Fox // 2007 // 130 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // November 19th, 2007
"Yippee-Ki-Yay, Motherf*****" -- John 6:27
I went and saw Live Free or Die Hard at midnight the day before its premiere. It was a packed house, filled with hordes of "die hard" fans -- present company included. Everyone was a little uneasy, not sure of exactly what to expect from a PG-13 Die Hard movie -- a franchise that has had a long, prestigious history of R ratings. Of course, if you've seen the film, you know that any worries quickly get tossed out of a window somewhere around the part where McClane shoots that fire extinguisher.
In fact, when I saw it, the movie actually went too far in the manliness department by destroying itself with 20 minutes left. Right in the middle of the whole "truck vs. jet" scene, the film broke apart and melted before my eyes as the audience collectively fell from their seats. We eventually saw the rest of the movie that night, after being transferred to another theater, but I'll always remember that ultimate show of awesomeness -- that last move to prove itself to the skeptical audience. This is definitely a Die Hard movie.
A gang of computer hackers, led by the villainous Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant, Hitman), breaks in to the FBI cyber-terrorism division, which causes the Bureau to hunt for every known hacker in the United States. In order to do that, they need to enlist the help of senior-level law enforcement. Enter John McClane (Bruce Willis), fresh off of a fight with his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Death Proof). John has made a career out of being "that guy" in the wrong place at the wrong time who has no choice but to take matters into his own hands, so he was perfect for the job.
After picking up hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long, Accepted), John and his new sidekick quickly learn that Matt is wanted by more than just the FBI. After an extended gun battle, John and Matt make their way to Washington D.C.; however when they arrive, they find that the entire grid has been shut down. Matt quickly realizes that the country is in the middle of a "fire sale" -- an elaborate hacker move that would "reset" the entire American landscape, which has become increasingly reliant on networked technology.
Before you know it, McClane's daughter has been kidnapped and it looks as if the cyber-terrorists are controlling everything. Can McClane come through when the chips are down? Or is he merely a "Timex watch in a digital age?"
The first Die Hard is one of the best action films of all time; and on top of that, it's also a perfect example of masterful screenwriting and storytelling. Unfortunately the sequels that followed didn't fare so well, especially that third one with Samuel L. And so after twelve years without any John McClane, I was more than a bit skeptical about this latest release -- which came out in a sea of other sequels this summer. Not only did Live Free or Die Hard surpass my expectations, it is also the first worthy follow-up to the McTiernan classic.
The story about hackers taking over America seems ludicrous, but it was actually based on a Wired article, "A Farewell to Arms" by John Carlin. Apparently America really could be completely wiped out by a really smart group of hackers. Good thing we got John McClane! The level of the cyber-attack elevates nicely, going from bad to worse at a steady pace, moving the film along. Live Free continues to up the ante right up until the climactic final showdown; it's one heck of a ride.
While the devastation and tension of the film escalates at a steady pace, so do the stunts. This fourth installment has some of the most impressive action stunts in the series; each seemingly more ridiculous and awesome as the movie progresses. McClane uses a car to take down a helicopter and an SUV to kill a woman, and he battles a jet with an 18-wheeler. Director Len Wiseman (Underworld) and his team of stunt choreographers pulled out all the stops on the special effects -- the bulk of which were done practically and with very little CGI.
Len Wiseman's only prior directorial efforts involve Kate Beckinsale fighting vampires and werewolves. He knows how to film dark, gothic features, but can he film an over-the-top action movie? Absolutely. Wiseman did the series justice -- mainly because he worships the first film, and certainly didn't want to screw things up. This latest installment retains the gritty, survivalist feel of Die Hard while infusing it with the high-adrenaline action shots popular today. The camera moves a lot more in Live Free, tracking around cars, panning over buildings, and shaking every time it goes in for a close-up. This film is certainly the most epic in the franchise, so Wiseman made sure to include plenty of long shots that exhibit the chaos and confusion of Washington D.C. under hacker control. The compositing of CGI, miniatures, and real sets is incredible, especially considering the amount of camera movement. Live Free is also lit very well. There is a nice balance of warm, daylight shots and dark, crisply highlighted interiors and night shots. While it's clear that Wiseman feels more comfortable in the dark, the use of day and night helps the viewer to understand the passage of time within the movie (according to the commentary track, the whole film takes place over roughly a 36-hour period).
As expected, Bruce Willis kicks butt. It's hard to tell how much he prepared to play the haggard and grumpy John McClane and how much of it was himself; either way, he picked up the character exactly where he left off and never misses a beat. His one-liners are hilarious, and his "I don't care I just exploded everything" attitude is classic. Willis plays nicely alongside Justin Long, the kid from the Apple commercials. Long's precocious 'tude can be a little annoying at times, but overall his adlibs are funny and he defines himself as the perfect sidekick actor. Too bad the other main player, Tim Olyphant, doesn't even come close to Hans Gruber villainy. Olyphant plays Thomas Gabriel with his teeth clenched and his frustrated sarcasm at the ready. He comes off as a total loser instead of a worthy bad guy for McClane. His multicultural band of henchmen does a fine job of dying, though. Finally, Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a great job as Lucy McClane-Gennero, John's sassy daughter.
That isn't to say that the story is perfect. It does have a few hiccups: for one, all of the "hacker" characters occupy both categories of the computer geek stereotype; there are the dirty, subversive, techno-music hackers (think The Matrix or Boris from Goldeneye) and the elitist, pampered, pretty-boy hackers (like Paul Bettany in Firewall). Why can't at least Justin Long's character be somewhat normal? Then there's the third hacker, the deus ex machina of exposition, Warlock (Kevin Smith, Clerks). Smith plays the role well, and he's certainly funny, but the whole scene feels shoehorned in there. Wiseman himself openly admits in the special features that the Warlock scenes were there just to explain some backstory and make sure that the audience was on the same page as the movie. The first film was an excellent example of showing rather than telling, but these scenes take the opposite route. Lastly, the other glaring issue with the film had to do with the botching of a certain Die Hard catchphrase due to a PG-13 rating.
