Release Date(s)1978 (May 18, 2021)
Studio(s)National Lampoon/Universal Pictures (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Animal House is a film which may have not aged well in some respects, but still deserves to be considered a classic. All movies are products of their times, but Animal House does reflect attitudes which have changed over the last forty years. Of course, this film is the prototypical raunchy frat house comedy, so most of it is obnoxious by design. Being offensive was the whole point of National Lampoon and it was their goal for the film as well (though the script was toned down during the lengthy development process). Some of that humor has simply dated more than the rest of it has. None of that changes the fact that Animal House is a considered a landmark comedy for a good reason: It was the ideal combination of screenplay, director, and cast.
Writers Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, and Chris Miller based their script on Ramis and Miller’s college experiences as well as those of producer Ivan Reitman. Questionable elements aside, those three cooks produced a very tasty broth. They set their hijinks in 1962 at the fictional Faber College, where a couple of young freshmen (Tom Hulce and Stephen Furst) pledge to join the “worst fraternity on campus,” the Delta Tau Chis. At the same time, Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon) declares war on the entire fraternity: “The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me.” However, he may have underestimated the need for such a futile and stupid gesture to be done.
Director John Landis was the perfect choice to handle this kind of material, as he wholeheartedly embraced its excesses. The cast could not possibly be better, and the characters they played have all become indelible parts of popular culture. So too has much of the dialogue:
“What? Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”
“Forget it. He’s rolling.”
Otter, Boon, Bluto, Pinto, Flounder, and all of the rest were hardly intended to be role models in the first place. Otter even helpfully points out that it’s a mistake to trust any of them. So don’t! Sit back, relax, and enjoy a time capsule of a different era—but make sure that you hang on to your car keys.
National Lampoon’s Animal House was shot photochemically in 35 mm using Panavision Panaflex cameras and spherical lenses, then finished on film in the 1.85:1 “flat” aspect ratio for its theatrical release. Universal’s new Ultra HD is a striking improvement over their 2011 Blu-ray version. That disc was based on an old master, and it was marred by excessive digital noise reduction and sharpening. This native 4K scan is simply gorgeous. All of the haloing and smeared textures are gone, replaced by an abundance of fine detail and a natural sheen of grain. In fact, “natural” may be the best way to describe the entire transfer. It’s properly textured and looks very organic—almost like you could reach out and touch the actual film elements in front of you, even when viewed via digital projection. The HDR10 grade gently improves the contrast range and adds deeper blacks, but it’s the wide color gamut that really shines here—though not in the way that you may expect. Animal House was never a bright and colorful film, but now there are many more subtle variations in those muted colors which makes everything look more natural. There are no flaws other than those which are inherent in the original elements (such as the expected softness during optical work). Cinematographer Charles Correll is no longer with us, but I can only imagine that he would have been thrilled by this transfer.
Audio on the disc is offered in a new DTS:X mix, and while it works well, there are noticeable differences when comparing the original mono and 5.1 remix soundtracks. Missing sound effects include Bluto’s belch when he replies, "Why not?" to Flounder, but there are also added sound effects. Most of these changes are not dramatic, and considered on its own, it’s a fine mix which slightly expands the 5.1 soundstage while keeping its same general character. Ambient effects are subtle and the overall focus is on the front channels. Note that like the 2011 Blu-ray, the original mono mix is not included (the only way to find it is on the original DVD release). Other audio options include French, Italian, and Spanish DTS Mono and Japanese DTS 5.1. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, French Canadian, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Chinese.
Universal’s Ultra HD release is a 2-disc combo pack which also includes the 2011 Blu-ray (identical right down to the printing on the disc), so it does not included the newly-remastered picture and sound. Tucked away inside is a paper insert with a Digital code as well. The special features are similar on both discs. Note that while they’re included in 1080p HD on the UHD, they’re all upscaled from SD:
- The Yearbook: An Animal House Reunion (45:18)
- Where Are They Now? A Delta Alumni Update (23:27)
- SceneIt? Animal House (12:21 and 14:28)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:45)
There are also two U-Control Picture-in-Picture tracks on the Blu-ray, which are not duplicated on the UHD:
- Scene Companion
- The Music of Animal House
The Yearbook: An Animal House Reunion was originally produced for the 1998 DVD release. Written and directed by J.M. Kenny, it’s an impressive collection of interviews with the majority of the cast and crew who were still alive at the time (though Donald Sutherland is conspicuously absent). The stories they tell provide a helpful overview of the production, but more importantly, they capture its spirit. Those interviews, along with the behind-the-scenes footage that Kenny includes, show that one of the main reasons why the film is so much fun is that everyone had fun making it. Where Are They Now? A Delta Alumni Update was originally produced for the 2003 Double Secret Probation Edition DVD. Narrated by John Landis, it purports to catch up with the characters from the film to see where they are now. While the concept is clever, this mockumentary is only fitfully amusing and it distractingly makes no attempt to address the fact that the characters would have been fifteen years older than the actors (Animal House was released in 1978, but was set in 1962). Still, it’s nice to see some of the final appearances for both John Vernon and Verna Bloom, and we do finally get to see Babs at work. The SceneIt? feature includes two short collections of trivia questions with clips from the film borrowed from DVD editions of the board game. They’re not very interesting, but your mileage may vary. Scene Companion offers interviews, behind-the-scenes photographs, and other information, but it appears sporadically with dead stretches in between segments. There’s little here that isn’t covered far more efficiently and entertainingly in the documentary. The Music of Animal House simply identifies what songs are playing. Both Picture-in-Picture tracks are not much of a loss on the UHD, but at least they’re still here on the Blu-ray for those who still wish to view them.
Being fat, drunk, and stupid may be no way to get through life, but for a frat house comedy being funny is enough. It was certainly enough for audiences in 1978, as the film grossed $141 million against a $3 million dollar budget. The executives at Universal had their doubts about the material, but ended up laughing all the way to the bank. Just remember that times have changed for good reasons and feel free to laugh along with them—but don’t forget to ask for Babs.
- Stephen Bjork
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