NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE - DVD review

...paved the way for future comedies for years to come.

TimRaynor's picture
Tim
Raynor

There are many of us who try to give their interpretation of what a "classic film" is. Many of us find unique metaphors for describing a perfect recipe that best fits the category of "classic film." The one thing we might all agree on, and I think it's very safe to say, a classic film is one that stands the test of time. "National Lampoon's Animal House" certainly earned the right to be recognized as a film classic many years ago. Even at the time of its release, in 1978, it was dubbed by many critics and fans as an instant classic. However, the real question is, does it still stand the test of time even after twenty-five-years? The answer to that, folks, is definitely yes!

"Animal House" not only reshaped the way we would see sick, outrageous practical jokes and sexually charged college humor, but it also paved the way for future comedies for years to come. "Animal House" gave us a whole new meaning to the foundation of college fraternities with its excessive raunchy party lifestyle. Even after its reign on the big screen, it managed to influence college-style comedies for years to come, things like "Back to School," "Road Trip," "Van Wilder," and more recently "Old School." It isn't that any of the aforementioned films didn't have humorous moments, they certainly did, but they just don't compare to the original monster that spawned it all. Not to mention, it was a miracle "Animal House" ever made it to production. Back in 1977 director John Landis, writers Harold Ramis, the late Douglas Kenney, and Chris Miller were fairly young guys and didn't have the utmost trust or respect from Universal at the time. Luckily, producer Ivan Reitman gave them the big break they needed. Even then it was still difficult to hire top actors because many of them found the script too coarse or obscure.

Now I think it would be safe to assume most all of us have seen "Animal House," if not once, several times. I find no need to explain the details of the film step-by-step as I would with most reviews, but instead would rather reminisce over some of the highlights and characters. In all honesty, there really is no main lead in the film, unless you consider the Delta House itself a character. The film is basically about a bunch of frat boys in the early 60's, who attend Faber University and live in a fraternity
known as the Delta House. It just so happens to be the worst frat house on campus due to its reputation for loud parties and having the lowest grade-point average in Faber history. Sounds like my kind of place. From the start of the film, we are introduced to a home that is more likely to be condemned than any other house found on skid row. The boys' antics are so well known that Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon) places them on "double secret probation" (one of my favorite scenes of the film). It is reputed that Dean Wormer was loosely based on Richard Nixon.

Let me touch base on some of the most memorable characters of the film. First off is John Belushi as an overweight, drunken, seventh-year failure student slob named Bluto. Belushi, in many ways, is the one guy who steals the show. He had such a great talent for being so animated, and knowing the history of his real life, the role almost fit him perfectly. Next we have Kent 'Flounder' Dorfman (Stephen Furst), an overly nice, overweight freshman that nobody wants in their fraternity. However, Delta House takes him in, reluctantly. Next is Larry 'Pinto' Kroger (Tom Hulce), a young, innocent lad who is looking to get laid, even if it's with the mayor's thirteen-year-old daughter. Then we have the love couple of Donald 'Boon' Schoenstein (Peter Riegert) and Katy (Karen Allen) who find their relationship dwindling due to Boon's excessive nightly drinking. And there's the in-house biker known as D-Day (Bruce McGill) and the Delta House President, Robert Hover (James Widdoes), who both share little time on the screen but share a vital part of the fabric of this film. Lastly in the line of well-known Delta boys is Eric 'Otter' Stratton (Tim Matheson), who really acts as the intellectual brains of the group, especially when it comes to delightfully ingenious antics.

Let us not forget the snobs of Faber, who give the film much of its purpose. First is the most memorable snob, and probably second-in-line for stealing the show, Doug Neidermeyer (Mark Metcalf): "Is that a pledge pin…on your uniform!" Doug is an ROTC drill sergeant who packs a temper that rivals even R. Lee Ermey's in "Full Metal Jacket." Metcalf's role as Neidermeyer would again be revamped in "Twisted Sister" music videos in the mid 80's. And if you've ever seen "Twilight Zone: The Movie," there's even a reference to his own troops in Vietnam killing him. Next is Greg Marmalard (James Daughton), who plays as Dean Wormers' rich brat, rat-fink assistant to the disciplinary school board. Then there's Chip Diller, played by Kevin Bacon in his debut role on the big screen. Bacon has quite a memorable part during his initiation, as many of you might remember: "Thank you, sir. May I have another?" Then we have Mandy Pepperidge (Mary Louis Weller) and Barbara 'Babs' Jansen (Martha Smith), two airhead blonds bent on keeping their image as upper-class snobs and cheerleaders.

Let me also not forget to mention Professor Dave Jennings (Donald Sutherland). Sutherland was the one man who made the film possible to produce. Universal had been growing weary of the cast choices and was considering pulling the plug on this film if they couldn't find an icon actor of the time. Sutherland agreed to play Jennings, the pot-smoking, erotic professor, for the sum of $50,000.00. Sutherland's small part was shot in only two days, and had he agreed to take a percentage of film profits, which he was offered, he would have grossed about $17 million.

