Despite its lame title, I’ve been excited about seeing Live Free or Die Hard since it was announced. The Bruce Willis franchise has been a favourite of mine for a long time, thanks to the original Die Hard which stands as one of the greatest action films of all time.
Willis reveals in the commentary that he and director Len Wiseman (Underworld) set out to make a Die Hard movie that surpasses the middle two in the series and is as good as the first. While Willis apparently feels they succeeded, I beg to differ. Live Free or Die Hard is certainly a good action flick, but nothing can ever surpass Die Hard in my book. Opinions of the film aside, this DVD set is sure to satisfy John McClane fans of any stripe.
12 years after Die Hard: With a Vengeance, hero NYPD cop John McClane (Willis) is still his same-old, badass self. When the FBI calls in a favor to local law enforcement to help them round up some high-profile hackers after some major computer mischief, McClane is sent to pick up Matthew Farrell (Justin Long, Accepted). Farrell seems to be inadvertently involved with the bad guys causing trouble for the feds, and not long after McClane arrives, some of those baddies show up to take Farrell out. Lucky for him, Mr. Yippee-kai-ay is on the job.
Having escaped immediate danger, McClane drives Farrell all the way to D.C. to turn him in directly to FBI Deputy Director Bowman (Cliff Curtis, Fracture). By the time they arrive, all hell is breaking loose. It seems the big bad guys behind the hack attack are holding a “fire sale,” hacker slang for a systematic shut-down of all government services controlled by computers, which is pretty much everything. With law enforcement crippled by the resulting chaos, it becomes clear that it’s up to McClane and his newfound hacker buddy to find the evil mastermind at work and take him out, but they’ll have to survive a slew of henchmen first.
Not a bad plot, right? It’s definitely Die Hard, with McClane stumbling into a terrorist plot and having to take matters into his own hands. And the action is pretty great — definitely on par with anything else the franchise has thrown at us over the years. The big weakness lies with the geographical and political scope of the plot. The original Die Hard was perfect because it was contained within one office tower, which in turn made it reasonable for McClane to be on his own against a band of terrorists. This time, every federal agency could be involved, but they’re apparently too dumb to adapt to the fire sale. That’s just not a reasonable justification for McClane’s one-man crusade, or two-man, in this case. Thankfully, the film is so action-packed that viewers are allowed very little time to dwell on any plot issues — they’re much too busy keeping up with McClane.
And that’s what makes Live Free or Die Hard work. The action never stops for more than a quick breather, and it’s mostly not a bunch of ridiculous, CGI-heavy stuff. Plenty of what you see McClane getting up to are old-school sequences that stunt and special effects teams made happen on set, which gives it all much more impact on-screen. Oh yeah, and there’s a great “yippee-ki-yay” finish. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for anyone.
As for this “unrated” edition, I’m not in the best position to comment, as I never saw the film in theatres. I’m glad, actually, because I can’t see a Die Hard movie really being good with a PG-13 rating. Can they even put the right emphasis on McClane’s catch phrase in a PG-13 movie? And how would the high body count work with very little blood? All I can say is this unrated edition does it right.
So Live Free or Die Hard is a solid action flick. While it’s no rival to the original, it is a worthy addition to the franchise, and definitely proof that Bruce Willis is still the man.
This review is based on a screener copy of the DVD set, not the actual retail version. As such, results for video and audio quality may vary.
Live Free or Die Hard (Unrated 2-Disc Special Edition) presents the film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen format. I’d like to say it looks good and gritty, but sadly this is a case of the screener copy provided by Fox suffering from major compression issues. Every explosion and every rapid-motion sequence is marred by pixilation that seriously distracts from the film. Here’s hoping the retail version turns out better.
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and thankfully does not seem to be plagued with issues like the transfer. Live Free or Die Hard is definitely the biggest and loudest of the series, so get ready for a rockin’ good time with your home theatre system. Heavy bass lends oomph to explosions and impacts of all sorts, while the surround channels provide plenty of directional effect. Amid the glorious action, dialogue is always clear through the centre, and the score is nicely balanced to ratchet up the suspense in key moments. All around, this is a solid audio presentation.
Live Free or Die Hard (2-Disc Special Edition) offers up a respectable collection of bonus material, centred around a feature-length making-of documentary. Here’s the breakdown:
- Audio Commentary: by director Len Wiseman, Bruce Willis and editor Nicolas De Toth, this is a highly informative track. Fans will be especially pleased with the frank perspectives offered by Wiseman and Willis, which is pretty refreshing for a franchise’s fourth installment.
- Analog Hero in a Digital World — The Making of Live Free or Die Hard: this feature-length documentary covers pretty much every aspect of the film’s production, from early development on through to final release. It’s thorough, highly interesting and a must-watch for Die Hard fans.
- Yippie Ki Yay Motherf*@ker!: the most unexpected and pleasing of the special features, this 20-minute interview between Kevin Smith and Bruce Willis is fantastic all-around. The core of this piece is Willis’ attitude toward and perspective on the entire Die Hard franchise.
- Music Video: Guyz Nite – “Die Hard”: I don’t know whether this is a spoof or not, but either way it’s pretty awesome. A generic-sounding, pop-punk song about the Die Hard movies — genius!
- Behind the Scenes with Guyz Nite: a 5-minute interview with the band. My gut says it’s all a joke, but it’s funny either way. The video is better than the interview, though.
- Fox Legacy: a 5-minute puff-piece monologue about the Die Hard series, by a Fox honcho.
- Trailers: the film’s theatrical trailer, plus a slew of trailers for other Fox films.
I enjoyed Live Free or Die Hard at least as much as the middle two movies in the series, but not as much as the original. The DVD is one of the best of the franchise thus far, though, with some truly insightful bonus material. Let’s just hope the retail version has better video, because my screener disc was atrocious.