Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
Having spent my youngest years as a child of the 70s pretty much meant that I wasn't privy to most of the things that adults enjoyed in that era, hence my relative unfamiliarity with Animal House. And considering that this movie has a lot more T&A in it than your average sex thriller today, it's no wonder that it was ruled out by my folks growing up in the 80s. So having well passed the third decade of my life, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to review this much revered, madcap tribute to all things college and fraternity on DVD. The closest thing I ever saw was Revenge Of The Nerds.

"... I ... state your name ..."
Movie
When all else fails and you can't find a fraternity to take you in, you could probably do a lot better than the Delta House. However, when it comes to having fun at the expense of a good education, you'll find none better than these guys. Heading the ragtag bunch of outcast layabouts is John 'Bluto' Blutarsky (John Belushi) whose four most favourite things in the world are food, beer, food and beer. At the other end of the scale is the long-suffering Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon) who has just discovered an age-old by-law that will help him rid the college campus of this menace to intellectual overachievement.

Along the way, many other notable personalities enter the fray with Chip Diller (Kevin Bacon) trying ever so hard to keep up with the demands of another rival house who too would like to see the Delta House go down. Another such character is Kent 'Flounder' Dorfman (Stephen Furst, Babylon 5) who more often than not ends up as the (rather large) butt of everyone's jokes. Larry 'Pinto' Kroger (Tom Hulce, Amadeus), Eric 'Otter' Stratton (Tim Matheson, A Very Brady Sequel), Donald 'Boon' Schoenstein (Peter Riegert, The Mask) and his girlfriend Katy (Karen Allen, Raiders Of The Lost Ark) do what they can to expand the ol' grey matter. As it so happens, teacher Professor Dave Jennings (Donald Sutherland, Space Cowboys) may have something hidden in his apartment to help these kids do just that.

All in all, what can a gaggle of misfits do to save their house? By the end of the tale, you will find out.

There was apparently an extra 75 minutes of footage excised from the rough cut to bring it all down to the obligatory two hours or less. This makes one wonder if these missing scenes went the same way as those of The Blues Brothers whereby Universal suddenly cleared out their stockpile of extraneous celluloid by dumping it at the nearest rubbish tip. I guess we'll never know where any of it is now.

As much as I like picking a movie to bits for its lack of coherent plot or relevance to the world's enormous peril in general, I have to admit that Animal House has a unique charm to it that feels just as fresh now as it surely did when released in 1978 (albeit with the story based in the 1960s). I won't try to justify this movie's merit in cinematic history as this is no doubt a personal thing to whoever watches it, but I'm sure that the flower-power generation of fans will grab this DVD as quickly as a bare mammary (just think about that one for a minute). Nostalgia buffs love this movie no matter what anyone else says about it.

Animal House, National Lampoon's
Even though the film seems to be borne of relatively mindless drug-induced drivel, the ending probably could have been a lot more positive regardless of the inevitable outcome of Delta House. The final act also exhibits a lot of extremely unsafe activities in a crowded public place, including dangerous driving and equally irresponsible gunplay. There is also the portrayal of mutual intimacy with minors as well as student-teacher relationships that I'm sure was (and still is) met with absolute derision and outrage by the more conservative of movie-going folk out there. But now that I've established these facts, Animal House might actually be sought after by the kids of today for its "questionable material" (only if they are really keen on discovering what their parents got up to before they were even born - yech!)

But whatever the intention was for this movie, director John Landis (of Ghostbusters fame) pretty much guaranteed that there wouldn't have been a sequel since there would be no rogue Delta House left remaining ... or John Belushi to stir things up again. They don't make movies like this nowadays.

Video
For the sake of this review, I've decided to brighten the images up slightly for the reasons below.

To use an old cliché, the image isn't the brightest or most startling of presentations ever to come off of a DVD, but what we have here is a faithful reproduction of the obviously extremely limited budget given to this film. Shown in its original 1.85:1 ratio, the main problem here is the relative darkness of the mainly night-time and interior scenes which may prove slightly troublesome for much lesser TVs. But I guess if you need to you can bump up the brightness, although my own television didn't seem to mind a bit.

Having said that, this transfer is quite astounding given its vintage with nary a film or video artefact evident to ruin all the visual enjoyment. In fact, a couple of the key "still-frame" scenes indicates that this is a rock-solid transfer with absolutely no telecine wobble inherent, which I was more than surprised about. Same goes for the remarkable sharpness of focus to the image that even allows you to decipher many of the item brand names on the supermarket shelves. Resultantly, there is absolutely no blurriness or bleeding of image detail to be found anywhere and a complete lack of shimmer in the many scenes which would usually exhibit such traits, from the blinds to golf pants to chicken wire.

