Controversial Blus: Dead Ringers (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Man, it's a real shame this had to be a "Controversial Blu."  I mean, first of all, it's a shame when any blu is controversial, because it means it's got dissatisfied fans.  And it's a shame because David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers is a terrific film.  And it's more of a shame because there aren't any better import or alternative options (we'll get into that a bit more later).  But it's particularly a shame in this case because Scream Factory seem to have gone above and beyond in order to make sure that this was as satisfying and un-controversial as possible, going so far as to include two alternate transfers on two separate discs, just to please everybody.  Unfortunately...
Dead Ringers is pure Cronenberg in all the best ways.  It draws in all the influences and techniques grown out of his earlier horror work and pushes them into a genuinely affecting human drama.  Much of his later, dramatic work strays too far from his established energies; and while I can certainly empathize with his desire to shift into more mature work than wild splatter of his early career, it winds up feeling like predictable, bland journeyman fare.  Not only is his spark still here, it's a crackling electrical storm of lethal energy.  As Cronenberg moved from one stage of his career to the next, this was the perfect medium, the best of both worlds.
Jeremy Irons plays twin gynecologists (and yes, on a technical level, this was a film that blazed new special effects ground) who struggle to deal with the changes as they grow apart.  But as great as Irons is in a showy dual role, Geneviève Bujold steals the show as the catalyst for destruction, an actress who loves one twin but not the other.  The film has some nightmarish imagery but ultimately follows the path of the real life Marcus twinsHoward Shore delivers a powerful score that rather anticipates the music he'd later create for The Lord Of the Rings, and Scanners star Stephen Lack pops in for a very cool cameo.
So let's get into it.  Anchor Bay originally put Dead Ringers out as a barebones, non-anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) DVD back in 1998.  It was basically a port of Criterion's laserdisc, and they put out their own edition (same transfer, but now with lots of special features), later that same year.  When their rights reverted to Warner Bros, they put out a new edition, mis-framed at 1.78:1 with new extras, but losing the Criterion ones.  And then that Warner Bros 1.78 transfer started turning up on blu-ray in later years, in France, Australia and Russia; and they were always also interlaced with lossy audio ...though still a decent upgrade in terms of clearer HD at least.  Finally, Scream Factory came around last year to release what should've been the ultimate, definitive edition, with that same Warner Bros 1.78 transfer from the other blus (but thankfully no longer interlaced), and a brand new 2k scan of the interpositive, framed back in the director's preferred aspect ratio of 1.66 on disc two.  ...But if their new transfer is so great, why bother with the old one?  Just for people who fell in love with the 1.78 framing?  And why stick their superior new transfer on disc 2 instead of 1?  Now I'm starting to worry about this new 2k scanner, something seems fishy here, doesn't it?
1) 1998 Criterion DVD 2) 2005 Warner Bros DVD
3) 2016 Scream Factory blu disc 1 4) 2016 Scream Factory blu disc 2
Honestly, this is one of those cases that makes you want to just drop your head on the desk and stop thinking about it.  But I'm pushing forward to get to the bottom of everything.  So, let's start with aspect ratios.  The Criterion disc is technically more like 1.64:1, but despite being a lower resolution, non-anamorphic framing, is attractively framed.  I think now's the right time to point out not only that Criterion's DVD (and their laserdisc) says right on the packaging that 1.66 is "David Cronenberg's preferred framing," but that their transfer was approved by both Cronenberg and director of photography Peter Suschitzy.  Cronenberg's approved some questionable releases in the past, so it's worth pointing out that this framing was also approved by the DP.

