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20th Century Fox presents
"I made my family disappear."
DVD ReviewWhen it comes to Christmas, my family is a pretty traditional bunch—fresh-cut tree, outdoor light display, Santa-shaped sugar cookies, hot spiced cider, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. Oh sure, we enjoy a festive holiday flick, but here's where we veer from the straight-and-narrow. While other broods bask in the glow of an annual viewing of It's A Wonderful Life, we're sitting by the fire watching Home Alone.
That's right, Home Alone. Okay, I admit the story of eight-year-old Kevin McCallister, who finds himself left behind after his family runs off to Paris on vacation, might not possess the same enduring, heartfelt message as that of George Bailey or Ebenezer Scrooge, but this John Hughes-Chris Columbus collaboration conveys more warmth and holiday cheer than the DVD cover art depicts. Much more. Though grounded in comedy (and almost sabotaged by slapstick), Home Alone projects the same hopeful spirit and reinforces many of the same timeless familial ideals as more serious seasonal fare, but without the treacly aftertaste. An overabundance of pratfalls and sight gags lead the film astray, but its inherent sweetness transcends the cartoon antics and brings it back from the brink—so far back, in fact, it's difficult to keep a dry eye by the time the closing credits roll.
Of course, anyone who knows Home Alone knows it's all about the pint-sized cutie Macaulay Culkin. Love him or hate him, Culkin carries the movie on his tiny shoulders, and one's ability to suspend disbelief and buy into his crazy predicament hinges on his ability to connect with the audience. And connect he does, maintaining the natural aura of a typical American kid even as he battles a pair of bungling burglars (wonderfully played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) and learns the true meaning of Christmas. Sure, he occasionally mugs for the camera, and the slapping-the-cheeks-and-screaming bit quickly wears thin, but his wide-eyed reactions and straightforward dealings with other adults make him a tough little package to resist.
Hughes has forged a career spinning juvenile and adolescent yarns, and few writers know their subject as well. Making the Home Alone premise credible is practically impossible (what mother and father would ever "forget" to bring their son along on vacation?), but somehow Hughes pulls it off, crafting a series of happenstances that allow such an unthinkable event to occur. During the days before Christmas, chaos reigns supreme in the McCallister household; visiting relatives threaten to burst the seams of the family's stately Chicagoland house, and last-minute preparations for a Paris holiday have put everyone in a tizzy. Young Kevin (Culkin), who's continually taunted by his siblings and cousins (who view him as an incompetent baby), begins mouthing off and fighting back, forcing his mother (Catherine O'Hara) to banish him to the attic bedroom. "I hope I never see any of you jerks again!" he shouts as she closes the door. Yet little does Kevin know, his Christmas wish just might come true.
Overnight wind gusts knock out power to the McCallister home, which causes the family to oversleep the next morning, and then rush like crazy to get to the airport and catch their transatlantic flight. Amid all the commotion, Kevin slumbers in the attic, and doesn't awake until his family is airborne. At first, Kevin relishes his newfound freedom, binging on junk food and watching "rubbish" on TV, but as Christmas creeps closer, he begins to feel the loss, and hopes Santa will bring them all back. First, however, he must contend with a couple of petty crooks set on robbing his home, and in so doing, learns what it really means to be "man of the house."
In addition to Culkin, Pesci and Stern, such noted actors as O'Hara, John Heard, John Candy (in a marvelous cameo as a polka band leader), and Roberts Blossom (who just rips your heart out as a Boo Radley/Magwitch hybrid) file honest, affecting performances. The circumstances of Home Alone may be far-fetched, but what makes this charming film hang together is the sincerity that pervades it. Like Santa, the Easter Bunny, or the Chicago Cubs, the movie requires our belief to succeed, and the acting, writing, and direction are good enough to win it.
