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Die Hard was the start of something new in the action genre. Or, at least that's how it seemed back in 1988. With "Mr. Moonlighting" Bruce Willis starring in his first action film (his first movie, Blind Date, was a flop), Die Hard shot to the top of the box office as it left moviegoers riveted by it's explosive action, suspense and trademark humor. Willis' hard smoking, hard talking John McClane was an everyman hero, and audiences loved him for it. Smelling the great green beast, Willis went on to make two successful sequels, Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Die Hard with a Vengeance. Die Hard was originally released by Fox in a bare bones, non-anamorphic DVD edition in 1999. To make amends with consumers, Fox now brings out the big guns with a two-disc Die Hard: Five Star Collection edition. Packed to the brim with features, audio options, and action, Die Hard: Five Star Collection is truly a thrill of sight and sound.
Facts of the Case
It's the Christmas holidays in the city of Los Angeles (and everywhere else, but we're just going to focus on the City Of Angels for now). A party is brewing on the 30th floor of a newly opened Nakatomi high-rise. In typical fashion that has now become legendary in action films, terrorists seize the building, take hostages, and attempt to steal $600 million dollars from the company. The terrorists, led by the cunning Hans Gruber (a delightful Alan Rickman, Dogma) and his right hand henchman (Alexander Godunov, The Money Pit), have everything planned out to the tooth…except for gritty New York cop John McClane (Willis). McClane is at the party visiting his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedilia, Presumed Innocent) when the terrorists burst in. While the terrorists take hostages, McClane sneaks off to a nearby stairwell exit. From there he's the thorn in Hans' side, popping up to knock off a few of his henchmen one at a time. The cops swarm in, but are helpless to do anything. Even the FBI gets into the act, but with the terrorists in charge, it's up to John McClane to save the hostages and stop Hans from getting away.
Hold on to your palm trees, L.A.! It's going to be a bumpy ride!
Guys like it when things blow up. It's like some innate reaction that lies deep inside our souls. If a guy were walking along a city block and saw a naked Playboy model one side of the street and an exploding fire truck on the other, the guy's attention would probably be focused on…well, the naked model. HOWEVER, after he was done ogling her jiggling jugs, he'd make a break for the exploding truck, knowing that nothing satisfies more than the image of charred Goodyear tires and exploding engines. Henceforth, men are naturally drawn to Die Hard.
The plot of Die Hard is very straight forward and to the point: terrorists take over and one lone man must stop them. Though this sounds like a simplistic formula, it's really very complex, and more importantly, executed with style and verve. Director John McTiernan (who would also go on to direct the third film in this series) knows exactly what the audience is looking for in a movie like this. The action is fast paced, and even the exposition scenes move with a quick gracefulness that keeps the viewer (and Mr. McClane) on their toes. The script (based on the book by Jackson DeGovia) is filled with funny one-liners that have now gone on to infamy ("Yippie Ki-yea, motherf**ker"), and Willis' delivery is smarmy yet never too over-the-top. Reportedly Willis was paid $5 million for starring in Die Hard. After seeing his performance, he certainly earned every red cent. Though Willis can be too obnoxious in some of his action films (proof of this is in the abysmal The Last Boy Scout), here he plays McClane with a sharp edge of resourcefulness, wit and fear. He's acts as us men would want to act if we were in the same situation. Though it's never said, you can see that John McClane is no superhero. Willis and the script make sure that he never just walks into a situation, shoots the bad guys, and leaves unscathed. In later sequels McClane teeters on becoming a parody of his own character, though for now is still fresh and funny, just the way we like our action players around here.
The supporting cast is equally as good, if not better. Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber has become a benchmark in which other action villains are now measured. I can't think of another actor who could have pulled off Hans as well as Rickman does. Gruber is not just a run of the mill baddie. Rickman plays him with not only bile and cunning, but with a bit of humanitarian spirit. Take the scene where Holly asks him to take hostages to the washroom. Instead of being the evil incarnate, we think he is, he agrees, even going so far as to give her a couch for a pregnant lady to rest on. Certainly this is not to say he's likable; Ted Bundy probably helped someone change a tire or two in his time. By the end of the movie we're definitely ready to see Hans get his just desert. The flavorful way his character is presented is just a nice, refreshing look at what would otherwise be a stereotypical villain. Even the smaller parts, such as Reginald VelJohnson as McClane's police buddy and Bonnie Bedelia shine brighter than most secondary cast members do in the bulk of action movies. And what kind of reviewer would I be if I didn't mention the late Alexander Godunov, Hans' vengeful sidekick?
The special effects team for Die Hard outdid themselves. The proof in this is that Die Hard's destructive effects hold up well after all these years. Evoking a bit of The Towering Inferno, the looming building has character of its own. Effects supervisor Richard Edlund mix powerful explosions and bizarre gunplay to bring us action sequences that seem to be never ending. Joel Silver, who is an expert at big-bang-boom action movies, produced Die Hard. He's had his thumb in many pies, including the hits Exit Wounds, Lethal Weapon 2, and The Matrix. I've come to realize that, except for a few cases, Silver's name on a picture means hardcore action. Director John McTiernan also had a string of action hits, including Predator, The Hunt For Red October, and, I'm sure he hopes, the upcoming Rollerball remake. Together with Willis, they've teamed to make one of the best action films ever put on celluloid.