So okay.  People sometimes like to say that Warner Bros' DVD is actually 1.85:1 rather than 1.78:1 because it's slightly letterboxed.  The truth is actually exactly in the middle: it's 1.82:1 because if you look carefully at the first images, you'll notice it's also slightly pillar boxed, particularly on the left.  Scream's blus, then, are pretty much what they say they are: 1.78 on disc 1 and 1.67 on disc 2.  So the 1.82 and the 1.78 are different (Scream's is a little less tight horizontally and vertically), but pretty similar in all matters of importance.  And, at least in terms of framing, Scream's new transfer wins because it's the proper aspect ratio and in HD, right?  Well, unfortunately no, and here's where we start to see the controversial aspects bubble up.
↗That's Scream's 1.67 transfer transparently laid over Criterion's 1.66.  Obviously, there's not just .1 extra width, but a serious vertical shift.  Scream has a lot more up top, and crops a large chunk of the bottom.  So it's no longer a case of which of the two framings is preferable; they've actually made a whole new, 3rd framing situation.  And in these two shots it doesn't look too bad, but having watched both versions all the way through more than once, I can say I really prefer Criterion's framing.  There is just a whole lot of empty space over actor's heads in most close-ups, and the bottom always looks too tight.  It just feels wrong.  And while yes, Scream's disc says they've incorporated Cronenberg's preferred ratio, they don't mention the framing exactly, and they certainly don't say he or the DP approved their transfer.  So I'm just going to call it: Criterion's framing is right; Scream's is wrong.  But good luck living with that, because Criterion's framing is only available on a low-res, non-anamoprhic DVD.  Great.

And that's just the framing discussion.
1) 1998 Criterion DVD 2) 2005 Warner Bros DVD
3) 2016 Scream Factory blu disc 1 4) 2016 Scream Factory blu disc 2
Which one of these is not like the others?  Criterion and Warner Bros, one thing they agree on is that the night scenes are meant to have their blue filters.  But Scream's new scan seems to have forgotten that.  Whoops.  And their transfer is warmer in general - look at the earlier comparison of them standing in the restaurant - which is questionable, too.  But the night scenes are really far off.

So now, maybe you're thinking, well okay, I get it, Scream's new 2k scan is garbage and that's why it's been relegated to disc 2.  But it's not that simple.  Let's go back to their older transfer on disc 1.  It's not just framed at Cronenberg's un-preferred ratio, it's also got artificial sharpening and edge enhancement haloing.  That's not really Scream's fault, though; that's the crappy one Warner Bros provides, which prompted Scream to make a new scan in the first place.  And their new scan is a clearer, truer scan of the film.  It looks softer, but mostly because it doesn't have the artificial sharpening.  Also, both transfers have annoying sporadic bouts of shakiness - presumably telecine wobble.  But there's no decent release of the film without it, so that's just something we'll have to deal with.  So which of their two versions is the ideal one to watch?  It's really a case of six of one, one half dozen of the other.  They're both flawed, superior in some ways, inferior in others.  Just pick which one annoys you the least.  At least they've topped all the foreign blu-rays.

