Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Guest Review: Die Hard (1988)

By ScottDS
I spend Chanukah with my family but I spend Christmas with John McClane. What more could possibly be said about Die Hard? It’s a modern action classic – my generation’s equivalent of a John Wayne movie. To the best of my knowledge, it does everything perfectly, so much so that it spawned an entire subgenre: “Die Hard on a [blank].”

NYPD detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) arrives in LA to reconcile with his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) who works for the Nakatomi Corproation. The building is soon seized by a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman in his American film debut). In a twist, it turns out that they’re nothing more than simple bank robbers who are after the $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds in the company vault. McClane – who had been in the bathroom during the initial melee – is left up to his own devices to save the day. He’s assisted on the outside by LAPD Sgt. Powell and is encumbered by several others, including a deputy police chief in over his head, a couple of cowboy FBI agents, and an overzealous reporter. Ultimately, McClane manages to rescue his wife and save the day, killing Gruber by dropping him off the building.
With the exception of some hairstyles and a couple effects shots, this film has aged remarkably well. It’s based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorpe, which tells the story of a cop named Joe Leland who visits his daughter who works for an oil company which is soon taken over by a German terrorist group. Director John McTiernan – who has since run into some unfortunate legal problems but managed to give his A-game here – wanted to give the film a sense of “joy” which is why the terrorists in this film are merely bank robbers. In his view, terrorism isn’t fun and movies about terrorism (at least back then) were more often than not dreary and needlessly violent affairs. But with bank robbers, the audience could sit back and enjoy the film without feeling bad. After all, people love a good caper and there is comic relief to be had among the villains. Also – and this is something I’ve said before – with terrorism, you’re often forced to go political. McTiernan had no interest in the characters’ ideology; he simply wanted to craft a great piece of summer entertainment.

I feel bad for young people who watch it for the first time, having been exposed since childhood to all the clichés pioneered by the filmmakers. The craftsmanship is top-notch and European cinematographer Jan de Bont (who would later direct Speed and Twister) gives the film a wonderful sense of style. Geography and spatial relationships are clearly established and the camerawork actually helps to create a psychological reaction: the camera closes in on Willis at just the right time (usually when it appears he’s doomed), the exteriors actually feel more cramped than the interiors thanks to the use of long lenses (which compress the foreground and background), and there’s a great use of triangular composition, with the camera for instance starting on a henchman, then moving to the henchman’s gun, then to McClane in another area of the shot. We understand everything in one shot with no dialogue. That’s direction.
At that point in his career, Bruce Willis was best known for ABC’s Moonlighting. He’s perfect as John McClane who, at the time, was a new kind of hero. He was a blue-collar working stiff as opposed to a muscle-bound superman like Arnold or Sly. His relationship to his wife is what grounds the movie and according to McTiernan, they finally managed to get a handle on the character when they realized that McClane doesn’t really like himself very much… but like all of us, he does the best he can. He’s an underdog and people love to root for an underdog. Everything you need to know about him can be summed up in one shot. The company has sent a limo to pick him up at LAX. He meets his driver, Argyle (De'voreaux White), and decides to sit in the front with him instead of the back – a genuinely human moment. I’m not familiar with much of her work but Bonnie Bedelia more than holds her own as Holly (Gennaro) McClane. After Gruber kills her boss, she becomes de facto leader of the hostages.

Hans Gruber, as played by Alan Rickman, will go down in history as one of the best movie villains of all time. He’s ruthless but he’s also stylish, well-spoken, and clearly the smartest one in the room. His fake American accent is not great but his voice is positively mellifluous. He’s accounted for every possible contingency and even has some fun at the government’s expense when it comes to his fake demands (“Asian Dawn?”). His team consists of some familiar faces including the late Alexander Godunov (Witness) as Karl and Andreas Wisniewski (The Living Daylights) as Karl’s brother Tony, whom McClane kills early on, seriously pissing off Karl who is hellbent on revenge. Another familiar face is Al Leong (as Uli). You’ve seen him before: the Asian guy with the big forehead who showed up in seemingly every Joel Silver action film in the 80s.

