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National Lampoon's Animal House(1978)
Unable to gain acceptance at the snootier fraternities they pledge, the Deltas, a motley crew of misfits and sociopaths bent on disrupting the well-starched status quo, engage in various illegalities that land them in hot water with both the stern college dean and the neighboring jock fraternity. Their exploits eventually cause them to be placed on "double-secret probation," until finally, they are kicked out of school and, as the dean reminds them, newly eligible for the Vietnam draft. What's a Delta to do?
For more about National Lampoon's Animal House and the National Lampoon's Animal House Blu-ray release, see National Lampoon's Animal House Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 14, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Tom Hulce, Karen Allen, Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, Donald Sutherland
Director: John Landis (I)
» See full cast & crew
National Lampoon's Animal House Blu-ray Review
"Greg, what is the worst fraternity on this campus?"
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 14, 2011
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Delta Tau Chi, without a doubt the worst fraternity at Faber College. A constant thorn in the side of the school's administration, the Deltas are more interested in girls, alcohol and elaborate pranks than in bettering themselves through higher education. More than that, though, the Deltas -- and, more specifically, Animal House -- are responsible for launching an entire R-rated subgenre, the alumni of which include a variety of '80s gross-out comedies (chief among them Porky's) and, more recently, the American Pie franchise, The Hangover series and countless other unremittingly tasteless, boundary-pushing hits (and misses). And while Animal House isn't the most refined of its ilk -- it's both blessed and cursed with a raw, eager laugh-lust that isn't nearly as fresh or quite as funny as it was two and three decades ago -- it remains a culture-stamped classic. A product of its time, without question. A dated and grizzled genre pioneer, sure. But a late '70s comedy classic no less.
When freshmen Lawrence Kroger (Thomas Hulce) and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst)... ahem, when pledges Pinto and Flounder join the Delta House fraternity at Faber College in 1962, they unwittingly step into the crosshairs of Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon), a stuffy stickler devoted to expelling every last Delta and bringing an end to the fraternity's yearly antics. For years, the Deltas have wreaked havoc on campus. For years, Wormer has failed to put a stop to it all. But now, with the help of Omegas Gregory Marmalard (James Daughton), Douglas C. Neidermeyer (Mark Metcalf) and Chip Diller (Kevin Bacon), the dean finally concocts a surefire scheme. Of course, the Delta brothers -- defiant underachiever Bluto Blutarsky (the late John Belushi), Otter Stratton (Tim Matheson), D-Day (Bruce McGill), Boon Schoenstein (Peter Riegert), Stork (Douglas Kenney) and perpetually reluctant fraternity president Robert Hoover (James Widdoes) -- aren't about to go down without a fight. Well, without much of one anyway. A food fight, a rivalry with a dean-aligned fraternity, a now-iconic toga party, a dead horse (don't ask), a series of honor code violations, a road trip and one last shot at Wormer and his precious institution bring the campus, the Omegas and the dean to their knees before the Deltas ride off into their futures.
Comedy is in the gut of the beholder, I'll admit, but many of Animal House's gags haven't aged as well as its most devoted cine-pledges insist. Much of the film is positively tame compared to the gross-out fodder that racks up untold millions at the box office in the 21st century, and the oneupmanship of the genre has neutered director John Landis' late '70s shocker, even if only a bit. Angels and demons pop up on shoulders, frantic slapstick and exaggerated silliness have been lifted from the Looney Tunes playbook, the story is often at the mercy of the next big boobs-n-booze gag, and we're given little to love about the Deltas, other than their free-spirited boys-will-be-boys hijinks and rebellious jabs at an oh-so-sinister dean and his obnoxious Omega lackeys. Even so, Animal House remains a shrewd laugh riot, thanks in large part to Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller's deceptively ingenious, tactfully satirical script, Landis' careful command of his troops, and the cast's willingness to go as far as the filmmakers ask. It isn't easy to make such deliberate comedy look so spontaneous -- just think of the many, many, many genre pics that have tried and failed -- but Landis and his cohorts do just that, leaving little room for actual sloppiness amid all the manufactured chaos.
Belushi steals the show, though; primarily because Animal House stands as a reminder of the late comedian's talent, but also because it points to all the films that could have been had the Saturday Night Live star not died four years later. There's a proverbial method to his madness that works brilliantly on screen, but there's an inherent sadness to it too. Bluto, like Belushi, has a penchant for substance abuse and it's hard to see Blutarsky as the brash, bumbling lug he was meant to be rather than an eerily prescient harbinger of the actor's untimely death. Perhaps it stands as a testament to the film's legacy as well, as it casts light on some of the finer points of the script that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. Bluto and his brothers aren't mere degenerates; they're young men struggling to find their way in a deviously flawed system in an era in which American society was in the midst of a cultural civil war. Their rebellion isn't just for kicks, even though that's exactly what motivates them, but rather a subconscious resistance to being crammed through the same legalistic machine. Over thinking things? Searching for meaning that isn't there? It's possible. But the one thing that separates Animal House from its subsequent genre brood is a dual purpose: the first and most obvious being to make audiences laugh, the second and easiest to overlook being to comment on those hazy years between adolescence and adulthood, when most students conform while a few find it difficult to do so.
