DIE HARD is without question one of the greatest action movies of all time. In the years since it has been released, it has become the yardstick against which all action genre entries are now measured. After DIE HARD, suddenly every action film was an imitator of the central concept of a lone hero, facing overwhelming odds to save the day. In an effort to cash in on the film’s success, Hollywood churned out films best described as DIE HARD on a boat, DIE HARD on a plane, DIE HARD on a bus and DIE HARD on a mountain… you get the idea. DIE HARD itself even spawned two entertaining sequels, but there is nothing quite like the original.
Back in 1988, Bruce Willis was considered a lightweight actor, with the comedic television series MOONLIGHTING as his only outstanding credit. At the time, casting Willis as the leading man in a gritty action movie such as DIE HARD was something of a risk. However, Willis was perfectly suited to the role of a blue-collar hero, who proved to be a lot smarter than the film’s well-educated Euro-trash bad guys. In DIE HARD, Willis portrays John McClane, a New York City police detective, who comes to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and their children. McClane arrives in LA just in time to meet up with Holly at her company’s Christmas Eve office party.
Unfortunately, a group of international terrorists crash the party shortly after McClane’s arrival, seizing the entire office tower and taking the partygoers hostage. Armed with only his service revolver, McClane is able to break away from the terrorists and begins throwing a monkey wrench into their well-calculated plans. Fortifying himself with the terrorists’ own weapons, McClane enters into a deadly game of one-upmanship with their leader Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), while trying to find a way to contact the authorities and save the hostages lives.
Much of the success of DIE HARD lies with the chemistry between the actors. Although Willis is isolated from the other performers for much of the film’s running time, a radio does allow him to interact with Hans, as well as Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), the street cop that becomes his connection to the outside world. Both Rickman and VelJohnson make an indelible impression with their roles in DIE HARD, however it is Rickman’s superb performance as the as the sophisticated, but ruthless terrorist leader that has helped propel the film into its genre classic status. I should also mention director John McTiernan’s incredible sense of pacing and his brilliant staging of the film’s numerous action sequences, as another key ingredient in the film’s enormous success. The solid supporting cast of DIE HARD features Alexander Godunov, Paul Gleason, William Atherton, Hart Bochner, De'voreaux White, James Shigeta, Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made the Five Star Collection edition of DIE HARD available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. For a rehash of a Laserdisc transfer, the original non-anamorphic release of DIE HARD looked quite good. However, the new 16:9 enhanced transfer leaves the previous presentation in the dust. There are marked improvements in all areas of the image, which appears cleaner, sharper and better defined on this release. Film grain has been greatly reduced and the colors are stronger, with better-looking flesh tones. There is not a hint of chroma noise or bleeding during the presentation. Blacks appear very solid and contrast is good, however the film stocks used to shoot DIE HARD are a bit dated- offering some what reduced shadow detail, compared to newer film stocks, and a slightly flat looking image in some of the darker sequences. The dual layer DVD doesn’t display any noticeable signs of digital compression artifacts.
For this release DIE HARD features both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 channel soundtracks. For a 1988 release, this is a very kicking soundtrack. Plenty of activity in all the channels, which is just what one wants from such an intense action movie. Sounds can be precisely localized or pan in between channels in a fluid manner. Dialogue is crisply rendered and is completely intelligible, although there are a couple of moments when the voices are just a tiny bit harsh sounding. The bass channel is deep and downright explosive- which is absolutely perfect for this material. DIE HARD features one of my favorite action movie scores, which was composed by Michael Kamen. Kamen’s music has a full-bodied sound and it takes advantage of the entire soundstage- washing over the viewer throughout the film, without ever becoming intrusive. Differences between the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks are almost non-existent, although the higher bit rate of DTS allows for a more spacious quality and slightly improved sonic detail. English and French Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the cool 3-D interface of the DVD’s interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplementary materials contained on this two-disc set. Disc one contains three commentaries, two of the audio variety and one text based. The first audio commentary runs throughout the entire film and it features director John McTiernan and production designer Jackson DeGovia. The second audio commentary features special effects supervisor Richard Edlund, whose comments are scene specific and have been chapter encoded for easy access. Both supplementary audio tracks are highly informative and fans will find them well worth listening to. The text-based commentary appears on a subtitle track and offers a wealth of information on the film from various sources. Disc one also offers an extended branching version of the film, with a longer version of the power shutdown sequence, and a number of DVD-ROM features.
On to disc two, we find a wealth of additional supplements. From The Vault includes various outtakes, bloopers and scene extensions, as well as the extra scene offered in the extended branching version of the film. Also featured in this section is a more complete look at the newscast footage from the film, as well as magazine articles on the film. The Cutting Room offers and interactive look at the editing process, sequences in the film that were shot with multiple cameras running at the same time, plus a chance to understand the complexities of a film soundtrack. This section also includes a Why Letterbox? demo that shows and explains why wide screen films must be presented in their correct aspect ratio- this type of demo should be included on each and every DVD released on the market. The Interactive Slideshow offers still images from all aspects of the production that are accompanied by musical selections from the film’s score. Occasionally, a special symbol will appear on the screen offering the view to delve into greater on a particular image. The Script offers a look at the film’s original shooting script, which differs in a number of respects from the completed film. Ad Campaign offers three theatrical trailers, seven TV spots and a seven-minute featurette from the film’s original theatrical release. Disc two also contains additional DVD-ROM features.
As far as action movies go, DIE HARD is certainly one of the best of its breed. I’ve seen DIE HARD at least ten times and it never fails to thrill, amuse and thoroughly entertain me. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s Five Star Collection release of DIE HARD is the absolute best the film has ever looked and sounded in the home venue. Combined with the excellent supplemental features, this is a must own DVD for action fans.
The Five Star Collection DVD release of DIE HARD is available individually for $29.98, or as part of DIE HARD - THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION, which also features special editions of DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER and DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, for $79.98
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