National Lampoon's Animal House [2 Discs] [Includes Digital Copy] [Blu-ray/DVD] product details page

National Lampoon's Animal House [2 Discs] [Includes Digital Copy] [Blu-ray/DVD]

National Lampoon's Animal House [2 Discs] [Includes Digital Copy] [Blu-ray/DVD]
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Reviewer:Bruce Eder, The 1970s were full of movies that constituted cultural phenomena, with The Exorcist, Jaws, The Omen, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind all coming out in about a four-year span. One title that is usually overlooked -- probably because it didn't take itself remotely as seriously as these others -- but had every bit as much impact as any of those films, was National Lampoon's Animal House. Shot during late 1977 and early 1978 on a modest budget, Animal House proceeded to return many times its investment and jump-started the careers of its director and most of its cast. College students who had too much energy and not enough outlets for it suddenly began organizing "toga parties"; interest in fraternities, which had been declining since the mid-'60s, suddenly spiked; and it was suddenly not only okay, but even expected, for college students (who'd come to represent the conscience of the nation in some circles during the Vietnam War) to be goofy again. On the most superficial level, Animal House was no more profound than such collegiate comedies of an earlier era as Too Many Girls (1940), Good News (1947), or The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), and even less serious than Apartment for Peggy (1948) or Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949). What it did do was take audiences back to that earlier era of college humor, add some sex in a carefully calculated manner, and inject just enough of a '70s consciousness so that audiences could laugh at the film -- and at the idea of the film -- and hold those late '50s/early '60s pop and R&B songs in their heads. The movie's impact and the nature of its acceptance can be measured by the fact that the only star to emerge from it was John Belushi, his gonzo portrayal of "Bluto" Blutarsky marking a high-point in his big-screen career that he never again achieved. What's more, the movie's influence is still being felt today in every teen comedy by the Farrelly brothers, the Wayans brothers, and any of their rivals, most of whom emphasize gross-out humor to a degree that Animal House director John Landis never would have considered. Ironically, amid the slapstick humor and outsized characterizations that filled the movie, Animal House had a very serious source of inspiration. Co-author Chris Miller did base some of the material on his experiences as an undergraduate at Dartmouth (a fact that Dartmouth has been trying to live down ever since), but the authors also intended part of the plot as an allegory about the Nixon White House. The inspiration for Dean Wormer and the Omegas, and their activities undermining the Deltas, was Richard Nixon and the "plumbers," his dirty-tricks squad, which directed their activities against the president's political enemies. Indeed, if you look closely at the portrayal of the dean by John Vernon and of Omega house leaders Greg Marmalard and Doug Neidermeyer by James Daughton and Mark Metcalf, respectively, it's easy to see similarities to Nixon, his aides H.R. Haldeman and John Erlichman. This doesn't make Animal House into All the President's Men, and knowing it doesn't make the movie any more (or less) funny, though it may make it seem slightly more subversive, as well as more intelligent. Animal House is still best appreciated for what is seen onscreen -- some good jokes and sight gags and memorable characterizations, with Belushi's Bluto proving that "fat, drunk, and stupid" may not get you through life, but it is one way to get through seven years of college. The viewer does best to just sit back and -- echoing Stephen Furst's exclamation as all comic hell breaks loose at the denouement -- say to themselves, "Oh boy, is this great!" ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi