Two things made Bruce Willis the star he is today: Moonlighting and “Yippee-ki-yay.” Die Hard spawned the modern action movie, with its style and hard edge. Add in a mix of Hollywood’s best action writers, producer, and director, and you’ve got an American classic.
Merely looking at the credits of this film proves just how flawlessly things came together. Director John McTiernan gave us Predator in 1987, along with Die Hard 3. Writer Steven de Souza penned Running Man for Arnold Schwarzenegger and the video game adaptation Street Fighter (maybe the latter isn’t quite a positive). Finally, Jan de Bont gave us the cinematography for this and Basic Instinct while he later directed Speed.
Though Bruce Willis is the obvious focus, the entire movie is stolen by a brilliant performance from the terrorist lead, Alan Rickman. Within minutes of his on-screen appearance the audience instantly reviles him; his cold stare and violent ways of persuasion are the icing. More proof is the film’s best scene, which is surprisingly not based on action.
Late in the film, McClane and Rickman’s character, Hans, come face to face for the first time. Grueber ingeniously makes himself out to be an escaped hostage, begging for his life against a man who has no idea whom he’s facing. Sharing a cigarette while talking about the takeover, McClane hands Grueber a weapon, putting the audience on edge. It’s a flawless example of writing, direction, acting, and tension, a scene any aspiring filmmaker should watch. Few action movies attempt a sequence like this, let alone pull one off.
Of course, the action is what made the film so famous in the first place, and Die Hard contains it in droves. The special effects, which are still superb nearly 20 years later, were nominated for an Oscar. The shootouts are a template for every action scene to come after it and the hand-to-hand combat fights are the stuff classics are made of.
Die Hard looks as expected. For a 20-year-old film, the format provides a solid, if unspectacular level of detail and sharpness. The movie was shot in relatively low light, lending a murky, drab quality to most scenes. Black levels are fair, and the entire transfer is flat because of it. Colors are faded, dull and lacking vibrancy. It oddly suits the film, but the explosions take the brunt of the problem. It’s a noticeable improvement over the stack of DVD releases over the years, but only worth an upgrade to long-time fans.
The audio is likewise faded, with the occasional hiss and flat overall tone. Action is nearly front loaded throughout, though the final explosion does offer a nice array of debris falling. Bass is powerful, though obviously not part of the original track. The remastering is apparent.
Years ago, Fox released the Die Hard trilogy in a box set. Each movie was given a deluxe treatment, and yet here we sit with a Blu-ray edition missing a slew of those extras.
Things begin with multiple commentary tracks. The first comes from McTiernan and Jackson Degovia, the production designer. Special effects designer Richard Edlund gets his own track, though he only talks during scenes that feature his work. Finally, a subtitle track features thoughts from the cast and crew, picking out things while providing some great information.
Extra footage of the newscasts features various mistakes and short extended scenes. Loads of trailers and promo clips finish the disc off, unless you’re one of two people in the world with a D-Box motion control system in your home. If you are, this one supports it.