Die Hard appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie had some good points but never became a great transfer.
Sharpness caused some of the problems. While much of the flick appeared fairly clear and accurate, during a wider shots, I thought the image became slightly soft and fuzzy. Some of this resulted from edge enhancement, as the haloes contributed to the modest lack of delineation. A few examples of moiré effects cropped up via blinds and a picture frame, but these were minor. While Die Hard wasn’t totally clean, it generally provided a fresh image. I saw a smidgen of grain at times, and occasional examples of speckles, debris and nicks appeared, but as a whole, these were infrequent. Most of the movie passed without incident.
Die Hard featured a rather subdued and earthy palette, but the colors it included appeared well reproduced. Occasional red lighting looked tight and concise, and the brownish tones that dominated the film were clear and accurate. A few dusk shots came across especially well, as the movie presented a nice golden glow that seemed quite attractive. Black levels appeared nicely deep and rich, and shadow detail consistently was appropriately heavy but not excessively dark; low-light scenes provided appealing amounts of opacity. Ultimately, Die Hard presented a decent image that lost some points due to softness and a few source defects.
On the other hand, I definitely liked the film’s soundtracks. Die Hard includes both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes, and I found the two to seem very similar. As is often the case, I thought the DTS edition appeared a little more robust and rich, but the differences between the two were very minor. In the future, I’ll stick with the DTS track, but anyone who has to listen to the DD one instead should be very happy with it.
Not that either mix was a flawless affair, as some of the same problems cropped up in each of them. The soundfield was a high point, however, 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 don’t 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 don’t let that factor make you think they weren’t 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 didn’t sound as natural and warm as I’d 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 - such as the hum heard during chapter 39 - were deep and believable. While the effects occasionally displayed a few flaws, they generally appeared very strong.
Also positive was the film’s 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 soundtracks reproduced it well.
For such a recent film, the mixes 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. Beginning in chapter 24, a high-pitched whistle marred the image for a brief period. Without question, these problems stemmed from the source material. I’ve seen Die Hard enough times to recognize these flaws, and they’ve appeared in every rendition of the movie I’ve 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 won’t ever go away, but I still felt that I needed to mention them.
As a whole, I was quite pleased with the soundtracks for Die Hard. Like I noted earlier, I preferred the DTS mix, but that version held a very slight edge, and I wouldn’t grumble if I had to stick with the Dolby Digital track in the future. In regard to my rating of the tracks, I waffled quite a bit between a “B+” and a “B”. On one hand, the mixes were much more active and involving than usual for a movie from 1988; the soundfield was nicely defined, and the quality of music and effects seemed to be consistently strong. However, the tracks displayed fairly unnatural speech, and a variety of minor source flaws marred the presentation. I went with the higher grade just because the audio for Die Hard excelled when it counted; specifically, the action scenes sounded terrific, and the tracks as a whole were quite good.
When I compared this 2007 release to the special edition from 2001, I found the pair to be identical. It was clear that this version simply took DVD One from the 2001 set and presented it on its own.
In terms of extras, there are a variety of commentary options. The main track features director John McTiernan and production designer Jackson DeGovia. Both men were recorded separately and the results were edited together for this fairly interesting piece.
The commentary has a few empty gaps, but as a whole the two men cover most of the film, and they do so with useful remarks. Not surprisingly, DeGovia’s statements stick largely with technical issues, and he adds some nice details in that regard; his information helped me better appreciate the design decisions made for the film and how they integrate with the action. He also goes over some of his work on other movies and what issues he feels are important for various sorts of flicks.
McTiernan provides a variety of fun tidbits. He covers some basic issues that related to the production and he discusses changes made to the story along the way. He also adds some notes about his general filmmaking ideas, which means we occasionally hear bits about a few of his other films. Both men occasionally point out continuity flaws and silly aspects of the movie, which contributes a fun tone to the piece. Ultimately, I thought this wasn’t a terrific track, but I enjoyed it and it added to my appreciation of a great film.
(And by the way, if anyone out there has access to McTiernan, tell him that yes, it’s clear that Theo and Karl bet on whether Gruber would shoot Takagi.)
The second commentary is a more limited affair that features special effects supervisor Richard Edlund. Edlund only speaks a few times during the movie, but the DVD provides a convenient index that allows us to easily skip the many gaps. Edlund’s remarks appear during 10 of the movie’s 55 chapters, and the amount of material per chapter ranges from a low of 34 seconds in chapter 40 to a high of almost 10 minutes during (and after) chapter 50. All in all, Edlund speaks during approximately 40 minutes of the film.
Although this represents a fairly small percentage of the movie, I like Edlund’s commentary. Obviously he mainly sticks to technical issues, but he covers them concisely and entertainingly. In addition to specific discussions of Die Hard-related topics, Edlund also delves into his work on other films, and since he’s had a very rich career, that makes this piece even more compelling. Although it’s brief, I rather like this mini-commentary from Edlund.
In addition to these two audio tracks, Die Hard includes a text commentary. This piece transcribes interview snippets with a variety of participants. We get new interviews with DeGovia, screenwriter Steven E. DeSouza, special effects coordinator Al Di Sarro, supervising sound editor Stephen Hunter Flick, producer Lawrence Gordon, composer Michael Kamen, editor John F. Link, stunt coordinator Charlie Picerni, and actor Alan Rickman. A variety of archival statements appear as well, and these come from folks like actors Bruce Willis and Alexander Godunov and a mix of film critics.
General remarks from film historian Eric Lichtenfeld tie this piece together and help make it quite interesting. A wide variety of issues receive coverage, and we hear a lot about the production, technical concerns, and interpretation of the movie. The latter elements were probably the most compelling as they helped add depth to the flick and also placed it within the spectrum of movie history. Overall, I found this text commentary to be a very entertaining and useful program.
One additional feature appears on the first DVD. You can watch the film in either its original 132-minute theatrical cut or as a “branching version with extended power shutdown scene”. This pops up in chapter 42 and adds about a minute to the movie’s running time. I can’t say that it’s a great snippet, but it was fun to be able to see it back in the film.
Many have imitated Die Hard, but none have matched it. Thirteen years after it wowed theatrical audiences, it remains one of the best action films ever made, and it stands as a seminal experience in moviemaking. To say that it’s a lot of fun would be a gross understatement, as action movies simply don’t get much better than this. This disc provides decent picture, good sound plus a pretty decent mix of extras.
Note that this version of Die Hard comes as part of the four-disc “Die Hard Collection”. That set also includes single-DVD editions of Die Hard 2 and Die Hard With a Vengeance plus a fourth platter with some exclusive extras. The three movie discs appear to be identical to the ones already on the market, but you have to buy the “Collection” to get the fourth DVD.
To rate this film visit the Five Star Collection review of DIE HARD