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Adventures in Babysitting: 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

Adventures in Babysitting (1987) movie poster Adventures in Babysitting

Theatrical Release: July 3, 1987 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: PG-13 / Songs List

Director: Chris Columbus / Writer: David Simkins

Cast: Elisabeth Shue (Chris Parker), Maia Brewton (Sarah Anderson), Keith Coogan (Brad Anderson), Anthony Rapp (Daryl Coopersmith), Calvin Levels (Joe Gipp), Vincent D'Onofrio (Mr. Dawson/"Thor"), Penelope Ann Miller (Brenda), George Newbern (Dan Lynch), John Ford Noonan ("Handsome" John Pruitt), Bradley Whitford (Mike Todwell), Ron Canada (Graydon), John Davis Chandler (Bleak), Dan Ziskie (Mr. Anderson), Linda Sorensen (Mrs. Anderson), Rick Goldman (Adulterer), Clark Johnson (Black Gang Leader), Juan Ramirez (Chicano Leader), Lolita Davidovich (Blonde), Sam Moses (Dr. Nuhkbane), Peter Lavender (Hot Dog Vendor), Allan Aarons (Janitor #1), Rummy Bishop (Janitor #2), Kirsten Kieferle (Sesame Plexor), Monica Devereux (Teenage Runaway), Southside Johnny Lyon (Band Leader at Frat Party), Sandra Shuman (Mrs. Parker), Charlene Shipp (Mrs. Pruitt), Sandi Ross (Bag Lady), John Dee (Old Man), Allan Merovitz (Man with Gun), Albert Collins (Himself - uncredited), David Simkins (Frat Boy - uncredited)

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Adventures in Babysitting will always hold a special place in my heart. A couple of years after it was released to video, my father bought the movie on a whim for my younger sister. She must have been no older than four and thus, this PG-13 comedy was a wildly inappropriate choice for her. But our family's video collection was lacking, consisting primarily of random recorded broadcasts and sports highlights. At some point, Adventures was watched and its profanity and mature plot made it unforgettable.
The film was entertaining in its own right, as was the fact that it was blindly purchased for someone not yet in preschool.

We would revisit the movie with some regularity, its scariness wearing off and its content becoming less questionable with time. For some reason, every time we watched it, it seemed to bring a severe thunderstorm, sometimes severe enough to knock out the electricity. That only added to this 1987 movie's legend, a go-to selection for a rainy summer afternoon.

Though it can be embarrassing to admit some of the movies we considered favorites in our youth, my enduring love for Adventures in Babysitting involves no shame. Sure, this is a silly bit of escapism that cynical adults who did not grow up in the 1980s might easily declare contrived and far-fetched. No serious film historian or critic has ever singled out this film as one of the great works of its time. And yet, I love it so.

There is no denying my view of the film has been colored by circumstance and fond memories. But even watching the film with objective, critical eyes reveals rare and wondrous entertainment value.

"Adventures in Babysitting" sends three teenagers (Anthony Rapp, Elisabeth Shue, Keith Coogan) and a younger sister (Maia Brewton) into Chicago for an unforgettable night.

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) is looking forward to celebrating her and her boyfriend Mike's anniversary with a Saturday night dinner at a fancy French restaurant in downtown Chicago. It is not to be, as Mike (Bradley Whitford) cancels, citing his younger sister's contagious sickness. With nothing else going on, Chris reluctantly agrees to a last-minute babysitting job for the Andersons of Oak Park.

While their parents attend a social function downtown, 15-year-old freshman Brad (Keith Coogan) and his Thor-loving young sister Sarah (Maia Brewton) will be under the supervision of Chris, the babysitter they both like in their own way. Brad is actually supposed to be spending the night at the house of his best friend, the smart-alecky Daryl Coopersmith (Anthony Rapp), but once Chris is hired, he'd much rather stay at home.

The plans of all four kids change when Chris receives a frantic phone call from her best friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller), who has run away from home and now finds herself threatened in a downtown bus station by homeless coots and gun-wielding maniacs. Letting her wards tag along in exchange for their silence, Chris drives her mother's station wagon into the city to rescue her pal in need.