But before you finally wipe your brow, we haven't even gotten to the reason why both of Scream's discs are being recalled and replaced!
Criterion just gives us the original stereo mix in a decent sound Dolby track with no subtitle options.  Hey, it was an old disc.  Warner Bros gave us the stereo mix plus a new 5.1 mix, and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.  Scream gives us both the stereo and 5.1 mixes in DTS-HD, plus optional English subs on both the disc 1 and 2 versions.  Yay, perfect, right?  Well, except their stereo mixes - again, on both discs - are reversed.  And the stereo mix is the critical, purist option.  So the sounds that are supposed to be coming out of the right channel come out of the left, and vice versa.  Thankfully, Scream has recognized this error and if you email them with your receipt, you can request new Version 2 discs that correct this.  And just to be clear, that's the only thing that's different between the original and replacement discs.
So now let's talk about extras.  There's a lot to get into here, too.  You can divide Scream Factory's extras into two categories: what it carried over from Warner Bros (everything) and their new, original content.  So, from the Warner Bros DVD is a decent but slow audio commentary by Jeremy Irons.  He's quite interesting, but starts running out of things to say about halfway through, and there are a lot of silent stretches in the second half.  There's also a collection of vintage EPK stuff, including brief on-set interviews with Irons, Cronenberg, co-writer Norman Snider and producer Marc Boyman, and a basic featurette that incorporates a lot of said interview footage.  It also has a few unique soundbites and more importantly some behind-the-scenes B-roll and a look at how the twinning footage was made, so it's worth going through.  That, plus the trailer, is what comes from Warner Bros.
What Scream Factory brings is a little off-center, i.e. no big pieces with the major players, but actually quite good.  They provide a good audio commentary by Cronenberg expert William Beard, which is a very informative, engaging listen, even if he snubs Fast Company (haha).  But even better are the four new video interviews they conduct.  Actress Heidi Von Palleske (she played Elliot's girlfriend) is very interesting and forthcoming, talking about how she never realized at the time that this film would be the pinnacle of her career, and Suschitsky talks about the look of the film and working with the Cronenbergs.  Then there's a thoroughly eccentric interview with Stephen Lack, who talks about his experience returning to acting for Dead Ringers, but mostly showcases his wild artwork.  You'd never guess what the slightly stiff Scanners star was like in real life.  And finally, there's a quite candid talk with special effects artist Gordon Smith who talks openly about not being Cronenberg's first choice and feeling spurned during the creative process.  But most excitingly is when she shows footage of a crazy, over the top special effects sequence that was shot but never used in the final film.  Scream's two-disc set also includes reversible artwork and a slipcover that for some reason has the MGM logo on its spine.
Irons and his stand-in, from the exclusive Criterion extras.
But what's missing is Criterion's extra material.  First and foremost they have by far the best audio commentary, with Cronenberg himself, as well as Irons, Suschitsky, editor Ronald Sanders and production designer Carol Spier.  It's basically several commentary sessions spliced together - they're not all in a room recording together - but that really helps make sure there's never a dull moment.  Cronenberg's commentary is of course the most enlightening, but whenever he might pause or lapse, another speaker can be cut in to fill the space with some important insight.  Irons says mostly all the same things on this that he said in the solo commentary, so if you have this version, you can skip his unless you're a die-hard fan panning for every single little nugget.

Then, a lot of what was on the Criterion edition is the same as what was on the Warner Bros and Scream discs... the vintage interviews, the featurette and the trailer.  But Criterion has had a long and detailed look at the twinning effects and motion control footage, where we get to see all the different stages the scenes went through.  There are also three large photo galleries including all the artwork used for the opening credits sequence, the original designs for the "tools for operating on mutant women," and even all the sculptures seen only in the background of the metal gallery in the film.  Criterion's DVD also came with a fold-out insert with notes by documentary filmmaker Chris Rodley.
So, where do we find ourselves at the end of all this?  Well, Scream Factory's 2-disc set is definitely the best blu-ray edition out there.  They definitely put in the effort to please everybody.  Their new extras are great, they have the best HD image of the film out there (whichever transfer you wind up going with), and thanks to their replacement program, they have the best audio as well.  You'll definitely want to hang onto your Criterion discs for their exclusive special features.  It's also still the only release - well, that and the 1998 Anchor Bay disc - with the correct framing; but are you really going to watch a low-res, 4x3 DVD in 2017?  I could see holding out for a more ideal blu-ray edition down the line.  Arrow would probably be the most likely bet for a proper restoration.  But even then, they'd have to be willing to make another, all-new scan that in all likelihood they'd only be able to release in the UK (since Scream has obviously already licensed it for the US), so I don't hold out a lot of hope.  As headache-inducing as it is just to parse out all of the issues associated with Scream Factory's release, it's still the best we've got; and that's not likely to change anytime soon.

Popatopolis, The Jim Wynorski Story Is Terrific!

