' ' Cinema Romantico: Christmas Means It's Time To Die Hard(er)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Means It's Time To Die Hard(er)

My best friend has advised on more than one occassion that, for him, it doesn't feel like Christmas until he's watched 1988's action extravaganza "Die Hard." This might seem strange when considering the film details an ordinary NYC cop, the immortal John McClane (Bruce Willis), having to thwart an entire team of terrorists that have taken over L.A.'s Nakatomi Tower but the setting of the film is Christmas Eve and there are subtle hints to the holiday season stacked throughout. Its inevitable followup, "Die Hard 2: Die Harder", released in 1990, in keeping with the spirit of all sequels, took things up a notch by having John McClane have to thwart an entire team of terrorists and a deposed dictator by saving Washington D.C.'s Dulles Airport. No, it's not as good as the original. So why did I watch it instead of the original? Because it was 4 degrees outside, I wanted to watch a movie to get into the holiday spirit, my Netflix movie had not arrived the day it was supposed to, and "Die Hard 2", not "Die Hard", was showing on FMC. Luckily "Die Hard 2" is also set on Christmas Eve and so, yes, it helped make it feel a little more like the holidays.

Early on we are introduced to John McClane's wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), aboard a plane set to land at Dulles where her husband will pick her up. She is sitting next to an older lady who mentions how she has replaced her can of mace carried for safety with a taser. She shows the taser to Holly. Obviously this is foreshadowing something - namely, that much later Holly will get to taser the crap outta Dick Thornberg (William Atherton), the nefarious reporter from the first film who, of course, winds up on the same plane. But that is not the point. The point is this:


Ah, the nineties. The free-wheeling, no-holds-barred nineties, back when you could carry a toothpaste tube of more than 3.4 fluid ounces and a taser onto a 747. Sigh.... I could not help but feel nostalgic throughout. John McClane hustles about with a beeper, returning calls on a payphone, and finds himself frightened by faxes and dumbfounded by airphones. Heck, if you walked up to John McClane at Dulles Airport that night and asked for his thoughts on "Human Touch" & "Lucky Town" he wouldn't have known what you were talking about! To him "Tunnel Of Love" was still Springsteen's last album! What a world!

But then there was more to this little trip down memory lane. Action movies of the late 80's and early 90's were legendary as being big, brash and loud and bigger, brasher and louder. These were the days of Schwarzenegger one-liners, the days before James Cameron went green, the days before shaky-cam, the days when characters in action movies may not have always had dimension but always had personality. After McClane has the inital "minor little fracas with the minor little thieves" he has to explain himself to Airport Police Captain Carmine Lorenzo, played by Dennis Franz three years, remember, before "NYPD Blue" took to the air, who is allowed to emit a fun-filled, expletive-ridden monologue. "I've got a f---ing reindeer flying in from the f---ing petting zoo!" Lorenzo's role in the script, naturally, is to disagree with McClane about everything at every turn even though it seems quite apparent McClane is right but the vibrancy of the character adds so much to the proceedings. Essentially he is what Paul Gleason's Deputy Dwayne T. Robinson was in the first "Die Hard" but I kinda like Carmine Lorenzo a little better.

That said, I don't really like any of the other new supporting characters as much as the original. William Sadler's bland villain is a far cry from Alan Rickman's droll debauchery and Chief Engineer Leslie Barnes compared to Sgt. Al Powell is like comparing Rutherford B. Hayes to George Washington and Marvin The Janitor is not even in the same league as Argyle The Limo Driver. But still....I like how the film implements the news reporter in the grand scheme. I like how future Presidential Candidate Fred Dalton Thompson gets to say things like "Stack 'em, pack 'em and rack 'em" (who else thinks Fred Dalton Thompson would have been a better - albeit unconventional - "Punisher" than Dolph Lundgren?). I like the Worst S.W.A.T. Team In The History Of Earth that willingly goes right into a bottleneck on one of those airport walkways and allows for the best shot in the movie when director Renny Harlin wants someone to crash through a window upon getting shot but realizing there are no windows around instead sets it up so the area of the airport they are in is under construction and, thus, props a gigantic pane of glass directly behind a S.W.A.T guy so when he gets shot he goes crashing through it. That's thinking outside the box. And, of course, I like Bruce Willis.

Non-CGI planes are so much fun.
The conventional theory about the progression of the "Die Hard" series was summarized by, of all people, Michael Scott on "The Office" when he said: "'Die Hard', the original, John McClane was just this normal guy. In 'Die Hard 4', he is jumping a motorcycle into a helicopter. He's invincible. It just sort of lost what 'Die Hard' was. It's not 'Terminator.'" Well, sure, the feats of John McClane have become larger than life but John McClane himself has not really changed at all. He's a static character. He's still a VHS guy in a Blu-Ray world. "As far as I'm concerned progress peaked with frozen pizza" he says in "Die Hard 2" and you know that in "Live Free Or Die Hard" he still believes that to be true. Yes, in "Die Hard 2" when he's on the wing of the plane at the end that's a real wing of a real plane and in "Live Free Or Die Hard" when he's driving the semi down the freeway and the jet is chasing him it's a digitally added jet but, you know, John McClane is still crackin' wise.

When Holly McClane's plane is circling above Dulles and can't land because the terrorists and their schemes have prevented it and the plane is running low on fuel, the pilot tells the stewardess to put on a little TV for the passengers in an effort to calm them down and so the stewardess does and the TV show that appears is......"The Simpsons."  Everything changes. Well, not quite everything.


Castor said...

Good review Nicholas. Certainly not as good as the original Die Hard but not too shabby either. Indeed, where this movie is most lacking (from the first one) is the supporting characters which aren't nearly as memorable.

Wretched Genius said...

So, you are saying that the movie from the director of Cutthroat Island and The Covenant is better than the movie from the director of Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, but both are worse than the movie from the director of Medicine Man and Rollerball? Is that correct?

Wretched Genius said...

And just a reminder than no one dies harder than John McClane:


Nick Prigge said...

...................yes. That's what I was saying. I think.

Jacob said...

I realize that I'm late to the conversation, but I feel I have to at least comment on the true Christmas moment in Die Hard, the original. Is there anything more magical than the villains finally getting the safe open and Ode to Joy playing? Ode to Joy, it's perfect.