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DIE HARD

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson
Director:  John McTiernan
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  Theatrical Trailers, Production Featurette
Length:  132 Minutes
Release Date:  March 9, 1999

Film ***1/2

It's strange to look back on Die Hard as an important landmark in the action film genre.  I mean, it doesn't really seem like that long ago that it was thrilling audiences in the theatre.  But one look at Bruce Willis' hairline confirms the truth...this movie can now be considered a classic.

This film proved for all time that Willis had what it took to be a major Hollywood star, erasing all doubt that his first film, the awful Blind Date, instilled.  It's also the film that finally gave audiences a real action hero.  His character, John McClane, is not some unbelievable super hero.  He's a normal guy.  He gets angry, frustrated, and even shows joy spontaneously.  He gets hurt.  He gets tired.  He bleeds. He's not invincible.  He's not always even particularly smart in his situation, but has some trouble thinking, and reacts to events with some emotion.  In short, we could look at him and think, "that could be me."

Die Hard is also the film that prompted the rethinking of the action film villain, courtesy of a great performance by Alan Rickman as Hans.  Rather than yelling and screaming, insane facial expressions, and playing it generally over the top, Rickman is cool, calm, collected...ice cold.  His choice was the correct one—it made Hans a much more sinister a serious antagonist.

McClane is a New York cop who has arrived in L.A. to try and patch things up with his estranged wife (Bedelia).  But a group of terrorists, led by Hans, soon seize control of the high rise where she works, leaving our hero alone and cut off from the outside world, running from cover to cover in a half-finished skyscraper, and trying to do his job as a cop.

The film contains many breathtaking action pieces, courtesy of director McTiernan, but for me, where the film really succeeds is in the quieter moments, where the relationship between McClane and an L.A. cop, Powell (VelJohnson) develop.  They've never met, and each is just a voice on the radio to each other, but the way they open up to each other to get through the ordeal is a nice touch.  Police officer friends of mine remarked to me the friendship that evolved between the two was very realistic, and indicative of what happens between strangers on the force under duress.

Willis also introduced in McClane the prototype for the wisecracking hero that he would go on to recreate time and time again in his career.  In the most hopeless of situations, he has something funny to say (i.e., “Now I know what a TV dinner feels like”), and this side of his character not only helps the film’s buoyancy, but makes McClane that much more endearing to the audience.  You can beat him down, but you can’t kill his sense of humor.

Overall, the combination of all these elements produce a smarter than usual action film, and as such, one that’s much more suspenseful and thrilling.  It was the movie that taught us that a real action hero is not the one who mows down bad guys and emerges unscathed.  Instead, he's the guy who gets cut up, pummeled, and exhausted to the point of collapse, but keeps right on fighting.

Video ***

This is a THX approved non-anamorphic transfer, which looks terrific. One need only compare the included trailer to the film to appreciate it. Despite many darker scenes, images are rendered with good sharpness and natural, well contained coloring.

Audio **1/2

There seemed to be one or two problems with the 5.1 sound mix. A couple of times, it seemed that the gunshots, which should be louder, came across as quieter than the conversations, when obviously it should have been the opposite. But overall, the sound is loud, crisp and clear, and a good workout for your surround system.

Features *1/2

Though the box only indicates a trailer, this disc actually contains trailers for all three films, and a short production featurette.  It was strange to listen to the actors talk about Die Hard as a film that hadn’t come out yet!

Summary:

Die Hard remains one of the best and most entertaining action films around, not only because it delivers on a promise of thrills and spectacle, but also because it introduced to the genre a few new ideas that were most welcome—mainly by stripping the hero of cartoonish invincibility and making him real, emotional, and vulnerable.  John McClane remains one of the best protagonists to root for because of these qualities, and thanks to this DVD, you can do so, time and time again.