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.
I 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.
While the original Die Hard DVD provided only a smattering of very minor extras, this 2-DVD package gives us a decent special edition. On the first disc, 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. As with one of the tracks for Titus, 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. Note that this scene also appears on DVD Two, where I’ll discuss it a little more.
As we move on to DVD Two, we discover a mix of additional features. These are divided into different areas, starting with “From the Vault”. Here we get Outtakes, which offers two extended scenes and some additional content. “The Vault” tosses in a slightly extended version of the film’s opening “airplane” sequences, and it also provides a slew of minor bits. We find some traditional outtakes that show goofs and silly improves, and we also witness slightly longer versions of existing scenes. These can be watched with just the production audio or with additional musical backing during this six minute and 10 second piece. It’s a nice presentation of some fun material.
The other section offers Turning Off the Power, the extended sequence that can also be viewed reintegrated into the film on DVD One. Here the clip runs for three minutes and 20 seconds. Although the extra footage only extends the movie by about a minute, this piece lasts longer than that because it features the material that comes before and after the added clips.
“From the Vault” continues with The Newscasts. This program includes various unused snippets from the videotaped TV newscast segments. Basically this seven minute and 50 second piece functions as an alternate package of outtakes; it simply has a different focus than the material we saw in “The Vault”, and it’s also a lot of fun, especially as we go through umpteen takes of little Taylor Fry – who plays Lucy McClane – try to convincingly say “come home”.
Magazine Articles completes “From the Vault” with two different articles. There’s a December 1988 piece from “American Cinematographer” that spotlights visual effects producer Richard Edlund, and we also find a November 1988 text from “Cinefex Magazine”. Not surprisingly, both articles take a rather technical viewpoint, so anyone with a more casual interest in Die Hard will probably be bored. However, if you enjoy this kind of information, the pieces should be very valuable. Some of the information was redundant – the “AC” text duplicated a fair amount of data previously heard in Edlund’s commentary – but the articles still offered a lot of solid notes about the film.
The DVD presents these pieces in an “interactive” format. That means that we occasionally find thumbnail pictures on which we can click and enlarge. The “Cinefex” article also includes a few snippets from the movie that correspond to the topics under discussion. This aspect of the text adds a nice touch to the display.
One unusual piece appears next: The Cutting Room. This area offers a number of different options, the most appealing of which is the “Scene-Editing Workshop”. Like a very similar program found on the Limited Edition of Men In Black except we get more options. No, you don’t have carte blanche to recreate the entire film, but there are quite a few different angles and takes at your fingertips. The scenes themselves remain pretty short, but the feature works fairly well. On MIB, it felt like more of a gimmick, whereas the greater breadth of choices found on Die Hard actually gave me a small appreciation of the task placed in front of editors. Also, it was fun to see the different takes; in essence, we find another grab bag of outtakes here.
Additional unused footage appears in the Multi-Camera Shooting domain. Here you can watch three different scenes, each of which offers three camera angles that were all shot simultaneously. Some introductory text explains that most movies don’t shoot the same shot with multiple cameras, but for stunts, it becomes more necessary. The different clips run for between 22 seconds and 65 seconds and are a mildly interesting component.
Audio Mixing presents a feature that has also appeared on other DVDs. It allows you to take a scene and alter the sound balance. A number of Disney animated products – such as The Emperor’s New Groove and Dinosaur - provide this kind of basic mixing board. While the editing program found here was much better than the one included with MIB, I thought the audio options on DH were less interesting than those found on the Disney DVDs. It was a very basic feature that simply let you make dialogue, music or effects “low” or “high” in volume; you aren’t even allowed to completely turn off one or more of them. It’s still neat to have it here, but it wasn’t very useful.
Why Letterbox? shows a scene from Die Hard and demonstrates how pan and scan transfers harm films. DVD supervisors David Prior and Larry Yor narrate this three minute and 20 second piece as the screen actively displays the differences between the fullscreen and widescreen presentations. This will be old news for many of us, but it’s still a valuable feature, especially since so many people new to DVD will want to give a hot title like Die Hard a whirl. It also will be of us to folks who still can’t convince friends and family that letterboxing is the way to go.
Another piece that’s aimed toward newer DVD fans appears as well. We get a nice little Glossary of film terms. The piece provides definitions of words like “pan” and “tilt” and it offers a helpful bit of insight.
Next we move to the Interactive Slide Show. Many DVDs offer photo galleries that are presented as running pieces – instead of the normal stillframe approach – and on the surface, that’s what we get here. The DVD provides nine minutes and 25 seconds of behind the scenes pictures and publicity shots, and these were a fun addition to the set.
However, what makes the package shine is the “interactive” element. A few times during the program, a little Nakatomi icon appears in the lower right corner of the screen. Click on this and you can see a variety of different extras. There are blueprints for different sets and a nice mix of outtakes. We get to see some very entertaining material here. I especially enjoyed the multiple takes of a scene between Takagi (James Shigeta) and Theo (Clarence Gilyard Jr.). This unusual presentation worked well, especially since we can use the chapter skip function to jump between extras; while you can’t quickly access the next still, you can fly to the subsequent Nakatomi easily. I thought this was a thoughtful and helpful implementation of the system.
Next we find The Script. This offered exactly what you’d expect: the full screenplay for Die Hard. It’s unusual to find this kind of text included other than as a DVD-ROM feature – where it also appears – but I was pleased to find it on the main supplements disc so that folks without DVD-ROM capabilities can give it a look.
DVD Two finishes with some Ad Campaigns. In addition to three trailers and seven TV spots, we get a featurette. Referred to as a “Video Press Pak”, this seven-minute and 20 second program largely sticks with promotional information. It includes lots of clips from the film amidst some fairly plain interview snippets and a smidgen of behind the scenes footage. Those latter aspects make the piece more interesting than I expected. It definitely doesn’t replace a true documentary, but the featurette was a mildly enjoyable little experience. Note that this isn’t exactly the same featurette that appeared on the original 1999 Die Hard DVD; while the two offer mostly the same components, the old one was a little shorter at a length of five minutes and 50 seconds.
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.
As for the DVD, it’s not one of the best I’ve ever seen, but it’s still a good package. The disc provides decent picture, good sound plus a very nice mix of extras. This “Five Star Collection” release is an absolute “must have”; it’s a great package that will make a nice addition to your DVD compilation.
Note that Die Hard is available either on its own or packaged with special editions of Die Hard 2 and Die Hard With a Vengeance. The latter box is called “Die Hard: The Ultimate Collection”. If you want to own all three movies, the boxed set may be the way to go; with a list price of $79.98, it offers a savings of almost $10 off the separate cost of the DVDs.
However, various sales may alter this equation and mean that the individual DVDs could go for less than when combined in the box. In any case, I wanted to mention the various availabilities of the three different DVDs, especially since early reports indicated that the two sequels would not go on sale individually. This is not the case, and “The Ultimate Collection” offers no extra pieces that don’t appear on the individual discs.