Adventures in Babysitting 25th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (11th November 2012).
The Film

Throughout the entire running time of “Adventures in Babysitting” (1987) – my first time watching it since exiting high school – I couldn’t help but be struck by how much it felt like a John Hughes picture. It has all the trappings: a Chicago setting, a night of absurdly wild events, caricature criminals, a little emotion, a little heartbreak, and, of course, the “wrap it all up in the nick of time” ending. Although Hughes’ name is nowhere to be found on the film, much of that Hughes sentiment comes courtesy of then-first time director Chris Columbus, who many will recall helmed what was the biggest John Hughes film of all-time, “Home Alone” (1990). What’s incredible here is that, despite Hughes having nothing to do with “Babysitting”, Columbus delivered a film that felt very much ingrained in that universe. And, really, it also embodies everything that made 80's comedy so damn fun in the first place. There seemed to be a much more carefree attitude employed back then, which isn’t to say comedies don’t display that now, but there’s a certain je ne sais quoi that I feel has been lost on modern films from the genre. I’ll admit to viewing far too many films through rose-tinted glasses; at least my unfiltered nostalgia comes from a good place.

Seventeen-year-old Chris Parker (Elizabeth Shue) is all prepped for her big anniversary date with her boyfriend, Mike (Bradley Whitford), when he arrives at her home to deliver the bad news that he has to cancel. Seizing the opportunity, Chris’ mother, a single woman who is clearly looking hard for a decent man (or vice versa), implores her babysit for the Anderson’s children, since their sitter had to cancel. She agrees and drives over to their home, but almost immediately she gets a panicky phone call from her friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) who has run away from home and needs to be picked up from the bus station downtown. Being the good friend that she is, Chris loads the kids, Brad (Keith Coogan) and Sara (Maia Brewton), along with Brad’s friend Daryl (Anthony Rapp), into the station wagon to go get her. As expected, though, their night quickly spirals out of control when the car gets a flat tire, leading to a night filled with shady tow truck drivers, even shadier back alley gangs, singing the blues, avoiding death and disaster, Playboy magazines, high-rise rooftop escapades, and someone who may or may not be the Norse god of thunder, Thor.

“Adventures in Babysitting” is one of those “everything plus the kitchen sink” comedies where our leading cast members find themselves in one outlandish situation after the next, deftly avoiding one catastrophe only to be smack dab in the middle of another sticky mess. And it all manages to work somehow. Each new character introduced throughout the night is given a menacing, grand introduction, but most usually wind up being the “convict with a heart of gold” type, actual villains notwithstanding. This is where I think films of this ilk can really succeed, because when you genuinely like the characters (as I did here) you find yourself having less of a hard time accepting how they might wind up in the midst of a gang meeting, or on the side of a skyscraper. It becomes a series of comedic vignettes strung together by a secondary plotline. Some are work better than others, but they’re all given unique qualities that aid in making the film as a whole more memorable.

The role of Chris Parker was (famously?) turned down by a host of actresses before Elizabeth Shue finally accepted. The story had actually been kicking around studios since the 1960's (!!!) before being rescued by Columbus in the 80's and polished up considerably for contemporary times. Shue plays the role with just enough Girl Next Door charm to be every boy’s fantasy (which she is in more than one way throughout the film), but there’s also just enough edge that you can believe her when she warns a gang of thugs to not “f*ck with the babysitter”. There are some moments of genuine pathos when she has her heart broken, and Shue really sells those emotions to the viewers.

The three kids she winds up sitting for are incredible in that none of them made me want to reach into my TV and choke the life out of them. I found both of the teenage boys relatable – having a crush on your hot babysitter, sneaking a Playboy out of the house to ogle at, acting a bit like you’re invincible – and both actors really felt right for their respective roles. Keith Coogan had a solid one-two punch in 1991 with “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” and “Toy Soldiers”, but I was surprised to learn he’s been in the business since 1978. That kind of time clearly gave him the chops needed to be the “every boy” he plays here, and the combination of unrequited love, discovery, excitement, and a dash of heroics made his character enjoyable to watch. While Anthony Rapp’s character of Daryl was your typical Playboy-stealing, action-loving, foul-mouthed, pot-stirrer that was every parent’s worst nightmare. We’ve seen this character in, oh, I think just about every teenage comedy ever. Still, I like Rapp as an actor and he’s perfectly cast here. Finally, while Sara really doesn’t have much to do she’s kinda adorable, and her love of Thor is both puzzling and slightly awesome.