The rest of the supporting cast is filled with some great “Hey, it’s that guy!” character actors. Reginald VelJohnson lends humor and heart to the film as Sgt. Al Powell, who has his own character arc that is resolved at the end. He would go on to play a cop on TV’s Family Matters. The late Paul Gleason plays Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson the same way he played all of his other characters back then: as a total prick! He and McClane get to spar over the walkie-talkie as Powell just watches in amusement. Hart Bochner plays Holly’s coked-up co-worker who soon regrets getting involved with the situation. James Shigeta plays Holly’s boss Joseph Takagi, a dignified and accomplished man who sadly becomes Hans’ first victim.
The Agents Johnson are played by Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush. They’re overbearing and irresponsible, bringing to mind the old line “We need to destroy the village in order to save it.” (Some have theorized about the Vietnam subtext in this film but I’m not qualified to do so.) Reporter Dick Thornburg is played by William Atherton and after the crap he got for playing a dick in Ghostbusters, it’s amazing he agreed to play another one! He gets his comeuppance in the end and the media actually plays a minor role in the movie, with McTiernan cutting to news reports featuring know-nothing anchors and clueless talking heads. As I said, the film has aged quite well. [smile]

The Oscar-nominated visual effects – supervised by Richard Edlund of the late Boss Film Studios – still hold up for the most part. It’s not an “effects movie” per se, but the filmmakers obviously couldn’t blow up parts of the building. The Nakatomi building seen in the film is actually Fox Plaza in Century City, which was brand new at the time and, in a typical display of Hollywood accounting, the studio actually charged itself rent! (Funnily enough, I had a job interview in the building when I lived in LA. I didn’t get the job but it was still worth the trip!)

The Nakatomi lobby is a replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and on the DVD commentary, production designer Jackson De Govia mentions the subtle political subtext: that a Japanese corporation (this was the 80s) had the nerve to purchase Fallingwater and re-create it in the lobby, ironically presenting it to people who would never otherwise see it. As I said, the attention to detail is immaculate. Even the Playboy centerfold taped to the wall in a stairwell serves a purpose: as a “breadcrumb” so to speak, helping McClane get his bearings in this densely-packed industrial jungle.
And yes, the music. The score by the late Michael Kamen pays homage to both Christmas and Kubrick. In addition to the bells, there are references to “Singin' in the Rain” and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, both of which were used to great effect in A Clockwork Orange. The Beethoven music is mainly used as a theme for the villains and both Gruber and his hacker Theo (Clarence Gilyard) hum it during the film. This all goes back to McTiernan’s wish for joy in the film. After all, the final movement of the 9th Symphony is “The Ode to Joy.”

I always enjoy revisiting the world of Die Hard. There’s nothing like a well-executed action film. Not to get all mushy but when I think of films like this, I think of my dad who, as I type this, is sitting in the TV room watching some action flick on Spike, and my late grandfather who had a large picture of John Wayne mounted in his pool room. Hopefully this tradition (for lack of a better word) will continue for a long time… if Hollywood doesn’t screw it up.

“Yippee-ki-yay, motherf---er!”

52 comments:

PikeBishop said...

A truely thrilling movie-going experience, taut, well-written and directed, and Bruce Willis's performance just blew me away.

A guy, whom I only knew as the snarky, sniggering A-hole on "Moonlighting" was excellent. The character was believable; he was scared, alone, outgunned and worried about his wife and dealing with the stunning incompetence of the LAPD, all at the same time. contrast this to his character in the increasingly idiotic sequels, where he is no longer afraid or even human, but now he's bullet proof.

Also props to Reginald Vel Johnson as the put upon LA cop, who does his best to help "Roy" while dealing with the idiots and bureacrats on his own side.

Other favorite moments:

"Asian Dawn?" "I read about them in Time MAgazine."

"And you figured this out all by yourself."

"On the contrary Madam, I am an extraordianry thief."

"Oh yeah, take this under advisement, Jerkweed."

tryanmax said...

Wow, you really don't leave room for conversation, do you Scott? Great movie and a great review.

ScottDS said...

tryanmax -

There's ALWAYS room for conversation! I just like to cover my bases and give credit where credit is due, hence my habit of mentioning various crewmembers whose contributions make the film I'm reviewing unique. And in the case of this particular film, the DVD is stacked with supplements including a very informative trivia track.

:-)

Tennessee Jed said...

