Die Hard [Retro Review]

“Welcome to the party, pal!”

The Scoop: 1988 R, directed by John McTiernan and starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman and Reginald VelJohnson

Tagline: 40 Stories of Sheer Adventure

Summary Capsule: Everyman cop battles Christmas, terrorists, and his fear of heights

Justin’s Rating: “Dear Die Hard, you rock. Especially when that guy was on the roof. P.S. Do you know Mad Max?”

Justin’s Review: Okay, so I really detest whines about letterbox format. If I have to hear just one more time, “But I hate those black bars on the TV”, I’m going to start hunting cats for a job, just to give my life meaning. People, letterbox is how the movie was FILMED. You are robbed of so much when you see the pan-and-scan versions, and I just wanted to point out a small example of this in Die Hard.

There’s a scene where Powell, the nice cop, is walking down the hallway of the lobby, decides to give up, and turns back to go to his car. Now, in the pan-and-scan version, all you see is him walking toward the camera, saying “forget it”, and turning around. But when you see the letterbox version, you’d notice a hand with a gun (around the corner) on the left side of the screen, suggesting that Powell would’ve been killed had he kept on going. Just a small detail, but it makes a huge difference.

Die Hard’s a great movie, and you don’t need me to tell you this. But I want to get off my chest a few reasons why Die Hard works so well while many other action films pale and crumble in comparison. First off, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) is one of the greatest bad guys in film history. Sure, he gets trounced, but he’s intelligent, he whips out his humor as often as his pistol, and he goes after his vision with a dedication that’s got to be admired. Ruthless, yes, but so consistantly so that it’s admirable (unlike some other movie bad guys, who have moments of hysterical rage or miss an obvious chance to kill the hero). This is something most action films don’t pick up on: it’s not enough to have a bad guy with a rabid army of football jocks, you got to have a bad guy smart and mean enough to make the audience believe (if only for a second) that he’s got a chance of coming out on top by the movie’s end.

Die Hard’s got another element missed by most action films: humor. The funny stuff. And I’m not just talking about one-liners (although Die Hard has a few of the most memorable in film history, as McClaine refuses to cower in front of the bad guy). There are many moments in this movie that consistantly make me laugh, like the FBI guys (Johnson and Johnson), or when the TV newsanchor gets the location of Helsinki wrong (and just watch his facial reaction). Laughing gives us a break in the tension, and since we don’t have two-hour adrenaline glands, we welcome a good guffaw when we get a chance.

The cliché of a James Bond villian spilling the plan is beaten here thouroughly, with a big naughty stick. While we enjoy some knowledge of what’s happening on both sides of the battle line, neither McClaine’s actions nor Hans Gruber’s plan come into focus until the very end of the film. You see what I’m saying, boys and hampsters? They didn’t lay out the plan for the audience to see, THEN go about doing it. Instead, we get multiple scenes of terrorists’ actions that only make sense later on. There’s such an attention to continuity detail (such as McClaine’s feet, or the power cutting), that this action film suddenly becomes a thinking-action film.

What else to say… well, plenty, actually. My Die Hard: The Novel Review is coming out in bookstores soon. But I do want to touch on the fight sequences (which just feel more *real*, as the characters grapple and fight dirty, instead of being expert martial artists), the awesome setting of the skyrise (which is just as much a character as any person in the film), and some of the most unique and breathtaking action sequences ever (to this day) committed to film. Die Hard is stone cool, my friends, and don’t let bad people talk you out of experiencing it.

Kyle’s Rating: The greatest movie ever.

Kyle’s Review: You know, I don’t believe Die Hard received a single Academy Award when it was released, and that’s a real shame. Because no one talks about garbage like The English Patient or Secrets & Lies or Shine anymore, and those are just a few years old. But hit any coffee shop or skate park during the dog days of summer and the top three items of discussion are:

  • Girls in bikinis
  • Quantum theory
  • Die Hard

It’s very cool, really. More than ten years after it was released in theaters, Die Hard still towers over every other film that purports to be a realistic depiction of man vs. everything in a confined environment. Anyone with basic cable can stay up late Friday and Saturday night and click through endless Die Hard imitators, usually with a lead macho male warring against a group of terrorists while stuck in a shopping mall or a hot air balloon or a snow cone factory or a women’s shoe department. But they’re all junk! Die Hard has persevered through the years because it’s got the cool special effects, the silky smooth directing and humor, and the best collection of actors willing to be in a movie like Die Hard.