Guys, guys!  If you haven't seen Popatopolis yet, the 2009 documentary about B-movie director Jim Wynorski, you must.  It's so good.  And listen, I didn't rush to see it either.  It popped up on my radar because, as you can tell from this site, I'm pretty big into cult films and documentaries.  But I wouldn't call myself a Jim Wynorski fan.  I'm a Chopping Mall fan, and there are elements I appreciate from a few of his other films... Everybody should probably watch Lost Empire once in their lives.  But usually, honestly, seeing Wynorski's name attached to a project means not for me.  It means renting Evil Toons and finding out the evil cartoons have about ten seconds of screen-time in the whole movie.  It means cynical, direct-to-cable TV softcore porn with titles like Busty Cops & The Bare Wench Project (not to be confused with The Erotic Witch Project), and bewildering, unconnected sequels to franchises that weren't so great in the first place.  I mean, who knew the Ghoulies franchise could sink so much farther than it started out?
Plus the title (if you don't get it, just read the "let's pop some tops" quote from Wynorski plastered right across the top of the poster), trailer and even the film's opening scenes make it look kind of a like a cheap, misogynistic exercise, inviting us to laugh at the airhead babes of Hollywood B-movies.  From the very beginning where Jim repeatedly calls an actress auditioning for a role in his latest "erotic thriller" stupid for showing up late and neglecting to bring a resume, to him showing off the Howard Stern books in his pantry, I was buckled in for a fairly sleazy experience.  But this film is really an insightful, compelling piece of filmmaking.
This film really comes at us from two angles.  One half is an immediate documentary of Wynorski making his latest feature (at the time), The Witches of Breastwick, which he is determined to complete in three days.  The documentarians are on set the whole time, and it's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a level of filmmaking that we don't usually (ever?) get to see.  This is very far removed from the 4-hour Prometheus blu-ray doc.  As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong shooting a feature in three days with plenty of nudity out in the woods, and we get a very funny, thorough first-hand perspective of that experience.  Even if The Witches of Breastwick is the last sort of film you'd ever find yourself watching, the 'making of' is an entirely different, fascinating experience.
And that's just one half of what's on offer here.  The other is a career-spanning retrospective of Wynorski, with clips from his biggest films, interviews with his biggest peers and collaborators from Andy Sidaris to Julie Strain to Roger Corman, and even a visit to his mother's house.  Popatopolis does a great job in finding the joy in his body of work and unraveling the layers of an ultimately charming curmudgeon who clearly loves film and takes pride in doing the best he can with the dwindling budgets he's given to work with.  There's some sad discussion about the death of roles for softcore B-movie actresses who are being replaced by hardcore pornstars that don't have a problem doing whatever they're asked.
And that brings up another great strength of this picture.  This is no puff piece.  I mean, sure the cast and crew complain about the hardships and stress they're under making a film in three days.  In a scene where several of the actresses are reading over the script, Monique Parent comments that the man who wrote this clearly hates women.  And Julie K. Smith replies, yeah, when they start drinking "the anger comes out," later pointing out where the stage directions refer to her as "the cow."  But beyond just those candid little moments, people like Smith and Corman really open up about their long histories working with Wynorski, and the disappointments he's had in his career.  Corman talks about the popular "I'm sick of all these Jim Wynorski movies" reaction his films were getting in the 90s.  It's certainly an affectionate look, and you'll probably come out of this liking Wynorski more than you did going in, but it's far more honest than your usual DVD documentary where everyone answers softball questions and calls each other brilliant.  In Popatopolis, Jim calls everybody stupid.
So, the 2009 DVD from Imaginaut isn't the most amazing PQ to look at, but I imagine it's about as good as the film can be presented.  During the film we watch Jim shoot his film with an old HD camcorder on DV tapes, and we know the filmmakers are using smaller cameras.  So I think the image is what it is and that's why there's no blu-ray version.  Still, it's a fine DVD presentation: anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with no interlacing or other issues.  This is just a micro-budget 2009 digital film, this DVD is probably exactly the same image that they screened at festivals.  Some shots would've certainly looked nicer with a more modern camera to add more detail and gloss, and as an often impromptu documentary, sometimes the lighting was just whatever they could grab in the moment.  But even on my large screen TV, it still looked fine.  It even has a 5.1 mix with optional English and Portuguese subtitles.  Care was taken to do this release right.
And that's especially evident in the special features.  You're really going to want to pick up the DVD as opposed to just catching this on some streaming site.  First of all, there are two audio commentaries.  One in by the filmmaking team, and it's pretty solid; they're certainly in good spirits.  Also in good spirits are actresses Monique Parent and Antonia Dorian, but their commentary is very skippable.  They have little to say, leaving long stretches of silence or simply laughing at the film, and it also doesn't help that their commentary is mixed so low that it's often very hard to hear them over the sound of the film "in the background."

