Die Hard, 20th Century Fox
Directed by: John McTiernan
Screenplay: Jeb Stuart and Steven E. DeSouza, based on the novel "Nothing Lasts Forever" by Roderick Thorp
Starring: Bruce Willis as John McClane, Bonnie Bedelia as Holly McClane/Gennero, Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, Reginald VelJohnson as Sergeant Al Powell
I'm adding my own writeup here, as I don't feel the ones that used to be above do justice to McTiernan's masterwork. They were removed, which is why I've reworded this bit slightly, but this statement still stands: There aren't actually lots of explosions - this is a fairly small scale movie, limited to a few floors of a building. The fact that it pulls off the excitement so well without big dollops of special effects is great - there are only about 3 big explosions, the rest of the fx work is limited to gunfire and punching. This is only part of its genius.
Die Hard is one the greatest action movies of all time, if not the greatest - and yes, I'm including The Matrix (love the movie, but Die Hard still beats it, effortlessly). It has spawned many feeble imitations - Under Siege, Under Siege 2, Air Force One, not to mention the really bad ones - but still we forgive it. The amazing thing is that it was made for $40 million, which was considered incredibly expensive at the time - these days, that would barely cover Arnie's cigar bill.
The exquisite, Swiss clock of a plot is simple: John McClane, a New York cop, goes to "fuckin California" to try to patch things up with his wife. Her company is hosting a Christmas party on the 30th floor of Nakatomi Plaza, a huge skyscraper that's just asking to be blown up. While John is in the bathroom, washing up, machine-gun wielding terrorists burst in and take the place hostage. McClane manages to duck into a stairwell, and then has to figure out what to do. All he has is his handgun - oh, and he's barefoot. And that's basically it. The movie follows McClane's attempts to whack the bad guys one by one, guerilla style. It is pure, lean, streamlined entertainment, and I won't hear a word said against it.
It annoys me when people think of it as a dumb action movie. It is clever and, within reason, realistic. Obviously this sort of situation doesn't happen every day, that's not what I mean. What it does is to provide the setup, the unrealistic or exaggerated premise, but then it treats McClane's efforts to deal with the situation realistically. When the terrorists first arrive, he does exactly what anyone would do - he hides. Rambo would have waded in holding two bazookas with infinite ammo, blam blam, the end. But McClane is scared shitless, we see him freaking out, trying to make himself think and calm down. Sure, the central idea probably wouldn't happen, but you forget that when you see McClane's actions; he isn't a stupid movie character, and the things he does are not to look cool, but to stay in one piece and try to keep the hostages alive - it's a clever trick, and keeps the movie from being totally overblown. The tension is wound up, McClane gets more desperate and freaked, so by the time things get really crazy, you accept it as being perfectly reasonable. Sure, it's silly to think someone would leap off a 40 storey building with a fire hose wrapped around them, but if you're being chased across the roof by Eurotrash terrorists and a helicopter gunship, you probably don't have many options. I could go on about this all day, but I won't.
The plotting is meticulous, razor-sharp, and fast. It's a defining moment in action movie history, and is the standard by which I judge all movies involving explosions, guns and car chases. Bruce Willis is believable, scared, funny, and human. Alan Rickman is cultured, elegant, and terrifying. The characters are sympathetic, making you really hope they pull through. Except Ellis. He's a twat. The twists and turns are always surprising, the action scenes flawless, the dialogue crisp and endlessly quotable. The music, by Michael Kamen, set a new standard in action movies for proper, orchestral scores, instead of the usual guitar and/or synth-laden power chords and lame Stones covers.
This is one of the few movies I can watch over and over and over. It has plenty of great "yelling at the screen" moments - "Bill Clay", the stupid emergency dispatcher, the fire trucks turning away, the bit when you think Al the cop is just going to drive off. And if you can't laugh at the "Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho." scene, then you, my friend, are made of stone.
Regarding the DVD info below - there is actually a new Region 1 version available, which has a commentary from the director and the production designer, another commentary by the Special Effects Supervisor Richard Edlund, articles, deleted scenes, a gag reel, the entire screenplay, and a special editing bit where you can edit one of the action sequences using all the original footage from all cameras - fucking cool! Buy this. Buy it now. For UK viewers, go to www.playusa.com to get region 1 discs, they're priced in UK pounds, and you'll get them within 3 to 4 days. They also have the 2 sequels with loads of extras available too. Stop Press! Super sexy extras-packed DVD now available in Region 2! Yes, us Europeans can now get our own region coded version, with all the extras of the R1 version. They're sold separately, or as a box set with Die Hard and Die Hard 2 (special edition of Die Hard 3 out in March 2002). Reason enough to buy a DVD player.
It saddens me that more people don't regard this as a classic. Aliens is widely held to be a classic movie, so is Terminator 2 - why not Die Hard? It was just as influential in its own way. If you're not already a convert, check it out one more time. I bet you've forgotten how cool it is. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker...
Thanks to my favourite waitress below, I thought I'd add my favourite quotes from the movie, seeing as she kindly sent me hers. So here they are:
Hans Gruber: "I wanted this to be professional. Efficient, adroit, cooperative, not a lot to ask. Alas, your Mr. Takagi did not see it that way, so he won't be joining us for the rest of his life."
McClane (as he prepares to blow the fuck out of part of the building with some C4 and a chair): "Take this under advisement, jerkweed!"
Not so much a quote this one, more an ad lib - as McClane is beating the shit out of the big blonde baddie towards the end, he grunts something that sounds like "I'm gonna kill ya... I'm gonna cook ya... then I'm gonna eat ya!" I can't find it in any versions of the screenplay, so I'm assuming that Brucie came up with it in the heat of the moment.
As Hans looks at the dead terrorist in the lift, he reads the words on his shirt with disdain and disbelief: "Now I have a machine gun... Ho... Ho... Ho..."
And finally, ConfusionTheWaitress' favourite quote (and probably the best one of all):
Holly Gennero McClane: After all your posturing, all your speeches, you're nothing but a common thief.
Hans Gruber: I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.