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Animal House

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 109 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Poor John Landis. Twenty-odd years ago he was God; producing, in quick succession, the hugely popular cult classics The Blues Brothers and An American Werewolf in London. These days, well, the best he's managed in the last fifteen years has been Beverly Hills Cop III and Blue Brothers 2000; need I say more? But despite his recent dross, the film that launched his big-studio career still remains one of the most loved cult comedies of all time - the outrageous 1978 fraternity romp Animal House.

The first, and by far the best National Lampoon film (thereís not a Chevy Chase in sight), Animal House was the definitive gross-out film of its time, and as a wide-eyed 15 year old, it left a lasting impression on me. Although it pales in comparison to the new raft of gross-out comedies like American Pie and There's Something About Mary, Animal House was the original, and is still a film that a whole generation looks back on with a wry nostalgic smile.

"...thank you sir! May I have another?!"

In terms of plot, well, there really isnít one to speak of - the film is just one long string of bad-taste fraternity gags, all underpinned by a fun, earnest party atmosphere. Set in fictional Faber College way back in 1962, Animal House chronicles the struggle between two student fraternities. The Omegas are a bunch of rich, arrogant jocks who control the student council and get all the pretty girls (sound familiar?). The Deltas, the heroes of our story, are the dropout losers with bad grades who hold court in their dilapidated frat-house and are interested only in the excesses of rowdy young men - alcohol, drugs, and of course sex. University life for the Deltas is one year-long party. But with their behaviour increasingly bringing shame on the academic institution, the campus administration decides to get rid of the fraternity once and for all. The Omegas, of course, are only too willing to help...

Although the humour seen in Animal House is a little dated by todayís standards Ė this stuff has been copied ad nauseam for the last 20-odd years Ė the film as a whole really has stood the test of time. Admittedly it didnít quite live up to my memory of it (I found I could recall an appalling number of the filmís lines), but I still found it immensely entertaining. Naturally the main reason for its longevity is down to the wonderful performances Landis has extracted from his ensemble cast. Of course the standout is the late John Belushi, whose performance here, along with his famous turn in The Blues Brothers, remains a jewel in his all too short career. The undisputed heart and soul of the film, Belushiís beer swilling, prank-playing slob Bluto is the immoral hub of the Delta fraternity, and he is joined by a perfect supporting cast. From Tom Hulce, playing the wide-eyed newcomer, to Tim Matheson as Delta's womanising frat-president Otter, and Donald Sutherlandís hippy English Professor Dave Jennings, the laughs come thick and fast from one and all.

  Video
Contract

When the guys at National Lampoon banged out their earliest films, the last thing they considered were small details such as cinematography, or even effective lighting. Consequently, Animal House isnít much to look at, especially compared to the comedy titles that Hollywood is all-too-willing to throw money at today. Thatís not to say, however, that Columbiaís (sadly) non-anamorphic transfer isnít perfectly adequate given the source material.

While black level is perfect, and colours (including skin tones) are well rendered, the first thing that you notice about the film is the distinct lack of shadow detail. This is a shame because many of the filmís key scenes take place either at night or in the dimly lit frat-house. And while the image displays a reasonable amount of detail at times, at others the image is soft and keeping the camera in focus seems to have been a problem.

These problems with the source material aside, the print used for the transfer has remained remarkably clean (or thereís remastering afoot), and although thereís the odd deluge of white specks, there really is little to complain about on this front. The surprising condition of the print is complimented by a digital transfer that, whilst introducing a little macro blocking in the darker backgrounds of one or two scenes, has no other problems and is sure to please fans.

  Audio
Contract

It is in terms of audio, that Animal House really shows its age and miniscule budget, with only the most basic of mono soundtracks produced for the film. Of course the film is dialogue-centric, and while the dialogue is always clear and distinct, there is little other audio activity. The dramatic score was a first for its time, providing a serious underscore to the lunacy - a contrast that greatly enhances the humour - and while the score tries valiantly to fill out the soundtrack, the mono track is still less than impressive. Devoid of surround or subwoofer activity, it is routed to the centre by your trusty Prologic decoder. You may want to fill out the sound by turning your decoder off altogether, but really there isnít that much to hear all the same.

  Extras
Contract

Static yet serviceable menus provide access to a small number of extras; one in particular being of potential interest to fans.

  • Featurette Ė The Yearbook: (45:00) Filmed in 1998 to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of Animal House, this retrospective featurette presents recent interviews with Landis, producers Ivan Reitman and Matty Simmons, and cast members including Tim Matheson, Karen Allen, Peter Riegert and Kevin Bacon. This "reunion" piece also features comments from John Belushi's wife as well as behind the scenes snippets of Belushi on the set. A great companion to the film.

  • Production Notes: Nine pages of information about the production, including the history of National Lampoon, a brief plot synopsis, and more technical details such as locations and extras.

  • Cast and Crew Biographies: Information on John Landis and all major cast members, including brief career summaries and selected filmographies.

  • Trailer: Full frame, reasonable transfer. Zero re-watch potential.

  Overall  
Contract

At the end of the day, Animal House isnít high art. Come to think of it, it isnít even intelligent, and, well, it's even a little dated. But there's no denying it's still wickedly amusing. If you remember and loved the film from its heyday, then my advice to you is rush out and grab it - you'll definitely enjoy it all over again. For all you others, well, it's a case of suck it and see - but there's a good chance you'll find something here to amuse you.


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      And I quote...
    "..Animal House isnít high art, it isnít even intelligent, but there's no denying it's still wickedly amusing."
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
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    • Video Cables:
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