Home Alone struck a nerve with Christmastime moviegoers in 1990. The picture was a huge, unexpected success: child actor Macaulay Culkin became, briefly, the biggest movie star on the planet in the wake of its success, while it solidified director Chris Columbus's reputation, as well as John Hughes's, the iconic '80s teen angst director-turned-major league producer. It also spawned three increasingly dreadful sequels and innumerable imitators, most of them also quite awful.
In retrospect, Home Alone is not very good, coming off as an odd mix of violent slapstick and sloppy sentiment, though its basic premise is promising. To a large degree, it was nine-year-old Culkin's charm that won audiences over; his cuteness served to distract film-goers from the generally unpleasant characters and unsubtle comedy.
The film's set-up is simple enough: The wealthy McCallister brood is spending the Christmas holidays in Paris. However, in the pandemonium getting ready - a power outage makes them late, forcing a mad dash for the airport - the youngest McCallister, seemingly helpless nine-year-old Kevin (Culkin) inadvertently is left behind, an oversight his parents (Catherine O'Hara and John Heard) fail to notice until their flight is halfway to France.
Finding himself all alone the next morning, Kevin believes it's a wish/curse come true after fighting with most of his family and wishing they'd all just disappear. Initially he's thrilled at his newfound freedom, but later comes to regret his harsh words and bad behavior. Meanwhile, house burglars Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), having burgled other empty homes on the affluent street, next targets the McCallister's large residence, initially unaware that Kevin is still in the house.
Home Alone is like three stylistically disconnected movies rolled into one. The first and best of these is all the business involving Kevin finding himself all alone, freed from his large and mostly obnoxious family. He makes himself a 20-scoop chocolate sundae, watches R-rated movies, sneaks into his bully of an older brother's room and rummages through his belongings, etc. But later on he realizes that he's got to eat, and gradually becomes more responsible buying food at the local grocery store; he even does a load of laundry by himself, overcoming a fear of the gas stove in the basement.
The scenes with Harry and Marv, on the other hand, are like something from another movie. Ingenious Kevin lays an impressive front-line defense against the burglars with a series of Rube Goldberg-like traps, in scenes of violent slapstick less realistic than the average Three Stooges short. It's all very cartoony, and invites criticism not only for so sharply contrasting the more reality-based scenes but also for implying violence can be a Hell of a lot of fun.
Further cluttering up this overlong (103 minutes) comedy is a subplot involving an old man next door (Roberts Blossom, this surely being his only name-above-the-title credit) some of the local kids believe is a serial killer. It turns out he's merely lonely after a long estrangement with his son. Kevin meets him in church and encourages reconciliation. Though lacquered on a bit thick, eccentric actor Blossom (a favorite since his brief turn as Wild Bob Cody in Slaughterhouse Five) defuses much of the mawkishness, and his scenes with Culkin are the best in the film in spite of themselves.
Typical of 1980s/'90s American film comedy, Home Alone is crowded with repellent characters. The McCallister kids are all brats including, some of the time, Kevin himself. The parents are selfish and insensitive when not sadistic and irresponsible. In Paris everyone becomes an Ugly American in the worst sense. Harry and Marv are almost sympathetic by comparison. There are unhelpful police officers, a reckless pizza delivery driver. Only Blossom's old man and a sympathetic polka musician (John Candy, in a small role) come off well.
Culkin is a real charmer, whether it's lip-synching to the Drifters' "White Christmas" or talking his way through the check-out line at the grocery store, but the film also falls back on myriad comedy cliches: Kevin clenches his fist and says, "Y-e-e-s-s-s-s!" triumphantly about five times in the movie, five times too many.
Video & Audio
Filmed for 1.85:1 spherical projection, Home Alone is a 1080p, 50GB dual-layered disc in 1.78:1 full screen. It's adequately sharp, though the filtering used by cinematographer Julio Macat to give the film its Norman Rockwell-esque warmth softens it a bit more than the usual 1.85:1 color film from this period. Still, one can see a pleasing film grain without any discernable DNR. It's not an exceptionally good-looking film, but on Blu-ray it looks okay.
Originally a standard Dolby Stereo release, the 5.1 DTS HD Lossless Audio for the Blu-ray is likewise okay, but I was also happy with the Dolby Surround mix also included. 5.1 DTS tracks are available in Spanish, French, and Portuguese, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and Portuguese, plus the disc is closed-captioned.
None of the supplements, plentiful though they may be, are new to this high-def edition. All are carryovers from the November 2006 "Family Fun Edition" and include: Audio Commentary by director Chris Columbus and star Macaulay Culkin; 1990 Press Featurette; The Making of Home Alone; Mac Cam: Behind the Scenes with Macaulay Culkin; How to Burglar-Proof Your Home: The Stunts of 'Home Alone'; 'Home Alone' Around the World; Where's the Buzz Now?; Angels with Filthy Souls; Deleted / Alternate Takes; Blooper Reel.
Home Alone hasn't aged well. Maybe it's because this kind of film has been done to death in the nearly 20 years since its release, maybe it's because Macaulay Culkin no longer is the fresh discovery he had been in 1989-90 (he was also very good in the underrated Jacob's Ladder, released shortly before this). It looks alright on Blu-ray but I wouldn't prioritize an upgrade nor can I really recommend it if you haven't seen it or haven't seen it since it was new. You might want to Rent It, however.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, The Toho Studios Story, is on sale now.