By Steve Vivona
Fox, $29.95, Widescreen
Back in the eighties for me Bruce Willis could do no wrong. I was already a huge fan of "Moonlighting," the series that catapulted him to stardom, and when I heard he was starring in his first action film I was cautiously optimistic. His first two films, "Blind Date" and "Sunset," both for director Blake Edwards, barely made a dent at the box office, and it seemed he was destined to fall victim to the curse of Tom Selleck.
It seems hard to believe today but no one believed "Die Hard" would succeed. Willis was a wisecracking TV star who got by on his acerbic charm, but he was still an uncertain commodity. Action movies were the pervue of the likes of Stallone and Schwarzenegger. "Die Hard" forever changed that, going so far as to practically become its own genre. In the years that followed various imitators were called, "Die Hard on a boat," "Die Hard on a plane," etc.
Even Glen Gordon Caron, the creator of "Moonlighting," advised Willis against "Die Hard" -something he recalled in their joint commentary for the excellent Anchor Bay DVD of the "Moonlighting" pilot. By 1988 the superhuman antics of action heroes were getting tiresome for the public, and "Die Hard" came along at exactly the right time.
Director John McTiernan, fresh from his success with Scwarzenegger's "Predator," was tapped to direct. McTiernan proved equally as adept with the everyman Willis as superman Schwarzenegger, and he really helped to revitalize the genre with this film.
"Die Hard's" success was rooted in the fact that its hero was a flesh and blood regular guy. He can't just ignore bullet wounds or take on 20 guys at once. John McLane uses his wits to survive and he plays a delicate game of cat-and-mouse with his adversaries so as to stay one step ahead of them at all times.
McLane is a hard-nosed New York cop visiting his estranged wife in Los Angeles. He arrives in the midst of her company's annual Christmas party. McLane no sooner finishes arguing with her than the Nakatomi Building is taken hostage by a slick group of European terrorists led by the smooth-talking Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). McLane manages to slip away unnoticed, but he soon realizes he's on his own.
McLane engages the terrorists a few at a time and manages to eliminate some of them from the equation. McLane is an x-factor that Hans had not bargained for and he wants this troublesome fly swatted as soon as possible. The pair engage in some amusing banter as they taunt each other via walkie talkie.
In a terrific sequence McLane manages to attract the attention of a lone L.A. cop on his way home for the evening. Before long the entire L.A. law enforcement community is outside, as well as a horde of federal agents. It turns out they only serve to complicate matters, which is exactly what Hans is banking on.
Hans and his crew are not terrorists at all but high-tech thieves whose only desire is to loot the Nakatomi vault, and get out under the noses of all the law enforcement personnel massed outside. Still he must deal with McLane who has stolen a bag of detonators without which he cannot blow up the building to cover his tracks.
When I saw "Die Hard" for the first time I was literally on the edge of my seat. Here was my favorite star in what was destined to become the preeminent action film of the decade. I was in heaven. No one thought Bruce had it in him, but he pulled it off. From then on most action heroes became normal people forced into extraordinary circumstances.
Even heavy hitters like Stallone and Arnold tried to humanize their characters in their subsequent films. "Moonlighting" was nearly finished when "Die Hard" was released and Willis segued into an extremely successful film career (that has had its share of misfires to be sure!) He starred in two sequels, and every time it seemed his career was losing steam he'd have a monster hit like "Pulp Fiction," "Armageddon" or "The Sixth Sense."
"Die Hard" is a real home theater experience. The 5.1 dolby digital will blow the doors off and does so much to enhance the viewing experience. The remastered widescreen image is sharp and crystal clear with strong colors. The special features on the DVD are a bit of a disappointment. Included are trailers for all three films, a short promotional featurette and a photo gallery. This is a film that cries out for the special edition treatment and I hope Fox will revisit it in the future.