Die Hard


Christmas takes a beating

Main Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia

Director: Jan de Bont

1988. A year of milestones. This was the year in which we purchased our very first VCR for Christmas. It was a Panasonic with the brand new revolutionary on screen programming! As starving graduate students, this was an extravagance extraordinaire. Since we blew all our money on the VCR, we mostly taped old movies off of TV, and were treated to classics like Strangers on a Train, Rebecca, North by Northwest and a host of others. By the following summer, we finally managed to scrape together the $2.50 it then cost to rent a movie, and decided that it was time to see the much talked about Die Hard.

Now, to put it into perspective, remember that Moonlighting was still on the air through the end of that season. Yes, it sucked at the end, but Bruce Willis was still David Addison, no matter how you sliced it. Women loved David Addison, at least I did. Seeing Die Hard seemed like a good way to get a David Addison fix after the series ended. I didn’t really have much interest in the then embryonic modern action thriller genre, figuring that guns and bombs were not my cup of tea. Wrong, wrong, wrong!! Die Hard, as much as any other movie, spawned this genre, and has been imitated many, many times in the intervening years (often in movies starring Bruce Willis).

The movie begins with New York cop John McClane (Willis) flying to LA to spend Christmas with his estranged (and quite large haired) wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). Hoping to reconcile, McClane attends the big party being held at Holly’s office celebrating a banner year at the Japanese company, Nakatomi, where she now works. The reconciliation attempt goes poorly, but this quickly becomes moot when a group of terrorists led by one Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) take over the building, making hostages of all the guests. Their goal is clear only to the viewer, but it is soon obvious that they are deadly serious. McClane (being our hero of course) is the only member of the party who manages to escape being taken hostage. He proceeds to lead the terrorists on a merry chase of bullets, broken glass, sabotage, bloody feet and cryptic communication all in an attempt to both uncover and foil their dastardly plans.

The police do eventually realize that the Nakatomi building is under siege, and the first officer on the scene, Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald Veljohnson) manages to establish contact with McClane, and becomes his sole support through sporadic radio conversations. Powell’s superior, Deputy Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason), is a spectacular idiot who does not believe that McClane is a cop, or is trying to save the hostages, or much of anything else. He is a classic boob who complicates the situation at every opportunity. I kept flashing on him with a toilet seat protector hanging from his pants in The Breakfast Club. He’s pretty much the same guy. The FBI eventually becomes involved, further muddying the waters. The story plays out with McClane dodging bullets left and right, walking over broken glass in bare feet, and generally being extremely heroic, as well as seemingly invincible and shirtless (not that that is a problem!)

It’s hard to believe now, but as well as being Bruce Willis’ big screen breakout, Die Hard was also Alan Rickman’s very first big screen performance. He plays the villain with such a pitch perfect weaselly glee that he has since become the ultimate sneering bad guy. Reginald Veljohnson is outstanding as McClane’s staunch supporter, and the two have a nice rapport. Willis as McClane is basically David Addison with more bullets, more grime, and less clothes. Nothing wrong with that, his frequent one-liners give the movie much of its tone, taking the edge off and allowing the viewer to remember that it is basically a live action cartoon. Also worth mention are Alexander Gudonov as Karl the psycho terrorist, and De’Voreaux White as McClane’s limo driver.

The violence is plentiful, lots of bullets, explosions and other forms of grievous bodily injury. The general tone makes it quite clear that this is not reality, nor does it aspire to be. Our hero manages to survive every sort of mishap, injury, set up, blunder, shooting, explosion, cut, bruise, and who knows what all. This ain’t for real, folks. Like most action films, we’re just along for the ride, and a suspension of disbelief is absolutely necessary.

The setting in which all this mayhem takes place is very nicely rendered by Jan De Bont, who of course went on to bigger and questionably better things (including directing Speed and Speed 2, as well as Twister and Tomb Raider). The unfinished interior of the upper floors mirrors the chaotic action taking place in the posh lower floors, and the effects are well done for the time.

Although Die Hard was not released at Christmas time, I still maintain that it is in fact a Christmas movie.  Here are just a few of the elements that make it a holiday spectacular:

-Santa hat on dead guy
-Exploding decorations
-Greeting a broken into vault with “Merry Christmas”
-McClane’s gun taped to his back with Christmas tape
-TV footage of Christmas Eve with the McClane kids
-A tremendous score by Michael Kamen that mixes standard “bad things happening” music with lilting Christmas carols and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” throughout all this mayhem and finally…….

Has there ever, I mean ever, been a worse office Christmas party? No getting drunk and telling off your boss for these guys, oh no, that’s for the rank amateur. Nothing short of complete and total mass mayhem will do for this holiday bash! The real scrooge will be wringing his hands with glee at this depiction of such complete chaos at a Christmas party of all things. So, all you scrooges out there pop this one in and enjoy the very worst office party you’ve ever had the vicarious pleasure of attending!

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