Darren Jamieson
Die Hard 5 Star Collection DVD Review

Die Hard 5 Star Collection

May 1, 2003

Director: John McTiernan,
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Alexander Godunov, Paul Gleason, Devoreaux White, William Atherton, Hart Bochner, James Shigeta, Robert Davi, Grand L. Bush, Clarence Gilyard Jr., Bruno Doyon, Andreas Wisniewski, ,

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DVD Review

Darren Jamieson

The greatest action movie of all time.

To give Die Hard to the general action movie watching public is something of a waste. You might as well give them cheap wine instead of Don Perignon, a shops own brand cheese instead of French Brie and Lazenby instead of Connery. For many there is no difference between these items in there quality, as is there no difference between Die Hard and Deep Blue Sea.

However, if you’re one of those people that can appreciate a quality movie, then Die Hard is definitely for you. Regarded by many as the best film of its genre, Die Hard serves as the perfect example of the definitive action movie. Often imitated, never bettered.

Director John McTiernan followed up the 1987 hit Predator with the Jeb Stuart scripted Die Hard, and cemented his place in Hollywood as an A-List director.

But what makes Die Hard a cut above other action movies? Particularly its follow up, the Renny Harlin directed Die Hard II: Die Harder.

Welcome to the party pal!

The action in Die Hard takes place in the newly built Nakatomi Plaza (really the 20th Century Fox Plaza) on Christmas Eve. New York cop John McClane has traveled to LA to be with his family, and arrives at the Nakatomi Plaza only to walk straight into another argument with his wife. While the festivities are in full swing twelve terrorists take control of the building and hold all of its occupants hostage on the 30th floor.

It’s now up to a bare foot John McClane to stop the terrorists, save the hostages, his wife and his marriage.

This could have fallen into the trap of being another dumb, brainless action film like so many others that have followed it. If you’ve ever seen Gridlocked with David Hasselhoff you’ll know exactly what I mean. One man trapped in a building with a bunch of terrorists – what a concept!

Die Hard however remains one of the most intelligently directed and intricately characterised movies of the 20th Century, that just so happens to be in the action genre.

John Mctiernan’s masterful direction led the way. Managing to coax a decent performance from Bruce Willis and keeping Alan Rickman just the right side of ham. Don’t get me wrong, Rickman is a great actor, but he could so easily have been let loose by the director and over done his performance, particularly with a character such as Hans Gruber. If you watch some of the out takes on this disc, you’ll see what I mean. McTiernan spends a long time with each actor, ensuring the correct delivery of each line from each character.

Jan de Bont provides some exquisite cinematography for the film, utilising very tight claustrophobic shots where necessary to increase tension. This is another example of horses for courses though, when De Bont finally sat in the directors’ chair he produced nothing but garbage, successful garbage, but garbage nonetheless.

Another area in which the film excels is its editing. Something that you are able to explore in some depth in the special feature: editing workshop.

The dynamism of the action is heightened with the inter-cutting of three sequences at the climactic moment of the film. The terrorists blowing the roof, the FBI in their gunship and John McClane leaping off the roof are all cut together in glorious fashion to build up a feeling of urgency and pace to add to the tension.

It’s strange that when Die Hard is copied by other films, which is frequently, the only aspect that gets copied is the lone man with a gun taking on terrorists. If other films want to copy Die Hard then they’d be better off copying its editing style, structure and cinematography. A lot of other movies could have been improved by the producers learning from Die Hard.

“All things being equal I’d rather be in Philadelphia”.

This film took a huge risk on its release in casting a relative unknown Bruce Willis in the lead role. His only notable appearances to date were in the TV show ‘Moonlighting’ alongside Cybil Sheppard. It was Die Hard that made Bruce Willis a star, and it was the unknown Bruce that made Die Hard so successful. He represented the average American, with nothing remarkable about him.

It truly angers me when people dismiss certain films as derivative and clich├ęd simply because of their genre. Film sophisticates, or snobs will throw Superman and Superman IV in the same barrel together – they’re both comic book films! Aliens and Alien Resurrection are both Sci-Fi movies, and Die Hard and Deep Blue Sea are both action movies.
Clearly these generalisations are the work of film illiterates, while it’s true that these genres are directed at the mass market and tend to play to the lowest common denominator there are still a few great films that rise from the pack of mediocrity.

