release.  This comes down to a matter of comedic taste, which is subjective.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

Jeremiah S. Chechik Looks Back at Making ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’

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Jeremiah S. Chechik was the special guest at Arclight Studios in Hollywood a few years ago when they hosted a screening of his directorial debut, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” The third and most beloved in the “Vacation” franchise has long since become a holiday classic, and it is the Christmas film many families watch during the holiday season instead of “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” After the movie was over and the end credits were all done, Chechik quickly came up to the front of the audience before anyone could introduce him and said, ”I haven’t seen it since the day it opened!”

The screenplay was written by the late John Hughes and was inspired by an article he wrote for the National Lampoon Magazine called “Christmas ’59.” Chechik tipped his hand to Hughes’ wonderful writing and went on to say it was originally written as a stand-alone movie. Warner Brothers, however, read it and immediately wanted to integrate it into the “Vacation” franchise.

When asked how he got the job to direct, Chechik explained he was directing what he described as “high profile” commercials back in a time when it was unusual to go from doing commercials to directing feature films. His work eventually got him discovered by Steven Spielberg who ended up giving him an office at Amblin Entertainment. This brought a lot of awareness to his visual style, and both Chase and Hughes soon became adamant he would be the one to direct the next “Vacation” movie.

With this being his first film, Chechik said he was determined not to back down on actors who wanted to exert their power over him. While it’s tempting to think he and Chase didn’t get along as Chase’s reputation for being hard to work will never disappear, Chechik said they actually had a great working relationship on set. This came after he admitted to not being a big fan of Chase’s comedy as he described it as being “very broad.” Chechik described Chase as having a very strong point of view, a very clear intention of what the movie is about, and they worked together to find things which worked.

Chechik did say, however, that he and Beverly D’Angelo had many arguments, some of which he described as being “very heated,” on set. Still, he said all the bad blood between them is now water under the bridge.

“Christmas Vacation’s” budget was $27 million, and its shooting schedule lasted for 60 days. Much of the movie was shot in Breckinridge, Colorado while other scenes were shot the following summer at Warner Brothers in Burbank, California. Chechik was happy to say Hughes had his back throughout the whole production. When the movie went through previews, the studio heads pressured him to cut the scene where the cat got electrocuted. Chechik claimed he resisted the pressure and kept it in because he thought it was funny (and it was) and that he was more of a dog person anyway. The test audiences also loved the scene, and the studio heads didn’t bother keeping this moment out of the movie’s trailer.

Chechik said “Christmas Vacation” worked so well because we truly cared about Clark Griswold and what he went through. The mood of certain scenes was very important to him, especially the one with Chase in the attic where he watched home movies of past Christmases with tears filling his eyes. Looking at this made Chechik point out the way comedy should be done in movies:

“Funny beats funny,” he said. “If everyone thought the set pieces were funny but they didn’t care about the main character, then the movie won’t work.”

With the squirrel scene, he said a trained squirrel was brought onto the set and there was also a trainer there for the dog featured in it as well. Chechik said the filmmakers “storyboarded the hell out of it” and were eager to start filming it, but when he arrived on set that day he was confronted with the grim faces of the trainers and line producers. After shuffling around for a bit, they informed him the squirrel had died. The squirrel trainer went on to say they don’t live for very long anyway as if that could have possibly softened the blow.

So, they went out and got another squirrel for the scene which they ended up drawing out onto the set with food. From this, Chechik said he learned how to roll with things and use improvisation. About every scene in “Christmas Vacation” had a certain amount of improvisation in it, he pointed out.

As for the most difficult scene to shoot, Chechik said it was the dinner table scene where the whole family begins their Christmas Eve celebration. He did not hesitate in telling everyone that having 9 to 11 actors in a scene is a really bad idea. The blocking proved to be very complicated, and it became such a nightmare as it took days and days for him to get the scene right.

Here are some other “Christmas Vacation” trivia Chechik let us know about:

  • In the scene with the two granddads snoring in front of the television, the actors playing those roles really were fast asleep.
  • Mae Questal, who played Aunt Bethany, was the voice of Betty Boop.
  • Chevy’s angry rant on his boss was done exactly as it was written in the screenplay.

It was really nice of Chechik to come out and talk with us about “Christmas Vacation,” a movie he succeeded in making a timeless classic and, as he put it, “very postcardy.” When asked why he hasn’t seen the film since it first came out, he said he just wanted to let it go and let it live. It certainly has had a long life since 1989, and the series continued on with “Vegas Vacation” and “Vacation” which starred Ed Helms and Christina Applegate. In response to one audience member who said his family watches it every year, Chechik replied, “I like your family!”

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