Die Hard reinvented the genre to be sure even if (sadly) they later ran it into the ground. It was almost as if they borrowed a guy from a gumshoe private dick flick and thrust him into the spotlight. Perhaps, a bit of inspiration from Hitchcock and Roger O. Thornhill thrown in to boot.

Of course Bonnie Bedalia is a pro's pro, and what can one say about Alan Rickman. You just have to love the guy. He has a wonderful ability to overact at just the right level (maybe pushed slightly too far in Prince of Thieves.)

But you know who I thought was really, really great? Godunov. I loved him in Witness, but he showed some really good chops as Rickman's muscle. Sorry we lost him too soon.

Nice review, Scott!

ScottDS said...

Pike -

I'd LOVE to see this film in a theater with a packed audience - I imagine it's quite the crowd pleaser.

I'd say he was really only "bulletproof" in the fourth film, and it's mentioned in my review of that film which will post next year. Similar to how Indiana Jones seemed to be bulletproof in his fourth film.

In this case, I imagine the filmmakers didn't want to go down that road every time - and McClane got more cynical as the films went on, maybe he just didn't care as much anymore.

ScottDS said...

Jed -

Thanks for the kind words!

I like Godunov in The Money Pit (yeah, that silly Tom Hanks movie). He played Shelley Long's ex-husband and he's hilarious.

One of Roderick Thorpe's inspirations was, in fact, The Towering Inferno. He saw the film and that night, had a dream of a man being chased by other men with guns in the building. Out of that came the source novel.

This may be an apocryphal story but apparently, screenwriter Steven de Souza knew the genre had been run into the ground when a studio exec pitched him "Die Hard in a building"!

Anthony said...

Die Hard was an amazing action flick filled with memorable scenes (McClane walking on broken glass, the businessman getting shot, his big fight scene with the fearsome ballerina, his jump off the building).

is also notable because its the first time I (and probably everyone else) saw Walker's (of Walker Texas Ranger) sidekick Clarence Gilyard.

ScottDS said...

Anthony -

I never watched Walker Texas Ranger but I only found out he was on the show when it was mentioned during a podcast I listened to in prep for this review.

Definitely a lot of memorable scenes. As Howard Hawks once said, a movie needs "three great scenes, no bad ones."

rlaWTX said...

Excellent review!

I love this movie. I didn't actually see it until several years later (I was in HS and wasn't allowed to see rated R movies), but can't remember when for sure.
But every time it pops up on TV, I watch it!

(BTW, loved Moonlighting too)

ScottDS said...

rla -

Thanks!

My first R-rated film in a theater was Ransom in 1996. I was 13. My mother was always very strict about that but in later years realized she may have been a little too strict. I was a good student and I never "acted out" what I saw in movies.

And not all R-rated films are created equal. Of course, she'd never let me watch something like Basic Instinct! Profanity and violence were a little more palatable. But only a little. :-)

Yeah, every time this comes on TV (uncut, of course), I have to keep it on, even though I own the DVD set.

I was probably too young to get into something like Moonlighting but the more I read about it, the more I think I'd like it.

Nick Alexander said...

FYI: Bonnie Bedelia has been acting since the late 60s, as I recognized her in the classic "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" in a pivotal minor role. She hadn't re-emerged until "Heart Like A Wheel", a critics favorite where she was the lead. Today, you can see her in NBC's _Parenthood_ playing the matriarch of a large extended family.

Die Hard, however, will be on her tombstone. (wait, is that a little bit insensitive?)

ScottDS said...

Nick -

Not insensitive. :-)

Yeah, I know she's done a ton of other stuff but she's just not on my radar a whole lot.

Backthrow said...

So, it was late August, 1988, and I was an out-of-state student, moving in, getting ready for the start of the school year. Together with a bunch of fellow out-of-state classmates, we decided to go see MIDNIGHT RUN (we heard it was good) at the local multiplex, as that was really the only thing to do in the area at the time. Unfortunately, MIDNIGHT RUN was already gone, swept away by larger Summer movie fare.

Our crew decided to take in DIE HARD instead, and I remember walking in, thinking, "Oh no, they gave an action vehicle to that MOONLIGHTING guy" --I wasn't a fan of the show, and didn't 'get' its popularity at all-- and was expecting something mediocre...

