A definite classic in the action genre, "Die Hard" also started off the career of Bruce Willis with a bang. The only real previous experience that the actor had was starring on the television series "Moonlighting". Directed by John McTiernan and offering cinematography by Jan De Bont (who also went on to direct "Speed" and "Twister"), the picture took a rather simple plot and made it all into a thrilling mix of tension, thrills and the occasional laugh.
Bruce Willis stars as John McClaine, the NYPD officer who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This first time out he finds himself coming to the high-rise office tower where his wife's business is located. The only problem is that their Christmas Party has just been interrupted by terrorists lead by Franz Grueber (Alan Rickman, certainly not in period territory).
McClaine finds his way into the building and eventually manages to take on the terrorists one by one. Although he's managed to do a not-so-subtle job of alertisng the police and media, neither are able to get past the terrorist force. So, it's up to McClaine to stop the bad guys. His only contact on the outside is a cop played by Reginald VelJohnson of "Family Matters" fame, who turns in a fine performance in a role that could have been less-than-interesting. The rest of the force, both police and FBI, are presented as the usual dopes who rush the place and find themselves not getting too far in the process.
Willis provides a terrific character in McClaine - both funny, sarcastic, sharp and intense, Willis is a believable one-man force against the terrorist group. Director John McTiernan does his best work here, providing a tense, exciting film that keeps moving and provides plenty of consistently well-staged action sequences. Aided by Jan De Bont's wonderful cinematography and tight editing from John Link and Frank Urioste, "Die Hard" remains a thrill ride that still easily stands the test of time.
VIDEO: A couple of years ago, the "Die Hard" series was presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. The odd thing was that the third picture looked the worst of the three; the second one looked fine, but the first picture showed the most improvement. This time around, the first film is offered in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen edition, THX approved; the movie looks noticably better - cleaner, crisper, smoother and more "film-like". Sharpness and detail are better, with more apparent depth to the image. A couple of the darkest sequences looked slightly soft, but definitely not "hazy".
Flaws were hardly noticable throughout the movie. Print flaws were visible in a couple of sequences - a speckle here, a mark there, but certainly nothing serious and not really even anything I would consider minor. A couple of tiny hints of edge enhancement are visible, but I didn't notice any pixelation or other flaws.
Jan De Bont's terrific 2.35:1 cinematography brings out the cold-steel color pallette of the movie quite well and the DVD does justice to that - there are a couple of scenes in the offices with warmer colors that are rendered nicely, as well. Flesh tones are accurate and natural and black level is solid, as well. Praise to Fox for doing a really nice improvement for this new edition.
SOUND: "Die Hard" was presented on the original edition two years ago with a fine Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. For this new edition, the movie has been presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio. For a movie that's now thirteen years of age, the film's audio provides a terrific backing for the action throughout the movie; several sequences present terrific sound use and there's one or two that I'd even consider demo-worthy.
The main sequence that I'd consider as such would be chapter 34, where McClaine drops an explosive down an elevator shaft. The resulting explosion shakes the room, providing remarkably strong low-end bass. The DTS audio version provides an even more powerful experience, with the explosion coming through with noticably more intensity and strength.
Surrounds are highly active throughout much of the movie, energizing the action sequences and really providing an exciting sound environment, especially during the bigger action sequences. Michael Kamen's stellar score also comes through with a clear, clean, rich sound that really adds to the proceedings. The front speakers certainly provide their own action, as gunfire and other sound effects come through with solid power and force. Dialogue sounds generally natural, if sometimes not that well-integrated into the scene.
Both the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks do sound excellent, but I found the DTS to provide a fuller and more powerful sound, with better clarity and detail. The movie's audio still really stands out as an exciting example of sound use.
MENUS:: A beautifully animated main menu has a helicopter leading up to the top of the tower, where the options are located. Transitions to sub-menus are very well done and sub-menus also do a superb job of explaining how to work that particular section and more about the particular area of filmmaking that that piece covers.
