John Mctiernan, Renny Harlin
I rewatched the original DIE HARD on the big screen recently (at Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzztival, no less). After not having seen it for about ten years, I was amazed at what a perfect action movie it is. With just the right mix of big action set pieces, suspenseful thrills and character-driven humor it still lives up to its “classic” status.
Hot off PREDATOR, John McTiernan made DIE HARD big and loud, but also with a fairly smart and unique mentality for an action flick. His best move though was in casting Bruce Willis as John McClane, which forever solidified Bruno’s badass status. Willis is a one man army here, both onscreen kicking villainous ass, as well as in his performance, wisely bringing a humorous and realistic Everyman quality to the character. That’s what sets McClane apart from the Schwarzeneggers and the Stallones, he’s just an average guy put in a shit situation who has to constantly struggle to not get killed. (And he still gets in his one liners.) It was a perfect fit for Willis and creates a hero you can really connect with. The always great Alan Rickman also makes a scene stealing villain, and even Carl Winslow comes off pretty cool.
Twenty years later, DIE HARD remains the standard for modern action movies and rightfully so.
DIE HARD 2
DIE HARD 2 is pretty much DIE HARD 1, but slightly not as good. It follows the exact same formula and arc beat by beat; it’s just missing something short of greatness. What that something is exactly is hard to say. Bruce Willis is just as awesome the second time around. Renny Harlin shoots explosions and gunfights just fine. Maybe the sequel is just too similar to its predecessor to really set itself apart.
The one great thing about DIE HARD 2 though is that it doesn’t even bother with things like “set up” or “background.” It’s John McClane. At an airport. Terrorists! Three minutes in and we’re already rolling, ready to blow stuff up. The pacing is quick and easy with plenty of action and twists. It’s a fun, enjoyable watch but it just doesn’t compare to the original. Probably the best thing I can say about the second DIE HARD is that I fly out of Dulles Airport pretty often, and every time I do I always keep an eye out to make sure Bill Sadler is nowhere in sight. Especially naked Bill Sadler doing tai chi.
DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE I did things backwards. The third in the series was the first DIE HARD movie I ever saw. As an impressionable 12 year old, the nonstop violence, swearing and general disregard for public safety was the coolest thing my fragile mind had experienced. So I hope its not just fond memories talking when I say that DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE is a great movie and worthy follow up to the original.
For one it bravely changes the dynamic between John McClane and the franchise. A bitter alcoholic now separated from his wife, McClane is more of a has-been screw up than a hero cop. That sounds a little disheartening for fans of the first two movies, but the filmmakers wisely bring in Samuel L. Jackson to give the character someone to bounce off of and keep him relatable. The chemistry between Willis and Jackson is fantastic (and would later make watching UNBREAKABLE increasingly difficult). Seeing the pair race around NYC deactivating bombs while at each others throats is a joy. John McTiernan, in what is probably his last good movie, also returns with a vengeance (sorry) with bigger action, more excitement and a fun story that bucks the traditional DIE HARD formula.
All in all, one of the most satisfying film trilogies in recent times. Hopefully LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD doesn’t screw up the track record.
Commentary by director John McTiernan and production designer Jackson DeGovia: I hate it when commentaries are recorded separately. It just kills the flow and makes everything seem unnecessarily disjointed. And honestly McTiernan was kind of boring, which is pretty disappointing considering his résumé.
Scene Specific Commentary by special effects supervisor Richard Edlund: Edlund gives his thoughts on 10 scenes. Some interesting info if you don’t mind skipping around.
Text Commentary by Various Cast and Crew: Reading a non-stop subtitle commentary gets old pretty fast. I’d still like to at least watch the movie and not just read a novel’s worth of text for 2 hours.
Branching Version: Not exactly “branching” since there’s only one extended scene cut back in (the power shutdown scene). It should’ve just been labeled as a deleted scene to save people from having to watch the movie again just to see it.
DIE HARD 2:
Commentary by director Renny Harlin: Harlin likes to explain basic Filmmaking 101 techniques such as how those are extras in the background, not real people, or how they film on a sound stage and not a real hotel room. This is great if you’ve never seen a movie before.
DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE:
Commentary by director John McTiernan, screenwriter Jonathan Hensligh and former Fox Marketing President Tom Sherak: Again, it’s kind of sad how boring McTiernan comes off. Hensligh has some interesting stories about how his original script SIMON SAYS got turned in to the third DIE HARD movie. The marketing dude was unnecessary and didn’t add anything of real value.
Yippee Ki Yay Bonus Disc:
Wrong Guy, Wrong Place, Wrong Time: A Look Back at DIE HARD (39:53): A documentary on the first movie with no Bruce Willis, only a couple minutes of behind the scenes footage and some “okay” interviews with cast and crew. Reginald VelJohnson looks like he’s going to cry the whole time.
The Continuing Adventures of John McClane (13:27): A fairly short look at the sequels including interviews with Renny Harlin and McTiernan.
Three Trailers for LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD.
Extra Tidbit: Steven E. de Souza, who wrote the first two DIE HARD movies, later went on to write JUDGE DREDD and STREET FIGHTER (which he also directed). Talk about murdering goodwill and credibility.