Die Hard Collection – DVD Review

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Die Hard

Director:

John McTiernan

Cast:

Bruce Willis .John McClane
Alan Rickman .Hans Gruber
Bonnie Bedelia .Holly Gennero McClane
Reginald Veljohnson .Sgt. Al Powell

Twentieth Century Fox presents Die Hard. Written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza. Based on the novel Noting Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. Running time: 132 minutes. Rated R. Originally released in theaters on July 15, 1988.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Director:

Renny Harlin

Cast:

Bruce Willis .John McClane
William Sadler .Col. Stuart
Bonnie Bedelia .Holly McClane
Dennis Franz .Capt. Carmine Lorenzo
Fred Dalton Thompson .Trudeau

Twentieth Century Fox presents Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Written by Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson. Based on the novel 58 Minutes by Walter Wager. Running time: 124 minutes. Rated R. Originally released in theaters on July 6, 1990.

Die Hard: With a Vengeance

Director:

John McTiernan

Cast:

Bruce Willis .John McClane
Jeremy Irons .Simon Gruber
Samuel L. Jackson .Zeus Carver

Twentieth Century Fox presents Die Hard: With a Vengeance. Written by Jonathan Hensleigh. Running time: 131 minutes. Rated R. Originally released in theaters on May 19, 1995.


The Movies

Comedies were golden at the box office, in 1988. This is the year that gave us such memorable jokefests as Coming to America, Beetlejuice and The Naked Gun. And who could forget the cartoon/live-action hybrid Who Framed Roger Rabbit? As Tom Cruise was staking his claim as the number one box office attraction, fresh off the success of Top Gun in 1986, there was one movie that would make mincemeat of that flyboy action flick.

Die Hard.

It was a simple action thriller that redefined the action genre with the popcorn goodness never getting stale. It’s no wonder many consider it the greatest action movie of all-time. No disagreement here. There may be action movies where the stunts and special effects are more death defying, more spectacular, but they either lack one or two things: a hero worth rooting for and a great villain. John McTiernan’s action opus has both.

Our hero, John McClane (Bruce Willis), is a wisecracking New York police detective who is far removed from his normal beat. He is in Los Angeles as a courtesy to his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), who, after a tiff with John, headed west to find her fortune (a successful career) — it was the eighties after all. Christmas is fast approaching, but in the City of Angeles there’s no snow, only palm trees. Lots and lots of palm trees to which John astutely acknowledges on his way to Holly’s place of work, the fictional Nakatomi Plaza — in actuality, it is 20th Century Fox’s headquarters.

Before John and Holly can find common ground in an effort to mend their broken relationship, European terrorists show up unannounced and make a mess of everything. The leader of this outfit is Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman in his first Hollywood feature). He may be “Euro trash” to some, but Hans is not your ordinary terrorist. In fact, he’s a thief reveling in the idea of making like The Grinch on Christmas Eve, stealing a vault full of bearer bonds. Too bad he didn’t count on McClane.

Unlike the musclehead action movies that preceded it, Die Hard was more about brains than brawn. Bruce Willis looking like an average Joe acts like one too. He smokes, curses in times of trepidation and makes jokes in the faces of his enemies. Not only that, he’s resourceful. When given the opportunity, he doesn’t try to kill all the baddies in one swell swoop; he takes a Magic Marker and makes notes on how many adversaries he’s dealing with, jotting a laundry list of names. And, to go along with that list, he picks up weapons whenever he can. (This isn’t Commando where Willis has a great, big arsenal at his disposal. That would have been too easy.)

Director John McTiernan combines elements of jungle warfare and Westerns in a film that is clearly action-oriented first and foremost. Interestingly, one could look at Nakatomi Plaza as a concrete jungle of sorts, full of open spaces as well as places to duck and cover. Such a setting adds more tension and peril than one would normally expect. As for the two things that set this action movie apart from the rest — the hero and villain — both Willis and Rickman are charismatic and fit their roles to a tee. They play off each other effortlessly despite their primary interface coming in the form of Walkie-Talkies. Yes, as hard as it is to fathom, there was a day when cell phones didn’t exist.