No one would ever call Home Alone a great film, but my family considers it a special film. And I'd bet my Christmas cookies plenty of other families do, too.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Although Fox doesn't advertise it, the Family Fun Edition of Home Alone features a spruced up transfer that easily surpasses the earlier DVD release. Errant speckles still remain, but the image seems crisper and colors possess a more saturated feel. The holiday reds and greens really pop, infusing the film with even more Christmas spirit than before. Close-ups crackle with clarity, and less grain lends the picture a smoother, silkier look. This is by no means a perfect transfer, but it certainly renders the previous version obsolete.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: This new edition also upgrades the audio, supplying a DD 5.1 track that lends the film a far more immersive feel. Details are much easier to discern, and though surround activity is slight, subtle ambient effects do come through. Front channel stereo separation also widens the sound field, and even the subwoofer gets an occasional chance to shine. John Williams' excellent music score and the many classic Christmas tunes sprinkled throughout sound rich and full, and dialogue is always easy to understand.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
15 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Chris Columbus and actor Macaulay Culkin
A number of featurettes follow, and what better way to begin than with the four-minute 1990 Press Promo, a breezy puff piece comprised of film clips and "interviews" with Culkin, O'Hara, Pesci, Stern, and director Columbus. Culkin, Stern, and Columbus also appear in the more comprehensive, all-new documentary, The Making of Home Alone, in which the creative team reminisces about making the film and reflects on its enduring success. Columbus talks about presenting the action from a child's point of view, and how he sought to create "a sense of warmth, elegance, and timelessness" that most family films of the period lack, while Daniel Stern recalls how he almost didn't get the part of Marv, and how an actual tarantula was placed on his face for one of the movie's most memorable shots. In addition, Culkin praises Columbus for his ability to coax fine performances out of kids, composer John Williams analyzes his score, and extensive on-set footage provides a welcome behind-the-scenes perspective.
If you think your own home movies look amateurish, check out Mac Cam: Behind the Scenes with Macaulay Culkin, and you'll feel like a pro. The nine-year-old actor roamed around the set one day with his own camcorder, conducting on-the-spot interviews and clowning around, and some misguided soul at Fox thought we might find the footage interesting. (Okay, it's mildly cute for about 30 seconds, but four-and-a-half minutes seems interminable.) How to Burglar-Proof Your Home: The Stunts of Home Alone is much better, and makes one fervently appreciate the courageous men who got bruised and battered over and over again during the film's production. Stunt Coordinator Freddie Hice breaks down the most famous sequences during this seven-minute featurette, and hammers home the point that no optical trickery was employed when the exploits were shot. Every pratfall, collision, and slippery stumble was recorded in real time, and multiple takes were often required to capture them properly.
Home Alone Around the World runs four minutes and amusingly shows us how the film sounds in such languages as French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, and Mandarin Chinese. Where's Buzz Now? is also good for a chuckle, and allows the film's technical personnel the chance to speculate on what Kevin's obnoxious older brother might be up to today. Fittingly, Devin Ratray, the actor who portrays Buzz, gets the definitive last word at the end of this three-minute segment. The last featurette, Angels with Filthy Souls, honors the fictional gangster flick that Kevin uses to scare off the bumbling burglars (and a smart-aleck pizza delivery boy) during the film. Shot in the style of 1940s noir, the vignette (which runs a scant 90 seconds) is shown here in its entirety.
A two-minute blooper reel contains all the line flubs, ad-libs, and missteps we've come to expect from such compilations, while three trailers (including one that's a sing-a-long) provide a glimpse of a few deleted scenes and alternate takes. Of course, all 15 excised and alternate sequences can be viewed in their entirety; by selecting the "play all" option, the program runs just over 16 minutes.
Finally, three set-top games extend the movie's fun, and should appeal to both children and adults. Battle Plan challenges players to match various parts of the McCallister house with the booby trap Kevin set for the robbers. If you're right, you're rewarded with the corresponding film clip. Trivia Quiz incorporates scenes and stills to test your knowledge of Home Alone minutia, while the trickiest game of all, Head Count, requires players to quickly tabulate different items in various scenes or risk leaving even more McCallister kids behind.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsIt may not rank up there with Holiday Inn and White Christmas on the short list of yuletide classics, but Home Alone oozes seasonal spirit, and remains a funny, heartwarming family favorite. The remastered transfer, upgraded audio, and entertaining spate of supplements make double-dipping a no-brainer for fans, but if you've never spent Christmas with Macaulay Culkin and company, make sure you tuck a copy of this festive comedy in your stocking this year. Highly recommended.
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