Boy, was I wrong.

Great in every way, the story sucks you in, every time (I'd catch it, often already in progress, countless times when it was in its initial heavy rotation on HBO and Cinemax). The only slip was the scene in the elevator shaft, where the shoulder band on his gun conveniently ends up being 6'-8' long, and catching the edge of the vent shaft with his fingertips when he falls.

I eventually caught MIDNIGHT RUN when it hit pay-per-view (then a fairly new thing), and it was equally good, in its own way.

Imagine having the same amount of quality mainstream movie choices today that we had back in 1988 (not that I think it was the best movie year ever, that there are no good movies now, or that there wasn't a fair amount of crap and mediocrity then).

ScottDS said...

Backthrow -

Cool story! There are good movies made today and there were bad ones made then but the good stuff tends to rise to the top. Having said that, I'm sure we'll still be talking about more of the movies made then versus the ones made today. Not to mention, movies had a little more time to breathe - today, if you're soft on opening weekend, forget it. And the world seems to operate much faster today - out with the old and in with the new.

And while people love to complain about the brainless movies/sequels/remakes/etc. that accompany summer movie season, if every summer movie was half as good as Die Hard, then NO ONE would complain!

Backthrow said...

Scott,

True! Great review, btw, and a very happy Chanukah to you and your family!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, An excellent review. It's funny how a movie about a terrorist in Los Angles can become a Christmas movie, but it really has.

AndrewPrice said...

Nick, I like her a lot. Two of my favorite roles for her were Salem's Lot and Presumed Innocent.

ScottDS said...

Backthrow -

Thanks! And an early Merry Christmas (or Happy Chanukah - I don't know) to you and yours! :-)

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

Thanks for the kind words. I think I mentioned to you that this might've been my most thoroughly researched review, though that mainly entailed listening to an audio commentary, reading along with a trivia track, and reading a few online reviews.

And it's always a pleasure to revisit movies you don't mind watching over and over again.

El Gordo said...

One thing that makes Die Hard so loveable is its carefree lack of political correctness. Lots of little things that almost feel subversive today.

For example, all foreigners are out to get us. The bad guys are a mix of haughty, arrogant foreigners who mock America and her pop-cultural icons. "Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne? Rambo? Marshall Dillon?"

Takagi, while an admirable character, uses as his password the name of Yamamoto´s flag ship AKAGI at Pearl Harbour. There´s also a painting of what looks like an aircraft carrier in his vault. Shades of Japanese revanchism.

Of course the government and the media are shown as utterly useless. We saw more of that in movies at the time. It all comes down to a few blue collar guys doing their jobs.

It´s a manly movie. The hero saves his wife, but did you ever notice that when Willis finally meets Al, he all but forgets about her as they hug and cry? It is almost funny. No wonder they are separated. She´ll have her career and he´ll get to kill bad guys and she will never quite understand him.

The sequels make a terrible mistake: the bad guys die too well. You want to HATE the villains. You also want them to be punished, to lose badly and to die screaming. In the second and third movie, they just die. But in this one, every single bad guy gets at least two seconds to recognize what hit him. Gruber gets more.

The fourth Die Hard movie handles this aspect better - a few good comeuppances - but the terrorists acts in that movie are bizarrely bloodless. You know hundreds must be injured or dead, but nobody mentions it and everyone seems merely inconvenienced.

Modern action movies may be huge and violent but they feel sanitized to me, certainly the American ones. It is no accident that Taken was produced by a Frenchman who probably tried to make what he thinks Americans want to see. And he was right, but no American could have made Taken today.

ScottDS said...

El Gordo -

I'm reviewing the sequels too and I look forward to your insights in the (near) future!

If there's anything un-PC about it, I assume it was John McTiernan's influence. The villains were German terrorists in the original novel; McTiernan kept them German but made them bank robbers.

I never noticed that with McClane and Powell. Ha! In retrospect, I wish they had kept Holly around in the third and fourth films... but that discussion can wait till future reviews.

Interesting thoughts about the bad guys dying. I'd say in the second film the audience definitely wants to see the villain die, especially after he blows up the passenger jetliner... but it's not personal - he dies in a fireball!

