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John McTiernan
Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Reginald VelJohnson, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov, Paul Gleason, William Atherton, De'voreaux White, Hart Bochner
Writing Credits:
Roderick Thorp (novel, "Nothing Lasts Forever"), Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza

Twelve terrorists. One cop. The odds are against John McClane ... That's just the way he likes it.

The movie that launched a lucrative franchise, spawned numerous rip-offs, and made Bruce Willis an international star, Die Hard is all about John McClane (Willis). He's a New York cop who flies to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to spend the holidays with his kids and estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia). He arrives at his wife's company party at the 40-story Nakatomi Tower, but the two have a fight in her office and McClane finds himself momentarily alone. Minutes later, German terrorists, led by Hans (Alan Rickman) and planning to steal $600 million in bonds from the building's vaults, storm in, take everyone hostage, and make their demands. The FBI is called in, but only one man is calling the shots ó the reluctant, amusingly profane McClane, who responds like an action hero should.

Box Office:
$28 million.
Opening Weekend
$7.105 million on 1276 screens.
Domestic Gross
$81.350 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 132 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 3/9/1999

• Featurette
• Trailer
• Photo Gallery


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Die Hard (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 18, 2007)

For better or for worse, Die Hard remains one of the most influential films of the last twenty years. I hesitate to say that it revolutionized action films upon its release in 1988, but it certainly gave that genre a well-needed kick in the pants. Prior to Die Hard, superhuman Schwarzeneggers and Stallones dominated the genre as unimaginable powerhouses who largely knew neither pain nor fear.

However, for its main character, Die Hard offered John McClane. Although he was a cop, he was really a fairly ordinary guy who managed to Save the Day by virtue of his wits and street smarts. He proved to be a decent fighter, but he certainly was no sort of unstoppable killing machine. Throughout the film, McClane always seemed to be on the verge of death, only to escape by the narrowest of margins. Indeed, many of his victories come from cleverness, not from raw firepower.

As a result, also for better or for worse, Die Hard launched Bruce Willis's career as a movie star. Prior to this filmís success, he was just another TV star who sought fame on the silver screen. His only prior starring role in a theatrical picture came in 1987's box office flop Blind Date. Actually, I thought that was a decent movie, but it didn't exactly inspire Willis to quit his day job on TV's Moonlighting.

Die Hard, however, was a completely different matter. Indeed, Moonlighting was off the air by 1989 because Die Hard firmly established Willis as a bonafide Cinematic Presence. It certainly changed many people's minds about him. I definitely couldn't stand the guy before Die Hard. Initially, I felt no desire to see the movie; only its positive reviews for the film persuaded me to give it a shot. Man, was I glad I did!

Even with a long roster of imitators over the last decade or so, Die Hard remains the best of its genre. Largely this stays true because of the film's solid cast and characters. While I initially didnít want to see the flick due to his presence, ultimately I can't fault his work. He does McClane to a "T" (and a "T"-shirt, too Ė ha!). Although Willisís patented wiseass smirk pops up too frequently, it makes sense in this role, and he does a terrific job of making McClane a believable person.

Die Hard offers a strong cast in the supporting roles, including terrific character actors such as Paul Gleason and William Atherton. I'm not a fan of Bonnie Bedelia's own smirky tendencies, but she generally holds them in check here. Unfortunately, that wouldnít be the case with the movieís sequel, 1990ís Die Hard 2, but I thought Bedelia added able support and emotional grounding for the original flick.

However, Alan Rickman's virtuoso turn as villain Hans Gruber easily remains the standout performance in the film. Die Hard was this stage veteran's initial movie role, but you wouldn't guess that from his stunning work here. His performance as Hans really did redefine and expand the nature of what a movie villain could be. While Hans is clearly a vicious bastard, he comes across as much more sophisticated and less dogmatic than the typical Hollywood bad guy. As with Willis, Rickman creates a full-blooded person here. To Hans, his nasty actions are simply a means to an end. He doesn't do bad things for the sake of being evil; it's just part of the job for him. Actually, his calm and charming nature makes him a more frightening villain, as his violent outbursts seem that much more shocking.

Rickman's sublimely suave but scary performance here clearly set a new standard for movie villains. Indeed, Hans resides on a very short list of the most memorable film bad guys of all time. I'd be hard pressed to think of anyone who's outdone him since 1988.

While Die Hard boasted a pretty strong cast overall, it did falter in one area: Willisís stunt double looked very little like him. We see a lot of this guy, and it becomes painfully obvious when Willis does not perform his own stunts. Either Willis did more of his action work in the following two films or the producers found a stuntman who more closely resembled him, but this problem does not mar the two sequels.

