It’s hard to talk about Vacation and not come off as some PR junkie writing for some press pamphlet. You speak of Chevy Chase in his prime, the allure of the film as a road picture, the memorable moments, and Aunt Edna. What could be said to sway this film into the negative?
Vacation may be one of the greatest American comedies, certainly underrated in this regard. The film’s reach, that of a family trip cross-country to visit a theme park, remains relevant and instantly strikes a chord with just about everyone. Even if you’ve never had to tie a dead Aunt Edna to the roof in the middle of a severe thunderstorm and leave her on her son’s porch, the insanity of it all can be related to.
Nothing goes right for Clark W. Griswold (Chase) on this cross-country trip, even before it starts. The dealership orders the wrong new car and smashes his old trade-in before the deal is sealed. The map he has planned out on the family computer, a Bally Astrocade for the video game nuts, is assaulted by a Pac-Man look-alike and space aliens. It’s doomed from the beginning.
The road brings all kinds of challenges, from visiting Uncle Eddie (Randy Quaid) in dire financial straits with his five – soon to be six – kids, to leaving a dog hooked to the back of a car as they drive away. Tragic, yet sickly amusing as the family is pulled over after the leash is spotted by highway patrol.
The script, written by John Hughes, does create a nice flow for Clark as a character, full of energy and enthusiasm at the start before turning into a petty thief and hostage taker. He loses it, and who wouldn’t after pulling into an empty Walley World parking lot after 2,400 miles filled with disaster and Christie Brinkley? He actually is sympathetic even when turning towards crime, simply because it’s amusing to see someone else lose it for a change.
Beyond the clothes and the style (people purchased cars like that?), Vacation will never fully date itself. As people continue on vacations to see the second largest ball of twine, we can look back and remember that nothing ever goes as planned, but even less so if you’re a Griswold.
Warner surprisingly releases both the original Vacation and the follow-up, European Vacation as separate discs, not the two-packs the studio seems fond of recently. That’s not a complaint as this VC-1 encode has plenty of room to breathe. After the opening title cards, composed of postcards which appear crisp and clean, the opening shot of Chicago is wonderfully clean.
Grain is well resolved throughout, really only faltering inside the hotel lobby at 1:11:52, where the darker photography doesn’t hold together very well. This hardly looks like a Warner VC-1 effort, save for a few scenes such as 1:06:19 as the family delivers an eulogy. This looks slightly processed and far too digital, not to mention a lack of grain. Limited noise is contained to brief shots, such as Roy Walley’s shirt at 1:33:18, a rare misfire for this encode.
Close-ups are genuinely detailed, and on a consistent basis. Chase benefits the most, decent at the car dealership in the beginning at 9:18, and becoming increasingly richer as the film moves on. After his on-road encounter with Brinkley, around 48:27, Chase becomes drenched with sweat, and every bead seems visible. The resolution boost is notable despite the general softness native to the photography. The print itself is spectacular, not a scratch, flaw, or speck of dirt to be had.
Black levels are deep, although they lead to poor shadow detail. Crush is probably the most common issue, hindering the indoor photography, such as Eddie’s house at 34:30. The same thing happens inside the saloon 23-minutes in, and during the grain-spiked bar scene mentioned above. Colors are slightly elevated but natural, flesh tones warm and primaries bright.
Nothing has been tinkered with in regards to the audio, the DTS-HD mono mix perfectly preserving dialogue and music. The opening “Holiday Road” theme is fantastic in its fidelity, if a little cramped on the high end like much of the mix. More importantly, nothing sounds distorted or lost.
Dialogue is firm without any notable flaws besides the lower level of fidelity. There is a bit of a hiss under the audio around 11:50 as Chase tries to fuel the car, the only notable issue on the track. Even the heaviest action, from the car hitting the ramp in the unfinished road to the roller coaster rides during the finale are free of any heavy problems.
A disc intro from the 2003 DVD is 44-seconds long, with Chevy Chase, Matty Simmons, and Randy Quaid not doing a whole lot. A feature commentary includes the previous three, along with director Harold Ramis, and the two kids, Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron. That’s far more interesting.
Note: Additional screen shots will be added soon.