Has anyone not seen the ultimate action film? Okay, for those of you living in a fallout shelter since 1962, this film is a must once you crawl out from below ground, smelling of Spam and sporting a Brylcream hairdo.
Anyways, the film, based of a novel called "Nobody Lasts Forever" (Sequel to the novel "The Detective", which was turned into a film in 1968 starring Frank Sinatra) where a detective visits his daughter for Christmas and terrorists take over a skyscraper forcing John Leland to take matters into his own hands. When Sinatra refused to return for a sequel, the writers spun the script in a different direction (First as a sequel to Commando, then as the film we know and love today), made a name change from Leland to McClane and made his daughter his wife and you have the makings of a classic.
So, McClane (Bruce Willis, in a star-making performance) is flying to L.A., mistakenly invited to his estranged wife's ,Holly (Bonnie Bedilia), Christmas party, hoping to possibly patch up their marriage and spend Christmas together as a family. Unfortunately, terrorists led by Hans Gruber (The late, great Alan Rickman) ruin the party and McClane is the only one to escape capture.
With his wife, and shoes, left hostage, McClane must use his will and wits to survive multiple gunfights, elevator shafts and broken glass to save his wife and the hostages.
Before Die Hard, there were very few action films to actually excite, entertain and stand up to modern day scrutiny (I can say Some of the Bond films, Indiana Jones and Lethal Weapon just to name a few) without aging as much as a day. Sure the visual F/X, sound design, cinematography and editing can give away the age without taking away the charm, but Die Hard set the mold that is still used to this day and seemingly unlikely to be broken any time soon.
Bruce Willis' performance is terrific, showing range beyond what he has done previously (Moonlighting did give us the Willis smirk and smarm that he expels here, while Blind Date showed us his comedic chops) and gives us a hero that didn't as to be one. He isn't Rambo or John Matrix from Commando, being a 'roided out, emotionless robot that cannot be hurt, regardless of torture, bullet wounds and even jumping from a plane into a swamp without a parachute. McClane is a man who is a tough guy, but is scared, not knowing if he will make it out alive, and extremely vulnerable. Wow isn't enough a word to describe him or his performance.
Of course every great hero must have a great villain and look no further than Rickman's Hans Gruber. Smart, well-dressed, well-funded and dangerous, this is equally his show, as it is McClane's. I love how he is a natural leader supposedly on top, but I love how he is increasingly irritated by McClane's doings, seemingly losing his "kingdom" so to speak.
Bedilia does very well as Holly McClane, posing a strength that most movies wouldn't even dare give their leads, and is more than a damsel in distress and can stand her own ground. Every other performance is excellent and memorable with no overacting or poor line readings at all.
The direction is extremely self-assured, with John McTiernan delivering the goods with a great grasp of the material, not afraid of having fun amidst the seriousness of terrorism, but able to quickly and ably turn to more darker material with ease, and with some style to boot (Look at all the iconic imagery throughout!).
The screenplay is its own animal, sticking fairly closely to the source material, while changing details here and there without sacrificing the sanctity of the original novel and being its own story. The cinematography is gorgeous in its own way (The 2.35 scoping by Jan de Bont is amazing with all the lens flares that would make J.J. Abrams cry), the editing sharp as a tack, with legendarily good sound and a pitch perfect score by the late Michael Kamen being the cherry on the best action film sundae ever concocted. Heck, even could be considered one of the best films. Period.
Moving on to the disc itself, we shall start with the PQ. Being a classic film, you'd figure we'd have multiple re-releases, sporting either new extras, 4k re-masterings or even a 3D conversion (Please no, Hollywood!) but this film is surprisingly not been released that often. Coming from the 5-star DVD set from Fox, the image is better than the DVD, but you can tell they didn't do much when it was released the first time around in 2007. Although this would be a nice release in 2007, but having paseed the 20th and 25th anniversary marks, you'd figure Fox would pony up some cash to remaster one of their perennial best sellers in 4k with a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X surround remix. Still, its a very adequate image, just don't expect anything to show off your hi-def TV.
The sound on the other hand is still pretty awesome, with the DTS-HD 5.1 track offering a nice and loud playback though yet again could use a nice remix to up the bass response and maybe make it flow a bit more.
The extras are mostly recycled from the DVD, but not all. Starting up is are two commentaries: one full length (John McTiernan and Production Designer Jackson DeGovia leading a fairly quiet yet insightful track), one scene-specific (Visual F/X Supervisor Richard Edlund talking about his creation of the effects and explosions in nice detail). The Newscasts is an 8 minute feature show the newscasts from the film along with some outtakes. Nest up is a nice array of stills with a few interactive logos that lead to more outtakes, designs and et cetera. Finishing off the disc are a series of trailers and TV spots that make it seem like Lethal Weapon than Die Hard.
Missing from the 2-disc DVD is the extended version, a text commentary track, deleted scenes, 2 magazine articles, an editing feature and more, so hold on to your 6-disc trilogy box set fan boys and girls!
All in all, its a must have for your collection, though with the upcoming 30th (!) anniversary and the advent of 4k BluRay's, I can also say maybe hold out unless this is extremely cheap and you must have it on your shelf.