The fourth film was gutted - it should've been an R-rated film but the studio wanted to get more butts in seats. The DVD includes an unrated version but it's mostly a few shots of CGI blood - nothing major. I have my own beef with CGI blood - with rare exceptions, it NEVER looks good!

Luc Besson seems to be running his own action movie factory over there in Europe. I just watched Lockout with Guy Pierce, which Besson produced and co-wrote. It was immensely stupid (in a fun way) but Pierce owns the movie!

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, Those are excellent points, this is not a modern politically correct film by any stretch. But at the same time, the film also isn't particularly insulting either. Normally when people say something is un-PC they mean it goes out of its way to be racist or sexist or whatever, but not in this case. This film really just captures the mid-American mentality.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It is. And there are a lot of worthwhile films that deserve to be revisited. It's too bad we don't a bigger cite because then we could do a weekly look back as a special feature.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

When you say "It is", to what are you referring?

Yeah, I wish the site were bigger. I think between you, me, and a couple others, we probably could do weekly "look-backs." Maybe some time in the future.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, "It is" means it's a pleasure to look back at fun films of the past.

As for adding more contributors, forget it! I'm not sharing the VAST revenues this site generates with anyone else. Zero dollars is hard enough to divide as it is. ;P

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

For the Browncoats:

"Ten percent of nothing is — let me do the math here. Nothing into nothin'. Carry the nothin'..." :-)

Jen said...

Though I don't usually comment on this site due to the fact that I'm not a big movie buff, I couldn't pass THIS one up--Loved it! My kind of movie.

I also remember Bonnie Bedelia when she portrayed Shirley Muldowney in "Heart Like A Wheel". That was back when I actually used to watch a lot of movies (had HBO and Showtime).

ScottDS said...

Jen -

Feel free to stop by more often! You don't need to be a movie "buff," just interested. :-)

Jen said...

Scott, I stop by on occasion. Most of the time, I haven't seen the movie that is reviewed, and I don't always bother with reading because it wouldn't make any sense--it's nothing personal.

ScottDS said...

Jen -

No worries! And I didn't take it personally. :-)

T-Rav said...

Great review, Scott! I only saw this for the first time a couple years ago, but I wasn't disappointed--it's really great. Among other things, I love the "Ode to Joy" score when the gang's opening the vault. It's just brilliant.

As a fan of Walker, I spotted Clarence Gilyard right away. Also great.

Individualist said...

Great Review Scott...

So you recommend the film then?

A true classic.

I like the little touches. Such as when the Limo Driver who is chilling out listening to rap music finally notices that Hey Terrorists have taken over the building.

That was great.

ScottDS said...

T-Rav -

Thanks! Yeah, the vault scene is wonderfully done... it's just a good thing the FBI proved to be as predictable as Hans was expecting. Imagine if they decided NOT to cut the power.

Gilyard (as Theo) has one of my favorite bits of dialogue in the film:

"'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except... the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation." :-)

ScottDS said...

Indi -

Yeah, I recommend it. It's okay, I guess. :-)

The film has tons of little touches, like Karl and Theo betting in the background on whether or not Hans would kill Takagi.

Or the progression of the newscasts, from the initial report to the clueless talking head pimping his book, Terrorist Hostage or something like that.

PikeBishop said...

Scott: "That's as in Helsinki Sweden............"

Twenty years or so before Breitbart

ScottDS said...

Pike -

Ha! When it comes to the political stuff, I certainly have my own opinions, some of which run counter to others on this site... BUT I have no more love for the media than you guys do, which is to say none at all. What's sad is the media satire in this film (such as it is) hasn't aged a day.

EricP said...

I would like to thank my friend Brian for cluing me in to this movie. He saw it on a sneak-preview weekend, and knowing I wasn’t much of an action movie guy at that time, offered to reimburse my ticket price if I didn’t like it. Brian never saw that money (though I did treat him to The Expendables opening weekend). To this day, still consider Die Hard the best action movie of all time, and Rickman best villain as well. Will reserve commentary on the sequels till later weeks.

ScottDS said...

Eric -

Reading your comment, it occurred to me that sneak previews aren't as common as they used to be, probably because every blockbuster movie is now being released at midnight on a Wednesday, versus Friday.