Commentaries: I was a little apprehensive going into this commentary track because my previous experience listening to director John McTiernan during the commentary for "Thomas Crown Affair" turned out to be one of the worst commentary tracks in memory. The director sounded completely bored and barely spoke. This time around he proves to be a noticably more engaging presence as he discusses his experiences working on the set - his thoughts about the project going in to some of the obstacles and stories that happened during filming. Production Designer Jackson DeGovia also particpates on the track, although the two have not been recorded together. The production design brings an equally fascinating amount of information to the track, talking about his role in the film and providing details about how the film's look was accomplished. A second scene-specific commentary from effects supervisor Richard Edlund is also included; an index is provided for this commentary so that viewers can jump right to where Edlund is talking.
Text Commentary: Running as a subtitle stream throughout the movie, interviews with production designer Jackson DeGovia, screenwriter Steven E. DeSouza, effects co-ordinator Al Di Sarro, supervising sound editor Steven Hunter Flick, producer Lawrence Gordon, composer Michael Kamen, editor John Link, stunt coordinator Charlie Picerni, actor Alan Rickman and analysis by film journalist Eric Lichtenfield have been included. This subtitle feature provides some fun and fascinating stories about the making of the movie and the information is nicely paced out so that the information is able to be read before dissapearing.
The Vault: This is the first section on the second disc. Outtakes provides the viewer with two choices. "Extended Power Shudown Scene" shows an extended version of that sequence - note that this scene can also be cut back into the movie on the first disc by extended branching (no, you don't have to select something during that scene or anything, just choose the extended branching version and it's all done for you.) One shot in this scene is in black and white because of an incomplete effect. The other choice here is "The Vault", which is a compilation of extended bits, deleted scenes, outtakes and more.
Newscasts provides deleted bits and extended parts of the newscasts that were to be shown during the movie. Magazine Articles provides two interactive articles about the movie. These articles - one from Cinefex and one from American Cinematographer, offer the article text with additional features like stills. A similar feature was offered on Fox's "Big Trouble In Little China" special edition.
The Cutting Room: This is easily one of the most entertaining features included in this new special edition and it is broken into several sections.
Editing: Like the "Men In Black" Limited Edition DVD, this section allows the viewer to watch a group of shots from three different short sequences in the movie and cut them together. It's a little bit of work to watch all of the clips, but I think it's a fun addition. I was going to be a film major in college at one point and when I did have film classes, I always enjoyed editing, so this section was a joy to play around with.
Why Letterbox?: This is a wonderful supplement that is narrated by DVD producer David Prior, who provides a terrific discussion and example of why the letterbox format should be provided for every film - it's really amazing to see the enormous amount of loss in the comparison provided here. For those out there who don't like letterbox, the horrible comprises here that ruin the image should make those folks understand why letterbox should always be used to retain the intended image of the film. This is easily the best demonstration of why the widescreen format should be used that I've ever seen.
Audio Mixing: This sequence allows you to experience, albeit in a smaller fashion, the job of the sound mixer. You get to watch a sequence with different audio tracks - dialogue, music and effects - and the option to have them on "high" or "low" during the scene.
Multi-Camera Shooting: On a massive film like "Die Hard" there are often several cameras shooting at once. This section allows the viewer to look at three particular scenes and to switch between cameras used for the sequence with the "angle" button.
Slide Show: This is a 9 minute slide-show full of production and on-set photographs. What's even more interesting is when the Nakatomi logo pops up (and it does fairly often), clicking on it takes you even further in as more concept designs and other production art is revealed.
The Script: The entire screenplay is available either as viewed on-screen in DVD-Video form, or, on the first disc, for those who do have DVD-ROM, there is a script-to-screen viewer.
Trailers: 3 Trailers, 7 TV Spots and a promotional featurette round out the already outstanding DVD.
Final Thoughts: "Die Hard" is easily one of the best in the action genre and Fox has really done an outstanding job with this new 5-star edition of the picture. Audio/video quality is simply terrific and the high-quality supplements will provide hours of enjoyment and information. A must have!