Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Collection (Blu-Ray) Review
Directed by: John McTiernan, Renny Harlin and Len Wiseman
Written by: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza, Doug Richardson, Jonathan Hensleigh and Mark Bomback
Bruce Willis – John McClane
Bonnie Bedelia – Holly Gennero
Reginald VelJohnson – Al Powell
Alan Rickman – Hans Gruber
Jeremy Irons – Simon Peter Gruber
Timothy Olyphant – Thomas Gabriel
William Sadler – Colonel Stuart
Samuel L. Jackson – Zeus Carver
Justin Long – Matt Farrell
Mary Elizabeth Winstead – Lucy Gennero-McClane
Alexander Godunov – Karl
Hart Bochner – Harry Ellis
William Atherton – Richard Thornburg
Paul Gleason – Deputy Dwayne Robinson
Dennis Franz – Captain Lorenzo
John Amos – Major Grant
Franco Nero – General Esperanza
Larry Bryggman – Walter Cobb
Kevin Smith – Frederick ‘Warlock’ Kaludis
Cliff Curtis -Miguel Bowman
Maggie Q – Mai Linh
Domestic Gross: $435,091,701 (combined)
Worldwide Gross: $1,130,432,180 (combined)
DVD Release Date: January 29, 2013
Running Time: 8 hours, 33 minutes (combined)
Rated R (Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Die Hard With a Vengeance)
Rated PG (Live Free or Die Hard)
The Die Hard films comprise one of the most well-known and loved film franchises among action fans. The series stands along such heavyweights as Rambo, the Bourne films, the Lethal Weapon series and a handful of others as almost universally-agreed classics in the genre. It may seem hard to believe, but the first Die Hard celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. In honor of that, and in preparation for the upcoming fifth entry A Good Day to Die Hard, Fox has released the first four films in a single Blu-Ray set so that people can pick up the collection all at once and be ready for the latest John McClane adventure.
For rating the films I’ll be breaking this down by each film in mini-reviews, and also giving an overall rating.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Die Hard changed the course of action films. There is a reason why the cliché of all action films being boiled down to “Die Hard on a _________” exists; McTiernan’s film takes a very simple concept and builds an incredibly effective story around it. Instead of the muscled-up action heroes that dominated the scene in the 1980s, the story focuses on an everyman cop, John McClane (Willis), who flies from New York to Los Angeles to meet with his estranged wife Holly (Bedelia) and their kids for Christmas. Showing up at his wife’s office party in the under-construction Nakatomi Plaza, moments of awkwardness between the two are broken up when apparent terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Rickman) take over the building but unknowingly allow McClane to slip through their fingers. With little more than his wits and a walkie-talkie to a sympathetic cop (VelJohnson) on the outside, McClane must stop Gruber and his “terrorist” group from their true goal: $640 billion in bearer bonds, which will make the hostages expendable.
The first film is pretty much the perfect action film. The script by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza is a lean, streamlined affair that doesn’t waste time on pointlessness but also doesn’t fail to show a deep, abiding respect for its characters. Everyone from McClane and Gruber to Holly, the douchey Ellis and each of the terrorists are fully-realized individuals. There are few faceless bad guys, which raises the stakes for all involved. While the script is expertly switching between the various sides of this confrontation–McClane, the terrorists and the cops and FBI outside–McTiernan does a fantastic job of sewing it all together into a cohesive whole. The director, who previously made his name with the equally-iconic Predator, knows exactly what he’s doing and he guides this film along with a sure hand, never wavering from start to finish.