And cell phones were still enigmatic to many some two years later when Die Hard 2: Die Harder made its way to theaters the summer of 1990. Like most sequels, it is bigger and louder than the original. A busy Dulles International Airport on Christmas Eve replaces the Nakatomi skyscraper — hmmm, more ground to cover and that many more places to duck and cover. Even with trading in sunny California for the frigid Northeast McClane somehow finds himself as a guy who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead of thwarting robbers of bearer bonds, he must contend with a rogue military presence (mercenaries). They seize the airport’s communications and threaten plane crashes if certain demands aren’t met. Well, this doesn’t sit right with “Mr. Cowboy” whose wife is currently traveling the friendly skies.

Renny Harlin’s objective with the John McClane character was to set him up in situations in which the use of a gun wasn’t always available. So there are times when John has to use his fists and uneasy footwork to dispose of his opponents. Plus, whenever he’s thrust into situations where he is own one-man army, he does everything by the seat of his pants, barely making it out alive. Looking back it’s interesting to see the different actors in small roles. Before Robert Patrick would go on to be the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he was one of the military guys thinking he had the stones to take on McClane. Patrick’s not the only one who thought he could hang with Willis; John Leguizamo shows up, and legendary Spaghetti Western star Franco Nero makes his presence known as a South American general.

Though still an entertaining ride, Die Hard 2 cannot match the greatness of its predecessor. By not having the action in a claustrophobic setting, sequences where Willis is free and loose in snowy locales does away with one of the best aspects of the original: the ratcheting tension.

Five years after the sequel, 20th Century Fox goes back to the well; the studio dusts off an unused script and makes a few character changes so that John McClane can have another bad day. Like Jack Bauer, you can’t keep McClane down. This time there is no snow. There is no Christmastime setting. It’s a scorcher in the Big Apple.

McClane, always a man on the move, has probably racked up more frequent flyer miles and house payments than any fictional cop in movie history. He’s relocated from New York to California and back to New York again. It’s no wonder he begins the day hung over. That wouldn’t last long, however.

Director John McTiernan returns to the Die Hard franchise and gives us a canvas that is much larger than any building or airport. He gives us New York City. Not only must John McClane maneuver through the cacophony of honking horns and traffic stops, he must do so with a luckless partner: a store owner named Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson). Despite the massive setting, McTiernan is able to bring back the tension that was lost in the second Die Hard. What McTiernan has at his disposal that Harlin did not was a simple game of “Simon Says.” More vicious than a game of Monopoly, the man calling the shots is Simon Peter Gruber (the ever versatile Jeremy Irons), the brother of the late Hans Gruber. And that’s what makes this Die Hard: With a Vengeance.

Like his brother, Simon has a bomb fetish. He’s placed explosives around the city and threatens to detonate them if police try to intervene. So he devises a series of brainteasers that John and Zeus must solve in quick fashion if New York is to be saved. Little do they know that these diversions are merely that; while Willis and Jackson rack their brains, Irons is attempting to rob the Federal Reserve.

Of course, this distraction doesn’t last long, as McClane is back to his old tricks again — sobering up and raring to go.

Even though With a Vengeance wasn’t initially thought to be a John McClane action movie, the outline screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh (The Punisher) uses is a formula that fits. What was thought (then) to be the final Die Hard, the third installment successfully combines elements from its predecessors — the tautness and open terrain, most notably — thus making it unique. The addition of Samuel L. Jackson followed the tried-and-true buddy cop formula which was rampant in the eighties with 48 Hours, Running Scared, and of course Lethal Weapon. But like his counterpart, Jackson is a reluctant hero. He never wanted any part of it, but like Willis he became just another fly in the ointment.

As many of you reading are well aware, there is a fourth entry into the Die Hard franchise: Live Free or Die Hard. (Not to spoil anything, but look for John McClane to tangle with terrorists and blow up a lot of stuff.) Who would have ever thought we would get another chance to see the cop who paints himself as a cowboy. A cowboy with a silver tongue, guns (when he can get them), and a catchy phrase like “Yippee Ki Yay”- well you know the rest.

