Dying Hard in 4K
NYPD officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) comes to Los Angeles to see his estranged wife. She’s a career woman. He didn’t approve. Die Hard becomes a damsel rescue action film, but there’s more to it than McClane saving his bride from European terrorists – he’s getting her out of the clutches of the west coast’s yuppie culture and the career.
The villain dies at the end of Die Hard. That’s not a spoiler anymore. By ritual, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) must fall from the 30th floor of the Nakatomi building every Christmas eve. It’s law (somewhere). To fall though, Gruber must relent his grip. McClane forces the issue by removing the Rolex strapped to the wrist of his wife – a gift from the Nakatomi corporation. That’s more than a little symbolic. McClane saves his wife, and in every way he wanted. Both a dollar-driven culture and her job prospects fall with Gruber. James Brown was right: this is a man’s world.
Welcome to the late ‘80s. The idea of a career woman still didn’t sit well in a male-driven, high-dollar, stock market-rich environment of the Reagan era. This goes double at a time when an influx of Japanese business interests slipped into the Americas. It was more than Nintendo. A New York cop is a sensible hero, considering.
McClane bills himself a cowboy. Roy Rogers, specifically. He’s living that fantasy. A machine gun wrapped around his neck, he plows through foreign immigrants who seek access to a safe. Bandits then, under the gun from the local sheriff. The only thing missing is a horse and background cacti.
McClane set the standard for comedic one-liners
McClane set the standard for comedic one-liners
The working class hero – that’s Die Hard’s favorite. An L.A. beat cop and dedicated New Yorker, working together. The FBI and the police Sargent? Buffoons, the lot of them. So too is the exploitative reporter, blowing the cover of those inside Nakatomi, hunting for a classic “if it bleeds, it leads,” story. The only winners are those nearly killing themselves for low pay on a 9-5. The elite squander their chance. Either they die or they fail. It’s clear why Die Hard resonated with audiences.
More so, it’s a grand Hollywood action movie, lively in special effects, stunts, blood, and stakes. Gun fights hold legitimate tension, and Willis muscles his way out of precarious circumstances, if barely. McClane set the standard for comedic one-liners too.
Around him sit a cast of notable side characters. William Atherton may as well be the same slimeball from 1984’s Ghostbusters, after a career move to reporter. Argyle, a first-day-on-the-job limo driver, is a blast and eventual hero. Reginald VelJohnson takes a slew of cop cliches and runs with them. Rickman’s Gruber is a movie villain worthy of a hall of fame. A detestable, sniveling German who uncannily plays it cool.
And Bonnie Bedelia, as Mclane’s wife Holly. A damsel, yes. That’s inarguable. But, she’s snippy, she’s brave, and makes demands. She’ll make it in this world. Without McClane, she’d do okay.
From a 4K master, Die Hard lacks the pop of modern blockbusters. It’s set primarily at night, indoors, and covered in shadows. That means plentiful black levels and they deliver. Image density is wonderful, and in avoidance of black crush. As McClane shimmies through the ducts and flicks on the lighter, visible detail overtakes the Blu-ray. That’s an easy, even obvious example.
Overall imagery takes on a dim feel. The lack of light limits dimensionality. Even during the passing daylight (as McClane comes into town) overall brightness sags. An HDR pass livens Nakatomi’s exteriors, especially the roof lights. Interior work lamps and flashlights add some vibrancy too. The few explosions leave their mark. Otherwise, the application is a mild one, considerate of the source.
Benefit here is to appreciable detail and sharpness. Ignore a brief instance of smearing when McClane is first landing in L.A. That anomaly needs fixed, but it’s a one-off. Fox’s encode handles a beautiful film grain clearly and without compression issues. High grade facial detail is common, and exteriors showcase the fine lines of the skyscraper.
Color stays muted, mostly in the range of grays and browns. Flesh tones read accurate, and some of the Christmas décor pushes out pleasing red and greens.
Die Hard’s DTS-HD mix is the same as the Blu-ray. No Atmos of DTS:X yet for this action classic. It’s a serviceable, aged soundtrack, with weary treble and artificial LFE support. Plain gunfire strains the highs. Added accompaniment from the subwoofer bubbles up, but without a convincing heft. Hilariously, punches as McClane squares off with Karl match gunfire in low-end impact. They hit each other harder than anyone knew before.
Small surround touches give a bit of life to the track. Steam on the roof spreads into positional channels. Glass shattering and the occasional bullet ping will sprout up in the rears. Helicopters sweep around the soundstage with clean movement. Otherwise, Die Hard keeps to itself in the fronts.
Three commentaries show up on the UHD and Blu-ray. 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 featuring his work. Finally, an odd subtitle-only track features thoughts from the cast and crew. That’s a sort of commentary.
Over on the Blu-ray, extra footage of the newscasts features various mistakes and short extended scenes. If this sounds familiar, it’s all the same from the prior 1080p release.
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The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 21 Die Hard screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 12,000+ already in our library), exclusive 4K UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.