Fox // 1988 // 132 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // October 12th, 2011
"Yippee-ki-yay, mother -- !"
I'm not sure if it is possible to overestimate the impact John McTiernan's 1988 thrill ride had on the motion picture industry. McTiernan, along with stars Bruce Willis (Moonlighting) and Alan Rickman (Truly, Madly, Deeply) went straight to the A-list. Just as Jaws and Halloween established new templates in their respective genres, Die Hard set a new template for the action thriller. Movies were greenlighted simply because they could be pitched as "Die Hard on (whatever): a plane (Passenger 57); a hockey game (Sudden Death); Alcatraz (The Rock). In 1994, Die Hard cinematographer Jan de Bont made his own (brief) trip to the A-list by directing "Die Hard on a Bus": Speed.
It's easy to understand the emulation: the movie still rocks, not so much because of the explosions (though McTiernan blows things up real good), but because the movie is at heart a conflict of wills, not arsenals. Bruce Willis' everyman performance strikes all the right notes, and Alan Rickman is brilliant as the cunning ex-terrorist whose brilliant plan can't quite cope in the face of McClane's dogged determination. Toss in a handful of strong supporting performances and an exceptionally taut script, and it's easy to see why Die Hard pulled in close to $140 million against a $28 million budget, and that doesn't count VHS and DVD sales. The only real missteps are the borderline cliché Deputy Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason, The Breakfast Club) and a *little* continuity error -- we see the terrorists coming out of their truck as they enter the building; there isn't room for an ambulance inside). Of course, that's not counting the sequels. Thus, it's kind of sad that Fox didn't put forth more of an effort with Die Hard (Blu-ray). It's not that it's a bad disc, more that it's exceptionally unexceptional.
To be fair, one thing that is exceptional is the transfer. See for yourself:
The textures inside the Nakatomi Tower, the lights -- you can even see the slight imperfections on the surface of Al Powell's (Reginald VelJohnson, Family Matters) police car -- before it gets shot to hell, of course; all look wonderful. McTiernan is fond of using rack focus to show how a character's attention has shifted, and the added detail makes the shifting focus even more effective. At times, the video is too good -- you can now tell that there's a backdrop outside the windows (albeit a very good backdrop), and the fake blood doesn't look quite as realistic. However, these are really petty cavils. The explosions look particularly impressive, and with good reason -- all of the special effects were shot on 70mm, and the added detail lends itself well to the high-def format. The original stereo track has been remixed to 5.1, but it's somewhat disappointing. While dialogue is clear, there's little low end, and the surround channels are used indifferently. Imaging for the front channels is quite good though, so it's not as though the audio track keeps you from enjoying the movie. However, for an action thrill ride -- no, for the action thrill ride -- you need audio that reaches out and grabs your nads.
The extras are pulled from the 2001 Die Hard: Five Star Collection DVD, and they're a little underwhelming. The combined commentary track with McTiernan and Production Designer Jackson Degovia has good info, but is a little dry. The scene-specific commentary by Richard Edlund is fine; there's also a subtitle commentary track that combines production facts with quotes from the cast and crew. The man problem here is that the text straddles the border on the bottom of the screen, and as a result it is frequently difficult to read. The real wonder in the extras has to do with what is missing: there's no deleted scenes, gag reel, or extended sequences -- and that means no branched version with the extended power shutdown sequence. The retrospective from the 2007 Die Hard Collection set, "Wrong Place, Wrong Guy, Wrong Time," is missing. Seriously? What does it say when a DVD has more extras than a Blu-ray?
If you're a fan of deleted scenes or demand a great audio commentary, skip this disc. While the video is an improvement over the DVD, it's not that much better. Besides, with a fifth John McClane movie in the works, there's always the chance that better extras will be on the inevitable updated collection that will be released just prior to the new film's release.
If extras and the sound aren't that important, the disc is worth a look, particularly since it can be had at a pretty decent price.
As for the defendant, Fox is found guilty of not doing right by the movie in its first Blu-ray incarnation. You'd think a franchise that's done over a billion dollars in worldwide box office would get a little more love.
Review content copyright © 2011 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Photo Gallery
* PDF Screenplay
* Die Hard Wiki