But more importantly than either commentary are the deleted scenes.  There's some great stuff in here, including interviews with some people who never even made it into the finished film.  There's also a festival talk where Jim goes into some great stories working on his biggest films, and during the Deathstalker 2 clip, we suddenly cut to a whole exclusive interview with its star John Terlesky, which is exclusive to just that deleted scene.  And there are more deleted scenes tucked away as easter eggs, which are also great (Julie Strain takes you on a tour of her house, dances for us, and talks to her maid who once cameo'd in a Wynorski film), so you should definitely hunt those down, too.  Finally, there's the trailer and a cute Chopping Mall-related video where a remote controlled killbot travels around the UK promoting an upcoming screening.
Now, you might've already taken a look and been disappointed that Popatopolis seems to be out of print and selling for $50 (as of this writing at least) on Amazon.  Happily though, this DVD is still available brand new from the film's official website popatopolis.com for just $14.99.  I was a little worried it might be a long abandoned deal, like the I Don't Know Jack DVD offer on jacknance.com, but I took a gamble and ordered it myself just a couple weeks ago, so I'm happy to report they're still fully operational.  They even threw in an autographed postcard.  I really can't imagine any of you guys who've found yourselves on this site not appreciating this one.  I would honestly rate this even higher than Electric Boogaloo or other, recent popular docs along these lines.

The Impossible Quest for a Proper Tabloid (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Collecting DVDs shouldn't be this hard.  Tabloid is a fairly recent Errol Morris documentary, that first debuted on DVD in 2011 from IFC Films.  It's super entertaining.  But here's the thing: the DVD itself?  It's not so great.  So I decided to try my hand at importing, and it turns out, with this title at least, you just can't win.

But you can at least do better than the US DVD.
It goes without saying that an Errol Morris documentary is a great documentary; but in recent years, he's been doing a lot of very serious, sometimes rather depressing, war films.  However, as Morris put it in his director's statement, "Tabloid is a return to my favorite genre - sick, sad and funny."  It's a completely crazy story about a beauty queen who fell in love with a Mormon, hired a pilot and a couple of heavies to sneak into the UK, kidnap him at gunpoint for a weekend of love-making and then smuggle him out of the country.  And there's no way you'd guess all the crazy turns this true story takes.  I certainly won't spoil it for you here, but it's a real "you can't make these things up" kind of show.
The only release we have of this film in the US is that 2011 IFC Films DVD.  I had it pre-ordered well before it came out, but after being disappointed by the disc, I figured there had to be something better in another region.  2012 saw new DVDs in the UK and Australia, so I went with Dogwoof's UK disc, because it promised a unique set of extras.  It was an improvement but still a disappointment, so later on I put out the feelers for another search.  Surely a recent film this good has to be available in HD, right?  And sure enough, there was a 2013 blu-ray released in the Netherlands from Remains In Light (yes, that's the company's name) that even seemed to include the UK special features.  Perfect, right?  Third time's the charm?  Nope.  Here's why.
2011 US DVD top; 2012 UK DVD mid; 2013 NL blu bottom.
Gah!  Look at the interlacing in that first pic!  How does that happen on a modern day release from a legit, mainstream studio?  The answer, of course: it doesn't.  Clearly the devil had to have been involved.  Moving down to Dogwoof's UK disc and thankfully that's fixed.  It's decidedly darker (look at the "Manacled Mormon" block in the second shots), with some slightly crushed blacks; but otherwise it's not too bad. But that's alright, the blu-ray should be the best of both worlds and take care of all of those issues, plus boost us up to a crisper HD image, right?  And it does.  It's pretty great, except... what?  It's in the completely wrong aspect ratio.  The DVDs are in their original, very wide 2.40:1 ratio, but the blu-ray, well, it claims to be 1.85:1 on the case, but is even wrong about that, coming in at 1.78:1.  It's a bit of a split, partially opening up the mattes to give us more vertical information, yet also cutting off some of the sides.