Die Hard: Five Star Collection is presented in its original aspect ratio 2.35:1, enhanced for 16x9 TVs. If you ever owned Die Hard on VHS, you know what a travesty it was. Cropped to a pan and scan version, Die Hard lost much of its scope and became a butchering of director McTiernan's original vision. It also displayed a horribly stretched look (making everyone look anorexic) as it tried to keep as much of the picture on screen. Fox has rectified this with the Die Hard: Five Star Edition. Colors look stunning with flesh tones appearing bright and natural. Blacks were squarely solid, and the presence of digital artifacting was not spotted. A small bit of edge enhancement in present, though hardly noticeable. This is the best Die Hard has ever looked, and hats off to Fox for bringing it to vivid, almost three-dimensional life!
Die Hard: Five Star Collection also features a new audio mix in both Dolby Digital 5.1, as well as DTS (and Dolby Surround 2.0). Both the DTS and Dolby 5.1 tracks are incredibly good, featuring rollicking sound that nearly engulfs the viewer. I wasn't able to tell much difference between the DTS and 5.1 tracks, though both had a slight distortion with dialogue in a few spaces (though very rarely). Bass was nice and deep, vibrating my couch so much that it and I are now going steady. Rear speakers were utilized over and over again, especially during each and every action sequence. Michael Kaman's tense, thrusting score is crystal clear. Nothing less than impressive from Fox. A French Dolby 2.0 track is available, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
Rarely has a disc been packed so full as with the Die Hard: Five Star Collection disc. Fox has given Die Hard extraordinary treatment with supplements that are practically bursting at the seams! Okay, so I'm maybe being overly dramatic, but it's still a good package.
There are a number of commentaries to choose from on disc one, starting with director John McTiernan and production designer Jackson DeGovia. The two men were not recorded at the same time, but have been mixed together well to give maximum information on the film. The track as a whole is dry, though since it's the first time a commentary track has been recorded for Die Hard, fans will no doubt gobble this one up.
The second track is scene-specific commentary by effects supervisor Richard Edlund (who also worked on Star Wars). In the menu, you will have ten options to choose from with his comments, each broken up into scenes. Like the first track, Edlund is mostly technical in his speech, giving us insight into how things were done (and he's very enamored with Stuart Little, as he mentions over and over again).
A third and final track is included, though it's not a typical commentary track. This track is subtitled and reads at the bottom of the screen. Included are comments from different cast and crew from the film, including production designer Jackson DeGova, screenwriter Steven E. DeSouza, supervising sound editor Stephen Hunter Flick, composer Michael Kamen, producer Lawrence Gordon, actor Alan Rickman, analysis by film journalist and historian Eric Lichtenfeld, stunt coordinator Charlie Picerni, editor John F. Link, and analysis by journalist/film historian Eric Lichtenfeld. The comments all read slow enough for the viewer to catch them all, and add a lot to the already informative commentaries.
A second, "optional" version of the film can also be chosen that includes an extended "power shut off" scene at the Nakatomi building. This scene may also be seen in its entirety on the second disc in the "Outtakes" section as well. Some DVD-ROM features are the final supplements on the first disc.
Disc two includes even more features to make your day. First up is an outtakes section that features the "power shut down" scene I mention a few moments ago. Also included is "The Vault," a collection of bloopers, deleted scenes and alternate shots. Much of the film is varying in quality, with some being finished and other shots being rough. "The Newscasts" includes full length, full frame videos from the background TV news that often played during the feature film. Two full-length magazine articles from Cinefex and American Cinematographer are also included.
"The Cutting Room" is probably the most fun feature on the disc. At the "Scene Editing Workshop," you are able to play around in the editing room and put together scenes with shots that way you deem fitting. There are different scenes to choose from, and you can slap together whatever cuts and angles you'd like. A lot of fun, and a way for you the viewer to become part of the action.
A "Multi-Camera Shooting" workshop lets you look at different scenes at different camera positions by using your ANGLE button on your DVD remote. Three scenes are included for this feature.
"Audio Mixing" allows the viewer to get an idea of what it's like to be a sound mixer on a film. As it states in the feature, it takes years of practice and experience to get it right. Even so, this affords us the chance to play sound God for a little while. On one scene you're able to flip back and fourth from effects to dialogue, dialogue to music, and so fourth. A volume positioning is also available for the mixer to choose a HI or LO volume position. Fun, though not as good as editing.
"Why Letterbox?" is a great explanation of why the letterbox format is the perfect way to watch a film. An example is given with one scene, narrated by a few of the DVD production guys, and after seeing this small yet informative feature you'll know exactly why films should never be subjected to the atrocity of pan and scan. Also included in this section is a glossary of film terms ("workprint," P.O.V.," "Dallies," etcetera) with definitions. Think of this entire section as "condensed film class 101."
The "Interactive Slide Show" is an at-a-glance look at different specs, publicity stills, people and things from the Die Hard production. During the show there is a symbol that pops up which can be clicked to see expounded information on a particular slide (such as blueprints and outtakes). This is a very nice extra feature that takes quite a while to go through.
The entire shooting script is featured, and though not the quickest read, will thrill future screenwriters who want to see how a great film is structured. "The Ad Campaign" features three anamorphic theatrical trailers, seven full frame television spots, and a seven-minute featurette that was available on the original Die Hard DVD release in 1999. Finally, there are some more DVD-ROM features for your personal computer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Die Hard is a fantastically crafted action movie. This disc is what the DVD format was made for. When it comes to having anything bad to say about Die Hard: Five Star Collection, I'm speechless.
You'll be spending your money wisely if you put it down for Die Hard: Five Star Collection. Fox has done an excellent job putting together a fabulous package of special features, exceptional audio supplements and a great anamorphic transfer. Clocking in at over two hours, Die Hard never slows down and keeps the viewer on his toes. Fox has established a great collection with its "Five Star" series. Let's hope it continues!
Absolutely, positively free to go! Welcome to the party, pal!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director John Mctiernan and Production Designer Jackson Degovia
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