National Lampoon's Animal House

National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)
Universal Home Video
Cast: John Belushi, Peter Riegert, Karen Allen, Tom Hulce, Tim Matheson
Extras: Featurette, Documentary, U-Control, BD Live

After a long wait, John Landis' "Animal House" has finally arrived on Blu-Ray Disc, too, making the DVD and HD-DVD versions obsolete, as it presents this cult classic in high definition. But is it worth the upgrade? Universal Studios Home Entertainment has provided a possible answer to this quandary with the Blu-Ray release of John Landis' landmark 1978 counter-culture comedy "National Lampoon's Animal House."

I won't go into great detail about the movie, considering its almost mythic stature within the annals of film comedy. Suffice it to say that "National Lampoon's Animal House" represented a perfect storm of talent, vehicle and cultural readiness, as it depicted the battle between the unconventional Delta House and uber-conservative Omega House fraternities at fictional Faber College in 1962 and served it up as a hearty helping of "Duck Soup"-style anarchy for a weary – and receptive – post-Watergate/Vietnam audience. The film struck an immediate chord, turning the $3 million ugly duckling into the most successful film comedy of that time. Given its influence over the past twenty-eight years, it's hard to believe that the film was such a radical departure — and a huge gamble on the studio's part. 

Like the HD-DVD previously, this 1080p high definition version on Blu-Ray has a lot of things going for itself, most of which can be encompassed in a single word – detail. Not only are the colors more vibrant and rich in this high definition transfer, but in comparison to the standard definition version previously released, you will now be able to see the outline of deep beard stubble on Pinto's (Tom Hulce, pre-Amadeus) face or Flounder's (Stephen Furst) mole on the slide projection of his picture. The image is that much sharper in the high definition version.

Pinto's dress coat during Frat Rush is a respectable black in the standard definition version. It is an entirely different story in high definition and its increased color resolution, as you can suddenly notice lots of iridescent speckles in the fabric. Every strand of Babs' (Martha Smith) bouffant is distinct and Bluto's "zit" impersonation takes on a whole new dimension, now that we can really see the, um, consistency. In short, what the standard definition transfer used to hint at, the high definition version finally delivers. The source print still exhibits grain, but completely in step with the original cinematography.

The DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track on this Blu-Ray Disc represents a marginally better audio presentation than the 5.1 remastered sound on the DVD. The oldies soundtrack – ranging from The Kingsmen's "Louie, Louie" to DeWayne Jessie's now-legendary rendition of "Shout" — gets a little goose in clarity and aural definition from the fatter bandwidth of the uncompressed DTS track encoding. The audio is crisp, clear and you get to hear every note of Elmer Bernstein's lush dramatic score (another radical notion for the film, courtesy of Landis). 

The extras from the previous DVD version are all contained on this release. The jewel of the supplements is the 25-minute mockumentary "Where Are They Now: A Delta Alumni Update." John Landis narrates, referring to "Animal House" as a "documentary about one semester in the life of the Delta Chi fraternity." Catching up with several graduates and perfectly in step with the film's famous "where-are-they-now" ending, the "Update" finds class-stud Eric Stratton in his gynecologist's overcoat, about to administer an exam to a beautiful blonde, Babs pointing out famous tables on the Universal Studios tram and Hoover as a Baltimore PD, anxiously telling the interviewer "don't tell the others where I am."

There's also a more traditional retrospective documentary with new (as in 2003) video interviews from practically the entire cast and major behind-the-camera personnel. Running 45 minutes, the anecdotes fly fast, free – and with great affection for the movie that, for most of them, started their careers. "Did You Know That?" is a subtitle feature, providing pithy factoids about the movie. Informative, but they appear so infrequently that after a while I was anticipating the next trivia tidbit instead of watching the movie.

Also included is Universal's U-Control scene companion and "The music of animal House" feature as well as BD Live connectivity.

The high definition transfer for "Animal House" is, for my money, a marked improvement over the DVD. But is it worth buying again? Hard to say, but if having the best possible rendition of a film is your goal, I say "Go for it!" Toga, toga, toga…