Some thirty-three years after its debut, Animal House isn't going to appeal to everyone. It never has. It isn't going to entertain everyone who gives it a chance either. It never has. It certainly isn't going to impress many young viewers; those weened solely on American Pie, Old School, Van Wilder and Superbad. But that shouldn't diminish what it will do: slapping wide grins on the faces of its longtime fans, winning over a few new converts at a time, and offering genre junkies a look at one of the forefathers of the gross-out comedy craze that, four decades later, has yet to subside.
National Lampoon's Animal House Blu-ray, Video Quality
Animal House has been cranked off the production line with more disregard for a truly filmic presentation than the recent Blu-ray release of American Graffiti. Don't be fooled by the 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer's graininess. While the presence of grain can be indicative of a faithful remaster, it can also easily be added or retained via artificial means after unnecessary applications of edge enhancement and noise reduction have taken their respective tolls. Alas, such is the case with Animal House. Not every fine texture has been wiped away, but smearing abounds; not every crisp edge is paired with a thick, white halo, but far too many shots are hindered by unsightly ringing to earn any sort of pass from me. Both EE and DNR are apparent throughout, and border on oppressive at times. It's rather obvious an older DVD-era master has been used to produce the new Blu-ray transfer, which is a real shame considering the film stands as one of the most universally beloved gross-out genre pics. (My video score has been bobbling between a 2.5 and a 3.0 for the better part of a day.)
Animal House does look better than it ever has before, and that will undoubtedly lead some to over-praise its attributes and overlook its shortcomings. Colors have received a modest upgrade, black levels are exceptionally deep, and contrast is serviceable. Unfortunately, skintones are waxy and unnatural, primaries are overcast, crush is rampant, and delineation is unremarkable. (Nighttime scenes are also problematic, but many of their issues trace back to the film's original photography, at least in part). Moreover, detail is average on the whole and the closeups and mid-range shots that do look good only serve to make those plagued by more noticeable EE and DNR all the more disappointing. Thankfully, aside from the aforementioned crush, smearing and ringing (whew), artifacting, banding and other compression anomalies don't stir up any trouble, and the presentation is, if nothing else, reasonably proficient. Ultimately, casual viewers will be pleased with the results, while fledgling and seasoned videophiles, perceptive purists and those pining for a proper restoration will be disheartened by what they see.
National Lampoon's Animal House Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track isn't hobbled by any major issues and, in my estimation, retains the personality of the film's original mono mix while making smart use of the five additional channels at the new lossless track's disposal. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout (minus a few lines that get unceremoniously muffled in the Delta discord), prioritization rarely falters and other elements, despite having the distinct tininess of '70s-era sound effects, have made the transition to the 21st century without a hitch. The rear speakers aren't aggressive by any means, but they are active, spreading the Faber College campus across the soundfield without resorting to grand directional sleight-of-hand. Some may take issue with such passive support, but faithfulness should always be valued over modern immersiveness when evaluating a 5.1 remix of a thirty-three-year old single-channel source. Low-end output isn't going to crack any plaster either, but it is satisfying and lends welcome presence to a number of scenes. The highlight of the track, though, is the film's music, be it a song from Richard Berry, Sam Cooke, the Isley Brothers or one of the other artists featured in the soundtrack. It all amounts to an enjoyable experience. Front-heavy, yes. But an enjoyable experience all the same.
National Lampoon's Animal House Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Animal House's back cover touts two U-Companion Blu-ray exclusives, but don't get excited. Each one falls terribly short in its own ways, meaning the only extras of note are a 45-minute reunion documentary and a 23-minute "Where Are They Now?" mockumentary... both of which have been available on DVD for some time. It doesn't help that they're presented in non-anamorphic standard definition.
National Lampoon's Animal House Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Animal House may not be for everyone, but it remains a late '70s comedy classic, an early milestone in the gross-out subgenre and, for some, one of the funniest comedies of all time. While I'm not quite in love with it as some, it still makes me laugh and even tosses in a bit of social commentary for good measure. At the end of the day, it's hard to ask for much more from a film of its ilk. It isn't so hard to expect more from a Blu-ray release, though. Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is a success, but the quality of its video transfer decreases as edge enhancement and noise reduction increase, and its supplemental package comes up short (despite the inclusion of a terrific 45-minute documentary and an amusing mockumentary). Whether it's all worth the price of admission, I leave to each of you. It does best its previous DVD releases in every way, though, meaning fans of the film will probably find a purchase to be worth their high-def dollars, regardless of how much better its video transfer and supplemental package could have been.
Animal House: Other Editions
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