Of course, it helps a lot that McTiernan assembled a brilliant cast of actors here. It may seem strange now, but Willis was actually quite the risk at the time to play an action lead as he didn’t have the tough, chiseled look of Schwarzenegger, Stallone or even Chuck Norris. Clearly that risk pays off, as Willis created an action hero for the ages. Tough and snarky, McClane is relatable because of Willis’ more down-to-earth attitude and demeanor; this is a man who is in over his head and knows it, but does it because there’s no one else to do so. Meanwhile, Rickman in his first film role knocks it out of the park as Gruber; he is intelligent, urbane and yet ruthless and flat-out evil. The interplay between Willis and Rickman clicks just right and the scene in which they meet is pure magic. The rest of the cast from Bonnie Bedelia and Reginald VelJohnson to William Atherton, Paul Gleason, Hart Bochner and more are without exception excellent, giving McTiernan all the tools he needs for one of the best action films of all-time, if not THE best.
Die Hard Rating: 9.5
Die Hard 2: Die Harder
Once Die Hard became a phenomenon, it came time for a sequel to come around. The result, Die Hard 2, saw Renny Harlin take the reins from McTiernan, using a script from de Souza and Doug Richardson that sets the action at Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. Its two years later on Christmas Eve again, and while noted drug lord and General Ramon Esperanza (Nero) is being flown in for trial on drug trafficking charges, McClane is waiting for Holly to arrive from Los Angeles. When McClane sees a couple of suspicious men in Army outfits he investigates, which leads him headlong into a plot involving former Special Forces Colonel Stuart (Sadler) who plans to rescue the General and threatens to crash planes all around Dulles if he doesn’t get his way. Working with a wise head of operations (Thompson) and a smartass airport cop (Franz), McClane sets out to stop Stuart and get Holly’s plane safely on the ground.
The smartest thing that Die Hard 2 accomplishes is acknowledging its own silliness. de Souza and Richardson’s script allows McClane to marvel at the unlikeliness of him getting in two terrorist situations on Christmas eve within three years, and there is a lot of fun to be had there. However, the film’s biggest flaw is its lack of strong villains. Sadler does a fine job of portraying Stuart, but he is not written in a particularly strong manner and part of that is the character’s tendency to kowtow to Esperanza (the fact that the first time we see him, he’s doing naked tai chi doesn’t help). The film also takes a while to get going; in trying to set the film against the then-timely topic of Noriega, the first act gets needlessly complex before plunging headlong into the action setpieces. The setting isn’t as strong as the first either; the open sprawl of an airport diffuses some of the potential tension we got from the claustrophobic first film.
That being said, the film is not a bad one, per se. Even the weakest Die Hard film still has a lot to enjoy, notably from a subplot that gives Holly something to do in the form of the slimy newscaster Thornburg being on the same plane as her. Bedelia and Atherton work very well off each other and it’s fun to see them go back and forth. Willis is still great as McClane and the rest of the supporting cast tries very ably to lift the film to something worthy of being a Die Hard sequel. Harlin’s flaws as a director are famous (see: Cutthroat Island, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Exorcist: The Beginning) but he is at least smart enough to ease back here and let the story tell itself a bit, though it wanders needlessly a couple of times. The action at least is top-notch, including a stunning plane crash that stands among the best such sequences of all time. Die Hard 2 isn’t a great film and it ranks lowest on my list of Die Hards, but it’s still enjoyable for what it is.
Die Hard 2 Rating: 6.5
Die Hard With a Vengeance
For John McClane’s third cinematic adventure John McTiernan returns behind the camera, as does the Gruber family in front of it. The third film picks up as McClane, who is once again estranged from his wife and is a borderline alcoholic, is suspended from the New York Police Department. That suspension comes to an abrupt end as an enigmatic terrorist (Irons) blows up a department store on a crowded Manhattan block and tells the police another one will blow if McClane doesn’t follow his instructions. McClane soon finds himself allied with Harlem pawn shop owner Zeus Carver (Jackson) by circumstance, running around solving riddles by the terrorist: none other than Simon Gruber, the brother of Hans from the first film. As the police race to try and find a bomb placed within a school, McClane realizes that like his brother before him, Simon has an ulterior motive and drags Zeus along as they try to put a stop to the Gruber family antics once and for all.
