Writing a plot summary of Animal House would be like scribbling down a synopsis of Jaws: you know who's in it, you know what it's about, so I'll just skip to the part where you roll your eyes at my terrible, terrible taste. Shameful Admission Number One: I hadn't seen Animal House until this past April, nearly six years after leaving college behind. Shameful Admission Number Two: I...really don't find it all that funny. To save you some scrolling, the "...the hell's wrong with you?" hate mail link is right over here. I don't mean that it's not funny in the sense of making me cringe and groan as if it were a direct-to-video American Pie sequel or something. Sure, it's buoyed by one of those casts where half the actors went onto bigger and better things, and I appreciate how influential it's been, but...I guess I've seen so many movies that have shamelessly ripped off Animal House that even my first time through, it felt like I'd already seen it twenty-seven times before. I watch it with complete indifference up until the Deltas' manic siege on the parade, the only stretch of the movie that hadn't been Xeroxed into a couple dozen other frat-comedy screenplays.
But...hey, if I were a character in a college comedy, I'd be some virginal dweeb wearing hornrimmed glasses and named "Merton Nerdlinger" or something, so maybe I just passed the target demographic an exit or two back. Everyone else gives the movie four stars...or five stars...or however many stars are on their rating scale...so here's an open invitation to ignore me. Regardless of how you wind up reacting to the movie, pop culture demands that you see it at least once, but Animal House is too tepid a comedy for me to want to shell out thirty bucks to own forever and ever, amen.
Video: Universal has popped Animal House onto a combo disc with a 1.85:1 high definition presentation on one side of the disc and standard definition on the other. This is a lower-budgeted movie from the late '70s, and it was banged out quickly enough that there wasn't time to meticulously light each shot. Animal House may not look as objectively stellar as Blazing Saddles, the only other '70s comedy on HD DVD at present, or something shiny and new like Ĉon Flux, but considering its age, budget, and quick-'n-dirty photography, I was pretty pleased. The HD DVD may not seem like it'd offer much of an improvement over a standard definition DVD at first glance, but the difference is more dramatic when you flip the disc over and actually start directly comparing shots. As long as you go in with reasonable expectations, knowing that this isn't going to be some robust, three-dimensional image with vivid colors that leap off the screen, I think you'll walk away fairly happy.
This HD DVD has been mastered from the same transfer as the "Double Secret Probation Edition" DVD, and the frame jump when the camera hops inside the Dexter Lake Club is still present and accounted for, unfortunately.
Audio: Although the original monaural audio isn't included on the HD DVD side of the disc, the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio doesn't take all that many liberties. The surround channels are sparsely used, there isn't much to coax a belch out of the subwoofer, and the mix is at ease anchoring as much front-'n-center as possible. The track gets a little more lively during some of the more raucous party stuff, and although the film's dialogue has an unavoidably dated quality to it, the music and sound effects are in decent enough shape. Nothing particularly remarkable, but...serviceable, as I think the kids are saying these days. One gaffe from the most recent special edition DVD does creep in, though: before Neidermeyer takes a golf ball to the head, the "now" in "Now drop and give me twenty" drops out.
A French 5.1 dub is also tacked on alongside subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Supplements: The extras are all on the DVD side of this combo disc and have been ported over from the "Double Secret Probation Edition" from a few years back.
First up is the twenty-three minute "Where Are They Now? A Delta Alumni Update", narrated by John Landis and featuring most of the main cast in character. Kinda cute but somewhere on the other side of funny, this mockufeaturette catches up with the Deltas (and Omegas and...) and weaves tales of urine-injection, re-re-marriage, senility, and political domination. The real documentary is "The Yearbook: An Animal House Reunion", a forty-five minute collection of interviews with the key cast and crew. It's extremely comprehensive, following the project from a germ of an idea to its theatrical premiere, all the while making it clear what a happy accident it was that the film was even greenlit, let alone such a colossal, career-defining success. Very much worth setting aside the time to watch.
In lieu of a commentary, the "Did You Know That?" subtitle track lobs out random facts like Meat Loaf being in the running for the role of Bluto, the multi-million dollar payday Donald Sutherland would've had if he'd opted for a percentage of the gross instead of a flat fee, and background stuff I didn't notice such as a couple of the ROTC guys at the parade forgetting to twirl their rifles. It's kinda subdued -- you can go a long, long time between these nuggets o' info -- but tosses out some good stuff when it sporadically kicks in. MxPx serve up a music video for their uninspired cover of "Shout", which has a few clips from the movie mixed in with some performance footage. A letterboxed, non-anamorphic theatrical trailer, a detailed set of production notes, and cast/crew bios round out the extras.
Animal House is the first combo release from Universal and is packaged differently than any other HD DVD I've seen so far. 'Combo format' is physically printed on the top of the case, the spine is squared off rather than rounded, and there's a latch on the other side that has to be flipped open to remove the disc. The case as a whole has a bit more heft to it.
Conclusion: National Lampoon's Animal House is required viewing just as a pop culture touchstone, but as a movie...? I'm not as keen on it as most. Considering that the low-budget photography doesn't exactly make for home theater demo material and that the regular DVD with all the same features can be had for eight bucks, this considerably more expensive combo disc is tough to recommend when there's a not-so-bad alternative available for so much less.
Special thanks go out to Bob Preskar for bringing a couple of flaws from the Double Secret Probation Edition to my attention.
The usual disclaimer: the screengrabs in this review were lifted from the DVD side of the disc to liven up what would otherwise be an awfully bland design and don't necessarily reflect the appearance of the movie on HD DVD.