"I gave my love a cherry ..."
Grain is minimal to the point of non-existent, although I'm not sure if this was purely because of the film stock used or from its remastering for DVD. Black levels are very deep with the shadow detail getting a little drowned out at times, however this is more than supplemented by key lighting from the obviously limited filming equipment used at the time of shooting. Nonetheless, there is no complaining here about anything like low-level noise or greyish blacks. The colour scheme is probably the only thing that shows this film's age considerably with the tones being functional more than anything else, although the daylight scenes exhibit somewhat better saturation of hues whilst still being "grounded" in reality.

If I had to use one word to describe this image, it would be "earthy". Every scene here has an unseemly mix of the classic Archie comics and every TV episode from Happy Days (yes, it's that frightening). John Landis asked that the image be dirtied up again after its initial cleanup by Universal, but even then there's nothing to whinge about except of course for the inevitable darkness level which still holds strong. The one thing that had me grossed out constantly from this immaculate transfer wasn't any of the gags like Bluto's "Guess What I Am Now?", but the makeup that the two main girl characters adorn.

As much as I should give a score on technical merit, I have bumped it up yet another notch for effort.

Audio
As far as full-blown 5.1 remix goes, this one rewrites the history books for its relevance towards such a task. Whilst there are many reasons here for not giving this movie a remastered independent-channel remix, you will soon appreciate the added bonus or two that is delivered from what is little more than its original mono mix. Considering that the year before Star Wars was the second movie (the first one was in fact A Star Is Born) to be released in funky Dolby Surround (not Pro-Logic for you nitpickers out there), Animal House wasn't exactly in the running for Innovation in Sound Reproduction of the Year award.

This soundtrack is effectively a front stage affair with less activity from the rear-speaker than a lazy couch potato running on a treadmill. Fidelity is naturally restrictive in both the discernable on-set dialogue recordings as well as the sound effects. However the music is surprisingly full of body with the subwoofer giving a subtle but noticeable workout for the orchestra and contemporary songs. Speaking of which, the music tends to be presented a lot more strongly than the dialogue or limited sound effects, however this is a lot better balanced than what was heard on the more misaligned Top Secret! DVD.

Fans and newcomers alike will be pleased with this rendition of the obviously dated soundtrack.

Animal House, National Lampoon's
Extras
For something that significantly marked a turning point in popular culture (and profits for a movie studio), Universal have pulled together a reasonable collection of supplemental material for this DVD. Whilst it is not all that extensive, it is sufficient enough to provide us with a trip down memory lane. However, these limited selections are housed on two separate menu screens which adds an extra bit of unnecessary navigation and is ultimately an obvious attempt to "bloat up" what little there is available. DVD producers take note, you're not foolin' anyone from this practice, so try avoiding it in future.

The first and probably least relevant undertaking here is Where Are They Now? A Delta House Update (23 mins) which has some of the main actors reprising their roles 25 years later for a mockumentary on their career paths. The reason it didn't appeal to me was that this requires a fine line of subtlety that just does not deliver here. The only thing that did make me laugh was Chip Diller's (Kevin Bacon's) unseen interview recording about his religious awakening through one of nature's necessities (no, not that!), so 'nuff said. Next is the Shout Music Video by MXPX, a none-too-common event where an unrelated rehash of a classic song promotes the movie proper, which I didn't particularly mind in this case.

Did You Know That?: Universal Anecdotes is a trivia track running alongside the movie. Unfortunately, the sporadic comments are way too few and far in between each other which makes the experience of reading them a once-only affair, but what is mentioned here is a lot better than the disappointing effort on the earlier Back To The Future DVD. There is no audio commentary for this movie which would have proved a riot, but methinks that organising such a venture would have been fraught with impossible logistics etc. However the main featurette entitled The Yearbook: An Animal House Reunion (45 mins) is indeed a step in the right direction with the mainly retrospective interviews shedding light on the sometimes bizarre creation process and goings-on away from filming. There is also some very limited behind-the-scenes footage (some of which is repeated ad infinitum) but on the whole this documentary is very enjoyable, and thankfully the actors are out-of-character this time around (mercifully).

Finally, the theatrical trailer is included for completion's sake.

"Toga!  Toga!  Toga!"
Overall
As far as the remastering goes, this is definitely the best that Animal House will look and sound until the HD version hits the streets and is considerably better than the previous two releases. The only noticeable extra to savour here though is the Reunion featurette which holds some fascinating stories outside of the filming for the movie itself, much like that found in the documentary for The Blues Brothers DVD. A decently put-together package for a movie that was once deemed unmakeable and unmarketable.


Links: