Now a genuine classic, in fact possibly THE classic of the Big Dumb Action Film (or BDAF for short) genre, Die Hard didn’t exactly have the most auspicious of births. When it was discovered that Bruce Willis, then only really known from television’s Moonlighting, was starring in the flick (based on a novel by Roderick Thorp) AND getting paid five million dollars for doing so, sarcastic tongues were wagging all over Hollywood and beyond – just what were Joel Silver and cronies thinking?
Well, to use a rather hackneyed cliché – not entirely inappropriate under the circumstances – the rest is history. It went on to storm box offices worldwide, shared audience AND critical acclaim, made Bruce Willis’ transition from wee little screens to expansive big ones relatively painless, and became beloved by action fans the world over as a genuine benchmark movie within the genre. It also meant Hudson Hawk was eventually made, but we’ll forgive them that one as this particular film is such a gem.
Actually, defining it as a BDAF isn’t entirely fair, as it isn’t really THAT dumb. Die Hard is absolutely loaded up with a perfect balance of genuine suspense, tonnes of action, suitably nasty evil dudes, a charming one-liner equipped lead and more than enough explosions and effects to keep even The Wiggles’ notoriously sleepy-headed Jeff wide awake throughout its two hour-plus running time. It almost feels pointless to bother with a plot summation as surely most everybody has seen the film at least once, but for those stragglers out there here’s a quick summation of what you’ve been missing out on all these years...
John McClane (Willis) is a New York cop on his way to LA to see his estranged wife and kids for Christmas (BDAF rule number one – it is ALWAYS Christmas). He pops by her place of employment, the Nakatomi Corporation in their shiny new and naturally not quite finished building, where their Chrissie party is well underway. Meanwhile, we’re privy to something obviously bad going down outside, as a truck full of evil-looking dudes pulls up accompanied by ominous chords and that telltale harbinger of doom, the timpani.
And evil dudes they most definitely are. Whilst the party rages upstairs, some of them systematically shut down the building’s phone system, guards and lifts, while the others wheel in their mini-arsenal of guns, bombs and other assorted serious firepower-type things that make very big booms. And all under the watchful eye of one Hans Gruber (the ALWAYS wonderful Alan Rickman), a former member of the German Volksfrei movement, and a man who is perceived as a terrorist. Actually it’s quite a lot simpler than that – the building’s vault houses $640 million in bonds, and it’s just the money he’s after, baby.
However, wheels start falling off Gruber’s seemingly well-planned and well-oiled machine, as he didn’t bank on a certain fly in his ointment – or monkey in the wrench, or pain in the... – in McClane. Managing to hide himself away as the apparent terrorists wrest control of the party (no more photocopying breasts then – sorry guys), his battle of wits against Gruber and cronies begins as he starts systematically picking them off one by one...
|"Oh my god, the quarterback IS toast!"|
As alluded to earlier, Die Hard is essentially the benchmark for all action films that followed in its wake - Die Hard on a bus (Speed), Die Hard on a boat (Speed 2), Die Hard with a nutball (Lethal Weapon - pick a number between 2 and 4), Die Hard in space (Armageddon), Die Hard on a plane (oh, hang on, that was actually Die Hard II) etc. Combining all the essentials – it’s Christmastime, there are bad guys with accents (luckily Rickman has a default evil-dude brogue in his native British tongue, as he falls out of his German one here more often than his henchmen plummet down lift shafts), they have mucho firepower, there’s one sussed cop (black, of course - although there’s no word of imminent retirement plans here), a veritable army of dumb cops and FBI agents, a loser nosy reporter, a gung-ho cokehead (OK, that’s not a staple, but it’s fun), some actually rather gruesome bits are entwined with genuinely suspenseful moments and over-the-top cartoon-styled action, more clichés abound than you can poke a stick at (heehee), memorable one-liners are thick on the ground and, of course, it all wraps up with a suitably happy ending.
Combine all this with John McTiernan’s snappy direction and Jan De Bont’s stylish photography and you could scarcely ask for more. That Die Hard is still an absolute thrill ride of a flick today, fourteen years after it originally came out and with a remarkable amount of attempts to emulate its runaway success in its wake, is simple testament to just how brilliant, engrossing and downright entertaining this film is.
Fox have gone back to the original source to create a brand new 2.35:1 anamorphically enhanced print for this release, and for a film that’s now fourteen years old it looks absolutely divine indeed
Sure, it isn’t entirely pristine – most notably there are a number of white speckles throughout and one or two instances of shimmer on the usual culprits such as blinds and grilles - however otherwise everything is pretty much as sharp as a tack, while colour is superb and natural looking and black levels are pretty much spot-on. The film does have a tendency to look a bit dark on occasions, and shadow detail isn’t always exemplary, however it is doubtful that Die Hard has been seen looking this fabulous since perhaps opening night at the cinema before the print got destroyed by careless projectionists.
It’s delivered to us on a dual layered disc, with the layer change reasonably placed in a still and almost silent scene. You will notice it, but it does go past quite quickly.
Pleasingly, Die Hard comes to us with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes – pretty much a prerequisite to give an action film such as this the necessary audio oomph. Unlike many films of such a vintage, this isn’t simply a modern-day remix job, as there were original prints around featuring a six channel version. Right from the opening seconds as a plane zooms overhead from the rear of the room you get the feeling you’re in for a treat, and the soundtrack never disappoints.
There’s plenty of enveloping surround usage, delivering both effects and also padding out the score, and some great stereo effects across the front - naturally with most dialogue sitting front and centre. It’s the subwoofwoof that really gets to shine here, conveying couch-splintering bass at some points (the expected explosions, gun fire etc), plus also some added surprises such as the rumbly thrum from within air ducts. There isn’t a world of difference between the two mixes, however certain points in the film do show off the advantages of DTS to great effect, tending to share with us a somewhat clearer and slightly better-defined sound field than the DD version.
Well-known film composer Michael Kamen provides the score, which achieves a nice balance between hyper-melodramatic tendencies and subtler ambience. There are a couple of Christmas-themed additions to the soundtrack, as well as a recurring theme involving the classic Song of Joy.