Home Alone Review
Macaulay Culkin just can't catch a break. Having attained a reputation as the poster boy for the bottom of the kiddy-comedy barrel, he has now made the awkward transition to the world of grown-up movies but still can't seem to shake off that image of the snide, overpaid child star whose face many people would dearly love to punch. Home Alone is without a doubt his best-known role, and the one that made him the multi-million-dollar megastar he at one point was. It's certainly easy to knock the film, and that has as much to do with the inferior sequels and rip-offs that it spawned as anything, but Home Alone is actually a great movie and one of the most enjoyable pieces of Christmas entertainment I can ever remember seeing.
It's the sort of thing every kid dreams about. After having to endure his home being filled with obnoxious cousins, after having to tolerate his older siblings picking on him constantly, after being told that "there are fifteen people in the house and [he is] the only one who has to make trouble", and after being told that in the morning everyone will be jetting off to Paris to spend Christmas with an uncle and aunt he barely knows, 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Culkin) wakes up to find everyone gone. Delighted by the thought that he has made his familly disappear, Kevin throws a party for himself and proceeds to indulge in all the things his parents and siblings wouldn't allow.
Of course, his family haven't actually disappeared, and when, half-way between Chicago and Paris, they realize that they have left their darling son behind, parents Peter (John Heard) and Kate (Catherine O'Hara) are understandably upset. The only problem is that, with this being Christmas, every single flight back to the US is full. Kevin, meanwhile, finds himself having to deal with two marauding burglars, Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), intent on plundering the deserted street of all its valuables, as well as his disturbing elderly neighbour, Old Man Marley (Roberts Blossom). Faced with being home alone, Kevin decides to do the only thing he can: to defend his home from intruders, by any means necessary.
Nostalgia has a lot to do with it, certainly. This, for me, is the quintessential festive film, and in my house the year just wouldn't be complete if the Home Alone DVD (and previously VHS) didn't get played at least a dozen times. This remains by far my most oft-rewatched movie, and despite knowing every line by heart it never seems to get old. The movie taps into many of the things that appeal most to children, and it's hard not to feel elated at first when Kevin exclaims "I made my family disappear?" After all, how many of us, both as children and adults, can claim to have never wished we could do the same? When he careens around the house in a state of giddy excitement, gorging himself on ice cream and watching the movie his parents wouldn't let him see the night before, how could anyone who still remembers what it was like to be that age not empathize?
Then of course there are the various mishaps that befall Kevin's adversaries. Harry and Marv, a.k.a. the Wet Bandits, must rank as two of the most incompetent thieves in cinematic history. Their feckless antics make the stars of America's Dumbest Criminals look like hardened professionals. Despite being subjected to all manner of abuse during their journey into and through the McCallister household, it takes them till near the end of the movie to work out that following Kevin when he shouts "I'm down here, you big horse's ass! Come and get me!" will simply lead them straight into yet another excruciating trap. This, however, is what makes the film so enjoyable. Never in real life could criminals this stupid exist, let alone have successfully pulled off so many previous heists. Marv is too gormless to seem capable of a feat as ingenious as flooding each home he has robbed, and the scheming Harry - who has planned the Christmas burgling spree to the extent that he has personally wormed the holiday plans out of every one of the street's residents - is the one who suggests climbing from the house to a tree-house via a rope. Yet for all its unbelievability (no-one could, for a single moment, imagine that they could ever survive the injuries inflicted upon the pair, let alone keep getting back up for more), it is at times hard not to feel sorry for Harry and Marv. They are simply so incompetent that you almost want to see them succeed, if only so that they can exact revenge on the infuriating Culkin. This could never happen, of course, be we can dream.
The traps themselves are ingenious in their simplicity, and better yet they are satisfyinglybrutal. Not many family films would feature heads being set on fire by blowtorches, large rusty nails penetrating bare feet, and ribs being thrashed soundly with crowbars. These over the top antics were clearly inspired by those of classic cartoons like Tom and Jerry, and in fact the relationship between Kevin and the Wet Bandits is almost identical to that of the infamous cat and mouse duo. A cartoonish air perpetrates every injury, with the Bandits being inflicted with wounds that would surely kill or at least irreversibly maim in real life, and yet despite all this their brutality is still palpable. Having said that, Home Alone has heart too, and while at times it threatens to descend into mawkishness, it never becomes unbearably over-sentimental, a problem that has plagued many of writer/producer John Hughes and director Chris Columbus' other projects. Home Alone is, when all said and done, damn good fun, and despite the criticism it often receives, it remains one of the most enjoyable Christmas movies ever made. Now to order myself a lovely cheese pizza, just for me...
The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is absolutely foul, a veritable sea of artefacts of all kinds. With a lack of definition that suggests a severely filtered LaserDisc source, edge enhancement is rife and the entire image has a constant "rippling" effect along lines that should be straight. On most filtered DVDs, faces become hard to distinguish in long shots, but with this transfer the actors' features are smeared into oblivion in all but the closest of close-ups. The print itself is not in great shape either, with visible damage towards the end of reels, but all things considered this is a minor quibble. Flesh tones are a little orange, but this is perhaps reflective of the original photography: I was only 7 when I first saw the film, but I seem to remember it looking similar then as well. All in all, this is a hideous transfer, although the word on the street is that the American non-anamorphic release looks even worse, if that is actually possible.
The Dolby Surround 2.0 audio mix is about as serviceable as you can get and there are no obvious problems with dialogue clarity or intrusive background noise. John Williams' excellent (if repetitive) score sounds absolutely fine with no noticeable distortion. Subtitles are provided in a multitude of languages.
The bonus materials are limited to a trailer for each of the three Home Alone films. Interestingly, the trailer for this movie shows a number of scenes are are either different or missing entirely in the finished movie, suggesting that there should be copious amounts of deleted material for a future special edition. Indeed, this film is crying out for the lavish treatment already bestowed on many of its inferior brethren. I would especially appreciate seeing unexpurgated versions of the scenes from "Angels With Filthy Souls", the amusing (and convincingly true to its intended vintage) gangster movie watched by Kevin that was specially created for this film. Given Home Alone's popularity, a new release laden with features and boasting an improved transfer is long overdue.
Not even Macaulay Culkin can prevent Home Alone from being a Christmas classic: a truly entertaining festive movie that the whole family can enjoy. The current DVD release is, however, disappointing in the extreme, and I can only hope that my pleading for a special edition does not go unanswered.