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National Lampoon's Animal House: Double Secret Probation Edition

Universal // R // August 26, 2003
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted September 8, 2003 | E-mail the Author

The Movie

Animal House... well there's not much need for a synopsis, is there? Perhaps I could offer my thoughts as to why this is bar none the funniest college-era movie ever filmed, but that's like making the bold assertion that water is the greatest combination of hydrogen and oxygen ever. Wow... way to take a stand! Truth to be told, there is very little real debate to be made about why Animal House is such a classic. Oh sure, I could make some rather pithy comments and acerbic criticisms in an attempt to deconstruct the movie within the context of contemporary attitudes, bla bla bla. Who needs it? As I've written many times before in this space, you don't want to read it, and I sure as heck don't want to write it. Animal House is still, twenty-five years after its original release, one of the funniest movies ever made... period.

If I was to comment on anything about the movie's success -- and I am -- it would be the strength of the film's fantastic ensemble cast. Classic characters like Boon, Otter, Bluto, D-Day, Hoover, hell even Stork, Flounder, and Pinto, made pretty much every American kid want to go to college, join a fraternity, and joyously flunk out while drowning in the seas of Bacchanalia. The principal actors played it funny, but they played it real. They were characters, not caricatures, no matter what inanities the script might have put them through. Tim Matheson's Otter was smooth, cocky, witty, and pretty much the bee's knees when it came to the ladies, but let's face it: the guy was an arrogant little schmuck whose egocentrism and inconsideration made his ass-kicking late in the film something of a welcome act. There was an air of candid honesty to Boon and Katie's relationship, an up-and-down affair that, in a less-entertaining and cliché-ridden movie of the same type, would probably have been changed into something along the lines of a "will he get the girl or won't he" vein. Special notice must be given to John Vernon's performance as Dean Wormer, the quintessential movie villain whose patronizing, authoritative persona and distinctive vocal stylings created one of the most enjoyable "bad guys" in cinema history. I also think James Daughton is thoroughly under-appreciated as Greg Marmalard, the Ultimate Evil in Evil Snobbery. As the stuffy "rich white guy", he has to play it straighter than anyone else, but he does it brilliantly. And as the villainous Niedermayer of Omega House (who apparently was shot off-screen during the Twilight Zone movie), Marc Metcalf honed his comic precision and pitch-perfect timing that would come in handy during a pair of classic Twisted Sister videos in the mid-1980s.

And then there's Bluto, who perhaps is the most one-note of all the major characters. Let's face it, John Belushi was great in the role, but throughout the movie he was little more than a prop with some classic lines. Not that anybody is exactly clamoring for deeper characterizations while watching Animal House, and quite honestly, who could blame them? The movie delivers the goods where it counts. One of many "The Slobs vs. The Snobs" films that continue to be dot the comedic landscape (writer Harold Ramis and producer Ivan Reitman would re-team for Caddyshack two years later in a continuation of this theme), Animal House is easily among the best of the genre. Much credit has to be given to John Landis's direction and the script (written by Ramis, Douglas Kenney, and Chris Miller), which were both in absolutely fine form. Landis's directorial hand brought out the comedy in even the straightest of situations, or in the most banal of dialogue. He would use his ear and eye for comedic potential in ordinary situations throughout numerous other classics, like The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, and Trading Places.

Universal, in honor of the film's twenty-fifth year anniversary, has released a brand-new collector's edition of the DVD dubbed the Double Secret Probation Edition. It's the third time the film has been released on DVD. The first edition was a pan-and-scan, featureless version. The second version was an anamorphic widescreen "Collector's Edition" with some decent extras. This new edition sports a brand new transfer and remixed sound, with pretty much all of the extras from the "Collector's Edition" and some new ones thrown in to the mix.


Universal commissioned an all-new transfer of Animal House for its anniversary, and the results were good. In fact, they were so good that director John Landis insisted that they murk it up a bit, explaining that the movie shouldn't look quite as cleaned-up and crystal-clear as the new transfer appeared. In any case, the movie is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen viewing magnificence. The transfer is remarkably clean, with only the slightest amount of speckling and debris visible on the print. Colors are very strong and well rendered; flesh tones look very warm and accurate. There are some noticeable haloing and ringing around some highly-contrasted scenes, but throughout the film contrast levels are generally solid. Image detail is reasonably sharp with only occasional softness (I was sorely tempted to use Babs's "Is it supposed to be this soft" line in the review, but thankfully such shameless pandering wasn't necessary.) Overall, Animal House looks better than it has since its 1978 release.