Can you imagine what people thought when they heard about Die Hard? “Wait, a New York cop takes on terrorists in a Los Angeles high-rise? Why not make a three-hour movie about an English patient instead?” But as they say, yesterday’s naysayers are today’s roadside vagrants, and everyone involved with Die Hard laughed their way to two sequels and Planet Hollywood. Bruce Willis probably didn’t laugh, but that’s because he likes to smirk and play the harmonica instead. I have a collection of 80’s hits on CD with a Bruce Willis song on it. One day I’ll get around to listening to that one, maybe. There should be more Sting albums.

Apparently this will be a non-review of Die Hard, because you should already know what a great film it is. The original is the best, you get to see Bruce Willis with more hair than usual, cool cop-to-cop banter, and a terrorist’s knees get blown to pieces by machine gun fire while he’s running. What’s the best part? I don’t know, I like that big teddy bear and I like the scene with Alan Rickman and Willis in relative safety (I don’t want to ruin it for you, but it’s the coolest!). Oh, and that excellent western-like climax where a weaponless (heh heh) Willis faces down Rickman and Huey Lewis in the hallway to save his estranged wife is pretty wicked. Oh, isn’t that Huey Lewis? I’m still not sure. Even if it isn’t, pretend it is and maybe you’ll enjoy Die Hard just a little bit more. Especially if you sing “Power of Love” every time he’s on-screen! Good stuff!

So please go and watch Die Hard again or for the first time, because I honestly can not think of a better way for you to spend the next two hours of your life. And I bet you can’t either. Really, dissect your options right now and then tell me you wouldn’t be better off watching Die Hard. See? I told you so! Keep up the good work, Bruce Willis!

PoolMan’s Rating: I’ll be damned… Bruce DID have hair!

PoolMan’s Review: There’s something you’ve just gotta love about Bruce Willis sometimes. Sure, he’s number one with a bullet on a LOT of peoples’ “Most Hated Actors” list, but you have to give the guy his due; when he plays the tough guy, he IS the tough guy. And there aren’t many guys tougher than John McClane.

Die Hard does a lot of things perfectly, but nothing moreso than having the right faces for the characters. Alan Rickman makes a wonderful Hans. He oozes such arrogant charm, sneering away as only he can, that you grow to love him as much as you hate him. Reggie VelJohnson is great as doughboy with a heart of gold cop Al, privately freaking out while providing much needed calm comfort to McClane. And yes, McClane. Bruce Willis didn’t play a perfectly cut boy scout of an NYPD officer. He played a flawed guy with a lot of problems who’s thrust into a bad situation which is only going to get dealt with by thinking fast and being tough. They’re all great, over-the-top performances that turned a good action flick into one of the best of all time.

The action itself is top-notch. For such a routine locale as an office building, they use the environments in incredibly creative ways. From shattering glass to cut John’s bare feet to a rooftop escape using a fire hose, it’s all done with great imagination. You’ll never see elevator shafts the same way again. Add in the incredible amount of smarts that both the good guys AND bad guys possess, and you’ve got one intelligent action flick.

I can’t say a lot more about Die Hard that Justin and Kyle haven’t already (and there’s no way I could ever use as many exclamation marks as Kyle does!). Bruce Willis should be handing out copies of the DVD as his business card. It’s a damn classic that deserves watching again, and again, and again.

Sue’s Rating: Ho. Ho. Ho.

Sue’s Review: Originally, I was going to try and get this review in for Christmas week, but y’know, stuff happens. Even for us reviewer types. ‘Tis true! So all apologies for the tardiness, but I shall soldier on. Pardon the slight odor of musty evergreen.

When the standard list of classic Christmas movies comes up for discussion, you probably won’t find Die Hard anywhere in the top fifty. That’s really too bad, because it’s just loaded with the trappings of the holiday season! There’s a decorated tree, an office party, probably some seriously spiked egg nog somewhere, and did I mention the gifts? Hot lead was apparently all the rage back then. Sort of like Smurf figurines were in the early eighties.

There’s a cute stuffed bear, a jolly corpse with a santa hat, an arch-villain who tells one of his minions to “be of good cheer” and even the classic game “Find the Detonators”, (by Hasbro!) that the whole family can play. Yes, it’s downright fun and festive — and let’s face it, after constant airings of A Christmas Story, it’s time to cleanse the palate anyway. How better than to do that with copious amounts of unrestrained violence? So as far as I’m concerned, move over Grinchy-boy, there’s a new sheriff in town!

