I’ve gotta say that when the first Die Hard was released, I was in a position where I hated, absolutely despised Bruce Willis. In my opinion, the world honestly didn’t need another loudmouthed movie star who was from New Jersey and didn’t hesitate to say so, and that whole schtick about him and the Bruno persona would allow him to release music albums reeking of self-promotion and another money grab. And when he hooked up with Demi Moore, my initial reaction was “good, they’ll have mongoloid…babies and divorce after a couple years”. And since 1985 or so, there’s only one part of my opinion that held true for the most part.
Everyone saw Die Hard and loved it, and once I saw it on video for the first time, I had to eat crow. It really was a great action film that managed to tell a decent story at the same time, and the film was set in a way that hadn’t been done before. It was the story, the direction and yes, the performances and action that set it apart from almost everything else in that era. For the few of you who haven’t seen it yet, Willis plays John McClane, a New York policeman out in Los Angeles to see his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia, Presumed Innocent) and kids. But at Holly’s Christmas Party at her office, things take a turn when some terrorists come in and take over the building. John manages to elude capture and starts to pick off the terrorists one by one. The action builds up to a crescendo, which includes a death-defying act by John, and a poetic coup de grace for the main terrorist Hans (Alan Rickman of Harry Potter lore). Director John McTiernan (Predator) uses the screenplay by Jeb Stuart (Leviathan) to great effect, and the result was arguably one of the best action films around.
In the sequel, McClane is in Washington, DC, where Holly’s family is, and yes, again this is Christmastime, but this time it’s in an airport (Dulles to be exact, a scant jog from my estate), and aside from the holiday rush, things get to be more harried by the fact a dictator from a Central American country is extradited to America, kind of like the Noriega situation, and a hardline American Colonel named Stuart (William Sadler, The Green Mile) works to free him, and holds the Dulles air traffic hostage in the process. While I remember the uproar that the Dulles people had over their airport and security being portrayed as incompetent (and quite frankly, there are no loudmouth cops named Dennis Franz (NYPD Blue) around the parking or the gates), the film was set in Denver, as proved by a continuity error in the film (go spot it if you’d like), the film clearly is a redheaded stepchild of its own parents. Holly and Powell (Reginald VelJohnson, Family Matters) are in the film for the bare minimum of scenes, and even the McClanes’ thorn, er, Thornburg, reporter Richard Thornburg (William Atherton, Real Genius) is in the film, and these cameos don’t really do anything, aside from “hey, these folks are back!” Otherwise, the film’s action comes off as a bit of a letdown, but where the third act in the first film had some edge of your seat action to it, this third act doesn’t cut the proverbial mustard. The film is quite forgettable, either due to the story or to Renny Harlin’s directing, but when your last remotely good film is Cliffhanger, something might be wrong. But I do remember the severely dubbed way that McClane’s catchphrase is delivered. “Yippie-kai-yay, Mister Falcon!” has stayed with me longer than the movie has.
In the third film, the supporting cast has mostly been jettisoned, however McTiernan returns, and Willis’ sidekick in the film is now Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction), who helps McClane with a challenge in Harlem. The challenges to McClane are posed by a mysterious foreigner named Simon (Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune), who as the film shows, is Hans’ brother, and is partially avenging his death but his motives aren’t made clear for awhile, he’s more interested in blowing up large chunks of New York City if McClane doesn’t do what he’s supposed to. And while many action films copped the original formula from the first film, the third knows that it might be a parody of itself, and takes the action and the comedy in stride, like the other two did. The difference as opposed to other films is that McTiernan lets the chemistry between Willis and Jackson develop, and it’s the main component of the film. Die Hard with a Vengeance (as it was called) wasn’t original by any stretch of imagination, but it was a fun ride which delivered, and sometimes those are a lot better for you. And hot on the heels of the fourth Die Hard, Fox has trimmed the extras from the Ultimate Collection and re-released the trilogy of films on DVD, with a tie-in to the fourth.
Each film appears in its 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, preserving its original aspect ratio. The films have been released several times on DVD already, and these discs are presumed carbon copy transfers from their Ultimate Editions. For their time they were excellent and still are, to some extent, David Prior did the work on the Ultimate Editions, and his work as a DVD producer (for Fight Club and other David Fincher films) speaks for itself.
And just like the video, the audio of all three films is held over here too, with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks leading the way. I’ve always liked the DTS soundtrack of the first one in how enveloping it sounds, and the others are good as well as technology has improved. Perhaps I’m getting spoiled on next-gen audio or something, I’m just not crowing about these like I thought I would.
This is the part that’s bugged me, the gang of Fox had a great set as it was with each film being a two-disc set loaded to the gills with extras. The second disc of each title has been sheared off, the extras on the first disc (with the movie) remains, and a fourth disc with some new features is in its place. I don’t know why it was done (well, I do, like you do also), but the second discs had perfectly capable extra material on them, so go figure. On Die Hard, a commentary with McTiernan is retained, and while it provides a bounty of information on the film, the guy delivers the material in a painstakingly dry manner. He also provides a commentary with Vengeance that’s in the same manner. But back to the first one, which includes a second commentary with Special Effects Supervisor Richard Edlund that covers the production a little more, and a third commentary is actually a subtitled track with several different people, as they recall their thoughts on text. There’s also a branching version of the film with the power shutdown sequence incorporated in longer detail to boot. Disc Two’s commentary with Harlin is much more active, but he doesn’t offer that much wisdom into the production overall. In a major disappointment, that’s the only extra on this disc, with McTiernan’s commentary being the only extra on the third. The fourth (or “bonus” disc, if you will) includes a couple of new looks at the franchise and its main character, with oodles of interview footage. And hey, imagine that, there are some trailers for the fourth film, and a ticket to go see it!
The video is the same as the last versions, and so is the audio, and the new extras aren’t really worth paying for, unless you want to get a free ticket to the movie, and by then the set costs more than the ticket does, so get your own ticket. Between this and the other Ultimate Collection (which I’ve got), I’ll recommend that Ultimate Collection every day and twice on Sundays. If you don’t have all the movies and the extras aren’t a loss for you, then the other price point might work.
Special Features List
- Director Commentaries on Each Film
- Special Effects Commentary
- Subtitled Commentary
- Making of Featurette