Even with all the memorable characters, there are the far more memorable gags and antics of the film. Some memorable moments are Bluto, Flounder, and D-Day hiding, and killing, Neidermeyer's horse in Dean Wormer's office, and then, the next day, the horse lying dead in the office as Wormer and the town mayor are meeting about the spring Faber parade. Let's not forget Bluto strolling down the cafeteria's food line stuffing his face and filling his tray with just about every item available. Within the same scene we get to see Bluto's impression of a zit, as well as a major food fight. I should mention that many fans of "Animal House" remember the food fight as a big scene; ironically it only lasts for three seconds. Another fine moment is the quite memorable "toga party" where Otter makes advances on Dean Wormer's wife (Verna Bloom), and Pinto tries to get lucky with the mayor's thirteen-year-old daughter. Then there's the ever-so-memorable road trip where Otter, Boon, Flounder, and Pinto scheme up a clever way to pick up girls and end up in a bar only to discover they're the only white people in the place. The final gag is probably the one that takes the cake. After being kicked out of college, and out of the Faber spring parade, the Delta House seeks revenge. They take Flounder's wrecked black bomb of a car and revamp it as the "Death Mobile." The pranksters cleverly cover it as a float, which looks like a giant cake that says "eat me" on the sides. The rest is history as they wreak havoc on the small-town parade.

There are plenty more gags and jokes that I haven't mentioned, but that's the beauty of this film as there is never a dull moment. Some gags I just can't mention because DVD Town tires its best to run a family site, and besides, it is an R-rated movie.

"Animal House" is a relentless comic classic that is sure to have future generations accepting it as one of the greats. The only weakness I could speak of is the film literally has no direction or purpose; however, that's probably what made it work. There really are no main lead characters, and even the script was thought to be a total mess, yet the film did work. Go figure. The film certainly changed the atmosphere of our American colleges as well as the way many comedies are made today. A lot of other gags you see in other comedies can be counted as direct rip-offs from "Animal House." I'd have to say it's one of my favorite John Landis films and probably National Lampoon's crowning achievement to date; it's almost a shame it was their first.


Video:
This DVD comes as a dual-layered disc in either fullscreen or 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen, sold separately. I, of course, viewed and purchased mine in widescreen. The picture is claimed to be remastered, and you would assume that must mean this 25th anniversary edition should display a better picture than the previous edition. Since I don't own the previous edition I certainly can't make that comparison. I found the picture fairly sharp at times, yet fairly blurred at times, too. The lighting seemed to pulsate in certain scenes, and there was a marginal degree of grain in darker areas. I can only assume the studio tried to do the best job they could, and on the bright side, it is quite a measurable difference from my old VHS picture. The colors I judge above average, yet it is a film that captures the era of the early 60's when colors were sometimes more toned down to dull pastels and dark earth tones.

Audio:
The Audio comes in Dolby 5.1 and actually fares a little better than the video. Sure, it's not the exciting audio of guns blaring and massive explosions, but the sound of beer cans being tossed and beer bottles breaking rotates through the surround rather well. The dialog is well adjusted, even during musical soundtrack moments, and for the most part provides a very good balance in its audio dynamics. You also have the usual dubbing of French and Spanish available just in case you have a hard time with English.

Extras:
I've never recommended a DVD based on the extras it contained; however, I just might have to on this one. At first glance there really are not a lot of extras on here, but what are there are absolute riots! The first extra called "Where are they now?" It was created by John Landis as he tours around the states looking for most of the characters from the film. Here's the twist: The actors are actually playing their parts from the film. First, we get to know where Boon and Katy are and next we find Dean Wormers ex-wife in a strip bar in Chicago. Landis gets an audio from Chip Diller (Kevin Beacon), who has found Jesus in a plate of sunny-side-up eggs. The list goes on and I have to admit I've never had this good a laugh from any other extra features I've seen on a DVD. I literally laughed myself to tears because I just wasn't expecting what I saw.

Other features are a music video of "Shout" (a song from Ottis & the Knights at the toga party) performed by a group named "RxMx." It's kind of a melodic, punchy rock version of the tune; however, I'll admit these boys pull it off rather well. Another feature is a "Did you know that?" series of animated pop-up anecdotes. How it works is you turn the anecdotes to "on" and then start the movie from the beginning. As the movie plays, little pop-up animated anecdotes appear on the screen displaying trivial information pertaining to the scene being played. The last feature is "The Yearbook: An Animal House Reunion," where many characters, producers, writers, and director of the film give their insight on the making of "Animal House." There is quite a bit of very interesting information as well as some funny stories amongst the cast. The only bizarre thing through all the extra features is that they never make mention of Pinto (Tom Hulce). Tom, as many of you might know, hit his peak when he played Mozart in "Amadeus." I'm not quite sure if there was some contract dispute, but not one person says anything about him.

Parting Thoughts:
There is also, of course, the original theatrical trailer but no deleted scenes. Makes you wonder why they couldn't have found some cutting-room floor footage, being that the first screening for the studio executives was actually 172 minutes long. However, the extras included on this 25th anniversary edition are well worth one's dollars and it gives me no choice but to recommend this version over all other versions released.

Ratings

Video
7
Audio
8
Extras
9
Film Value
9