Where Die Hard 2 muddled its way through the first act before picking up, Vengeance has no such problem. The first thing we see is the explosion that rocks the Manhattan street and from there it kicks into high gear. The screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh rights some of the faults of the second film, with a memorable villain and a return to the “heist as terrorist ruse” format. Irons has a meaty role to rip into and he has a lot of fun with it; his Gruber is a bit more crazed than Rickman’s but you can absolutely see them as brothers. Meanwhile the interplay between Willis and Jackson is top-notch; Jackson serves as a spiritual surrogate for both Bedelia and VelJohnson’s characters in how they relate to McClane. There is a slightly jarring feeling in the first couple scenes as it lurches to assemble all the pieces but after a few moments it is smooth sailing. There are a couple brief moments where the plot sags, particularly when McClane and Zeus split up for a short while, but most of the way through is a fun thrill-ride.
With McTiernan back behind the camera, there is also an improvement in the overall feel of the film. Despite being even more sprawling of a setting than the first one, there are moments of definite claustrophobia that gives the essential Die Hard feel. McTiernan stages all the action very competently and outside of one glaringly obvious composite shot involving water and a tow truck, the visual effects hold up today. This is the film that helped return Die Hard to its roots and it stands as the second-best in the franchise so far.
Die Hard With a Vengeance Rating: 8.0
Live Free or Die Hard
After 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance, the John McClane saga stayed dormant for years on the big screen. The planned fourth was one of many action films that stalled out in the face of 9/11, and it would be another five and a half years before Die Hard would return to theaters. When it finally did, the result was Live Free or Die Hard. Live Free sees McClane still with the NYPD, though his noted reluctance to get with modern times means that many on the force consider him a bit of a relic. McClane is sent to retrieve a hacker, Matt Farrell (Long) and bring him to Washington, D.C. for protective custody. The cop soon finds himself saving Matt from would-be assassins who are out to kill the kid in order to cover up the security code he wrote for them. It isn’t long before McClane and Farrell are forced to work together on behalf of the FBI to stop former DOD analyst Thomas Gabriel (Olyphant) and his team, headed by the deadly Mai Linh (Maggie Q), from holding the US’s digital systems hostage. When Gabriel kidnaps McClane’s daughter Lucy (Winstead), the stakes again become personal for John.
There was a lot of question at the time of its release whether the Die Hard franchise was relevant in the post-9/11 era. Willis was in his early fifties at the time of Live Free’s release which is past the age when many actions have reached their peak. Mark Bomback’s script smartly acknowledges that McClane is part of an earlier time without treating the character as a joke; the character doesn’t know a megabyte from a dog bite but he’s still able to kick ass. That knowledge gap allows the sidekick role to be relevant and not just tacked on. Matt Farrell is in a lot of ways the kind of annoying hacker type that you expect to see in films, but he’s more than just a snarky techno-elitist, and as circumstances unfold he has a chance to do more than spout exposition. Much like Vengeance, Live Free succeeds in large part because Long and Willis are able to conjure up some solid chemistry in their dynamic and work off each other nicely.
Some criticism has been leveled at the villain of this film in Thomas Gabriel, and it is true that he is not as strong as the Grubers. However, that is a tall order and Gabriel works just fine in this case for what the script demands. He is a counterpart to McClane and while he doesn’t have the brawn of Stuart or the charm of the Grubers, he does have the ruthlessness and the intellect that he needs to be a threat; Maggie Q is memorable as Mai Linh and provides the ass-kicking villain that Gabriel needs. Winstead turns in a great performance as Lucy–who is a chip off her old man’s block–and the FBI guys are fine, if not as fleshed out as they could be. Len Wiseman is behind the camera for this one and he shows how good of an action director he is here; the action scenes are very well-done and while they are outlandish, it’s eye-winkingly so in a way that disarms the goofiness somewhat (“You just killed a helicopter with a car!”). Above all, Live Free showed that there was still a place in the action world for John McClane and while it’s not perfect–the decision to go PG-13 notably takes some of the bite out, for example–it is a very enjoyable ride.
