Tom Jolliffe celebrates Die Hard on its 30th anniversary…
When a film hits a significant anniversary, say 30 years old, there are two things that happen. In one, for those who were but wee blighters when they first saw the film, it will make you feel old. I first saw Die Hard on video, a couple of years after its release. About 28 years ago, when I was…oh lord…really? Man, I’m feeling old. Secondly though, when a film remains as revered as Die Hard, some 30 years on, you fully appreciate just how well crafted and impeccable the film is. It’s possibly THE definitive American action film. For the record too, it’s a Christmas film. The working class, every man hero battles the consumerist terrorists to reunite with his family for a season of goodwill and festivities. It’s also set at Christmas time. There’s tinsel, trees n’shit laced through the films and Santa hats (and Christmas songs).
What’s great to see, is that there will be a re-release to mark the 30 year anniversary on the 7th December (at select UK cinemas). Which I will of course be going to see. My innumerable viewings of Die Hard over the years have ranged from old school cube televisions (with wood panel) in full frame from TV channel or VHS, to DVD and then Blu-Ray. This will mark the first time seeing it on the big screen. In recent years I’ve watched personal favourites on big screen re-release, including A Nightmare on Elm Street, Terminator, The Shining and Blade Runner. Each felt like watching it anew. A beautiful big screen and thunderous sound. Glorious.
So what’s so great about Die Hard? Everything is the short answer. One of cinemas iconic, sardonic action heroes, Bruce Willis was catapulted to super-stardom then forever defined, by his role as John McClane. Alan Rickman is an immense and fantastically slimy villain, and further a villain who felt unique in the grand scheme of movie villainy. The only thing he couldn’t perfectly predict and counter was McClane, the Monkey in the Wrench. Add in great side characters like Ellis and Dick Thornberg who both battle it for the honour of being cinemas best douchebag. Paul Gleason as the best incompetent police chief ever. Agent Johnson and Johnson (no relation). Karl, the greatest bad guy henchman ever. Basically, every aspect is made great, whilst Bonnie Bedelia, as Holly McClane, does a great job of instilling strength and presence into the kind of action movie role (ie, any woman) that was ordinarily a Bechdel failure of epic proportions in the 80’s.
The characters are there, but then so is the script. From a simple scenario to a number of great set ups and pay-offs (take off your shoes and socks and make fists with your toes…)it’s a well crafted film, and it’s got humanity. Among all the action, the fantastic set pieces and set ups, and all the great lines, the movie can pull you back and strip away McClane to his most raw and vulnerable. A bathroom scene before the finale, with McClane’s last heartfelt moment, relayed to his unseen partner Al Powell, is fantastic. It came in an era of laconic, stoic action men like Schwarzenegger giving almost no humanity or emotion away, and it showed Willis, with a rugged yet more every-man physique, could offer something different in the action pantheon. McClane whilst seemingly impossible to kill, still takes the sort of pounding, film to film, that other action icons have rarely taken. The image of Willis in his bloodied, dirtied and downright manky (formerly white) vest is iconic. He gets the living bejesus pummelled out of him throughout the varying gun battles, fight sequences and stunts in Die Hard, of which there are plenty.
Those set pieces too, are handled with precision and flair by action master, John McTiernan. The man was also responsible for Predator, as well as the only decent Die Hard sequel, Die Hard With A Vengeance (and the underrated Last Action Hero of course). McTiernan knows action and Die Hard is a collection of brilliantly constructed and impeccably delivered action scenes.
Die Hard remains as impacting and impressive as it has always been. Such is the framing and perfection of cutting within the action, that those sequences feel big in scope, even when the space is confined. From McClane escaping in elevator shafts, or jumping the roof of the building, or ‘shoot the glass!’every set piece kicks ass. Likewise, thanks to the likes of Iron Man (and essentially other MCU character that followed and mimicked the shtick), the wise-cracking action man is very much in vogue, and as such Die Hard holds up, even to modern movie audiences only now picking up the film. The same will still be said in another 30 years. Die Hard is timeless. Yippee-Kay-Yay motherfu…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has three features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.