Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Movie Project: Die Hard

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
John McClane, a New York cop, goes to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to visit his estranged wife at a company Christmas party in a skyscraper. During the party, German terrorists infiltrate the building and take the partygoers hostage, with their goal being the theft of six hundred million dollars from the company vault. McClane gets loose in the building and takes on the terrorists and their leader, Hans Gruber.

Memorable Quote:
Yippee-ki-yay, mother@#$%$.  ~McClane

Karl is a great henchman and the heir apparent to another blond German, Stamper from Tomorrow Never Dies. The actor, Alexander Godunov, was a world-class ballet dancer and appeared as an Amish farmer in Witness.

The very end where Karl comes back from the dead and runs into the street for one last shot at McClane. The whole thing is silly: first, that he wasn't dead after seemingly getting his neck broken in the big chain; second, that he made it out of the building without anyone noticing him and got as close to McClane as he did; third, that Al was the only one with the presence of mind to shoot him even though there were 700 other cops around.

Most interesting piece of IMDB trivia:
Don Johnson and Richard Dean Anderson, both established action stars in television, were considered for the role of John McClane.

Hard to imagine RDA as McClane -- glad he stayed focused on MacGyver.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Time to Die Hard! I thought it would be fun to revisit this series -- I'm very familiar with 3 and pretty familiar with 2, but I didn't remember 1 that well. And 4 and 5 I've only seen once (for good reason). 
  • Die Hard was based on a book called Nothing Lasts Forever. According to wikipedia, the studio was contractually obligated to offer the McClane role to 73 year-old Frank Sinatra (!) due to his part in a 1968 film based on a previous book in the series. I don't think this movie would have worked as well with Frank. 
  • I noticed a goof at the 9:57 mark: McClane touches "Gennaro" on the touch-screen locator map computer, and the name changes to "Gennero."
  • One of my favorite Die Hard tropes -- the sight of 10+ big menacing Euros walking silently and with purpose.
  • Alan Rickman (who we saw in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) excels as Gruber, and his performance is especially impressive considering that this was his first feature film. Also a good performance from Reginald VelJohnson (later seen in ABC's Family Matters) as Al.
  • On the flip side, Argyle the limo driver didn't add anything to the story, and why was he partying with a teddy bear in the back seat for hours before deciding to do something? Even worse was Ellis, the smug company man who inexplicably approaches Gruber with plenty of swagger but no plan and no leverage.
  • The walkie-talkie conversations confused me, like why sometimes it seemed like McClane and Al are talking in private, but other times the terrorists could hear everything. 
  • Another Die Hard trope -- making McClane looking more than a little battered and bruised by the end of the movie. The bloody feet from stepping on glass looks painful. 
  • I recognized Robert Davi, who plays FBI Agent "Big" Johnson, as the lead villain from License to Kill.  The FBI and police, by the way, do a terrible job of negotiating -- they just agree to release the guys that Gruber demands them to without asking to speak to any of the hostages or asking for any of them to be freed.

Final Analysis:
Good movie -- I'll put it in the Entertaining category. It's pretty even-keeled in that there's not much that jumped out to me as a highlight or part that I love to watch, but there's also not much in the way of lowlights either. Willis, Rickman, Godunov, and VelJohnson are all outstanding, and the plot makes for a great formula (good guy trapped in a place with a ton of bad guys). We'll get to Die Hard 2 next on the Movie Project.


  1. I've only seen this movie once and that was a couple of years ago. I don't remember every scene or specifics about characters. I would categorize it similar to you. I liked about three-quarters of the movie and thought the set-up was nice with good dramatic build up and nice chemistry between John and Al. The middle scenes of the movie were the most entertaining. But somewhere in the last half hour it started to lose me. The movie ran well over two hours which was too long for a movie like this. "Mission: Impossible" had a 100-ish minute run time which is perfect for a film of this pedigree. "Die Hard" felt needlessly drug out by at least 20 minutes. And the whole movie's plot hinged around not letting the bomb detonate on this building....and then the bomb gets set off anyway...yet the building doesn't collapse? There's only a few tumbling girders on the top floors? What the hell is up with that? And as you said in the lowlight, Karl's pointless revival from death was another tropey storytelling clunker, the equivalent to if Victoria Jackson resurfaced in the Phoenix lobby for one more shot at Harry and MacGyver in "Phoenix Under Siege" long after she jumped out the window. The "Phoenix Under Siege" comparison is particularly fitting considering several reviewers with no comprehension of timelines accused "Phoenix" of being a "ripoff" of "Die Hard". Especially knowing that the producers were interested in RDA for the role, it seems more likely that director John McTiernan saw "Phoenix Under Siege" in 1987 and decided it would make a good feature film premise in 1988. Overall, a decent action movie but with a sinking trajectory as it went along, making me scratch my head a bit why it's held up as an iconic emissary for the franchise 30 years later.

    I had no idea that Richard Dean Anderson was considered for the John McClane role. Agreed completely that it wouldn't have been a good fit and if it had happened, RDA's market demand would have soared and that would have been bad news for the "MacGyver", so there's an extra reason to be glad it didn't happen.

    Did you give up on "Young Indiana Jones"?

    1. Good point about the roof -- I wondered also how the building was able to remain standing after that. From what I read, the movie was based pretty closely on a 1979 book, so any similarity with Phoenix Under Siege is probably just coincidental.

      Definitely not giving up Indiana Jones! It's just been a super-busy summer and I haven't felt like watching Indy or blogging much. And in the little time I have to watch tv I've been watching Cobra Kai and The Americans. But this fall, Indy will return.

    2. Back in high school I saw "Die Hard 2" but those are the only films I've seen in the franchise. HOw many have you seen and how would you rate the first one compared to the others?

      Interestingly a year before the "Phoenix Under SIege" MacGyver episode there was a 1985 "Remington Steele" episode about a hostage situation in a high-rise office building on CHristmas Eve, so the concept sure was floating around Hollywood frequently in the mid-80s.

      I'm watching "Spenser: For HIre" now and while it's mostly enjoyable, it doesn't grab me and demand that I watch the next episode ASAP. I tend to watch one episode a night and be satisfied but not blown away. With "New York Undercover" where I bought the full series, I would find myself watching seven episodes in a single dreary weekend but can't imagine myself doing the same for "Spenser: For Hire" as the murky detective show plotlines where the names of characters you haven't really made a connection with are being thrown around interchangeably. One episode per night is mostly entertaining in the same way "Magnum P.I." was last winter but when I finish season 1 after seven more episodes I don't feel a huge urge to pick up seasons 2 and 3 any time soon.

      How is "Cobra Kai"? I thought it looked like a hoot and watched a bunch of clips online but didn't sign on for You Tube Red or whatever it is so I didn't get to see full episodes. I sure enjoyed what I saw and hope to see the whole thing on DVD some day. WHat are your thoughts on "The Americans"? I never watched that.

    3. I've seen them all, and you'll have to wait to see how they all rate! (although I've already hinted at it in my write-up for this one).

      Cobra Kai is phenomenal and brilliantly executed. I'm enjoying the Americans (currently on season 5 out of 6) -- it's a little slow at times (more spycraft than action), but the acting and production is top-notch and the premise is interesting.