Die Hard (1988)
Directed by John McTiernan
Written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza
Based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp
Starring: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, Reginald VelJohnson, William Atherton, Alexander Godunov, Paul Gleason
Hans Gruber: [addressing the hostages] I wanted this to be professional, efficient, adult, cooperative. Not a lot to ask. Alas, your Mr. Takagi did not see it that way… so he won’t be joining us for the rest of his life. We can go any way you want it. You can walk out of here or be carried out. But have no illusions. We are in charge. So, decide now, each of you. And please remember: we have left nothing to chance.
Action films have been around since Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903), but the genre became dominant in the 1980s with the success of summer blockbuster like Raiders of the Lost Ark, 48 HRS, First Blood, and Lone Wolf McQuade. Though these films have different settings and sensibilities, they all feature resourceful heroes who must overcome incredible odds and defeat formidable adversaries.
Aside from Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark and its two immediate sequels, no other movie epitomizes the ‘80s action film better than director John McTiernan’s Die Hard.
Joseph Takagi: You want money? What kind of terrorists are you?
Hans Gruber: Who said we were terrorists?
Released in July 1988, Die Hard stars Bruce Willis as Officer John McClane, an off-duty New York Police Department detective who wages a deadly battle of wits against 12 wily and heavily armed criminals in a downtown Los Angeles skyscraper on Christmas Eve. Led by the elegantly-dressed, ruthless, and supercilious Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), the bad guys are after $640 million in bearer bonds from the Nakatomi Corporation’s vaults under the pretense that they are international terrorists.
John McClane: [sarcastically mocking his wife] Come out to the coast! We’ll get together, have a few laughs.
For McClane, the conflict goes beyond his professional duties as a law enforcement officer: it’s personal. One of the 30 hostages under the guns of Gruber’s gang is his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), a high ranking executive of the Nakatomi Corporation. John has flown to the West Coast to spend Christmas with Holly and their two children (Taylor Fry, Noah Land). McClane’s original mission was to try and save their marriage. Now it’s to save 30 lives, including Holly’s.
Aided only by LAPD Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), McClane trades gunshots, improvised explosive devices, punches, and dry-witted banter with Hans and his accomplices. In addition, John must contend with TV reporter Dick Thornburg’s (William Atherton) efforts to exploit the events at the 40-story Nakatomi Plaza, as well as the hostility of Assistant Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason).
It’s Christmas Eve In L.A. And The Party Action’s About To Explode… On The Fortieth Floor!
Before its release in the summer of 1988, Die Hard was only on the radar because 20th Century Fox gambled $5 million to hire Bruce Willis to play Officer John McClane in its big-budget action film.
At the time, Willis was a TV actor best known for his role as Moonlighting’s smart-assed David Addison, Jr. Before being cast for Die Hard, Willis had starred in two forgettable Blake Edwards features, Blind Date and Sunset. However, the popularity of Moonlighting and the unavailability of a recognizable star forced Fox executives to hire Willis for their $28 million movie.
Fox’s gamble paid off. Die Hard not only earned mostly positive reviews (Roger Ebert’s two-star recommendation notwithstanding), it was also popular with moviegoers, especially those in its target audience of men in the 18-35 age group.
Die Hard, like George Lucas’s Star Wars, is a mix of elements from various film and literary sources. Most of its basic plot is derived from Roderick Thorp’s 1975 novel Nothing Lasts Forever, but Die Hard borrows heavily from such genres as Westerns, interracial “buddy-cop” movies a la 48 HRS, and special effects-heavy films such as director McTiernan’s Predator,
Though the movie’s first half hour is slow-paced, Die Hard becomes a high-octane mix of exciting shoot-’em-up action, often-profane dialogue full of wry humor, and timeless themes of courage, loyalty, and redemption.
Hans Gruber: [on the radio] Mr. Mystery Guest? Are you still there?
John McClane: Yeah, I’m still here. Unless you wanna open the front door for me.
Hans Gruber: Uh, no, I’m afraid not. But, you have me at a loss. You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?
John McClane: Was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually. I really like those sequined shirts.
Hans Gruber: Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?
John McClane: Yippee-ki-yay, motherf—–r.
Though Bruce Willis has only had fair-to-middling success in straightforward dramas such as In Country and The Sixth Sense, he’s truly in his element in Die Hard. Willis is at his best when he mixes smart-assed banter with physical derring-do. With a submachine gun in his hands and a smirk on his face, Willis’ McClane became an iconic action hero for the late 1980s and beyond.
Hans Gruber: “And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.” Benefits of a classical education.
Every action hero worthy of the role needs a great counterpart to test his mettle. In Die Hard, Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is one of the greatest screen villains of all time. Rickman balances Gruber’s ruthless and rapacious nature with his refined taste in clothes, keen intellect, and undeniable charm. Rickman, with his background as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, portrays the criminal mastermind with the civility of a well-heeled gentleman, thus making him more menacing and cunning.
Die Hard surrounds its two leads with a solid if not stellar supporting cast. Bonnie Bedelia is good in her role as McClane’s estranged wife Holly Gennero McClane, and Reginald VelJohnson plays McClane’s sole ally on the outside, LAPD Sgt. Al Powell, with both humor and empathy,
Other cast members include William Atherton as uber-ambitious (and obnoxious) reporter Richard Thornburgh, Alexander Godunov as Gruber’s main henchman Karl, Hart Bochner as Ellis, a smarmy Nakatomi exec who lusts after Holly, and Paul Gleason as the unhelpful Assistant Chief of Police Dwayne Robinson.
40 Stories of Sheer Adventure!
Die Hard is, of course, the movie that launched Bruce Willis’ feature film career to the stratosphere. Within a year of its release, Willis left Moonlighting and began getting major roles in a wide range of Hollywood movies, including dramas (In Country), comedies (Look Who’s Talking). and science fiction (The Fifth Element). Since 1988, movies that feature Willis as a lead or supporting actor have earned $2.5 billion worldwide, including Die Hard and its four sequels.
As an example of well-made escapist entertainment, Die Hard has few equals. Director John McTiernan (The Hunt for Red October) gives viewers an exciting cinematic rollercoaster ride full of non-stop action and witty dialogue. Die Hard is so influential in the action genre that many movies have been summarized as “Die Hard on an airplane” (Passenger 57) or “Die Hard on a battleship” (Under Siege).
Of the five movies in the franchise it launched, Die Hard is the best. 1995’s Die Hard With a Vengeance is the only sequel that comes close to matching the original thematically, and that movie was not initially conceived as part of the series. (Die Hard with a Vengeance has several flaws, but that’s a story for another review.)
- Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (25.91 Mbps)
- Resolution: 1080p
- Aspect ratio: 2.36:1
- Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
- English: Dolby Digital 2.0 (224 kbps)
- French: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps)
- Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps)
- English, English SDH, Spanish, Cantonese, Korean
- 50GB Blu-ray Disc
- Single disc (1 BD)
- Region A
- Rated: R (Restricted)
- Studio: 20th Century Fox
- Blu-ray Release Date: November 20, 2007
- Run Time: 131 minutes