There’s not a whole lot I can really say about Die Hard that 99.9999% of the movie-watching world doesn’t already know. It truly stands as a classic of its kind and although many have tried, no one has really managed to duplicate its success. (The closest I’ve seen is Die Hard With A Vengeance – small wonder.)

Although the body count showcases numerous variations on the mortal coil departing shuffle, Die Hard is leavened with utterly classic one-liners and a certain sense that it really doesn’t take itself too seriously. Bruce Willis makes a terrific hero — tough and gritty, yet barefooted, vulnerable and probably in need of an underwear change throughout most of the action. Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber is… well, let’s be honest. Gruber is one of the best bad guys in the history of bad guys. He’s menacing, yet urbane. He has a whimsical sense of humor, and yet is fully capable of blowing up thirty or so innocent people without a second thought. How can you not love a guy like that? At a distance, I mean. I don’t think I’d invite him over for tea and crumpets.

And just as a testament to Die Hard’s durability, when I watched it with my son, it never once occurred to him that he was seeing a movie that pre-dates his own existence on the planet. He loved it, guffawing like a deranged Frenchman throughout. (Hmm… Why does my son guffaw like a deranged Frenchman anyway?)

Hey, if you haven’t watched Die Hard for a while, you are long overdue for a reunion. Don’t wait for the Christmas rush!

Dead body window damage should be covered by most insurance companies

Intermission!

  • The code word “Red Castle” is from the Japanese word “Akagi”, which was a WW2 aircraft carrier on which Takagi (or a member of his family) served.
  • I love how McClaine acknowledges (twice) the nudie picture on the wall
  • I have many questions about the radios that John and the terrorists use. For instance, how come the John can hear the terrorists giving orders, but the police can’t (and how come John just doesn’t pass those orders on to the police)? How come the terrorists didn’t change to another channel once they knew John was on the line? I mean, for pete’s sake, Argyle could get John on his CB! Maybe these are explained, but I’ve always felt that the radios are a “don’t look too closely at this plot device, just accept it” item
  • 74 cents for gasoline!
  • The addresses and phone numbers depicted on the LAPD dispatch’s computer for the Nakatomi plaza management are the actual numbers for management of Fox Plaza, where the film was shot.
  • One cop says that John McClane (Bruce Willis) “could be a bartender for all we know.” Prior to becoming a well-known actor, Willis was a bartender.
  • The head terrorist, Hans Gruber, shares the name of the villian from Our Man Flint.
  • The music cue when Powell shoots Karl near the end of the film was an unused track from Aliens.
  • The only two terrorists to survive the course of the film are not only both knocked cold, but they are also never shown brandishing any weapons or threatening any hostages.
  • During the television interview, the psychologist refers to the “Helsinki syndrome.” The psychological phenomenon of hostages sympathizing with their captors is the Stockholm syndrome.
  • Not only did the non-threatening crooks survive, but the “I can live with 25% casualties” federal officers and the coke-snorting Ellis get killed. It seems you have any problems with your morals, you’d best not appear in a Die Hard movie!
  • William Atherton, earlier seen as the incredibly annoying Walter Peck in Ghostbusters, once again sets out to play the annoying prick, this time in the form of an invasive newscaster
  • CB radio uses what’s called “half-duplex” communication, meaning only one person can talk at any given time on a channel. The characters talking on the radios quite often interrupt one another. Using CB’s, this is not possible.
  • Rubbing bare toes on carpet. Who knew it could have such dire ramifications?
  • Shooting out the glass might just be the most heinous and cruel act perpetuated in modern day cinema. Bactine please!
  • Hart Bochner’s (Ellis’s) line, “Hans… Bubby!” was ad-libbed. Alan Rickman’s quizzical expression was real.
  • The bridge shown in Takagi’s office is a work of Frank Lloyd Wright for the Bay Area in 1949.
  • McClane’s tank top changes color throughout the movie. No, that isn’t just dirt.
  • Alan Rickman flinches uncontrollably whenever he fires a gun. For that reason, the camera usually panned away from his face whenever he pulled the trigger.
  • Anthony Peck plays ‘Young Cop’ in this film (“Something about a double-cross”). He later plays the cop ‘Ricky Walsh’ in the second sequel, Die Hard: With a Vengeance.
  • The terrorists arrive in a truck that is green with a white top with “Pacific Courier” on the side. In Die Hard: With a Vengeance, the truck that gets caught in the blast outside the Bonwit Teller store is a green truck with a white top, with “Atlantic Courier” on the side. Also, in Speed, the airplane that gets blown up at the end is green with “Pacific Courier” on the side. This is an in-joke from production designer Jackson De Govia, who was part of the crew for all three movies.
  • McClane has a teddy bear for his family. Jack Ryan takes the same teddy bear home with him at the end of The Hunt for Red October.
  • I didn’t want to mention this in my review, but it seems like there’s a law that every single post-1990 review of Die Hard that exists has to contain a paragraph devoted to how Die Hard started a genre called “Die Hard in/on a…”. I think you’re all intelligent enough to know that already, and reviewers should start being a little more original with their column space. Like the other Die Hards, this film was based on a novel (none of the novels are related to each other). This was based on a book by Roderick Thorp entitled “Nothing Lasts Forever” which was a sequel to another book entitled “The Detective”, which was made into a film starring Frank Sinatra.
  • The original poster for the film did not feature Bruce Willis’ likeness; just the building. The producers originally thought it might deter non-Willis fans from seeing the movie. Posters were later altered after the early box office success.
  • When the bomb in the elevator shaft blows out the side of the building, the effect was accomplished by (a) collecting virtually every camera flashbulb of a particularly powerful type in the Los Angeles area and wiring them on the outside of the actual building to simulate the flash, and (b) by superimposing a shot of an actual explosive blowing a hole in the wall of an all-black miniature of the building at the appropriate location.

