‘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.

Jason Reitman Talks With Luke Wilson About ‘Bottle Rocket’

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2011.

Jason Reitman completed his guest programming at New Beverly Cinema with a screening of Wes Anderson’s directorial debut, “Bottle Rocket.” This film also marked the movie debuts of Luke and Owen Wilson, the latter who co-wrote the screenplay with Anderson. Before seeing this movie, Reitman admitted he was actually scared of becoming a filmmaker especially because he was the son of a famous one (Ivan Reitman). He did see all the great movies of the 1990’s like “Clerks,” “Slacker,” and he checked out all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, but he said none of them had the same effect on him as “Bottle Rocket” did. For Reitman, this was the movie which made him want to direct films. And of discovering Anderson, he said, “This is the voice that I am going to follow forever.”

Joining Reitman for this special screening was actor Luke Wilson, and it was nice to see him take a break from all those AT&T Wireless commercials he has been doing endlessly. Ironically, the movie Reitman showed the same evening before it was “Breaking Away,” and Wilson said he is actually good friends with one of that movie’s stars, Dennis Quaid. Quaid was away in Hawaii so he was unable to attend the screening with fellow co-stars Dennis Christopher and Daniel Stern. This coincidence did, however, allow Wilson to talk about how Randy Quaid told Dennis he already made the family name and suggested he change his. Dennis ended up asking his brother, “How about McQuaid?”

Anyway, Luke told the audience Wes and Owen originally wanted to shoot “Bottle Rocket” guerilla style so they could shoot it cheaply as Richard Linklater had done the same thing with “Slacker.” However, they ended up meeting a producer who told them about the Sundance Film Festival and advised them to start off by making a short film they could take there. So they made the short and got it entered into Sundance, but nothing happened and they didn’t win anything for it. Despite that, they managed luckily to get hooked up with a producer named Polly Platt who had worked on such movies as “The Last Picture Show” and “Terms of Endearment” among others.

The project went on from there as Platt brought the Wilson brothers and Anderson to the attention of famed writer/producer/director James L. Brooks. Anderson ended up getting everyone to do a read thru of the script at some office in Texas during the summer. Turns out the air conditioning there wasn’t working all that well, and they were reading a screenplay which was two hundred pages long. Luke said he ended up sweating profusely throughout the whole read, and this made Owen glare at him as if to say, what the hell are you doing?

Luke also took some time to talk about Brooks who became one of the chief supporters of “Bottle Rocket,” and he described him as being very nice. However, he also said Brooks can immediately “cut to the truth and be painfully funny.” Of course, Brooks was going through problems of his own. While working on “Bottle Rocket,” he was also busy with his film musical “I’ll Do Anything” with Nick Nolte. For those who remember, it ended up getting released without any of the music as the movie tested poorly (and that’s being polite).

Reitman went on to talk about how he related to the voice of the film and how it had a “strange innocence” to it. Luke replied the film’s voice came from Anderson and Owen, but he said he never got the feeling he was working on anything special. Columbia Pictures, which distributed the movie, wanted to make “Bottle Rocket” but with different actors. When it was all shot and in the can, the studio didn’t like or knew what to make of it. Looking back, Luke said bluntly he was “stunned that the movie got made.”

When it finally came to making “Bottle Rocket” as a feature length film, Luke remarked Wes knew exactly how movies were made. He and Owen, on the other hand, did not. They didn’t understand certain jobs the crew on set had like the boom mike guy. Luke said he and Owen wondered out loud, “How can that guy just stand around like that?”

Also, Anderson did not want the actors to watch dallies of the day’s work, but this didn’t matter much because neither Owen nor Luke wanted to watch them anyway. Luke says he still doesn’t understand what compels actors to watch dallies as he feels it will likely mess you up in terms of how you go about developing your character.

The cast and crew also had the fortune of working with James Caan who had a bit role in “Bottle Rocket,” and Luke recalled he was going through a rough patch at the time, but that he did warm up to the rest of the cast during shooting. At one point Luke, Owen and Wes asked Caan what it was like working with the late Marlon Brando on “The Godfather.” To this Caan replied, “It’s like you guys working with me.”

“Bottle Rocket” did go through the rather unnecessary realm of test screenings. For a movie like this, it must have felt like a waste of time because this is not one which just sells itself to mainstream audiences, but the studio executives decreed that Anderson screen the movie for focus groups nonetheless. So, there was a test screening done in Santa Monica, and out of a crowd of 250 people, 75 walked out. The ones who stayed through the whole thing, as Luke remembered it, wrote nothing but shit about the movie. To date, it remains the one movie with the worst test screenings in the history of Columbia Pictures. Luke said he, Owen and Anderson were convinced they would never get to make another movie ever again.

Despite all that, “Bottle Rocket” did get discovered by audiences through cable, video and DVD. Luke says he still sees it on cable every once in a while, and Reitman remarked it became the “touchstone for those who want to make movies.” Martin Scorsese ended up naming it as one of the best movies of the 1990’s. Still, everyone involved with this little film had a hard time getting over it feeling like a failure. But when these guys got around to making the brilliant “Rushmore,” they found themselves re-energized and have since gone on to make one great movie after another.