Live Free or Die Hard Rating: 7.5
Overall Film Rating: 8.0
The video transfers for the Die Hard collection are all direct ports from previous releases, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. The transfers for the first two films are not perfect, but they are miles ahead of the DVD video quality and give well-defined images with just the right amount of grain. Colors are just a touch muted on those first two but blacks are well-defined. Die Hard With a Vengeance is a big leap forward from the DVD release, with the overly sharpened picture thankfully gone. The best of them is, unsurprisingly, the latest as Live Free or Die Hard looks almost flawless. Every detail is rendered, all colors pop appropriately, flesh tones look good and there is no digital artificing to be seen. All in all these are very good-to-great transfers.
Overall Video Rating: 8.0
The audio tracks for the Die Hard collection are, like the video transfers, the same as previous Blu-Ray releases which is again a good thing. The latter two films in particular boast robust, dense tracks that make great use of multiple channels, while Die Hard’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio appropriately pops at the right moments. The Die Hard 2 track is probably the least impressive due to some artificiality in the channel use but even it is nicely put-together; all four films are well-balanced between ambient sounds, score and dialogue. All the films have audio tracks in other languages as well, along with subtitles in several varieties.
Overall Audio Rating: 8.5
The packaging for the Die Hard collection looks phenomenal. Presented in a book format, the outer slip cover features a Bruce Willis’ face circa Live Free or Die Hard on one side and the bottom of a bullet imprinted with the initials of the titles on the other. The DVDs all feature a stylish black-theme featuring the title of the film; menus are simple and intuitive to move through. This is a set that looks fantastic in a collection and like many “book” Blu-Ray collections saves space as opposed to having four individual cases.
Packaging Rating: 9.0
Between the four films and the bonus feature discs (and not including the commentaries), there are about eight hours of special features here. That’s a very impressive amount of bonus material, though admittedly mitigated somewhat when you consider that much of it is a port over from the previous Blu-Ray releases. That’s not at all a bad thing though, especially for those who don’t have the complete sets but don’t want to lose the features that they have by upgrading.
• Commentary by Director John McTiernan and Production Designer Jackson DeGovia: A solidly informative commentary track, with McTiernan and DeGovia recorded separately and edited together. McTiernan is more anecdotal while De Govia is more about what’s on the screen at any given moment.
• Scene Specific Commentary by VFX supervisor Richard Edlund: This track doesn’t cover the whole of the film; rather it hits individual scenes (with an index that can take you to each) where Edlund goes into great technical detail about the effects of the film.
• The Newscasts: (7:59) The news footage that you see throughout the film reacting to the Nakatomi situation is all right here, including a solid amount that didn’t make it into the film (justifiably so).
• Interactive Still Gallery: (9:27) This is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of images from the film, put all together in a slideshow.
• Trailers and TV Spots: (4:46) There are three trailers and four TV spots for the film; these are always fun to watch and see how the promotion and marketing of films have changed throughout the years.
Die Hard 2
• Commentary by Director Renny Harlin: Harlin’s commentary isn’t quite as informative as the first film’s is, but he is a very easy listen. He is very much at ease as he talks about the project, working with Willis and more. I wanted more technical details, but it wasn’t a bad track.
• Deleted Scenes: (8:15) This consists of four scenes, either cut completely or extended somewhat. There isn’t much question as to why they were cut out, as they don’t add much to the film.
• HBO First Look: (23:08) This behind-the-scenes featurette has Harlin, Willis, Sadler, Franz, production designer John Vallone and more discussing the making of the film; included is a look at the visual effects work in the movie, how they managed to recreate Washington, D.C. from several different locations and more.
• Featurette: (4:07) This short EPK clip contains a lot of the same bits from the HBO First Look, with the addition of comments from John Amos. It’s skippable, but short if you don’t want to.
