Sunday, July 12, 2009

DIE HARD - Blu-Ray (20th Century-Fox 1988) Fox Home Video

Based on Roderick Thorp’s novel ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, John McTiernan’s high octane action/adventure, Die Hard (1988) effectively ushered in the gut-wrenching heart-pounding roller coaster ride that audiences have since come to expect as a main staple from their summer film fare. What McTiernan did was to take the nail-biting thrills of a James Bond flick and distill them down for the everyman.

As such, McTiernan’s hero, John McClane (Bruce Willis) isn’t a suave lady’s man in a tux; just a cop in his undershirt and barefoot no less, carrying an awfully big grudge.

McClane is glib, street savvy and hard to live with. This latter bone of contention is exacerbated when John arrives in Los Angeles to discover that his wife has not only made a great success out of her career, but is also working under her maiden name; Holly Genero (Bonnie Bedelia).

However, before the mechanics of John and Holly’s tempestuous relationship can be effectively fleshed out in the screenplay by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, Bonnie’s place of business, Nakatomi Plaza (actually Fox’s then newly constructed Century City) is taken hostage by a group of East German terrorists front-lined by the maniacal narcissistic Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Gruber goes through the motions of pretending to be a liberator for imprisoned compatriots around the globe, but actually he’s just a common thief who is after the $650,000,000.00 in bearer bonds sealed within Nakatomi’s vault.

First threatening, and then murdering Nakatomi’s east coast President, Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi (James Shigeta), Gruber next employs his computer hacker, Theo (Clarence Gilyard Jr.) to set about cracking the codes to the safe before local law enforcement learns of their coup.
But Gruber has met his match when John decides to become a one man arsenal. Skillfully picking off the terrorists one by one, John gains the attention of Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald Valjohnson) and inadvertently incurs the wrath of his superior, Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason).

What John doesn’t count on is Gruber discovering that Holly is his wife – thereby tipping the scales in Gruber’s favor when he decides to hold her as the ultimate hostage in this high stakes showdown.As an action movie, Die Hard is in a class by itself – although at the time of shooting, it is doubtful that anyone knew it. In fact, Fox executives were none too happy with McTiernan and his crew when they viewed dailies and saw that the crew was detonating real explosives in their as yet unfinished office complex (built on the site where the glorious old Fox Studios back lot facades once sat).

Although assured that the building was structurally sound and undamaged by the staging of these action sequences – only sound box office revenue after the film’s release could convince the studio that the danger was worth the exercise. What they received for their white-knuckled patience was a summer blockbuster of chart topping proportions.

Fox Home Video’s Blu-Ray offering of Die Hard easily bests its previously issued (and re-issued under various other editions) 2-disc 5 Star 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, right down to Bruce Willis’ shoulder scar. 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, however, tends to sound a bit tinny by comparison with a curious lack of timber in the bass.

What is unforgivable about this Blu-Ray release is its excision of the extras included in virtually all of the SE DVD releases, including the thorough and detailed documentary on the making of the film and reflections and interviews from cast and crew. Instead, we get two audio commentaries, a stills gallery and the film’s theatrical trailer. For shame!

Die Hard on Blu-Ray comes recommended for its impeccable video and audio quality. But don’t pitch your standard disc out just yet. You’ll need it to appreciate the extra features!

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




andrew said...

This is action at its most entertaining and proof that there is a lot of life left in this franchise.

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Nick Zegarac said...

Die Hard is at once the first and last of a vanishing breed of action movies. It broke all the rules when it came out and rewrote the do's and don'ts of making a blockbuster.

Today, it seems quaint because we've veered too wildly away from making intelligent action movies into the realm of green screen computer generated spectacles. To my mind, these look fake and bore me stiff.

Die Hard is full scale and that makes it fun. That, and of course, Bruce Willis' memorable performance as our flippant hero. Hollywood today isn't breeding his kind of action star. Today's action dude is taking himself waaaaaay tooooooo serious and that's just taken all of the fun out of the adventure yarn.