I haven't seen every action film ever made but Die Hard might just be the best one, or at least in the top three.

I wanted to like The Expendables more than I did. It was fun seeing those guys together but Stallone shot it like a present-day action movie ("Pull the camera back!" I kept saying to myself.) And the humor was forced beyond belief.

I just watched the second one last week. I thought it was stupid but, again, I smiled at the end when Arnold, Bruce, and Sly all teamed up.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou so much for posting this! Die Hard is one of my very favorite movies and I think it has aged very well. It is a damn near perfect movie and it works on so many levels.I nominate Die Hard as the perfect 80's movie.
It had all the elements-The feds were seen as arrogant killers (I figure we lose 6 or 7 hostages.I can live with that.)Not only are they arrogant but they botch things as well.
The reporter is seen as an ass who only cares about what the whole situation can do for him.
Deputy Chief Dwayne Robinson is a bureaucratic ass who has to by the book because he can't think outside it,even as the book falls apart.
The scene where McClane opens the locker to reveal the topless poster was perfect because the topless scene was obligatory in the 80's.
I have one small criticism of this great film.While Alan Rickman is indelible as Hans Gruber,I have always thought that Gruber should have been played by Rutger Hauer.Before you ban me,just think about it for a minute.Hauer is European,so that fits in.He was the right age at the time,and had the sophistication that Rickman did.But unlike Alan Rickman,you can see Rutger Hauer physically dominating the gang of violent men.Small quibble.
Thoughts?
Gypsy Tyger

ScottDS said...

Anon -

You're welcome! It's one of my favorite movies too, and I was never the biggest action fan. But some time in my late teen years, I started gravitating in that direction. I won't watch just anything but Die Hard is like a Rolls-Royce in the genre.

Yeah, I agree re: the topless scene. But it does serve as a way for McClain to orient himself.

I like Rutger Hauer (he and I have the same birthday!) and while I think he could've easily handled the threatening aspects, I don't know how well he could've played suave. I'm not saying he couldn't do it; it's just that Rickman had that... "twinkle" for lack of a better word.

Anonymous said...

Great review of a classic movie ScottDS.

I saw this movie on a pirated VHS before it was release here, a friend bought it back from a trip to Hong Kong. When he lent it to me at school I threw a sickie, went home and watched it with a friend. And of course I loved it.

The sequels are good, but no where near as great as this one. If they were made without being part of the Die Hard franchise then they would be considered average. But the character, the back story all lift them.

Scott.

ScottDS said...

Scott -

Thanks!

Yeah, the Die Hard label carried with it a lot of good will which worked for the sequels (at least the second and third films). I'm reviewing the second film next week and the latter two early next year.

Pirated VHS? I couldn't imagine a worse way to see a movie like this! Forget the piracy aspect - these movies look awful in pan and scan. :-)

Anonymous said...

ScottDS - Cannot wait to read the review for #2.

And yes the pirated VHS was pretty low quality but I was hanging out to see it. And growing up in Australia back in the 80s and 90s we had to wait for ages to see a movie after it was released in America. So we would hear about movies for ages and ages before we got to see them and when I had the chance to see it early I went for it.

But thankfully internet downloads changed that and the wait if there is one at all is shorter and not for the blockbusters. In fact I got to see The Avengers a week before it was released in the USA which was quite weird.

Scott.

ScottDS said...

Scott -

Australia? Cool! I once took an improv class in NYC with a guy from Australia but he had to move back due to his work situation (as in, he couldn't find a job before some deadline).

Yeah, movies seem to be released all over the world almost simultaneously nowadays, or even overseas before the US (then again, that's where more and more of the money is).

Dave Olson said...

I saw Die Hard in the theater (or do we use "cinema" here?) in 1988, the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. Even then I realized that I was watching a game-changer. Almost everything in the movie was pitch-perfect. The writing, acting, directing, music, casting, set design, everything! Die Hard was the Citizen Kane of the 80s, as evidenced by how many (pale, weak, half-assed) imitations followed in the 90s.

