The 90s was the most prominent time John Hughes had the most prevalence. Starting out writing for National Lampoon magazine before penning a few screenplays before striking a one-two punch in 1983 with Mr. Mom and National Lampoon's Vacation, before directing a few films of his own, while still writing a ton of films along with producing most of his scripts while handing them off to others. While John Hughes tended to direct some of his best work, sometimes a few gems would come along without his vision, such as the aforementioned NLV and MM but also Home Alone and Pretty in Pink.
1988 came rollin' around, Hughes had a screenplay ready to go, with a good cast and a director (Howard Deutch) whose first two films were Hughes-penned screenplays (Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful). Does this film deserve to be savored fresh from a fire-smoked grill or beaten into submission by a yuppie armed with a flyswatter?
Taking place in the northern woods of the USA (Possibly Illinois or Wisconsin), the Ripley's (Chet (The late, great John Candy), Connie (Stephanie Faracy), Buck (Chris Young) and Ben (Ian Giatti)) are travelling up to the woods to get away from the city life for a week and enjoy nature.
Of course their vacation is ruined when their in-laws, the Craig's (Roman (Dan Aykroyd) Kate (Annette Benning, in her big-screen debut) and their creepy twins Mara & Cara) drop-in unannounced, sharing the cabin and hijacking the laid back vacation. Tensions mount, battles are fought and wakes are sucked out in the great outdoors, much to Chet's growing dismay. Will Chet finally rid of his brother-in-law? Will Roman have a dark secret exposed during the vacation? Will the subtitled racoons have a spinoff film of their own? Only one way to find out by picking up a copy of The Great Outdoors.
Frankly, I am biased of this film, as I watched this film as a kid dozens upon dozens of times on a Sunday lineup of movies on TBS, watching my worn out recorded VHS copy (with some deleted scenes!) on a lazy, summer day with nothing to do and needing a laugh or two or, years later, inserting my DVD into the player to watch the film in glorious standard definition, which was the best way to watch it for a good decade, at least.
I cannot hate this film, and I cannot give anything less than high marks for this film, since I feel this is a classic comedy. This doesn't mean I have no beef with the film. No, I have a few issues with the movie, but I'll start with the good. If you didn't notice the cast, then shame on you as it has a great two-header of a cast with legendary performers Candy and Aykroyd and they deliver the laughs here!
Candy, as always, is a lovable, family man here, but slowly having his kettle boiled by the fire that is Aykroyd's character and him holding back his anger is a highlight, but also just his presence makes the film all that much better. Aykroyd is also terrific as Roman, bringing the rich, know-it-all attitude an investment banker who earned millions should have, here to the forefront and also having a blast railroading Chet's quiet vacation into a loud kegger.
Annette Benning does well here for her first starring role, as Roman's wife, as does Faracy as Candy's wife and have their moments, but make no mistake, this is Candy's and Aykroyd's film. The kids do okay work, just nothing really memorable done with their character's despite Buck having a summer fling with a local girl and the third act revolving around Roman's children! In fact I got more of a kick from the supporting local characters (Robert Prosky's lodge owner, Redge the Human Barometer and the raccoons being the most prominent) than the boring kids characters.
The screenplay is pretty decent, though it moves to a more episodic movie rather than a fully-fleshed out narrative or at least have a semblance of a plot, but it does have memorable episodes throughout and some highly quotable lines that I still use to this day. Despite its moments, the whole love story angle is quite boring, and feels shoehorned in. Heck, with some careful editing, you can actually edit out this plotline and have the film work much better (The beginning of the third act is also out of left field). Howard Deutch's direction is capable at best, directing actors very well, keeping the film moving at a nice clip and the comedy being well-played, but the film lacks a certain style which is kind of unfortunate. Though the camerawork provided by Ric Waite is nice and captures the woods nicely, this film just looks plain. The score is pretty nice, with a really good use of jazz thrown into the mix with the introduction of the Craig's and is all-around a good score. With everything considered, the film is still funny today as it was 28 years ago when it was released, and should be watched at least once by everyone who loves a good comedy.
Moving onto the BluRay, let's give the PQ/AQ a whirl. Having watched this movie my entire life on different formats (Basic cable, recorded VHS, retail VHS and DVD), I have to say the PQ is the best I have seen for this movie this side of the theatrical release, but it could've been so much better. While clearly a step up from the DVD from the 1990s and the John Candy 3-pack from a few years back (It shares disc space with Uncle Buck, but was anamorphically enhanced unlike the original DVD), this was just a DVD master transferred over to the disc, essentially. Despite everything, the film has a high bitrate, with appropriate details in the face, backgrounds and clothing, and of course the nature shots looks lush and green and brown. The 2.0 DTS-HD track is also nice, though nothing to scream about, just an age-appropriate track with stereo effects, music and dialogue coming through without a hitch. But wouldn't a remaster of the picture and sound be wonderful?
On the DVD, there are two trailers, one being a teaser while the other is the actual trailer, the BluRay only has the theatrical trailer. Though its not a deal-breaker, completists will want to hold onto their DVD's just to have the teaser o hand. Though a commentary and a making-of would've been great (Or just the deleted scenes from the network version would be just as welcome), Universal just took what they had, gussied it up and called it a day, which is fine but what I would give for a Shout! Factory or an Arrow re-release with extras and remastering.
Despite everything, the movie itself is a must own and the disc us a must buy despite the transfer being older and a general lack of extras outside of a trailer and for under $10, its worth to add to any collection, just let go of the rope and you'll be fine!