Things quickly begin going wrong, starting with a flat tire on the expressway and no spare in the trunk. The Windy City has the four very white middle class suburbanites on edge. Though the first stranger they encounter -- hook-handed John Pruitt (John Ford Noonan) -- proves to be a helpful and compassionate tow truck driver, the group's luck takes a turn south when Chris' mother's car gets a bullet hole in the windshield and the four of them wind up taking safety in a car that's being stolen.

Joe Gipp (Calvin Levels) is a car thief with a heart of gold, but his employers (Ron Canada and John Chandler) are less concerned with the kids' safety. Keeping their large-scale nationwide car theft operation secret is of greater interest to these hardened criminals. Chris and company make a narrow, risky escape, but their big city problems are far from over. This exciting, unpredictable night will take them to the stage of a blues club, the middle of an elevated train gang fight, a University of Chicago frat house party, and the site of the Anderson parents' event, all the while trying to keep out of harm's way and reclaim their ride home.

Despite his frightening hook hand, tow truck driver "Handsome" John Pruitt (John Ford Noonan) proves to be a terrific help. Graydon (Ron Canada) is less relaxed about the kids' presence than his cool, collected thief Joe Gipp (Calvin Levels).

Try though I might, I simply cannot be any less than perfectly charmed by these diverting episodes, the first committed to film by screenwriter David Simkins. Simkins' ideas are full of wit and humor.
They are improbable but also convincingly explained. You can question the protagonists' preparedness, but not how the film proceeds from one spirited scenario to another.

Adventures in Babysitting is the directorial debut of Chris Columbus. Just 28 at the time, Columbus had made his name as the lone screenwriter of the well-received and still loved Steven Spielberg-produced adventures Gremlins, The Goonies, and Young Sherlock Holmes. Columbus has recently taken some lumps for his directing abilities, which in the years since helming the more literal and somewhat less regarded first two Harry Potter movies have been applied to the critical duds I Love You, Beth Cooper and Percy Jackson & the Olympians. In his debut, however, Columbus is sharp and taut, drawing regular big laughs from sequences that could have easily been mishandled.

Watching the movie now, it seems inevitable that Columbus would cross paths with writer/director John Hughes. The two have similar tastes in comedy, as their palatable, character-driven tales of heart, humor, and humanity demonstrate. The nighttime Chicago of Adventures in Babysitting feels a lot like the one Ferris Bueller enjoyed during the day. Anything can and might happen; whatever does is sure to be a memorable character-building learning experience where youthful, optimistic abandon is sure to triumph over any opposition, no matter how determined it may be.

Columbus' film is utterly winsome and full of charm. There isn't a moment, musical selection, or line that isn't firmly fixed in my memory and worthy of celebration. Adventures in Babysitting is funny, creative, and smart. Most of all, though, it is fun, the kind that is tough to find in films these days. It may just be a reflection of my age and experience, but no comedies win me over as fully as those of the mid-to-late 1980s. This one ranks highly and its spirit somehow reminds me of some of my other favorite works of this era, like Hughes' movies all the way up through the Columbus-directed Home Alone.

Adventures was an okay mid-sized, mid-summer performer for Touchstone Pictures, although its $34 million gross was dwarfed by some of the division's other 1987 releases including the holiday season smash hits Three Men and a Baby and Good Morning, Vietnam and the sequel-spawning action-comedy Stakeout. The passing of twenty-five years seems to have helped Babysitting; it currently is as well-known as or better than those three films and most of its other contemporaries. It also is about as appreciated, its 6.6 IMDb user rating putting it among the better-regarded of 1980s teen comedies (though not quite in the same league as Hughes').

Runaway best friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) loses her glasses and nearly her mind, stranded at a downtown Chicago bus station without cash. Long before Chris Hemsworth, Vincent D'Onofrio made a convincing Thor as hammer-wielding mechanic Mr. Dawson.

