Plot: What’s it about?
John McClane (Bruce Willis) is ready to enjoy his vacation time with his family this Christmas holiday. McClane is a New York City police officer, but he has the holidays off, so he travels to Los Angeles to spend time with his wife, who lives in L.A. for her work. The two have a rocky relationship, but McClane wants to patch things up and be together again. McClane meets his wife at her office building, where her company is holding a Christmas party, and have the building all to themselves. While McClane is cleaning up and making little fists with his toes, things take a more sinister turn, as a team of terrorists invade the building. As the terrorists begin to start the wheels turning on their mission, McClane is able to sneak off without being seen. With his trusty service revolver, McClane tries to battle back against the terrorists, while also attempting to alert the police force. It’s McClane against mastermind Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his team of shock troops, who will survive?
While I am sure almost everyone out there has seen this movie, those of you haven’t need to crawl out from under that issue of Star Trek monthly and watch this movie. This film created a new standard for action movies to abide by, and introduced us to the slimeball euro-trash Hans Gruber, who I feel is among the finest of all screen villains. More importantly perhaps, we first shook hands with John McClane, who was not a musclehead or perfectly trained assassin, but just a cop trying to make it through the day and save his marriage. This concept of a normal guy thrust into extreme situations and making a difference is a large factor in what makes this series so good. Well, that and the constant action, which is the true star of the film. Gunfights, fistfights, explosions, Twinkies, and walking on broken glass, it’s all here. If you ask me, this is about as good as American action cinema can get and while it doesn’t quite match up to Hong Kong’s better efforts, Die Hard is still an excellent movie and a personal favorite of mine. I think this is a must own title for action fans and with this new two disc edition, there’s no reason not to add it to your collection.
This film was directed by John McTiernan, who knows his way around action movies. All the things we love about the genre are here, while McTiernan manages to put a personal stamp on the film. While I think this is his overall best effort, his other films are also entertaining to a similar degree. While his list of films is short, I still hold him as one of the premier action directors. McTiernan also directed Die Hard: With A Vengeance, Last Action Hero, and Predator, among others. As I am sure you all know, this is the movie that not only made Bruce Willis a box office superstar, but also an action icon. His work here is excellent, and even has some depth, showing a sensitive side here and there. Willis is so perfect for this role, it seems like he is McClane, which helps the impact of the film greatly. Just as vital to the film’s success is Alan Rickman, who steals many scenes as the villain, Hans Gruber. Rickman is known for playing the bad guy, as well as sweeping scenes away from his higher profile costars, and he does that again here. Rickman also steals the show in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Galaxy Quest, and many more. Others appearing include William “I always play a jerk” Atherton (Ghostbusters, Bio Dome), Bonnie Bedelia (Anywhere But Here, Needful Things), Paul Gleason (Johnny Be Good, Nothing To Lose), Reginald Vel Johnson (Tv’s Family Matters).
Video: How does it look?
Die Hard is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This is a massive improvement over the previous disc, with a much sharper image and of course, less edge enhancement and other compression issues. The source print shows some slight wear, but nothing serious in the least, while grain remains minimal throughout. Like the previous treatment, this transfer seems on the dark side, but never to an extreme degree, so detail remains strong and I was never let down here. The colors look good also, but the film doesn’t thrive on rich hues, so the color scope is pretty natural, which is how it should be. I suppose this isn’t a perfect presentation, but it’s a vast improvement over the earlier edition and as such, I think fans should be most pleased, as this is the best the flick has looked on home video.
Audio: How does it sound?
This is where we get serious, as Fox has included dual 5.1 surround options in Dolby Digital and DTS forms, which this film more than takes advantage of, I assure you. The film starts out on the tame side, but once the action and suspense kick in, these options really earn their keep and I was very impressed indeed. The surrounds are used for all aspects of the sound spectrum, from subtle atmospheric presence to explosive power moments, all of which sound superb in these mixes. I was very pleased with both tracks here, but the DTS option seems a little tighter and more refined, although the differences are not extreme, to be sure. The dialogue is never lost in all this however, as it comes through in clean and crisp form at all times. This release also includes 2.0 surround options in English and French, as well as subtitles in English and Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This release has been loaded down with bonus materials, including an audio commentary track from director John McTiernan and production designer Jackson DeGovia. I haven’t been fond of McTiernan’s sessions before and this one didn’t win me over either, although he is more talkative here, perhaps due to the presence of DeGovia. The two discuss various topics and pack in a lot of information, though not as much as you find in most two person tracks, to be honest. McTiernan is simply not that talkative on the whole, but I suppose this is better than nothing, as he and DeGovia do impart more than a little insight. You can also access commentary from special effects supervisor Richard Edlund, but only for a certain amount of scenes and since those are all special effects sequences, he has a lot of information to pass along, very cool indeed. He speaks over ten scenes and these can be selected from the submenu, so it’s all very simple to navigate at all times. The next commentary session is presented via a special subtitle stream, so instead of vocals, you read the text as it scrolls and appears. This session is very informative and features comments from actor Alan Rickman, screenwriter Steven DeSouza, composer Michael Kamen, and a wealth of other participants. This release also offers the chance to view the film with a new scene inserted, via seamless branching, which is very cool indeed. If you choose to view this extended edition however, you can’t access to the commentary options. The scene is an extended version of the power shutdown sequence, which is also included on the second disc, in case you don’t want to tamper with the flick. This first disc also includes some DVD ROM content, which of course, requires the use of a…DVD ROM drive.
Now we move ahead to disc two, where even more supplements await, which has to thrill fans of this series. Here you can view the extended power shutdown sequence as a solo stream, or view a series of outtakes, including some interesting deleted clips. The outtakes can be viewed with production audio & music, or just production audio, whichever you prefer to enable. The reel runs about six minutes and is very cool to view here, as the material is presented in anamorphic widescreen and looks better than expected. You can also find more deleted footage in the newscasts section, which houses about eight minutes of unused clips from the various newscasts seen throughout the picture. The final extras included in The Vault section of this disc are magazine articles, originally published in American Cinematographer and Cinefex, well worth a look indeed. Next is The Cutting Room, where you’ll find a glossary of terms from the movie business, as well as a presentation on the benefits of the widescreen format, which should educate some folks who dislike those black bars. You can also fool around in an audio mixing suite, which is very cool, three sequences in which you control the camera angles and can switch between them, and finally, three brief sequences in which you can be the editor and put together the shots yourself, which I think is a terrific inclusion.
You can also view an interactive slide show presentation, which is an animated montage of various still photos, production photos, and of course, publicity photos from the flick’s archive. The reel runs about ten minutes and is a real pleasure to watch, but this is no simple slide show, hence the label interactive slide show. At times a symbol will appear on screen and when it does, you punch the select button and boom, you’re shown some additional information on the slide you were taking a peek at, very cool if you ask me. This release also includes the complete screenplay, three theatrical trailers, seven television spots, some DVD ROM content, and a brief behind the scenes featurette, which was seen on the original release.