As I said, almost everything worked. The elevator shaft scene was a groaner even then. John McClane is our everyman hero but he has superhuman strength and reflexes in his fingertips? Puh-LEEZE. And Die Hard may have been the first movie to popularize multiple endings with the second death of Karl. He escaped his hanging, the roof explosion, and made it down 30 floors without being seen or stopped by any cop? Al Powell is the only cop in the plaza with a gun? I mean, it was a beautiful payoff for his character, but still.

My only other quibble is the very obvious use of a dummy on the hood of the cop car as it streaks behind a clueless Argyle. (A sentence like that would only make sense if you've seen the movie!) But that's really something you'd notice only after multiple viewings, so we can let that one slide. If the movie itself hadn't been that damn good, you wouldn't have watched it over and over in the first place.

Not long ago, I watched City Lights. It is just one of Chaplin's masterpieces, but it felt clichéd, because so many "artistes" have "borrowed" from it for 80 years. Younger viewers watching Die Hard for the first time may think it's just a string of clichés, but they didn't exist in movies until John McClane invited us to the party, pal!

ScottDS said...

Dave -

It's funny how younger people respond to these things today. After being inundated with Saw and Paranormal Activity, a movie like Psycho or The Exorcist would come across as downright tame and not scary!

The dummy never bothered me - there's a more egregious dummy shot in the second film (when the scaffolding in the Annex Skywalk lands on a henchman). I imagine today it would be a CGI double (or a CGI face replacement) instead, but those don't always look good either.

I think the film is best described as a "heightened reality" - they go as far as they can, and slightly beyond a few times, but never completely into the realm of incredulity.

obiwan2009 said...

Alright, first thing, Scott, thanks for bringing up Die Hard, for a few reasons.

1) Terrorism is really all about the money
2) The world gets saved by antiheroes, like Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, B.A. Barcus, and John McLane, and believe me, if people knew about a lot of so-called historical "heroes", they would find they were really antiheroes in disguise.
3) So many classic punchlines that get overused in video games, especially the yippie kay yay @#$%$#%$!
4) Had a hard time envisioning Rickman as Professor Snape after seeing him as Hans Gruber
5) When all else fails watch the action-flick source material.

Anyways, needed to let that funnybone break a little. Anways, being an 80s child, I first saw this film on TV, was totally blown away, then decided to get the DVD. Yeah, I was one of those younger generation kids who came to like this as a classic that it is.

I also liked it for the fact that it sort of iconized Bruce Willis as the antihero. Sure, Eastwood was one with rogue cop Dirty Harry, but Willis was well, an antihero for the fact that all he wanted to do was have a vacation, and there would be an inferis to pay when someone messes with his vacation, which the makers of the Die Hard films had fun with, although I do think they will eventually run out of holidays to ruin, although who knows, but they've already done Christmas twice, the summer break in June, and fourth of July BBQ for McLane, what else is there?

ScottDS said...

obiwan -

There's always Chanukah. Or Arbor Day. :-)

Some folks seem to have a real issue with anti-heroes and they like to blame all of modern Hollywood's problems on the rise of the anti-hero. I think Andrew did this but I don't recall - I have yet to see a satisfying definition of "anti-hero." Is it a hero who flaunts authority? Or is it a hero who's just as bad as the villain? McClane may have an authority problem but he's in no way comparable to Gruber.

I was also a younger generation kid who got into these movies. I guess they were on HBO a lot at some point and that's when I got into them. They released the deluxe DVD set in 2001 and I still have the set - I haven't upgraded to Blu-Ray yet.

Mycroft said...

Glad to have you review Die Hard since it's one of my favorites. As I commented in an earlier post, Die Hard touches on almost every genre there is: Christmas movie, action, thriller, buddy, cop, romance, drama, horror, SF, comedy, etc...
When I was in college in the 80's, Tuesday night was tv night. I would join my buddies for A-Team, then Moonlighting and finish with Spencer for Hire. While I like Moonlighting, I wasn't excited by the ads for Die Hard when it came out and didn't see it until it hit the Drive-In (does anyone remember those?).
I've been a huge fan ever since.

ScottDS said...

Mycroft -

Thanks for the kind words.

I know of drive-ins, I've just never been to one!

Die Hard does seem to have a little bit of everything, though I'm not so sure about sci-fi.

Mycroft said...

Ah, but they used a laser to get into the vault.

ScottDS said...

I don't know... I'm pretty sure it was a drill. :-)

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