Speaking more than a decade down the road, Die Hard stands as arguably the most influential action movie of the 1980s, and it has lost none of its luster or appeal since it first appeared. Die Hard remains a nearly perfect example of an intelligently executed and tremendously exciting film. It moves along at an appropriate clip and integrates its action within the plot seamlessly. Put simply, action movies don't get much better than this.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B+/ Bonus D

Die Hard appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Thatís one of the mix of problems that marred this bland presentation.

Sharpness was an issue. Light edge haloes cropped up through the flick, and the movie often displayed a sense of artificial sharpness. This made it seem rough around the edges and somewhat jittery at times. Lots of shimmering appeared throughout the film, and the movie showed problematic definition. Sharpness could be decent, but the movie often seemed somewhat soft. In terms of source flaws, I saw occasional specks and marks; these werenít heavy, but they created some distractions.

Die Hard featured a rather subdued and earthy palette, and the tones seemed pretty muddy. Some of that came from the transferís general darkness, as it looked too dim much of the time. Colors actually werenít bad otherwise, but they lacked much definition and tended to be a bit flat. Blacks were too dense, and shadows seemed somewhat thick. Despite all these issues, this wasnít a terrible image, and Iíve seen many worse. However, it didnít deserve better than a ďC-ď, and I could understand if someone thought it should fall into ďDĒ territory.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Die Hard, it showed a few problems but usually fared well, especially given its age. The soundfield was a high point, as the movie offered a nicely broad and engaging environment through most of the film. The forward spectrum dominated to a degree, and it provided a nicely separated and lively atmosphere. Within the spectrum, sounds seemed to be accurately placed, and they blended together well. During the quieter scenes, the environment was also fairly subdued, but it appeared to be natural and believable.

Since Die Hard is an action flick, however, we really donít care all that much about the quiet scenes. Where the movie earned its pay was during the slam-bang sequences, and those became quite involving. While the forward channels continued to provide the best-defined elements, the surrounds kicked in a terrific amount of information as well. Split surround usage occurred only occasionally, and mainly happened when I heard gunfire. Otherwise, the rear speakers tended to feature more general audio, but donít let that factor make you think they werenít vibrant participants. When the track demanded a full five-channel meltdown, all the speakers were up to the task and they provided a wide and encompassing track that helped ratchet up the action.

Audio quality was more erratic and caused me to find some fault with the track. Mainly, the dialogue was the weakest aspect of the mix. Throughout much of the movie, speech sounded somewhat thin and reedy, and many lines didnít sound as natural and warm as Iíd expect from a reasonably recent film. A little edge appeared during louder lines. I never found the dialogue to seem unintelligible, but the quality level was not as high as it should have been.

Some flaws also affected the effects, but these were more consistent. A few elements appeared somewhat flat or bland, but as a whole, effects came across as pretty rich and lively. Explosions and gunfire showed no signs of distortion, and dynamic response seemed to be quite strong. Bass response consistently sounded tight and rich. Blasts rocked the room, and even more subtle low-end elements were deep and believable. While the effects occasionally displayed a few flaws, they generally appeared very strong.

Also positive was the filmís score. The music showed fine range and seemed clean and vibrant throughout the movie. Highs were crisp and well-defined, while the bass appeared taut and distinct. Music played a strong role in Die Hard, and the soundtrack reproduced it well.

For such a recent film, the mix of Die Hard displayed a surprisingly high number of background flaws. Some hiss and general noise was evident at times, and I occasionally heard a hum as well. At one point, a high-pitched whistle marred the image for a brief period. Without question, these problems stemmed from the source material. Iíve seen Die Hard enough times to recognize these flaws, and theyíve appeared in every rendition of the movie Iíve watched. All of them seemed to come from issues related to the production audio; concerns on the set appeared to cause the problems. As such, they wonít ever go away, but I still felt that I needed to mention them. Nonetheless, as a whole, I was quite pleased with the soundtrack for Die Hard.

Die Hard skimps in regard to its supplements. It includes a short but decent Featurette. This five-minute and 50-second piece stays in a promotional vein, but it includes some interesting shots from the set. We also find theatrical trailers for all three Die Hard movies and a Slide Show that includes some publicity stills.

Die Hard remains an excellent film, and it stands as a seminal action movie. After nearly 20 years, itís still a blast. Unfortunately, though the DVD includes pretty good sound, it comes with negligible extras and flawed picture quality. This is a disappointing release for a terrific flick.

To rate this film visit the Five Star Collection review of DIE HARD

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