Groovy Quotes

Theo: Oh my God, the quarterback is toast!

Joseph Takagi: You want money? What kind of terrorists are you?
Hans Gruber: Who said we were terrorists?

Hans Gruber: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.”

Hans Gruber: Who are you then?
McClane: Just a fly in the ointment, Hans. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the ass.

McClane: Welcome to the party, pal!

Hans Gruber: “When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.” The benefits of a classical education.

McClane: Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…

Dwayne T. Robinson: We’re gonna need some more FBI guys I guess.

McClane: Now I know what a TV dinner feels like.

McClane: You throw quite a party. I didn’t realize they celebrated Christmas in Japan.
Takagi: Hey, we’re flexible. Pearl Harbor didn’t work out so we got you with tape decks.

[trying on a dead terrorist’s shoes]
McClane: A hundred million terrorists in the world and I gotta kill one with feet smaller than my sister.

Hans Gruber: Mr. Takagi, I could talk about industrialization and mens’ fashions all day, but I’m afraid work must intrude and my associate Theo has some questions for you.

Dispatcher (responding to McClane’s frantic call for help over the radio): Sir, I’ve already told you, this is a reserved channel. If this is an emergency call, dial 911 on your telephone. Otherwise, I’ll have to report this as an FCC violation.

McClane: Sorry Hans, wrong guess! Would you like to go for double-jeopardy where the scores can really change?

McClane: They have a freakin’ arsenal here. They got missiles, automatic weapons, and enough plastic explosives to orbit Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Theo: The police have themselves an RV.

Ellis: Hey, sprechen ze talk?

Al Powell: Why don’t you wake up and smell what you’re shoveling!

John McClane: Is the building on fire?
Sergeant Powell: No, but it’s gonna need a paint job and a [crap] load of screen doors.

Ellis: It’s obvious you’re not some dumb schmuck up here to snatch a few purses. Am I right?
Gruber: You’re very perceptive.
Ellis: Eh, I watch ’60 Minutes’, I say to myself, these guys are professional, they’re motivated, they’re happenin’
Gruber: I must have missed 60 Minutes. What are you saying?

Gruber: It’s Christmas, Theo. It’s the time of miracles, so be of good cheer and call me when you hit the last lock.

Holly: He’s still alive. Only John can drive someone that crazy.

McClane: All things being equal, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.

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35 Comments

  1. “I have many questions about the radios that John and the terrorists use. For instance, how come the John can hear the terrorists giving orders, but the police can’t (and how come John just doesn’t pass those orders on to the police)?”

    Maybe since this review was put out you’ve had this answered, but I watched Die Hard last night (it was on TV) and I noticed (for the first time) that when Gruber goes to talk to the other terrorists he turns a dial on his radio (in the scene just after McClane got the radio and he talks to the guy in the vault). Each team is on a different channel. McClane got the Police to listen by tuning it to the police band.

    There’s probably other problems with it, but that’s what came to mind to me anyway.

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