Audio-wise, the US DVD comes through alright, giving us a solid 5.1 mix with optional English and Spanish subs.  Dogwoof gives us the same, minus any subtitle option.  Remains In Light gives us two audio tracks, Dolby 5.1 and DTS-HD 5.1, both in English, so that's nice.  Their only subtitle options are Dutch and French, though.
So let's talk special features.  The US DVD has nothing but the trailer, which is another reason why I was so keen to search elsewhere.  The UK DVD promises multiple things, as you can still see on the label's official and the back of the case, including:
* Trailer
* Director Statement
* Deleted Scenes
* Extended Interviews
* Additional Trailers
But that's pretty misleading.  The director's statement is just a short bit of text written on the inside of the case, not an on-disc extra of any kind, and the deleted scenes and extended interviews are both referring to the same brief things.  There are four (total) deleted scenes, which are extra little clips from the interviews. The DVD packaging says the extras are "15 min. approx," but they must be including all the bonus trailers and ads, because it really totals five and a half minutes, generously eight including the film's trailer.  I don't know if maybe the DVD was originally going to have more extras that got pulled at the last minute, and just wound up in the disc's notes, or if Dogwoof was deliberately trying to trick buyers into thinking they had more substantial features than they actually did, but either way it's kind of a bummer.
deleted scene
With that said, though, a few extras beat no extras; and I'm always happy to see deleted scenes from Errol Morris films.  The ones included on Standard Operating Procedure and the First Person solo episode DVD were amazing.  These, well, one is quite compelling, but the other three don't add much at all.  I'm glad to have them, though.  And yes, these four extra scenes are also included on the blu, as is the trailer and some more bonus trailers.  I should also point out that the Dogwoof DVD comes in a slim case made entirely of recycled materials.  The design's alright, but it doesn't look too pretty spine-out on a shelf.
Remain In Light's disc is the only blu-ray release of Tabloid in the world, so basically you have to choose.  Which one is going to bother you less: watching this film in SD instead of HD, or watching it in the wrong aspect ratio?  Whatever your answer to that question is will determine whether the Dogwoof or Remain In Light disc is the right one for you.  Whatever you do, though, don't get the US DVD from IFC Films.  That's the worst.

How To Take the Ultimate Vacation (DVD/ Blu-Ray Comparison)