This DVD collection to coincide with the release of Live Free or Die Hard is a way for Fox to make a quick buck. Originally, the trilogy had single-disc editions. Then came Die Hard: The Ultimate Collection. That edition was six discs of action-packed popcorn excitement with a bevy of extras. Consider this four-disc release as the not-so-ultimate edition. The second discs from each special edition are gone, and we are left with the three features and a bonus disc with maybe an hour’s worth of material.

If this isn’t foreshadowing on whether or not to upgrade, I don’t know what is.


The DVD

THE VIDEO
(Each film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen)

All three films have the exact same transfers as they did when they were released as special editions back in 2001. Each film looks good, except for With a Vengeance which is plagued by edge enhancement. Specks of dirt and debris are still seen in certain sequences from the first two films. With all the technical advances you would think Fox would have put in the extra effort to appease its fans. But, hey, I guess that’s what the next double dip, or triple and quadruple for others, will accomplish.

THE AUDIO
(English — DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0; French — 2.0)

In areas of quality, especially when it comes to action flicks, the sound design can raise or lower your enjoyment. Thankfully, the audio transfers, while the same as the special edition releases, do not disappoint. The dialogue is easily decipherable amidst a hail of gunfire and stuff blowing every which way. Also included are optional English and Spanish subtitles that are accessible during each feature presentation.

SPECIAL FEATURES

Upon ripping off the plastic, you will notice that the four discs are packaged in thinpak cases. This seems to be the latest trend, as DVD consumers are starting to run out of storage space. Also, inside the cardboard packaging you will find a small, retrospective booklet, promotional inserts and a free Hollywood Movie Money certificate that can be used to see Live Free or Die Hard in theaters.

With the second discs being scrapped for each Die Hard flick, we are left with the audio commentaries from the first discs. Die Hard has a total of three tracks: one with John McTiernan and his production designer Jackson DeGovia, another with special effects guru Richard Edlund, and the last one is a subtitle commentary with various cast and crew members. For the sequel we are treated to Renny Harlin on the mike. McTiernan flies solo for the commentary included with With a Vengeance.

Moving to the supplements we’ve never seen or heard before we have the “Yippee Ki Yay Bonus Disc.” That is not a typo. The goal of the disc is to both promote and reflect. Promote Live Free or Die Hard and reflect on the greatness that is John McClane and his form of justice against baddies the world over. The first extra is a series of trailers for the new film.

Wrong Guy, Wrong Place, Wrong Time: A Look Back at Die Hard is a 40-minute feature about the one that started it all. Though lacking sound bites from Bruce Willis, we get comments from director John McTiernan and fellow co-stars William Atherton, Hart Bochner, and Reginald Veljohnson. It’s a fun retrospective, especially hearing cinematographer’s Jan De Bont’s (Speed, Twister) comments about the rigmarole about lighting certain scenes, like the helicopter flyover and when John McClane was up in the air ducts, stuff you don’t notice or take into consideration while watching.

The Continuing Adventures of John McClane is a featurette that condenses the succeeding sequels into a 13-minute retrospective. It is very brief and hastily constructed. Some interesting anecdotes are shared from directors Renny Harlin and McTiernan, but for those who already have the special edition releases, you aren’t missing much. At least technophiles will be glad to know that each featurette is presented in anamorphic widescreen.

While five audio commentaries, a bonus disc, and a free movie pass is nothing to sneeze at, go ahead and break the bank and pick up Die Hard: The Ultimate Collection. Though, it’s more than likely you already have it in your home library.

THE INSIDE PULSE

If you are indifferent when it comes to John McClane and don’t feel the need to pick up an expansive box set with extras you probably won’t ever watch more than once, then maybe this four-disc collection is good enough for you. You get the movies, only a few bonus features, and a free movie ticket. Though, if you already have the big, bad six-disc collection there is no reason to pick up this new Die Hard collection. Besides, I would fathom that the featurettes included on the fourth disc may make an appearance in a later DVD release. Perhaps Die Hard: 20th Anniversary Edition. It’s only a year away, after all.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for the
Die Hard Collection
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIES

8.5
THE VIDEO

7
THE AUDIO

8
THE EXTRAS

6
REPLAY VALUE

7
OVERALL
4
(NOT AN AVERAGE)