Although sequels usually suffer from the rule of diminishing returns, director Renny Harlin was actually able to bring something new and exciting as he took over the helm of the second film, released 11 years ago in 1990. Bruce Willis returns again as John McClaine, police officer and one-man fighting machine. Again, it's Christmas Eve and again, officer McClaine is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's come to pick his wife up at the airport, while elsewhere terrorists lead by Colonel Stewart (William Sadler) are attempting to take over the runways. Unless their demands (including the release of a drug lord on his way in for trial) are met, then chaos will begin. McClaine wants to be involved and won't take no for an answer - his wife is on one of the planes, circling the runway in the middle of a blizzard.
This time, the action is a bit more spread out as McClaine has to run around the airport and the bowels and runways, as well as some of the surrounding area. He's also got to deal with the head of airport security (Dennis Franz) who won't begin to realize what's actually going on till matters get worse. To give Franz credit though, he actually makes this cliched kind of character basically entertaining and not totally irritating. As for the return of this kind of ludicrous action story, Harlin (as usual) does a very nice job at quickly setting the story up and then moving along at such a quick pace that most won't have much time to focus on disbelief.
The only element where the story falls somewhat flat is the villian. Sadler has an intense and threatening presence, but his character never really seemed that fully realized. Willis, as always, has a perfect combination of everyman and action hero that makes him an entertaining lead for this kind of action film, although he hasn't done this kind of thing quite as well or sharply in recent films. His ultra-seriousness in "Armageddon" made the dramatic moments slightly untintentionally funny, for example.
Still, "Die Hard 2" is one of those rare sequels that, while not superior to the original, still is able to come up with some lively moments and enough slight differences to make for a slightly fresh effort.
VIDEO (Layer Change: 49:54): Released a couple of years back by Fox in a serviceable, but not great, non-anamorphic edition, they have taken steps to improve the image quality here, presenting the film in a cleaner, crisper and smoother 2.35:1 anamorphic edition that is a noticable improvement over the original edition, much like the anamorphic edition for the first film was more enjoyable than the first edition of that film. Sharpness and detail here are improved, as is the amount of depth and clarity to the image, which looks consistently well-defined.
Where I usually discuss image flaws, there's really not much to talk about. A scene or two appeared a little bit grainy, but that was about it. Print flaws are nonexistent - the image remains completely free and clear of marks and scratches; I didn't even notice a speckle. Edge enhancement and pixelation are also absent, making for a completely natural, clean image that looked superb.
There's not a particularly strong color palette for the movie, but what colors are on display looked accurate and natural with no flaws - occasionally, colors looked slightly smeary on some of the film's previous editions. Pleasantly, even the few darkest scenes in the movie looked cirsp and well-defined. Certainly, this edition of the film is superior to any of the previous editions in terms of quality and praise to Fox for such fine work.
SOUND: "Die Hard 2", like the rest of the series in these new special editions, is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio. There are stretches of "Die Hard 2" that involve discussions between the leads or other subtle moments that have the audio mainly focused in the front. During the action-heavy moments though, of which there are plenty, the listening space wakes up quite well as surround use is quite agressive during several of the more intense sequences, although the surrounds do remain mono. Still, none of these problems made the experience suffer much at all - it still remained an entertaining time as even the subtler sounds like the cold whip of Winter winds were nicely convincing.
Audio quality throughout the picture remained crisp and clean with good fidelity and occasional strong bass. Overall, I remain oddly a little more impressed with the audio experience offered by the first film (I still remain amazed by the sonic force of an explosion mid-way through that film that shook the room), but still, this is certainly a well-done, above-average presentation for its time. Both the DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 presentations do generally sound similar, but the DTS presentation does offer a slightly crisper, fuller sound that's prefered - it's certainly not a night & day difference, though.
MENUS:: Like the other editions of the series, Fox and DVD producer David Prior have but together some fantastic animated menus that cover the particular "theme" of the movie - this time, the main menu revolves around an airport tower, looking out, while the options are displayed on the control panel.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Renny Harlin, who has done a couple of commentary tracks before ("Deep Blue Sea", "Cliffhanger"), but this is easily his best "commentary work", as he seems more energetic and enthusiastic about sharing information about the making of this picture, even welcoming the audience to the movie at the begining. He does something that a few directors do when they record tracks and it makes it a more enjoyable experience. It'll sound weird, but there are some directors who simply seem to be talking to the screen, but there are some directors who really seem like they're sharing and attempting to engage the audience who's going to be listening to this track and Harlin does that here. He shares an excellent amount of information about the production, discussing several interesting and occasionally fascinating stories about what happened during shooting. He also suprisingly shares his opinions on language at one point, talking about how characters these days should be able to express themselves more intelligently. Several other insightful topics are also covered, such as how Harlin had to handle the workload of two films ("Ford Fairlane") almost at once. A strong track well worth a listen.
Television Special/Featurette: This is a twenty-three minute feature that was produced for Fox stations. It's occasionally very informative about how certain scenes were shot, but there's quite a bit of irritatingly promotional bits with annoying, corny narration to sit through. In this section there's also a four minute featurette which is essentially an extended trailer.
Trailers/TV Spots: Four trailers and one TV Spot are included.
Deleted Scenes: Four deleted scenes are provided, but none of them really would have added anything to the movie but additional running time.
Visual Effects: There are five scenes in all; the first two ("The Ejector Seat" and "Airport Runway") provide breakdowns of how the effects were done - for example, "Ejector Seat" compares the storyboards with the green-screen and the final shot; you see one, then the other, then the final scene. The other three sequences ("Chopper", "Airplane Models" and "Wing Fight") are presented with before & after split-screen comparisons.
Behind The Scenes: Two featurettes are included that detail how the scenes were accomplished - a shorter 4 minute featurette called "Breaking The Ice" is included with a nearly 8 minute featurette about the conveyor belt sequence ("Chaos On The Conveyor Belt"). Also in this sequence is a storyboard-to-film comparison for the "Skywalk Ambush" sequence.
Interviews: Promotional interviews with Harlin and villian Sadler.
Final Thoughts: "Die Hard 2" doesn't quite reach the heights of the original, but at least it has a good sense of what it is and provides some strong thrills and well-done action. Fox's DVD also provides very good video and relatively good audio quality with some strong (and some not quite as interesting) extra features. Recommended.