|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 07 September 2004|
Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a New York City cop who’s in Los Angeles for Christmas to visit his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and their kids over Christmas. Business exec Holly is at a corporate function in her company’s Century City high-rise. John meets her on the premises, and though their reunion is acrimonious, it puts him on the spot when twelve mercenary terrorists take over the premises, demanding a huge ransom.
‘Die Hard’ has a few aspects that set it above many others in its genre. Willis, doing very good work here, lets John show it when he gets hurt and the film doesn’t treat him like Wile E. Coyote. While the hero’s activities are ultimately larger than life, he is affected by his injuries. ‘Die Hard’ also marked the first major American appearance of Alan Rickman, who is so bemused, dry and urbane as the villain that he holds his own against the erupting ordnance. Reginald VelJohnson, who went on to sitcom stardom in ‘Family Matters,’ is instantly, deeply likable as a helpful LAPD cop. On the downside, the filmmakers could hardly have come up with a more irritating subplot than that of Holly using her original surname at work rather than calling herself Holly McClane. However one feels about the whole issue, it’s not something that seems like a worthwhile reason for slowing the pace.
The packaging on the ‘Die Hard’ DVD is a little odd, as it doesn’t mention a few special features that can be accessed via the menu. There are a collection of actor biographies, a "slide show" (still images from the film) and a "making of" featurette. This last admittedly has unusually cheesy narration, but presumably fans of Willis, Rickman, et al would still be happy to hear the actors discuss their work here.
Visually, the film benefits tremendously from being kept in its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio. Twentieth Century Fox, here and elsewhere, is sensibly and blessedly generous when it comes to preserving wide-screen images. When the point of the shot is that a character has to traverse a great distance to get safely from one side of the shot to another – which is, at heart, the reason for the existence of ‘Die Hard’ at all – any cropping of the frame would dilute the drama. So far as audio quality, Chapter 10 has an especially acute single gunshot, while cacophonous breaking glass, massive vehicular impact and sputtering weapons discharge all come together in a bracingly loud but distinct mix in Chapter 18.
Once it gets going, ‘Die Hard’ is well-structured action fun that succeeds by mixing big-screen production values with a TV-friendly hero. It just doesn’t get out of the gate quite as fast as recollection and/or hype might have us believe.
‘Die Hard’ is available separately and as part of a boxed ‘Die Hard Trilogy’ set, which also includes the second and third installments in the series.