Deep Blue Sea is directed by the same man responsible for Die Hard II, Renny Harlin. He’s the man that also brought us such cinematic classics as Cliffhanger, Cutthroat Island and The Long Kiss Goodnight. How this man is still working is beyond me.

Die Hard features an ordinary man in extra-ordinary circumstances, a man that when confronted by danger actually runs away from it. His first action upon finding himself in jeopardy is to set off the fire alarms, then to try and radio for help. He is not an indestructible super cop, he is a man trying to stay alive and save his wife. His character never deviates from this for the sake of an ill conceived plot device, unlike other movies where the line ‘You wait here, I’m just going off into the woods to look for him’ can be frequently heard as a way of splitting up characters.

It is common in film and literature that characters will step outside of their character because the writer/director needs them to do something that advances the plot, and he can’t find any other way of doing it than sacrificing the characterisation.

The DVD extras:
If you are a fan of action movies then chances are you’ve already got Die Hard in some capacity, particularly as it’s already been released on DVD – me, I’ve got VHS, VHS widescreen, US import DVD, UK DVD and Laserdisc. I’m sad like that.
So why buy this two disc set? The reason is simple, this DVD gives you more information into the crafting of a masterpiece of modern cinema than you could ever possibly need, with the highlight being the ability to re-edit a key sequence.

Now a colleague of mine saw this and guffawed, ‘why would you want to re-edit a film, particularly if it’s supposed so good?’.

Clearly he doesn’t understand. If you have even the slightest interest in film you wish to see how a scene is cut together, what footage gets removed for pacing purposes, time-dilation and character prominence. A single conversation with the same dialogue, using the same footage can be edited to give prominence to either character, or any part of the dialogue.
An otherwise important plot revelation can be lost if the scene isn’t edited tightly, with the correct emphasis given at the right moment.

That is exactly what the editing workshop on this DVD teaches you. Rather than being able to re-edit great action sequences and make them better, you’re given the choice of three dialogue based scenes to play with, and make them worse. You have the choice of which take you want to edit into the sequence, sometimes with the choice of an alternative dialogue line. You can choose which character you want to have the camera focus on during the scene, and when to cut away. This teaches you that editing a film is not easy, as your results will show you any time that you choose to deviate from the original edit.

You only have the option of viewing your final cut once unfortunately, but it’s unlikely that you’d want to see it again anyway.

There is also a sound workshop that allows you to alter the volume of three isolated tracks: dialogue, effects and music. This attempts to give you some insight into the complex world of sound mixing, yet as it only offers you three tracks to play with other than the usual 60 odd used in an action sequence of this kind, it is somewhat shallow. It does give you the general idea though.

Film scholars take note – this DVD also features a compendium of filmic terms that are so brilliantly written I actually read them all. I usually get board reading a road sign. This example is an absolute gem:

[Whip-Pan] – A very fast pan, usually resulting in a blurred image. Often used to make transitions, or to appear ‘hip’. Sometimes accompanied by a swishing sound which makes varying degrees of sense, usually on the low side.

If only Justin ‘Human Traffic’ Kerrigan had known this, then maybe his constant use of visual aids wouldn’t have impeded his otherwise excellent characterisation from coming to the fore.

I have actually been desperate for some Die Hard extras for many years, purchasing the laserdisc back in 1997 just for the TV documentary and trailer that it has to offer. There has been very little around in the shape of behind the scenes material for Die Hard, and with a baron extra-less DVD release last year I feared the worse.

Seeing as I’m the kind of guy that notices that the gunshots used in the trailer are different to those used in the film due to the trailer being finished first, you can appreciate my need for DVD extras.

This DVD didn’t let me down. I’ve found Die Hard to be one of the most complete film experiences yet to emerge on a DVD, and can find no fault with either the disc or the movie itself.

Darren has enjoyed an interest in film for many years, studying the subject at Newport Film School where he worked on the film ‘Cop on the Edge IX: Prelude to Justice‘ in a directing and acting capacity. The official site can be enjoyed here. Darren setup WhatDVD.Net in 2003 to further his love of films and to write passionately about the movies he enjoys, and about those that he doesn’t.

Although his day-to-day activities mean that he now has less time to review movies than he would ideally prefer, he still tries to review new releases, and DVDs from his extensive collection, whenever possible.
view all DVD reviews by Darren Jamieson

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Rating: 99%

Website: http://www.dieharddvd.com/


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