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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon (Blu-ray)
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon (Blu-ray)
Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // April 19, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted April 19, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Directed by Douglas Tirola who co-wrote with Mark Monroe, 2015's Stoned Drunk Brilliant Dead is a documentary film that takes a look at the origins and influence of National Lampoon in all its various forms: the magazine, the movies, and even the radio show and then a series of records. There were even theatrical ventures thrown out there, which played a part in the early careers of people like John Belushi and Gilda Radner. To do this, the filmmakers interview quite a few people who were involved with the brand over the years and, when that wasn't possible, they've dug up some pertinent clips and archival materials to fill in the blanks. The end result isn't perfect nor is it comprehensive but it is pretty interesting and often times quite entertaining.

Depending on your age you may have first been exposed to National Lampoon by the magazine, or possibly by the movies that bore its masthead (National Lampoon's Vacation, perhaps?) but either way, odds are pretty good that you've heard of it. The movie follows a basic, chronological time line and shows us how the Harvard Lampoon evolved over time into National Lampoon, first published in 1970. The magazine proved a hit, attracting an interesting array of talent and from there spread out into a radio show and then film production: the aforementioned Vacation being a big one, alongside classics like Animal House, Class Reunion and then later parody films like Loaded Weapon (at which point the brand name was simply being licensed out).

The magazine, spearheaded by Doug Kenney, Henry Beard and Robert Hoffman, was often as politically barbed as it was crass and nudity laden, but it was funny stuff and it quickly developed a big following. By the mid-seventies the magazine was moving over a million copies of each new issue but in 1975 a lot of the people involved with the outfit left to join Saturday Night Live. Regardless, it solidered on into the eighties and still managed to feature early work from a veritable who's who of comedy writers and talented artists of various persuasions.

The movie traces the rise of the magazine in popularity and does a decent job of dishing the dirt when and where it can (it never tries to hide the fact that drug and alcohol use was pretty much rampant in the offices!). Along the way a score of people involved, or who just grew up appreciating it and consider it an influence, are interviewed: actor Chevy Chase, director John Landis, Hollywood big shot Judd Apatow, actor Kevin Bacon, actor Tim Matheson, actor John Goodman, actor Billy Bob Thornton, singer Meat Loaf, director Ivan Reitman, actress Beverly D'Angelo and contributors like Christopher Buckley, Henry Beard, Matty Simmons, Tony Hendra, P. J. O'Rourke and a lot more. Represented by way of some archival footage are departed contributors like John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Doug Kenney and Michael O'Donoghue. So the filmmakers did their homework as far as getting together a whole host of people to talk about National Lampoon in front of their cameras. Accompany the archival clips and the newly shot interview bits is a massive amount of artwork from the magazine, a lot of which has been pseudo-animated to give it a sense of movement as it appears on camera. There are plenty of archival photographs and publicity stills used throughout the feature as well.

It's interesting enough to watch once but it's hard not to notice how the movies are really only glanced at. The aforementioned Class Reunion is pretty much skipped, probably because it flopped, while other ventures like various comedy specials are mentioned in passing but without an actual explanation as to what they were or how they happened. The talking heads are usually interesting enough and some of the stories are genuinely great. The movie also has a nice energy to it and style to spare, but you get the impression that the filmmakers really wanted to focus on the glory days of the brand, rather than paint a complete picture of both the high's and the low's.

More perspective would have gone a long way here. Most of the interviews, as amusing as they can be, are more anecdotal than anything else. The substance abuse issues sometimes take things into darker territory and add some weight and seriousness to the piece, but these are fleeting. Still, if you look at this as a sort of ‘greatest hits' of the magazine and enjoy strolls down memory lane more than hard hitting, in-depth documentary film, you'll enjoy this. It's a fun watch, worth seeing, it just doesn't dig as deep as you might want it to.

The Blu-ray:

The film is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and the transfer quality is, because of the different archival sources used, understandably erratic. The newly shot interview footage looks great, it's nice and clean and clear and colorful and everything you'd want it to be. The archival footage? It varies a lot depending on the clips in question. Old 70s and 80s era clips tend to be taken from tape sources and as such, they're soft and worn out looking. Overall though, things are fine. This isn't going to blow your mind with the utmost in video clarity but it looks good enough.

Sound:

A DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is provided in English, with optional subtitles provided in English only. The clarity of the track is fine, with the music spread out rather well between the different channels in the mix to make for a fairly immersive experience. Again, the same problem applies here in regards to the archival clips in that some of the older ones aren't in the best of shape, so there's some hiss and some level bumps here and there. Overall though, the mix is fine and it gets the job done without any serious issues.

Extras:

The main extras on the disc are comprised of some Additional Interview Footage Tony Hendra, Mike Reiss, Stan Lee, Henry Beard, Sean Kelly, PJ O'Rourke, Judd Apatow, Michael Simmons, Meatloaf and Peter Kleinman all prove that they have a bit more to say about all of this than just what was featured in the final cut of the movie. There are also some amusing and/or interesting additional scenes included here, featuring Chevy Chase talking about his experiences on Caddy Shack, drug use at the National Lampoon headquarters, the Saturday Night Live Connections, life in New York City during the heyday of the publication and a fair bit more. The disc also includes some bonus footage where John Goodman Reads Doug Kenney and a separate Reading John Hughes section wherein Beverly D'Angelo, Kevin Bacon, Stephen Furst, Anthony Michael Hall and Chevy Chase do just that: read John Hughes' material.

Menus, chapter selection and trailers for a few other Magnolia releases round out the supplements.

Final Thoughts:

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead doesn't go as in-depth into the world of National Lampoon as you might want it to and those hoping for some more detailed documentation of the exploits that took place during the various film productions will be disappointed that it doesn't really go there, but this is still interesting enough to be worth a watch. Magnolia's Blu-ray looks and sounds good and contains a decent amount of extra material. Recommended for documentary junkies, a fine rental for the rest of the world.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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