Die Hard (1988)
By: Devon B. on December 24, 2012 | Comments
20th Century Fox (UK)| Region B | 2.35:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD MA 5.1 | 132 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: John McTiernan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Reginald VelJohnson, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov, Paul Gleason
Screenplay: Jeb Stuart
Country: USA
External Links
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Nowadays I'm always on the lookout for interesting non-traditional Xmas movies, and that all began with Die Hard. The festive season was maddening in my house , and one way I fought back was to pick Xmas movies that didn't necessarily fill my family with cheer.

Die Hard is a hugely influential classic, so I assume most people are at least vaguely familiar with its story. It's Xmas Eve and Bruce Willis is a guy that still has his hair. He's a cop that's flown in to visit his family, and he meets up with his wife at her company Xmas party. Things get off to a shaky start between them because he's still upset she left him, but they have to take a break from their domestic squabble when terrorists turn up and spoil the party. It's always the way, isn't it? Willis is the only one not captured, and isolated from resources he reluctantly enters into battle with the baddies.

Since Willis was recovering from jet lag he was shoeless when the attack began. Much is made of the plights he faces because he's barefoot, so much so that the plot point turned up in the NES adaption of the movie via a second character health bar, and it would seem that the moral of the story is always wear shoes. Being barefoot was just one unique element to Willis' hero. At the time Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone had helped shape action heroes into muscled men that looked like they could take on anything. Willis brought back the average man action hero, and his underdog status is just further heightened because his soles are at the mercy of the terrain. He's not some indestructible force like most action movies of the time had, and by the end he has really taken a battering.

Willis does a good job as the reluctant hero, but he's helped out immensely by some clever casting in the villain department. Alan Rickman brings a cold menace to his role as the terrorist leader, and his success here paved the way for his coup of stealing Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves away from then hot-property Kevin Costner. In hindsight it seems like William Shattner's toupee would be able to steal a movie from Costner, but it was Costner's stubborn portrayal of Robin as an American that helped shoot him from the limelight. Equally important in the villain stakes is William Atherton, the guy everyone loved to hate in the 80s. Looking back at Ghostbusters, I think his character is perhaps overly criticised for his actions – face it, Bill Murray's character is a dick and the only reason the audience sides with Atherton is because they know Murray is right – but in Die Hard Atherton was given a chance to let his completely sleazy side shine. Atherton was so brilliant as a selfish, preening jerk that I still struggle whenever I see him playing someone that's nice. Also on hand are the always engaging Robert Davi and action veteran Al Leong. Leong may not have the acting chops of Rickman or Atherton, but the dude was all about action. He was so prevalent in action movies, also starring in that other action Christmas classic Lethal Weapon, that for awhile there I created a rule that if a movie didn't have Al Leong, or at least someone that had co-starred with him in something, it couldn't be an action movie. I should've called it One Degree of Al-ienation and made a game of it.

On the action front, Die Hard raised the bar, spawned a sub genre and is still the best film of its ilk more than 20 years later. The film is violent and brimming with taught set piece after taught set piece, and does such an excellent job of building things up that by the time it gets completely over the top most viewers will be happy to go along with it. Complementing the action is some perfectly timed comedic relief. In fact, Die Hard is a pretty hilarious movie, and it's interesting to me because I recall struggling with the humour when the film first came out. I was old enough to catch on to the fact that things that were happening didn't make a lot of sense, but didn't understand they were there to be funny, so I recall questioning those around me about a lot of the gags.

I don't second guess the gags much anymore, but there are still a few things that make me wonder. Like, when Willis arrives at the building he's about to be trapped in, the reception guy makes him look up his wife to see where she is, and then when Willis finds her he says she's with the party that are the only ones left in the building. Surely he could've just told Willis where she was without making him look her up, then? If he hadn't delayed Willis at this crucial moment, he may have had time to get his shoes back on. Another thing, and I have to admit this does now genuinely bother me a bit, is the message of emotional healing through violence that seems to have inspired the "I can kill again" gag in Hot Shots! Part Deux.

Aside from questionable morals, Die Hard is so close to a perfect film that I breezily gloss over its little flaws. It is undoubtedly the best Xmas movie ever, making movies like It's a Wonderful Life and White Christmas look like the stupid shit they are.
Video
A significant improvement over the DVD, this Blu-ray still isn't the best the film could ever look. There's a bit of motion blur and edge enhancement, the print looks a little dark in places, and the colours are a bit too strong in a few places. For the most part, the film looks pretty good, though the improved clarity makes it easier to spot the actor's makeup. It's not reference material by any means, but overall detail is good, and for a budget title the transfer is decent, but I hold out hope a full blown restoration will turn up soon.
Audio
Ah, here things get a little tricky. Die Hard is presented with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, but this may not be the usual remixing. Die Hard did have some screenings with early surround, or whatever it would've been called, but it wasn't a full 5.1 channel mix. There're some directional gaffs, but whether these are due to flaws in the original mix or not I don't know. The track isn't really immersive, but there are some nice deep booms and it's generally clear. The mix can get shrill, particularly when all that glass breaks, and some of the FX sound very heavy handed. I would've liked the stereo mix as well for comparison, even a lossy one like on the region A release, and hopefully future releases will include both mixes uncompressed. There're also lossy DTS dubs in Italian and Spanish, the Italian sounding a bit louder yet hollow when I sampled them. Neither dub is as clear as the lossless track, of course.
Extra Features
Sadly, the Blu-ray has left off extras from previous DVD editions like a branching extended version of the movie, which I recall was a storyboard scene inclusion so it wasn't that great, but still where is it? I also think I had a scene re-editor feature on one of the DVDs I had, which was kind of interesting. This Blu does have the two commentaries, the newscasts, a still gallery, trailers and TV spots, the trailers for the sequel and the sequel's sequel's sequel and the trailer for Alien vs. Predator. The first commentary is with director John McTiernan and production designer Jackson DeGovia, though they weren't recorded together so it's two tracks spliced together. I found this track a bit dull, but they do give info on the film and movie making in general so it may be more engaging for those that want to make their own movies. They also cover the lack of support the project initially had, which is amusing now that it's a colossal success. The second commentary is a scene specific one with FX guy Richard Edlund. I found this track more interesting, and it also gives a fair bit of info about the process of movie making. The viewer can skip to the specific scenes Edlund's actually talking on. Missing from this edition is a trivia track that can be found on the region A release.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
There are not many movies I can watch every year, but Die Hard is among these elite titles. This Blu-ray is an upgrade from the DVD in a few areas but not in regards to special features, and this edition is missing extras that were included for the US edition. It's a far cry from definitive, but I guess since I paid $6 for it I'm not too fussed.

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