A good movie with a young cast always holds promise for future endeavors and Adventures in Babysitting did not disappoint in this regard. Elisabeth Shue, previously known for The Karate Kid (and at 23, a bit unconvincing as a teenager), followed this up with playing Tom Cruise's love interest in the 1988 hit Cocktail before taking over the role of Michael J. Fox's girlfriend in the two Back to the Future sequels. Shue disappeared for a while after that, then resurfaced with an Oscar-nominated lead turn in Leaving Las Vegas. That acclaim and exposure paved the way for a brief phase of leading lady status in action movies like The Saint and Hollow Man. Since then, she's fallen back into a degree of obscurity, the type that enabled her to play a character other than herself on two episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Shue scored parts in two recent films with cult classic potential in Hamlet 2 and Piranha, but neither really broke out as foreseen, and thus she has had to settle for a lead role on CBS' long-running, slowly-sinking, franchise-starting "CSI."

Shue may still be the most famous cast member, but a number of her co-stars have accomplished much. Anthony Rapp, making his film debut here at the age of 15, would go on to success in film and on stage, most notably as the semi-hero of Rent, a role which he reprised in the 2005 film version directed and produced by Columbus. Keith Coogan, the grandson of Charlie Chaplin child co-star and TV's Uncle Fester Jackie Coogan, would headline Disney's fun but little-known African adventure Cheetah and then appear in the 1991 movies Toy Soldiers and Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead. Maia Brewton, such a funny presence here and well deserving of her Young Artist Award win, appeared in a couple of episodes of "The Wonder Years" and starred in "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" before getting out of the business. Penelope Ann Miller rose in stature following her memorable turn here, claiming lead roles in such major movies as The Freshman, Kindergarten Cop, Other People's Money, Carlito's Way, and The Relic. While her career has slowed this century with motherhood, she did recently appear prominently in this year's Best Picture winner The Artist.

Adventures in Babysitting also features among the earliest film credits of some notable supporting cast members: film and TV veteran Bradley Whitford (an Emmy winner for "The West Wing"); George Newbern, the groom in Steve Martin's Father of the Bride movies and the current voice of Superman; and Vincent D'Onofrio, who here unbelievably resembles the Marvel Comics hero Thor the same year he portrayed Private "Gomer Pyle" in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (a part for which he remarkably gained seventy pounds).

Chicago's coolest babysitter Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) leads her charges in a dangerous escape from danger in the rafters. Sara (Maia Brewton) uses an unsupervised moment to check out a toy shop's window, while the bad guys spot her.

Behind the camera, Columbus has enjoyed much success as the director of such blockbusters as Mrs. Doubtfire and producer of films including The Help and both Night at the Museum installments. On the other hand, writer Simkins has not ventured back into theaters, instead working in television as a producer of dramas like "Lois & Clark", "Charmed", "Angel", "Dark Angel", "Roswell", and Syfy's "Warehouse 13." The only other feature film to his name is a direct-to-video sci-fi horror movie called Alien Raiders (2008).

Called A Night on the Town in the UK and other countries, Adventures in Babysitting was to be adapted for television. A pilot was commissioned and shot in 1989 by CBS featuring Joey Lawrence and Brian Austin Green in the Coogan and Rapp roles, respectively. The series was not picked up. Meanwhile, for years there was concrete talk of a remake, supposedly titled Further Adventures in Babysitting (which sounds more like a sequel), being developed at Walt Disney Pictures as a vehicle for Raven-Symonι with Miley Cyrus to potentially also star. Thankfully, this never came to pass.

Partially as a result, the original Adventures in Babysitting came to DVD just once, all the way back in early 2000. Next week, the anniversary of its theatrical release is celebrated in a timely 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Disc.

Adventures in Babysitting Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $20.00
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Still available on DVD ($6.25 SRP: January 18, 2000) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released on VHS

VIDEO and AUDIO

Adventures in Babysitting looks grainy but good on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 widescreen presentation is clean and sharp, but it is subject to grain, which is quite heavy at times.
The 1080p picture offers drastic improvement over the non-anamorphic DVD, which didn't have a print as clean or anywhere near as detailed. The only downside may be that formerly convincing effects shots using matte paintings and the such now stand out as plainly faked.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is a bit of a deception. As far as I could tell, no sound whatsoever emerged from the rear speakers even in active crowd scenes, making this more like a 3.0 presentation. That's not too troubling; the DVD only supplied a Dolby 2.0 Surround track and the movie wouldn't have boasted a 5.1-channel soundtrack in theaters. In any event, the sound is quite good here, with some of those perfectly-chosen needle drops and Michael Kamen's effective score really pleasing with their crisp, substantial presence.

