Bruce Willis was a virtual unknown at the time he secured the lead role of John McClane in “Die Hard.” His biggest stint was on the TV series “Moonlighting,” making this film just a slight change of pace. Add in a mix of Hollywood’s best action writers, producer and director, and you’ve got an American classic.
John Mclane (Willis) gets off his plane in New York, hoping to meet his estranged wife during a business party at Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve. After finding her inside the 40-story building, a group of international terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) begins their plan to steal $640 million worth of bonds from a secured safe inside the building. Unbeknownst to them, the 11-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department beings to slowly dismantle their plans along with the help of a few friends.
Just looking at the credits of this film proves just how flawlessly things came together. Director John McTiernan gave us “Predator” along with the “Die Hard 2.” He is also tapped to direct a fourth installment called “Die Hard 4.0.” Writer Steven de Souza penned “Running Man” for Arnold Schwarzenegger and the video game adaptation “Street Fighter.” Finally, Jon de Bont gave us the cinematography for this and “Basic Instinct” while he directed another classic, “Speed.”
Though Bruce Willis is the obvious focus, the entire movie is stolen by a brilliant performance from the terrorist lead, Alan Rickman. Within minutes of his on-screen appearance the audience instantly hates him with a passion, his cold stare and violent ways of persuasion are the icing. More proof is the films best scene, which is surprisingly, not based on action.
Late in the film, McClane and Rickman’s character, Hans, come face to face for the first time. Grueber ingeniously makes himself out to be an escaped hostage, begging for his life against a man who has no idea whom he’s facing. Sharing a cigarette while talking about the takeover, McClane hands Grueber a weapon, putting the audience on edge. It’s a flawless example of writing, direction, acting, and tension, a scene any aspiring filmmaker should watch.
Of course, the action is what made the film so famous in the first place, and “Die Hard” contains it in droves. The special effects, which are still superb over 16-years later, were nominated for an Oscar. The shootouts are a template for every action scene to come after it and the hand-to-hand combat fights are the stuff classics are made of. The only logical complaint comes at the end of the film when Bruce Willis and his wife enter into a limo (from the start of the film) and drive off. With such a massive amount of blood loss, shouldn’t he be taken out on an ambulance? (***** out of *****)
“Die Hard” is included in Fox’s “Five Star Collection” of DVD’s. This is the second time the film has been produced on the format. This release is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and no pan & scan version is available. The meticulous restoration work here shows through with only slight damage to the print. Colors have been restored, bringing out skin tones and the large amount of blood used in the film. The transfer only suffers from a light layer of grain and some compression artifacts on bright colors (particularly blue). This hardly looks like it was made in 1988. (****)
It doesn’t sound like a film from 1988 either. Remixed into both 5.1 and DTS, “Die Hard” is one of those dream discs for audio buffs. Massive bass-filled explosions, bullets ricocheting in every direction, glass shattering (probably the best sounding scene in the movie; fans know what I mean), and ambient sounds from the gathering police force outside are all examples of how this format should be used. The only slight problem is the dialogue that sounds a little scratchy at times and a short scene just past the two-hour mark, which sounds like it wasn’t restored at all (it comes entirely from the center channel). (*****)
Presented as a 2-disc set, this isn’t a massive special edition, but fans of commentaries will be very satisfied. The first comes from John McTeirnan and Jackson Degovia, the production designer. Special effects designer Richard Edlund gets his own track, though he only talks during scenes that feature his work. Finally, a subtitle track features thoughts from the cast and crew, picking out things while providing some great information. Disc 1 also allows viewers to watch the film with an additional scene (this is also included on Disc 2), but it hardly adds anything.
The second disc is split into various sections. “The Vault” includes two deleted/extended scenes, but neither is particularly worthwhile. Another section includes various alternate scenes and outtakes inter-cut with the final print. Extra footage of the newscast again features various mistakes and short extended scenes. Finally, two text articles are available, reprinted from Cinefex magazine (great publication if you have never heard of it) and American Cinematographer.
“The Cutting Room” is rather weak, but all worthwhile for one feature. This section allows people to edit a few scenes from the movie in different ways, but it’s rather boring. You can also play with the audio to learn how that comes together, but again, it’s not very entertaining. Three scenes that required various cameras are included and viewers can choose which camera to see the sequence from.
The best feature here is “Why Letterbox?” which shows just why the format is superior to pan & scan. The commentary explains why films are shot widescreen in the first place, what happens when they are cropped, and why pan & scan is evil (but maybe without using that term). It’s short, but this is a lot more than most companies are doing to educate the public.
Rounding off this set is a slide shows of various stills, production photos, models, and more. When the Nakatomi logo appears on screen, viewers can see additional information pertaining to the picture. A short 7-minute cheap promotional featurette is included with the trailers and TV spots. Finally, DVD-ROM users can watch the film with the script and download some game demos, none of which are related to the film. (****)
The entire “Die Hard” series is available as a 6-disc box set. Nothing extra is included, but you will save a little money buying all 3 films at once. Regardless of how the purchase is made, “Die Hard” is one of those “your collection is not complete without it” films and one of the best action movies of all time.