Alright, four horror films in a row, including the infamous "video nasty" Anthropophagus and possibly the most mean-spirited Texas Chainsaw Massacre flick of all.  We've gotta lighten the mood.  How about one of the most beloved American family comedies of all-time?  I've been meaning to tackle this one for a long time, actually, because the extras situation is frustrating, and I'm not sure how many fans even realize.  And any opportunity to drag people down into my frustration and annoyance is an absolute must, right?  But seriously, there's some compelling info about this title and its many editions that doesn't get discussed, so I wanted to spread the word.
Of course, for a "family comedy" - one written by John Hughes at that - Harold Ramis's Vacation sure is R-rated.  Must be the National Lampoon influence.  They later softened up the sequels to PG, but this original film has an edge.  Granted, the remake went back to R; but the only funny thing about that film was the younger son's insane, terroristic relationship with his older brother.  The original, on the other hand, works on so many different levels at the same time.  On the one hand, it is that sentimental, Hughes comedy about family, but it also gets pretty dark, undercutting any mainstream schmaltz with harsh comic reality at almost every turn.  Vacation gives us one of Chevy Chase's greatest comic performances, if not his literal all-time greatest, while also pulling together a terrific ensemble of supporting players including Beverly D'Angelo in her quintessential role, John Candy, Imogene Coca, Eugene Levy, old Hollywood star Eddie Bracken, Brian-Doyle Murray, a very young Jane Krakowsi, and of course Randy Quaid.  It's got an unforgettable soundtrack (despite Warner Bros being too cheap to keep paying for "I'm So Excited" over the years) with an iconic theme song and one scene after another that's forever embedded in a generation's memory.
Naturally, Warner Bros has put out Vacation a number of times, starting with a barebones fullscreen DVD in 1997.  But there was a much more compelling 20th Anniversary Special Edition released in 2003 (and also included in the 2003 Ultimate Vacation Collection boxed set), that's still relevant to this day.  It was alternatively bundled up with Police Academy, as well as released as a 2-disc set with European Vacation in 2006, then the Ultimate box and the double feature were both reissued with new art in 2009.  2010 then saw us the first version since the 2003 20th Anniversary that we actually got a different disc and not just a repackaging, because that's when Warner first released the film on blu.  But curiously, they took a step backwards in the extras department, losing some stuff.  There was also a DVD edition of that version, naturally, and in 2011, there was a National Lampoon's Vacation Collection which included just parts 1, 2 and 4 on DVD, which seems a little odd.  And a "Bromantic Comedies" DVD which included the first two Vacation movies and a can cooler... even though I don't see how either Vacation film qualifies as bromantic.

If nothing else, we get a sense of this movie's popularity just because it's apparently profitable for Warner to keep reissuing the same disc over and over again with variant, tacky packaging.  They just keep selling; and this doesn't even include the dozens of other Vacation discs Warner has released in every other region around the world.  Meanwhile, Looking for Mr. Goodbar can't get a single DVD in the history of the format.  It was nominated for two Oscars for chrissakes.  Anyway, refocusing, Warner even included Vacation in a couple of 4 and 5 Film Favorite DVD collections as recently 2016, but at this point the blus are of much more interest.  So after the original 2010 DVD, it was re-released on blu in 2013 as the 30th Anniversary Edition, with an all-new "featurette."  That edition was also included in a 2014 3-disc set with European Vacation and Planes Trains and Automobiles.  So out of all those releases, the two versions to care about are the 20th Anniversary DVD and 30th blu-ray.  We'll take a look at those, plus the original 2010 blu-ray.
2003 WB DVD top; 2010 WB blu-ray middle; 2013 WB blu-ray bottom.
All three discs feature a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, despite the blu-ray cases claiming 1.85:1.  Still, the framings of the DVD and blu-rays are not exactly the same.  The DVD is a little zoomed in, with the blus displaying a little extra picture information along all four sides.  The DVD also has a slightly redder push.  Looking at little Anthony Michael Hall in the first set of comparisons; I'd say I prefer the blus colors.  The DVD also has a little haloing and natural SD smudginess that I'm happy to see cleared up on the blus.  But the two blus themselves are essentially identical; they're clearly using the same transfer.