Drew Struzan's colorful, iconic Adventures in Babysitting poster art is put to use on the Blu-ray's menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Though Disney thinks enough of Adventures in Babysitting to observe its quarter-century anniversary on time, they apparently do not think enough of it to give it any bonus features. The film is even more void of supplements on Blu-ray than it was on DVD a dozen years ago. (The DVD included a chapter insert and two pages of film recommendations.) You'd think that the studio could at least have dug up the original theatrical trailer, which Mill Creek has managed to do on Touchstone titles farmed out to them. No such luck, though. For that, you'll still have to turn to YouTube:

Watch Adventures in Babysitting's original trailer:

The lack of extras is not surprising. In recent memory, Disney hasn't uncovered or produced a single bonus feature for one of their live-action catalog Blu-rays. Still, for those who like the film as much as I do, it is supremely disappointing.

The Blu-ray's menu displays the poster/cover art by the highly accomplished Drew Struzan (of Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Harry Potter fame), which I guess deserves credits for my father's uncharacteristic purchase those twenty years ago, while an instrumental version of "Babysitting Blues" plays.

The disc loads with trailers for Frankenweenie and Who Framed Roger Rabbit: 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, followed by an anti-tobacco truth promo. The menu's "Sneak Peeks" listing skips those and plays ads for ABC first season dramas and "Castle": The Complete Fourth Season.

The packaging is just as basic as everything else about this release, forgoing inserts, slipcovers, and reverse side artwork. A shrinkwrap sticker declares this a "Certified Totally '80s Classic!" The disc neither resumes unfinished playback nor allows you to set bookmarks, allowing the old DVD to one-up it in that regard.

Though it starts a little shaky, the four suburban kids' spontaneous performance of "Babysitting Blues" alongside Albert Collins really gets a black nightclub's juices flowing.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As if this epic review left you in any doubt, I maintain nothing but the highest appreciation for Adventures in Babysitting,
one of the funnest and most watchable movies I've ever seen. I highly encourage you to check it out.

The best way to do that may be in this 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Disc. The feature presentation is satisfactory, but not exceptional and the disc misses a tremendous opportunity to reunite the cast or at least get a commentary from Columbus or Simkins. Though it will set you back twice as much as the non-anamorphic DVD (and probably more than the video sold for at a drug store twenty years ago), the Blu-ray offers good enough picture and sound to recommend to any hi-def household.

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Related Reviews:
New: Clue • Grosse Pointe Blank • Newsies • Let It Shine
Directed by Chris Columbus: Mrs. Doubtfire • Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
1980s Comedies: Ferris Bueller's Day Off • Teen Wolf • Planes, Trains & Automobiles • Good Morning, Vietnam
Elisabeth Shue: Piranha | Keith Coogan: Cheetah • The Fox and the Hound | Anthony Rapp: Dazed and Confused • Road Trip
Vincent D'Onofrio: Men in Black • Full Metal Jacket | Penelope Ann Miller: Flipped
George Newbern: Father of the Bride & Father of the Bride Part II • Dadnapped
Thor • The Sitter • The Karate Kid (2010) • Date Night

Adventures in Babysitting Songs List (in order of use): The Crystals - "Then He Kissed Me", Percy Sledge - "Just Can't Stop", Edwin Starr - "Twenty Five Miles", Koko Taylor - "Evil (Is Going On)", J.R. Walker - "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love?)", Muddy Waters - "Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock-n-Roll", Sam Cooke - "Bring It on Home to Me", Iggy Pop - "Real Wild Child", The Brady Bunch - "The Brady Bunch Theme", Albert Collins - "Albert's Smokin' Ice", Albert Collins and Cast - "Babysitting Blues", Southside Johnny and the Jukes - "Expressway to Your Heart", Southside Johnny and the Jukes - "Future in Your Eyes", The Rolling Stones - "Gimme Shelter"

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Reviewed August 4, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1987 Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners III, and 2012 Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
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