Quick Take: Matt isn't as keen on Animal House's Blu-ray debut as Jason was on Blues Brothers.
One would be hard pressed to find a comedy, or movie in general, that is quite as beloved as John Landis’ 1978 opus to slacker-dom, Animal House. With it, Landis set out to make a silly college film yet would inadvertently create the “R-rated, gross-out” genre of comedy that nowadays is a dime a dozen. Filled with several soon-to-be stars (Belushi, Kevin Bacon, Karen Allen), the film has an excellent cast with a lot of raw talent, but finds itself far from without its flaws.
Animal House tells the story of two dorky college freshmen Lawrence Kroger (Thomas Hulce) and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst) trying to find spots within the hoity-toity fraternity of Omega Theta Pi, but find themselves becoming members of the most beleaguered frat on campus, Delta Tau Chi. The Delta’s, led in part by the scene-stealing Bluto Blutarsky (the late John Belushi), have long been in thorn in the side of Dean Wormer (John Vernon). The Dean has made up his mind to take out the Delta’s once and for all, but these ne’er-do-wells aren’t going down without a fight. Hi-jinks and tomfoolery continue on, until the Delta’s find themselves expelled. This leads to one last hurrah, and one of the more memorable last acts in American film history.
It’s hard to take a look at Animal House nowadays without comparing it to what’s come after. At its time of release, it was about as raunchy as a Hollywood comedy could be, or had been up to that point. Some 33 years later, and it’s painfully soft by comparison. Some people say the film’s comedy suffers from being stuck in its time, which I don’t necessarily agree with. Funny is funny, no matter the time and place.
What I will say, though, is that it’s terribly uneven. Being directed by Landis, produced by Ivan Reitman and written by several people (including Harold Ramis), it’s not hard to see that there may have been too many cooks in the kitchen. The film jumps from being incredibly witty to biting satire to flat-out slapstick, all with mixed results.
The greatest instance of this “all over the place” comedy, for better and for worse, is found in John Belushi. Knowing that Belushi was incredibly witty and talented, it’s almost painful to watch him be used as in such a cartoony manner. I know this carefree buffoon role is what made him endearing to a whole nation, but it pales in comparison when you know what he’s capable of. Near the end of the film, he does finally gets to spread his wings a bit, but it’s merely fleeting and it’s right back to the pratfalls and slapstick. Again, that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with any of this. It just seems a shame to me to see talent and an opportunity to be genuinely funny be squandered for the sake of lowest common denominator joking.
Even with all of that said, there’s no denying that Animal House deserves its place in comedic film history. Despite its hiccups, it does manage to reel in the viewer with its sight gags and “outcasts vs. the world” plot. The film even manages to sneak in some social commentary amidst the jokes, paving the way for future comedies to be able to deal with real world issues at the same time.
High Def Presentation
Many have been waiting for a Blu-ray release of Animal House, but the transfer is far from what one would think such a beloved film would receive. That’s not to say it’s bad, by any means. It looks far better than it ever has, and some scenes even stand out (noticeably the Otis Day performances), but it’s far from where it could be.
The picture is soft throughout and really lacks any fine detail. I’ve read that for an earlier DVD release, Universal had cleaned up the print, but Landis felt it no longer looked of its time period and made them change it. This means the transfer could be part of Landis’ actual vision, or Universal just couldn’t be trouble to give this release the love its fans would love to see it receive.
The 2.0 DTS-HD sound doesn’t fare much better. Dialogue and effects are fine and serve the film fine. The songs, however, do definitely stand out (again, most noticeably during the Otis Day performances). With a soundtrack almost as beloved as the film, it’s a step in the right direction, but still not the presentation many were hoping for.
Beyond The Feature
To look at the list of features the back of the Animal House case promises, one would think they’d be in for a wealth of features. Sadly, much of it is either unnecessary fluff or simply not all that special. The only two that are somewhat worthwhile are ported over from older DVD release. Furthermore, none of the special features are in high definition, leading to even more letdowns.
Scene Companion – One of two U-Control features. This one functions as a kind of Picture-In-Picture track featuring cast and crew interviews, behind the scenes footage and more. The function, however, is far from consistent and nearly everything is covered in the “Yearbook” documentary featured on the disc. If you’re looking for more knowledge on the movie, skip this and just watch “The Yearbook.”
The Music of Animal House – The other U-Control feature. Whenever a song comes on, a little window pops up giving you the name of the band and title of the song and that’s it. It’s not even completely comprehensive as some songs are completely neglected by the feature.
“The Yearbook” Documentary (45 min, SD) – The one and only special feature on this release that is indeed worthwhile. This documentary covers the movie from the ground up, with in-depth interviews with all the writers and nearly every cast member. Mixing interviews, photos and behind the scenes footage, this is a solid look at the creation of the movie and is definitely worth a look.
Where Are They Now? A Delta Alumni Update (23 min, SD) – This is a sort of mockumentary with all the cast members portraying their characters from the movie and where they’ve ended up at the time of the interviews, which obviously weren’t any time recently. Although the idea is mildly charming, and die hard fans might truly enjoy it, the feature as a whole can get a bit tedious and long winded. Some of the actors seem to be ad-libbing there bits as they go along, and often goes for cheap jokes that all fall a little flat.
Scene It! Animal House (27 min, SD): This features two round of clips and trivia Scene It! style gaming, all focused on the film.
Theatrical Trailer (3 min, SD)
Despite its shortcomings, Animal House is what it is; a beloved comedy. The movie is filled with great performances and has numerous memorable moments. Its overall importance in the realm of comedy history makes its arrival to Blu-ray not only deserved, but welcome.
Unfortunately, Universal seems to have given little to any care whatsoever for one of their most beloved films and has thrown together a rather meager transfer with even less in the way of supplements. If you’re a lover of the movie, then I’d definitely recommend it for the slight picture upgrade and “Yearbook” documentary, but I’d caution newcomers to be wary as the film may not live up to the hype, and the Blu-ray definitely doesn’t shine as it should.
– Matt Hardeman
Shop for Animal House on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (July 26, 2011 release date).