On a geeky final note, horror fans might notice the film was produced by John Carpenter’s former partner, Debra Hill. As an inside joke, when Chris is with the kids upstairs early on, take a look at the TV behind them. It’s playing “Halloween” (1978).

Video

Disney wisely avoided cramming this film onto a smaller disc, despite the somewhat average runtime and complete lack of bonus features. Good thing, too, because even on a 50GB disc the results of this 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 image are a little less than satisfactory. Now, look, I know full well that the film was shot with low, realistic lighting, and that there has also been very little done to give it any kind of a proper restoration. Still, I can’t overlook the fact that the film does sport a slightly soft look to it, and that there is some haze evident during many of the nighttime scenes. I don’t have a DVD to compare it with, but I would imagine the level of detail is an appreciable upgrade. Even through soft lighting, close-ups on faces do show the kind of detail we expect to see in a high definition image. There’s just not much depth or dimensionality to the image, with most shots appearing flat and, frankly, a little drab. Cinematographer Ric Waite did a wonderful job capturing the downtrodden, beaten streets of Chicago (even though it isn’t really Chicago); it’s just that the excellent work he did does nothing to bolster the image and assist it in looking as crisp as it could have.

There’s a really give-and-take with catalog titles on Blu-ray these days. One on hand, you can get something like this, which isn’t very restored and it can tend to show its age. On the other hand, we could’ve also gotten something that was DNR’d to hell, with no grain intact, waxy skin and surfaces, and it would look like they shot it yesterday. Personally, I’d rather have the former than the latter. Even if it isn’t perfect, a high definition image that’s in keeping with the original intended look of the film is always going to be preferred to something that studios have tinkered with endlessly.

Audio

The film’s English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit is typical of the era’s comedies in that it’s sparsely populated and mostly confined to the front end of your set-up. This multi-channel track is simply a repurposing of the film’s original stereo track, so there really wasn’t a much more dynamic mix created at the onset. The film’s score, composed by Michael Kamen, manages to keep the film lively and well-paced, even when the action on screen might not dictate such activity. His style should be well known to fans of the two biggest action franchises to come out of the 80's, “Lethal Weapon” (1987) and “Die Hard” (1988), series which he scored for until his death in 2003. His cues fit in nicely alongside the soundtrack’s selections of everything from classic 80's hits, to old-school rock ‘n roll, and, of course, the blues.

Dialogue is slightly flat, but that can probably be attributed to the original mix more than a lack of effort on the part of whoever put this disc together. I never expect much more out of most comedies than a clear, concise track with well-centered dialogue and a symbiotic balance between words and music. This generally succeeds despite having such a limited showing.

There are also French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo tracks included. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, French, and Spanish.

Extras

Following in the legendary footsteps of such landmark releases as “The Rocketeer: 20th Anniversary Edition “, and “So I Married An Axe Murderer: Special Edition”, “Adventures in Babysitting: 25th Anniversary Edition” contains exactly zero bonus features.

Yes, that’s correct; absolutely nothing.

Why studios insist on labeling with such a clear misnomer is beyond me, but not even a friggin’ theatrical trailer in HD? What, has Columbus been too busy in the last 25 years to record a commentary? There weren’t ANY deleted scenes?

Yea, right. If you want to put out a no frills, barebones release then go right ahead and do so. But to label it with something to suggest there might be something legitimately special about the release is disingenuous and just plain stupid.

There are, of course, bonus trailers (1080p) included:

- “Frankenweenie” runs for 2 minutes and 20 seconds.
- “Who Framed Roger Rabbit: 25th Anniversary Edition” runs for 1 minute and 5 seconds.
- "Anti-smoking" PSA, featuring a catchy little jingle, runs for 21 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in an amaray keep case with original key art on the cover.

Overall

It’s fun, lighthearted, a little weird, and definitely for fans of John Hughes films (despite not being one). Disney’s Blu-ray might be light on frills and features, but the movie is still as enjoyable as it ever was. This is probably as good as it gets as far as home video releases are concerned, so if you want it, buy it. For the price it’s selling for, you can’t go wrong.

The Film: B- Video: B- Audio: B Extras: F Overall: C+

 


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