Sunday, July 12, 2009

DIE HARD 2 - Blu-Ray (20th Century-Fox 1990) Fox Home Video

Based on Walter Wager’s novel, 58 Minutes, Die Hard 2 (1990) has been generally slammed as a heavy handed sequel to John McTiernan’s 1988 blockbuster. Owing to the fact that McTiernan was unavailable to participate in this second excursion, director Renny Harlen assumed the reigns with Steven E. de Souza returning to pen the screenplay along with newcomer to the franchise, Doug Richardson.

Undeniably, the story in this second installment is darker in mood and tone, although that should hardly be considered a shortcoming. If fact, in viewing the film today, the severity of the story line seems a perfect counterpoint to the more lighthearted previous venture.

Plot wise: having already rescued his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) the Christmas before from marauding terrorists inside Nakatomi Plaza, Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) must now save her and a host of passengers aboard their flight bound for New York after a group of terrorists fronted by Col. Stuart (William Sadler) seize control of the airport’s radio tower and threaten to start crashing planes by giving them faulty landing coordinates – unless, of course, their demands are met.

The chief problem within the narrative is, of course, that there is an insider on this rescue mission; Maj. Grant (John Amos) who pretends to be on McClane’s side, but is actually working with Stuart for the liberation of Gen. Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero). *Aside: Esperanza is credited as being an exile from Valverde – the fictional Latin American country featured in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Commando, for which Wager’s novel was originally purchased as a possible sequel to that film – not Die Hard.

The central problem with the screenplay, however, is that it becomes a bit too conveniently contrived the further we get involved with the characters. As example: the insertion of characters, Sgt. Powell (Reginald Veljohnson); the good natured cop, and, the lecherous reporter, Richard Thornburg (William Atherton) – conveniently aboard Holly’s plane (thereby allowing her some sweet revenge for the havoc he created with her life in part one) play more like camp ‘reunion’ elements within this story, rather than integral bits to the action at hand.

Nevertheless, the level of expectation with regards to the thrill factor in this second outing is valiantly met. Pyrotechnics and gun fire aside, Willis emerges from the debris as the undisputed every man champ of the piece; the ideal blend of cynicism and patriotism that becomes more palpably engaging with renewed viewing.

Harlin’s direction is perhaps a bit more perfunctory than McTiernan’s. He likes his action sequences done with multiple cuts and a lot of slow mo to fully take in the breadth of destruction. Nevertheless, Harlin’s take on the franchise really doesn’t damage its credibility – a commonly wielded accusation from critics at the time of the film’s general release. In the final analysis, Die Hard 2 isn’t quite as good as the first movie; but it’s hardly a dud.

Fox Home Video’s Blu-Ray offering easily bests its previously issued (and re-issued) Collector’s Edition. The Blu-Ray’s picture quality is superb, capturing even the most subtle tonality in the stylized orangey hues that, on previous editions, registered as a ruddy – and often very flat and pasty - brown. On the whole, colors are deep, rich and solid. Flesh tones are very nicely realized. Fine details are visible and much sharper than ever seen before. The audio is HD lossless 5.1, delivering an earth shattering experience to the sonic field during the action sequences. Dialogue, is more natural sounding.

Curiously, this Blu-Ray release contains all the extras included in the SE DVD (*curious because most of the extras from the SE DVD for the original Die Hard have yet to make the transition to Blu-Ray) including the thorough documentary on the making of the film and reflections and interviews from cast and crew; plus audio commentaries, a stills gallery and the film’s theatrical trailer. Recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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