There was a lot of controversy when it was announced that the fourth Die Hard would be rated PG-13, and rightfully so. While I was perfectly fine with the theatrical release (aside from a few unnaturally tame lines), Fox did a smart move by releasing the film on DVD as an unrated version. Of all the goofy "unrated" and "uncut" versions of films that get released each week, Live Free or Die Hard is one that actually benefits from the lack of censorship.
The PG-13 version of the film had almost all of the violence from the unrated version, the difference being that a lot of the violent sound effects had to be muffled to keep things from getting too intense for the kids. Bullet shots were quieted, squib splatters were deleted, and blood was largely absent (except John McClane's). The biggest problem with the rated version was the muffling of McClane's "Yippie-ki-yay" line -- arguably the No. 1 advertising ploy for the movie. It was the one thing every fan of the series was waiting for, and the filmmakers screwed it up. I am happy to report that this new unrated version restores the line to its appropriate glory. But that's not the only F-bomb in the new version -- trust me, I kept a tally. Fox actually restores about twenty F's in the movie, which feels much more realistic given the stressful situations our hero is in. Aside from the apparent influx of cussing, there aren't many other obvious "unrated" add-ins. I'm sure if you watched it side-by-side with the rated version, you might notice some minor tweaks.
This special edition of Live Free or Die Hard comes in a double-disc set with a smattering of special features. The DVD's video quality is excellent here. Wiseman's color corrections are on display nicely, and his use of exceedingly dark environments comes in crisp and clear. Nailing the dark scenes was vital for the success of this release, and thankfully Fox came up with a great transfer (certainly not one that is going to melt two-thirds through the movie). Live Free's audio is also mixed well, with Marco Beltrami's orchestral score brimming with thunderous bravado; the voice tracks and sound effects sound great as well, although sometimes Bruce's volume is a little too low for his mumbling. For a standard DVD release, the audio and video quality here is excellent -- although not quite at the level of Transformers, which I consider to be the latest benchmark for picture quality.
Live Free is being released in a number of editions and formats, but this two-disc version has a bevy of extra features that the others are missing. While the special features included here are pretty good, I foresee some inevitable double-dipping in the future.
The first disc features both the theatrical and unrated versions of the movie, and you can toggle between the two while you watch. It's a nice move, in case you want to be able to watch a more family-friendly version of the movie over the holidays. There is also a commentary track with Wiseman, Willis, and screenwriter Mark Bomback. The track comes and goes, but is fairly informative. Bruce Willis is surprisingly open about his feelings towards the movies in the franchise, and he has particular disdain for the middle two. The trio provides a lot of interesting tidbits about filming locations and stunts, but there's also a lot of name-dropping and awkward jokes. Aside from a few anecdotes, you can get most of the information in the track from the featurettes on the second disc.
The extra disc contains a fairly lengthy making-of documentary, which is broken down in to nine different sections. All of the sections have great production values, and feature a good deal of information, behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with the cast. The quality of the information varies from section to section, some being very informative and interesting and others being mere fluff pieces. Because so many of the special effects were done practically, sections like "Unimaginable Feats" are high points for the documentary.
Far better and more interesting than the making-of stuff, however, is the video called "Yippie-Ki-Yay Motherf*****," which is Kevin Smith just hanging out with Bruce Willis. In the video the two actors are just sitting on a stoop in Jersey, shooting the breeze about the Die Hard franchise. Smith, being a total fanboy of the series, is full of great questions about Willis's career and his decision to do a fourth movie. It's a very candid and fun video to watch.
The rest of the special features on this disc are forgettable. There is a "Fox Legacy" video, which features some guy from their corporate offices talking about how great John McClane is. Then there's this weird music video by a band called Guyz Nite. They're some joke-punk band that I've never heard of before. The lyrics are kind of clever, but the whole thing is better suited for YouTube rather than a DVD release. Apparently, Fox things these Guyz Nite dudes are pretty talented, because there is a second video from them on the disc. This time, it's a behind-the-scenes look at Guyz Nite. It's pointless, stupid, and not funny in the least. Lastly, there are some movie trailers.
For this being a special collector's edition, the extra features are fairly light. Wiseman and Willis make plenty of references to deleted scenes, alternate takes, and gag reels, but they're nowhere to be found in this set. There is also very little mention of the original article that inspired the movie. Be on the lookout for a "car beats helicopter" edition or something.
This unrated edition of Live Free or Die Hard is a fantastic return to form for Bruce Willis. John McClane is an icon in the action movie genre, and it's good to see that he's aged with the grace -- if that's possible. Live Free is everything an action movie should be: it's got explosions, car chases, pithy catchphrases, and a maverick cop who plays by his own rules. Gabriel might think of McClane as a Timex watch, but I'd say he's more of an atomic clock after this movie.
Guilty of melting my face with action movie goodness.
Review content copyright © 2007 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Audio Commentary with Len Wiseman, Mark Bomback, and Bruce Willis
* "Analog Hero in a Digital World: Making of Live Free or Die Hard" Featurettes
* "Yippie-Ki-Yay Motherf*****" Featurette
* "Die Hard" Guyz Nite Music Video
* "Behind the Scenes with Guyz Nite" Featurette
* Theatrical Trailers
* Official Site