All three discs feature the original mono track, in DTS-HD on the blus, with optional English subtitles.  And as usual with Warner Bros, they also include a number of foreign language options.  The DVD throws in both French, Spanish and Portuguese dubs and sets of subtitles.  But what's a little bit interesting is that the 30th Anniversary blu has more language options than the 2010 edition.  2010 has French and Spanish dubs and subs, while the 2013 has Spanish, Castillian and German dubs, plus Castillian, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish subtitles.  But who cares about foreign dubs, let's get to the important difference between the blu-ray editions.
The 20th Anniversary DVD came up with a pretty strong, if decidedly imperfect, selection of extras.  The biggest selling point is the packed audio commentary by Harold Ramis with, producer Matty Simmons, Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron and Randy Quaid.  They do a great job walking the line of having fun with all those people cracking jokes but still being informative.  The only thing is that they mention deleted scenes in the commentary that they say will be on the DVD but aren't, and to this day have never been released.  But okay, let's stick with what else we do get.  There's a brief video introduction to the film by with Chase, Quaid and Simmons kidding around, the theatrical trailer and a "Family Truckster Featurette Gallery."  We've go to talk about that.
So it's kind of a big collection of easter eggs.  You click around the image of this car and get different, short video clips.  For example, if you click on the front bumper, you get a brief interview with Dana Barron talking about why she didn't appear in the sequel, or if you click on the front tire, you get an interview with Christie Brinkley.  If you click on the front windshield, it takes you inside the car where you get another layout of the radio, and clicking each station button gives you more little videos.  Now, these videos really range in quality.  One of them is a great little featurette with Matty Simmons and stunt coordinator/ driver Dick Ziker talking about the famous station wagon.  But then clicking on the roof rack just brings up a montage of Aunt Edna gags from the film with no new footage.  One radio button just gives you a clip of Brinkley introducing the 20th Anniversary, apparently an alternative they would've used to the film intro if they couldn't get Chevy.  There are also three outtakes from that video recording with Chevy joking around, Sana Barron introducing a clip of the family singing in the car, and a featurette where Brinkley and Simmons talk about the hotel dinner scene.

I can see why they left it off later editions as-is.  The novelty/ chore of clicking around hunting for easter eggs has gone out of fashion, and while some of the clips are great, and feature interviews with people who weren't included on any of the other extras, others are pretty worthless, like the clips from the film.  Plus, most of them are really short, and they don't exactly cut together into a cohesive documentary.  But it's really a shame to see some of them go, and they could've at least strung the more substantive interviews into a single featurette for future editions.  It's even got its own IMDB entry as if that had been the case.  But nope, they just scrapped it all.
So the 2010 blu-ray is just a straight step backwards.  They have the commentary and the introduction, but that's it.  Yup, they even lost the trailer.  That's just straight-up lazy in my opinion.  But the 30th Anniversary Edition, while still not restoring the Truckster stuff, coughs up something new.  First of all, they recover the trailer, which is a good start.  But the important thing is "Featurette: Inside Story: National Lampoon's Vacation."  On the plus side, this "featurette" is almost 90 minutes long, and includes interviews with just about everybody, from the main stars to the crew and supporting cast who have been left out of the other special features.  But in the minus column, this isn't something new or original, this is an episode of Biography's regular Inside Story series, full of commercial breaks and "coming up next" bumpers.  So it's full of great interviews and content, but it's horribly edited to the point of being seriously annoying, playing the same soundbites over and over.  But at the end of the day, despite the problems, it's well worth having.  But it's the only new thing we get for this fancy new Anniversary Edition.
Ultimately, we fans still can't get rid of our 20th Anniversary DVDs (which comes in an ugly snapper crapper case, but at least has the terrific poster art, instead of the photoshop abominations on the blus).  And even if you kept that and double-dipped on the original blu-ray with the new one for the television special, it still feels like kind of a light special edition for a such a classic, beloved film.  Where are those deleted scenes?  How about some original retrospective content as opposed to the awfully edited television piece?  Or at least cut out all of the bumpers and constant repetition from that.  But on a more positive note, both the 20th and 30th Anniversary editions can be had for pretty cheap (WB knew their double-dip was a slim upgrade), and for all its flaws, there are a lot of funny anecdotes, memories and serious insight into the making of this film, so long as you know to get the right editions. And if this was the worst treatment any film got in the home video market, we'd be in a pretty happy place.