"Kevin! What did you do to my room?"
I've seen the ending to "Home Alone" 9,583 times.
OK, so maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. "Home Alone" was one of the first films that played when I was a young lad at my first movie theater usher gig. Each and every showing, I had to sneak quietly into the theater with an absurdly mammoth garbage bag and prepare to clean up after the hordes that came to see the film during its nearly year-long run. So, because of this, I have the closing five minutes of the film tattooed on my brain.
When "Home Alone" was released before the Thanksgiving holiday in 1990, it was viewed as another step toward the family entertainment empire that bewitched writer John Hughes after his ejector seat-like escape from iconic, trend-setting teen entertainment. After his pitch-perfect 1989 comedy, "Uncle Buck," Hughes was encouraged to find another idea to beguile kids and parents around the globe, but also to up the ante in the one department "Buck" didn't explore much further than an Irish kiss to an inebriated, potty-mouthed party clown: violence.
"Alone" is a Three Stooges-inspired romp that bleeds the spirit of Christmas so hard, you'll get a gingerbread contact high. The film is the crowning achievement in Macaulay Culkin's acting career – a film he's embraced but, truthfully, will never live down. A precocious nine year-old at the time, Culkin was just coming off his wily work in "Buck." Offered a role in "Home" that further exploited his unusual "everyday kid" appeal, Culkin ran with it, lending the part all the right tints of mischief, sugar-rush joy, and separation anxiety. Not only was this Culkin's greatest success, but one of the finest performances from a child actor I've seen to date.
In fact, everyone involved with the film seemed to be on the top of their game, from Chris Columbus's effortless direction to Julio Macat's hazy, yuletide-drenched photography. Even John William's eleventh hour score is stellar, leading to his umpteenth Oscar nomination. For just an 18 million dollar budget, "Home" captures a classic feeling of holiday bliss, buttressed by John Hughes's sometimes sentimental, sometimes resplendently silly script. "Home" has become a Christmas staple, and rightfully so; it's probably the last theatrical film set during the season to get the themes of family and kindness so right.
As for the grand finale of the film, where Columbus and Hughes lay the hurt on Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern (as the feared "Wet Bandits"), I will admit to being less thrilled to watch the brutality than I was as a freshly employed tadpole. The final movement of Kevin's MacGyveresque design for revenge is a literal symphony of torture; each laid trap a doorway to a rare pitch of cartoonish violence that Hughes would soon put into family film fashion, and later exploit for his own ghastly productions ("Dennis the Menace," "Baby's Day Out," "101 Dalmatians").
I can still vividly recall the peals of laughter in the packed move theaters during this extended sequence, ramping up almost apocalyptically with each new sprung trap. The editorial muscle behind the elaborate Hughesian obstacle course is just wonderful, and even if I can no longer appreciate the lacerating good times, I certainly admire the desire and skill of "Home Alone" to entertain in a huge four-quadrant manner.
"Home Alone" was shot with a very soft and snowy visual palette, and the new anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer replicates that feel superbly. This is not a sharp looking DVD by any means, but the warmth of Macat's Christmas-in-suburbia photography comes through like a champ.
The film is presented with a choice of 2.0 or 5.1 mixes. While an exceptionally clean track with a splendid presentation of John Williams's score, this is not a film known for its sonic oomph. Still, the body blows, screaming, and mayhem will give your speakers a kick now and again.
The crown jewel of the "Home Alone" DVD is the feature-length audio commentary from director Chris Columbus and star Macaulay Culkin. Now with 17 years and a charming, if a bit too calculated, sequel behind them, the duo serve up a conversational guide to a film with a legacy neither one expected to last this long. Since Culkin is more interested in cracking wise, it's up to Columbus to steer the chat, and he slam-dunk's the track, offering up production tidbits such as:
- Some of the sequences were inspired by David Lean's "Great Expectations." Here's a hint: it's not the one with Joe Pesci getting a blowtorch to the head.
- Pesci and John Heard were none too pleased to be playing second fiddle to a nine year-old boy. Both actors gave Columbus a difficult time about their place in the picture.
- Macaulay's stunt double was a 30 year-old man roughly the same height and build as Culkin.
- Pesci shared with Columbus his memory device for learning his lines: replace certain words with expletives. Thankfully, none made the final cut.
- John Candy's wonderful supporting appearance was shot over the course of one 23-hour day.
16 minutes of deleted and extended scenes have been assembled here. Most are useless, including a deleted scene that shows Pesci resurrecting his "Goodfellas" character for a split-second. The most curious selection of them all has to be the moment where Kevin's harassing Uncle Frank decides to pants him. The look of confusion on Kevin's face is sure to be shared by anyone viewing this rightfully deleted moment.
The 20-minute "Making of Home Alone" brings back most of the major production participants (with the exception of Pesci and Catherine O'Hara) to discuss the creation of this low-budget feature that turned into a phenomenon. Some of the anecdotes are repeated in the commentary, but it's great to get a look at the pros 17 years later as they still struggle to digest the lightening-in-a-bottle experience of the movie.
"How to Burglar-Proof Your Home: The Stunts of Home Alone" is a seven-minute featurette on the creation of the sometimes vicious pratfalls that make up the last act of the film. For most of these guys, "Home" made their career.
"Home Alone Around the World" takes the familiar idea of showing us what the picture sounded like in worldwide languages, and doesn't do anything interesting with it. If you've ever wanted to hear Kevin speak in Korean, Italian, or French, buckle up my friends, because this is your lucky day.
"Where's Buzz Now?" asks the production members to hypothesize where Kevin's bullying older brother would be in today's world. The punchline to this odd, short featurette is the appearance of Buzz himself, Devin Ratray, who has morphed into a rather rotund Elvis devotee.
"Mac Cam: Behind the Scenes with Macaulay Culkin" is a new coat of paint on a very old promotional tool. During the principal photography of "Home Alone," the production gave Culkin a camcorder, and the result is a three-minute nerve pinch where Culkin, fresh out of Hughes-scripted lines, acts just like the little kid we all feared him to be. The piece has been freshened up with bookending comments from the 26 year-old Culkin.
The original, three-minute 1990 "Press Featurette" is included as well.
The uncut clip of Kevin's favorite gangster film, "Angels with Filthy Souls," is presented in its entirety.
A lukewarm gag reel and three theatrical trailers, the last featuring a sing-a-long lead by Culkin, round out the package.
Unexpectedly, the horrifically titled "Family Fun Edition" is a jam-packed holiday gift for the "Home Alone" fans in your life. Now 16 years old, the film has snowballed into a perennial Christmas tradition, recently passed down a generation, yet losing none of its celebrated status. Just ask my five-year-old nephew, who, after falling hard for the film, proceeded to sign the name "Kevin" to everything he could. Now that's a film that has transcended mere blockbuster standing; for some younger viewers, it's now a way of life.
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