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DIE HARD: FIVE STAR COLLECTION

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Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia
Director: John McTiernan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 132 Minutes
Release Date: July 10, 2001

“Attention, whoever you are, this channel is reserved for emergency calls only.”

“No f****** sh**, lady! Do I Sound like I’m ordering a pizza?!”

Film ****

The year was 1988 when the action genre would forever be changed, or rather become such an influentially challenged format, when a little film about a lone cop battling wits with a group of terrorists in an downtown Los Angeles high rise blew up on screens and astonished audiences alike. If this were a premise for a movie being made today, people would pretty much sigh at it, but 13 years ago, Die Hard was more or less a wake up call for the action/adventure genre, and would result in one of the few outstanding movie trilogies ever created. It was also a pivotal breakthrough for the movie’s star, Bruce Willis, who was at the time known for mainly his lite comic routine on the TV series Moonlighting. Following this movie’s huge success, Willis had now become an action star sensation. Die Hard is certainly nothing short of influential milestone, such as Pulp Fiction and The Matrix. The formula of a lone hero against an arsenal of villains in a single setting has been applied to countless other action movies, such as Under Siege, Passenger 57,  and has also been put to terrific, re-invented use in such other movies as Speed and The Rock. The true fact illustrated is that had it not been for Die Hard, the other movies mentioned may have never been made.

The movie opens with its hero, NYC cop John McClane (Willis), arriving in LA on Christmas Eve to spend the holidays with his estranged family. His wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) , has been living a successful life with their kids in LA, which is why they are living in LA, while John couldn’t give up being a dedicated cop in New York. She works as vice president for the classy Nakatomi corporation, which acquires a larger than life, 40-story skyscraper as its business office. A party is being thrown that night, not so much in celebration of Christmas, but for a successful business deal. John pops in the party unexpectedly, and Holly is very happy to see him. Moments later, a marital argument soon develops between the two, and right when Holly returns to the party, gunfire breaks out, as 12 terrorists make their way in and stop the party with a bang. John is able to stand clear of the terrorists’ entrance, and now the big battle begins.

The group of terrorists is lead by the slithery charm of Hans Gruber, played in show-stopping brilliance by Alan Rickman. Hans’ plans include that of stealing millions in negotiable bonds from a secured safe located in the building’s lobby. He’s not really an insane killing machine like his henchmen. Hans’ attire is that of a sleek businessman, who intends on making a huge business transaction. However, once McClane succeeds in capping off several of Gruber’s goons does the leader begin to slowly but surely loose his cool. Gruber’s temper also rises a notch once McClane has successfully lured local authorities outside the building. Still, Hans maintains a calm behavior in the midst of a not so full-proof plan.

Die Hard is especially astonishing on a technical level. Here’s a movie that appreciates entertainment at a high level. The landscape of the skyscraper offers an enormous opportunity for some outstanding shootouts and effects sequences, including a shootout scene involving lots of glass that still makes me squirm to this day, as well perhaps the most memorable moment in the movie where Willis leaps from the roof as it explodes, dangling from a fire hose and shoots his way through the a middle floor of the building to make his way back in. Everytime I watch that sequence, I still find myself amazed at how it was pulled off. It received a few academy award nods for sound and effects editing, and boy was it ever deserved. The way I see it, Die Hard is truly one of the most brilliant technical achievements of the 1980s.

The performances are nothing short of memorable. Willis portrays McClane as a real “everyman”, who does suffer injuries, and has a certain level of emotions that most characterizations in this type of movie lack unfortunately. He is not a super action hero, but an ordinary man who does grow weary and physically scarred through the course of the movie, but still doesn’t quit the fight, and has a sharp, wisecracking sense of humor to back it up with. And who could ever forget Alan Rickman’s icy cool performance as Hans, who acquires a sense of humor of his own. Hans Gruber is as pure and as sinister as movie villains get.

Directed with immense power by John McTiernan, who also did Predator and The Hunt For Red October, Die Hard is a thrilling rollercoaster ride and then some. It’s a bang for your buck masterpiece that to this day still makes for a wonderful Friday late night treat.

Video ****

Just let me go ahead and mention that to those who may have been let down with the first, non-anamorphic issuings of Die Hard 1, 2 & 3, that Fox has given each movie a glorious new anamorphic transfer in this new Ultimate Collection pack, and each video transfer is sure to go down as one of the year’s best. The picture quality is thoroughly lively and sharp as a blade, and colors are as pure and as vibrant as ever. It makes you somewhat forget that there ever was a previous non-anamorphic release. Along with this year’s release of The Untouchables, this is quite simply one of the best transfers I’ve seen of any movie from the 80s.

Audio ***1/2

The Dolby Digital track on the original Die Hard disc definitely needed some work done to it, and thankfully, Fox went back and trimmed it up to a near perfectly sounding disc. The standout on the disc is Michael Kamen’s pulse pounding score to the movie, which really pumps me up with suspense everytime I hear it. Plus, the action scenes sound a whole lot better than they did on the previous disc, with gunfire sounding a bit more clear and crisp. All in all, Fox deserves props on going back and fixing this transfer. A DTS track is also included.

Features ****

This 2-disc set has already got my vote for the year’s best use of extras. This Five Star Collection Disc set from Fox, stylized much like their Independence Day disc, is filled to the brim with some knockout extras that are sure to keep you busy for hours. On disc 1, there are two commentary tracks, with one by director John McTiernan and production designer Jackson DeGovia. The other commentary is a scene specific track by visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund. Also featured on this disc is a branching extended version option, which includes a cut scene involving the power shutdown, as well as a DVD Rom script to screen comparison.

Featured on Disc 2 are more explosive goodies, such as 2 extended scenes, a cutting room where you can mix and edit numerous scenes, a deleted lines and sequences reel, a gag reel, extended scenes with the newscast characters, interactive articles from American Cinematographer and Cinefex magazine, the full screenplay, trailers and TV spots, and more DVD Rom content.

Summary:

Action movies don’t get a big and explosive as Die Hard. It remains one of the best movies of the 1980s, and the trilogy itself is one of the greatest series ever made for the entertainment crowd.

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