Die Hard, 20th Century Fox, 1988

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.

It's almost a rule that any video game based on a movie, television show, or licensed property is not going to be one of the top games of all time. Witness the horrors that are Ghostbusters 2 for the NES, Terminator 2: Judgment Day for the Super NES, and 99% of the games based on The Simpsons, for example. On the other hand, there is the rare occassion a game manages to capture the spirit of the source material; Activision's 1990 release Die Hard for the Nintendo Entertainment System is such a game. Sure, it won't win any awards for stellar graphics or memorable music, but the game does stick close to the storyline from the film: You are cast as John McClane, a New York police officer, a man who has the unfortunate luck of being trapped in an uptown office building with forty terrorists and a number of hostages. The goal of the game is to kill all the terrorists before they can break through the six locks protecting the building's safe. While this seems like standard fare at first glance, the designers saw fit to integrate key aspects of the film into the game including eavesdropping on the terrorists via radio, dodging weapons fire while inside air conditioner ducts, and the intriguing Foot meter.

Die Hard is presented in a top-down isometric viewpoint similar to that of The Legend of Zelda. Unlike the characters and creatures of Hyrule, however, John McClane and his enemies are rather nondescript generic characters. They're all faceless men; McClane is dressed in white while the terrorists wear blue or green. McClane himself has a few weapons in his arsenal including his bare fists, a pistol, and a machine gun. Handy bricks of C4 allow for some powerful explosions that can blow open doors and take out groups of terrorists in one blow. Our hero begins the game with just a radio and must take out the bad guys in order to get equipped. Other items that are worth picking up are the terrorists' detonators, a key to the roof, a map of the fourth floor of the Nakatomi Plaza, soda cans (for a health boost), and first aid kits (for a Foot boost). When McClane is attacked he takes damage and drops some of the items he's carrying. After his twenty-unit energy meter is depleted, McClane is dead and the game is over.

In the film McClane must battle the terrorists without his shoes and this concept carries over into the game. In addition to the health meter McClane has a Foot meter that depletes automatically over time. As the meter decreases, McClane's running and walking speed slows down. Foot power is used by running or stepping on broken glass (a result of the many windows that are shot apart during the game). If foot power drops to zero, McClane is forced to limp along, becoming an easy target for bullets. Only by collecting a first-aid kit can McClane fill his ailing Foot meter.

Only a few floors of the Nakatomi Plaza are accessible in the game. The terrorists are holding the hostages on the thirtieth floor, so McClane keeps himself isolated to floors 31-35 for the most part. 31-34 are office spaces and meeting rooms, while floor 35 is the maintenance deck just below the roof. If McClane steals the key to the roof from a terrorist, he can go up there and call for help on his radio. If he does this then Sgt. Al Powell will radio back from time to time with information on terrorist locations. An express elevator will take McClane to the fourth floor of the building where the office central mainframe is located. If he can destroy it with a rocket launcher, then it will hamper the terrorists' progress at breaking through the locks of the safe and slow down the timer. Completing (or not completing) these optional objectives change the ending of the game slightly.

Die Hard has multiple endings. A bad end occurs if McClane is killed (either by gunfire or by falling out of a window) or if the timer reaches zero and the terrorists escape with the money. The only way to successfully complete the game is to kill all the terrorists before time runs out. Once that happens the FBI will shut off the power to the building, thereby opening the final lock on the safe. The timer will speed up when this happens and McClane has to get to the thirtieth floor before terrorist ringleader Hans Gruber can escape. Unfortunately Hans is holding McClane's wife hostage. McClane must successfully encounter Hans and either shoot him or shove him out the window to win the game. An extended ending featuring Al Powell occurs if McClane contacted him with the radio from the roof. After the credits the game restarts from the beginning.

It's possible to complete Die Hard in under thirty minutes if you know what you're doing, and once the game is over and all of the objectives have been completed, there's not much incentive in returning to the game. If you're a Die Hard fanatic or completist then this game is worth a play, but someone looking for a pulse-pounding shooter will be sorely disappointed. Check your local used game shops and online auctions for the game pak. Yippee-ki-yay!


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