• The Bad Guys: (6:39) This is exactly what it sounds like from the title, focusing on Colonel Stuart and his crew as well as General Esperanza. The actors portraying them speak, as does Willis.
• Breaking the Ice: (4:10) This short featurette covers the snowmobile chase scene, including the staging of the action and the shooting process.
• Chaos on the Conveyor Belt: (7:53) Harlin and stunt coordinator Charlie Picerni give some details on blocking out and then filming the complicated baggage era fight between Willis and two goons early in the film.
• The Interview with Renny Harlin: (6:44) This is oddly kind of misnamed; it does have an interview with Harlin but also includes comments from William Saddler as well about the film.
• Visual Effects Breakdown: (8:15) This shows the storyboarding, filming and compositing of three scenes: the ejector seat, the airport runway and the annex sequence.
• Side By Side Comparisons: (6:16) Similar to the VFX breakdown, this shows the making-of process right alongside the final product for the helicopter scene, the airplane models and the wing fight.
• Trailers and TV Spots: (6:17) There are four trailers and two TV spots for this, including the famous one with McClane (that appears in different form in the film) proclaiming “How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?”
• Fox on Blu-ray: (7:48) You have a trailer each for Die Hard, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, Live Free or Die Hard and Alien vs. Predator here.
Die Hard With a Vengeance
• Commentary by Director John McTiernan, Writer Jonathan Hensleigh, and Tom Sherak: McTiernan is back for another edited-together track though Hensleigh does a lot of the talking here, discussing the development of the script out of a non-Die Hard film named Simon Says (the Die Hard films have all famously been adapted from non-Die Hard sources). McTiernan adds the requisite production anecdotes for a decently informative track.
• Alternate Ending: (6:03) This ending is quite different from the theatrical ending. While I like that they explored a different possibility, this goes a wee bit against the grain of what McClane would likely do and was wisely left behind for the one we know.
• Reginald VelJohnson hosts HBO First Look: (21:46) Like most HBO behind-the-scenes features, this is a largely promotional piece as opposed to informative; that’s kind of the point of them. That’s not to say it’s not worth seeing through, as it includes interviews with cast and crew, and VelJohnson is always a welcome presence even in an electronic press kit featurette.
• CBS: A Night to Die For: (21:36) This is hosted by Jackson and is a celebration of the franchise as a whole; it also served as a promotional piece for the film in 1995. This not only has sound bites from the cast, but also from celebrities and public officials like Rudolph Giuliani and Ice-T.
• Featurette: (4:20) This EPK piece covers a lot of the same stuff (and same sound bites) as the HBO First Look.
• Bruce Willis Interview: (6:22) Willis talks about how he approaches playing McClane here; it is intercut with comments from McTiernan and Jackson.
• Villains with a Vengeance: (4:25) This predictably focuses primarily on Jeremy Irons’ Simon, which isn’t a bad thing as I could listen to Irons talk about acting for hours.
• Storyboard Sequence: (2:20) This “from page to final product” bit takes a look at the chase scene in the aqueduct.
• Visual Effects Breakdown: (27:10) These are similar to the VFX breakdowns on Die Hard 2 and cover the bombing at the start of the film, the race through Central Park and the explosion in the subway.
• Side By Side Comparisons: (4:03) This is again similar to the side-by-sides on the previous disc and cover six short moments, from the crawl across the cables to McClane shooting into the air after the aqueduct.
• Trailers and TV Spots: (9:07) There are two trailers and ten TV spots for this one.
• Fox on Blu-ray: (6:25) Just like the last disc you have trailers for Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Live Free or Die Hard and Alien vs. Predator.
Live Free or Die Hard
• Commentary by Bruce Willis, director Len Wiseman and editor Nicholas De Toth: This is perhaps my favorite commentary track, mostly because it isn’t edited together. Willis, Wiseman and De Toth take a while to get rolling but once they do it’s a great listen with a lot of anecdotes and information.
