Home Alone

Home Alone
Director: Chris Columbus
Screenplay: John Hughes
Voices: Macaulay Culkin (Kevin), Joe Pesci (Harry), Daniel Stern (Marv), John Heard (Peter), Roberts Blossom (Marley), Catherine O’Hara (Kate), Angela Goethals (Linnie), Devin Ratray (Buzz), Gerry Bamman (Uncle Frank), Hillary Wolf (Megan), John Candy (Gus Polinski)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1990
Country: U.S.
Home Alone
Home AloneHome Alone, which for reasons that still escape me, became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time during the winter of 1990 and has since turned into something of a perennial holiday classic. The movie’s rampant success caught many people by surprise, but probably not writer/producer John Hughes and director Chris Columbus, who crafted a wily Frankenstein’s monster of a family movie that is one-half sticky character education and one-half cartoonish slapstick violence. You have to wade through the former to the get the latter, which is almost worth the trouble.

Home Alone is, of course, the film that made Macaulay Culkin into an international child star, made instantly famous by the simple act of slapping his hands to either side of his face and screaming into a mirror. A few months later, he was hosting Saturday Night Live. Culkin had already had supporting roles in a number of movies, including the Hughes-written and -directed Uncle Buck (1989). However, Home Alone was his show from start to finish, and he plays the role of poor Kevin as the ultimate white-bread American kid: misunderstood and mischievous, but ultimately lovable.

The story in Home Alone, which rumor has it Hughes wrote over a weekend, is a case study in childhood wish fulfillment, in which kids take on adult roles and succeed where the adults probably would have failed. Standing atop a long lineage of similar storylines, from the Our Gang comedies to The Goonies (1985), which Chris Columbus not incidentally wrote, Home Alone solidifies in the child (or childish) viewer’s mind that he’s been right all alone: Kids rule.

Having been dismissed by all the adults in his family and incessantly picked on by all the older kids, Kevin has essentially had it, and it’s not hard to blame him. In the movie’s most egregiously overstated moment, Kevin’s uncle calls him a “little jerk” in front of everyone, and his entire extended family, along with his parents, openly agree. No wonder Kevin wishes they would all just disappear, which is what happens, quite literally, when the family heads out for a holiday trip to Europe the next morning and accidentally leaves him behind. Strangely, Kevin, who will eventually prove to be quite cunning, doesn’t put together what happened, thinking that they have quite literally vanished into thin air.

At first, this is cause for celebration, as Kevin has full run of the house without anyone telling him what to do and what not to do. What he does is eat ice cream and pizza for all three meals, jump on the beds, and use the front stairs as his personal sledding ramp. What kid wouldn’t? But, there has to be a lesson here, and Kevin starts to realize that he misses his family and maybe being home alone isn’t such a good thing. Of course, on the other side of the world, his frantic parents (Catherine O’Hara and John Heard) think it is very definitely not a good thing, with guilt-ridden mom fighting the holiday-season travel and foreign tongues to get back to her poor, sweet Kevin, who the night before she figuratively and literally locked in the attic as punishment for spilt milk.

What everyone remembers about Home Alone, though, is not the familial tensions or the lessons learned, but the extended Chuck Jones-style pratfalls that ensue when a pair of seedy burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) set their sights on Kevin’s enormous suburban enclave and it’s up to the mop-topped tyke to play the role of protector, something he does with both style and glee. After learning not to judge others when he discovers that the creepy old man down the street whom he thought was a murderer is just a sad-eyed grandfather who has issues with his son, Kevin sets about inflicting as much pain on the would-be intruders as is humanly possible.

Columbus stages the final third of the film like a siege out of a John Ford movie mixed with the isn’t-that-clever booby trappings of a Rambo fantasy gone suburban. Kevin turns toy cars, Christmas ornaments, irons, and feather pillows into weapons, both pain-inducing and humiliating. It’s all fantasia, we know, but it’s hard not to get a sadistic kick out of the sheer cleverness of some of his protective measures, even if some of them (Stern stepping on glass Christmas ornaments in bare feet, for example) cross the line from slapstick humor into wince-inducing discomfort. For their part, Pesci and Stern play up the silliness for all its worth, especially Stern, whose shrieking reaction to finding a pet tarantula suddenly sitting on his face is almost worth having sat through the entire movie.

Home Alone “Family Fun Edition” DVD

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English Dolby Digital 3.0 Surround
  • French Dolby Digital 3.0 Surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 3.0 Surround
  • Subtitles English, Spanish, French
  • Audio commentary by Chris Columbus and Macaulay Culkin
  • 1990 Press Featurette
  • “The Making of Home Alone” featurette
  • “Mac Cam: Behind the Scenes with Macaulay Culkin” featurette
  • “How to Burglar Proof Your Home: The Stunts of Home Alone” featurette
  • Home AloneAround the World” featurette
  • “Where’s Buzz Now?” featurette
  • “Angels with Filthy Souls” featurette
  • Deleted Scenes/Alternate Takes
  • Blooper Reel
  • Set-Top Games: Battle Plan, Trivia Game, & Head Count
  • Distributor20th Century Fox
    Release DateNovember 21, 2006

    The new anamorphic widescreen transfer of Home Alone looks great, if just a bit soft. The bright colors that dominate the inside of the house are strong and well saturated, and the numerous nighttime scenes boast excellent contrast and shadow detail. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack isn’t terribly active in the rear soundstage, but it does open up John Williams’ score and add some depth to the many pratfalls.
    The audio commentary reunites director Chris Columbus with star Macaulay Culkin in a laid-back, but informative discussion of the film and its production. As Home Alone was the film that made both of their careers, it is clearly close to their hearts, and they have a good time talking about it. We get to see Columbus and Culkin circa-1990 in two featurettes--one is an electronic press kit featurette and the other, titled “Mac Cam: Behind the Scenes with Macaulay Culkin,” is comprised primarily of footage Culkin shot with a camcorder during the location shooting at O’Hare airport. The rest of the featurettes are new material, starting with the 20-minute “The Making of Home Alone,” which features new interviews with everyone from composer John Williams to Joe Pesci’s stunt double interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage from the film’s production. Not surprisingly, neither Joe Pesci nor writer/producer John Hughes are included, as both have been quite reclusive in recent years. “How to Burglar Proof Your Home: The Stunts of Home Alone” interviews the stunt coordinator and others about how the stuntmen risked life and limb for slapstick and in the process created what came to be known as “The Home AloneFall.” “Home AloneAround the World” is a rather pointless featurette that shows various clips from the film dubbed into foreign languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, Thai, Japanese, and Mandarin Chinese. Other featurettes include “Where’s Buzz Now?,” in which members of the crews and finally actor Devin Ratray ruminate on the likely whereabouts of the obnoxious older brother, while “Angels with Filthy Souls” shows the entire clip of the hard-boiled movie-within-the-movie. There are also 15 deleted/alternate takes, as well as a two-minute blooper reel.

    Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (2)

    James Kendrick

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