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Blu-ray Review: Animal House

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The Film

For better or for worse, the college movie likely wouldn’t exist in its tattered, hidebound form if not for Animal House, which has spawned a depressing amount of imitations — ironically, a number of which bear the now-beyond-repair National Lampoon tag. I won’t rhapsodize about the film like its dedicated fans will — for me, it’s mostly an entertaining trifle with more good bits than bad ones — but compared to almost everything else in its specific genre, it’s a downright masterpiece.

Part of the film’s charm is its easygoing, episodic nature. Director John Landis doesn’t try too hard to make something great out of the proceedings, but simply allows his performers — especially John Belushi as the immortal Bluto Blutarsky — moments to shine. Sure, there’s a snobs-vs.-slobs plot in there somewhere, with the boys of the disreputable Delta fraternity being targeted by the Omega douchebags and the imperious Dean Wormer (John Vernon), but Landis isn’t much concerned with plot mechanics.

This often works in our favor, as scenes like Bluto’s loaded cafeteria tray (and eventual food fight), the toga party mayhem, and the final parade setpiece are wonderfully executed comedy capsules. At the end of the film, these moments are indelible even alongside more underwhelming fare like the “road trip” and its accompanying stale race humor.

While Belushi unquestionably steals the show as the ultimate college party king, there are lots of likable performances, including Tom Hulce and Stephen Furst as a couple of new pledges, Tim Matheson and Peter Riegert as a pair of wisecracking upperclassmen, Karen Allen as the beleaguered girlfriend, Bruce McGill as a rowdy gearhead, and Donald Sutherland as a pot-smoking professor. The script by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, and Chris Miller spreads the love around, and every one of these actors has at least one iconic scene.

Ultimately, Animal House has aged pretty well. Superficially, it seems stuck in the mire with the last 30 years of shoddy, sexist, and boneheaded college comedies — and it certainly possesses a little bit of all those elements — but its superiority does eventually reveal itself.

The Blu-ray Disc

Animal House is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This transfer is a bit of a mixed bag, with obviously improved image clarity and sharpness but also a not insignificant amount of intrusive noise reduction. Fine detail isn’t as apparent in facial features as it should be and the image mostly lacks a film-like layer of grain. This lends to a very clean look, and it hasn’t been overused to the point of waxy, artificial surfaces, but it’s hardly ideal. Fortunately, damage isn’t much of a concern and colors seem stable and accurately represented. Solid, if imperfect.

Audio is presented in a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that effectively separates music and dialogue, while adding in a modest amount of ambient noise, particularly in scenes with large groups. Elmer Bernstein’s score is peppy and clear, and dialogue is always easy to understand.

Special Features

Animal House is a film that Universal has milked for a number of special editions, but not that many extras were ever created for it. We get the carryover here, with a behind-the-scenes documentary featuring retrospective interviews with much of the cast and the crew. Less enjoyable is a piece that posits the film is actually a documentary and interviews some of the cast members in character to see where they’re at now. The disc also includes a mini-version of SceneIt, with video trivia questions about the film.

There are also a couple of picture-in-picture options — interviews are presented within the context of certain scenes and music information pops up for the songs used.

The Bottom Line

Without any new extras and only a so-so transfer, this isn’t must-upgrade material, but it’s enough of a bump to please the Delta-loving nostalgic in you.

 

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.