• Black Hat Intercept Game: A remote-driven game where you have to make it through a facility beating bad guys before they unleash a virus. It’s a fun little waste of time and has footage filmed by Smith as the Warlock to introduce it.
• Analog Hero in a Digital World: The Making of Live Free or Die Hard: (1:37:15) Obviously, this is the most extensive featurette in the set and is basically a full documentary about the creation of the film. This goes very in-depth and includes interviews, VFX breakdowns and more. Completely worth seeing.
• Yippee Ki Yay, Motherf*****: (22:40) This has Kevin Smith interviewing Willis about his thoughts regarding the franchise, his memories and why they made a fourth one. Willis is surprisingly candid; this is another one well-worth seeing.
• Die Hard by Guyz Nite: (4:31) Guyz Nite, a small band from New York, put the prototype for video together before the fourth one was made and nearly got sued by Fox. Instead the company changed their mind and used it as marketing, allowing them to edit in scenes and add a verse for the fourth film. This is the video.
• Behind the scenes with Guyz Nite: (5:48) This behind-the-scenes clip has the band discussing their making-of process for the video.
• Theatrical Trailer: (2:14) Pretty self-explanatory here; it’s the main trailer for the film.
• FOX on Blu-ray: (6:45) This has the trailers for Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Die Hard With a Vengeance and The Siege.
• FOX MOVIE CHANNEL presents FOX LEGACY: (6:19) Fox executive Tom Rothman talks about the legacy of John McClane in this piece produced for the Fox Movie Channel.
• Origins – Reinventing the Action Genre: (19:35) This includes interviews with Joel Silver, Jeb Stuart, McTiernan and more discussing the first film’s origins and how it almost became a sequel for Frank Sinatra, followed as discussions with Harlin, Wiseman and more about the sequels. Like most of the new features it is a must-see.
• John McClane – Modern Day Hero: (16:29) This piece focuses entirely on McClane and how he changed the template of what an action hero could be. Kevin Smith and Alan Rickman pop in for a few words, along with all the directors and writers.
• Villains – Bad to the Bone: (20:41) This was my absolute favorite of the new featurettes and includes comments from Rickman, Sadler and Irons about their iconic characters, with reflections Wiseman about the development of Thomas Gabriel for the fourth film.
• Sidekicks – Along for the Ride: (19:09) McClane’s many allies get their due here, from VelJohnson’s Al Powell all the way through Justin Long’s Matt Farrell. Along the way we also cover Ellis, Argyle, Zeus, the Warlock and others, with the various cast members chiming in (with the exception of Jackson).
• Fight Sequences – Punishing Blows: (7:29) This takes a look at the many fight sequences in the film including McClane vs. Karl in the first, the wing battle in the second, the fight with Mai in Live Free and so on with comments from stunt coordinators Charles Picerni and Brad Martin.
• Action – Explosive Effects: (14:37) This covers all the most famous effects sequences from Hans’ big plunge to the ejector seat in the second, the aqueduct in the third and the flipping cars in the tunnel for Live Free.
• The Legacy – The Right Hero for the Time: (8:55) People involved with each of the four films reflect on the significance of the Die Hard franchise here and talk about their experiences being part of the John McClane legacy.
• Trailers: (8:40) Just in case you wanted all the trailers in one spot, this has one for each of the films including the forthcoming A Good Day to Die Hard.
Special Features Rating: 8.0
The 411: The Die Hard franchise is one of the more influential series of films on the way action movies are made and viewed today. Bruce Willis' John McClane is one of the all-time great action heroes and though not all the films measure up to the quality of the first, they are all good or at least enjoyable in their own right. Fox's twenty-fifth anniversary collection is a great opportunity to pick up the franchise on Blu-Ray ahead of A Good Day to Die Hard which opens this month, and the new disc of bonus features don't hurt. Those who already have all the films on Blu-Ray may not need this, but for anyone else with even a passing interest in action films, this is a great buy.
|Final Score: 8.5 [ Very Good ] legend|