The audio is presented in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but this isn't one of the more enveloping and aggressive soundtracks your apt to hear anytime soon. While the soundfield has certainly been opened up significantly from previous releases, the audio is fairly front stage and monaural throughout. There is some definite separation in the front channels and mild directionality and surround use throughout the production, but the audio is predominantly set in the front. That having been said, the audio presentation is solid and serviceable throughout. The musical numbers definitely have a lot more life and punch to them than before. The movie sounds very good throughout, but it's nothing spectacular -- overall it serves the film very well, but that's about it.

There are two major new extras on this DVD. The first is Where Are They Now? A Delta Alumni Update, a twenty-three minute feature that catches up with the characters from Animal House. Yes, Boon and Katie married, divorced, re-married, re-divorced, and married yet again (with a geeky son named Otis!). We also catch up with Barbara "Babs" Jansen, who still works as a tour guide for Universal Studios (but you can't get the entry discount anymore), as well as Kent "Flounder" Dorfman, Marion "The Dean's Wife" Wormer, Otis Day, Chip "Hey that's Kevin Bacon!" Diller, Curtis "Hardbar" Fuller, Robert Hoover, Dean Vernon Wormer, Dr. Eric "Otter" Stratton, and Daniel "D-Day" Day. Plus we learn how far-reaching Bluto's political aspirations really were! Seriously, it's a funny, charming little piece that is sure to make fans of the film chuckle at least a few times.

The second major new extra is entitled Did You Know That? Universal Animated Anecdotes, which is a subtitle trivia track that, when selected, pops up with fascinating behind-the-scenes goodies while you watch the film. This is an interesting, informative addition that will interest fans of the film immensely. I found it fascinating to discover that legendary bluesman Robert Cray, a University of Oregon student at the time, played the role of the bass player in Otis Day's band.

The Yearbook: An Animal House Reunion is a leftover from the previous DVD release, but a worthwhile one indeed. This forty-five minute documentary is a look back at the film from its major cast and crew, reuniting many of them to share their thoughts and feelings on the project two decades after its release. This is an enjoyable and somewhat serious if affectionate behind-the-scenes look at the creation of a classic American comedy.

You can forget the MXPX "Shout" Music Video -- the four-minute piece crosscuts scenes from the film against MXPX's rather weak cover of the tune. Rounding out the supplements are the film's Theatrical Trailer, thirteen text pages of Production Notes, Cast & Filmmakers biographies, and Recommendations for Amazon Women on the Moon, The Blues Brothers, and Blues Brothers 2000 (*shudder*).

Final Thoughts

What's not to love? The movie is a classic. The lines are still as quotable, the performances are still spot-on, and the laughs are still as loud and as genuine. Animal House endures because the movie works in every conceivable capacity. Unfortunately like every great movie before it (and afterwards), the movie created a genre in and of itself, which resulted in a landslide of crude knock-offs and poorly made imitations (including Delta House, the short-lived television spinoff based on the movie.) But in time all originals always rise above their crap imitators, and Animal House is still as loud, as brash, and as great as it ever has been.

This is the Animal House DVD to beat. With its new video transfer and 5.1 audio mix, the presentation is about as great as it's ever been. Throw in some copious supplements (over an hour of documentary and behind-the-scenes footage, the subtitle trivia track, and more), and the purchase of this DVD is a no-brainer... almost. If you don't have the previously released "Collector's Edition", this Double Secret Probation edition is the definite DVD to get, but if you already have the previous edition there's no compelling reason to upgrade unless you're an slobbering uber-fan of the film and can't get enough Animal House memorabilia into your life.

One major complaint to this disc: Universal has decided to implement "forced trailers" after you pop the DVD into your player. However, unlike the forced trailers from other companies, you cannot press the MENU button to bypass them, nor can you use the CHAPTER UP to skip them. The best you can do is hit your FORWARD button a few times to quickly ignore them. This is a fairly grotesque practice that Universal needs to stop -- immediately.
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Highly Recommended

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