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20th Century Fox presents
"This keeps getting better and better."
DVD ReviewIn 1988 director John McTiernan released the original Die Hard, featuring the unlikely (at the time) action hero lead of Bruce Willis as Lt. John McClane, the lone cop up against an army of terrorists holding hostages in an LA skyscraper. Die Hard proved to be a huge hit, made a superstar of Willis, and became synonymous with non-stop action that featured terrorists vs. a lone hero. The film clones came after, and it became easy to describe a release as ŽDie-Hard-In-An-Airplane' (Passenger 57), ŽDie-Hard-In-A-Hockey-Rink (Sudden Death), Die-Hard-with-The-President (Air Force One) or Die-Hard-On-A-Mountain (Cliffhangerůwhich was directed by Renny Harlin three years AFTER he did Die Hard 2: Die Harder). With Die Hard, McTiernan had created not only a hit, but a high-concept brand name.
1995's third, and so far final, chapter in the saga of the unstoppable John McClane Die Hard: Die Hard With A Vengeance (know for the remainder of this review as DH:DHWAV), found McTiernan back at the helm. The end result was, and still is, a no-holds-barred action movie that flies at a breakneck pace for over two hours. McTiernan knows how to film white knuckle action sequences, and DH:DHWAV ranks up there with the best of the lot. He uses cars, dump trucks, barges, helicopters, trains, and bicycles to hurtle viewers back and forth across New York City as John McClane does battle once again with terrorists hell bent on blowing up the city.
In DH:DHWAV, McClane is up against Simon (Jeremy Irons), a clever German terrorist who has planted bombs in various locations across the Big Apple, and who is not afraid to detonate them. These aren't just bombs, they are some type of "binary explosive", and I guess that's much worse than your standard movie bomb...though I'm not really sure why. But who cares? The film opens with a mid-day explosion destroying a downtown Bonwit Teller department store, and once this occurs the film's pace doesn't slow until the end credits begin. McClane has been singled out by Simon (for reasons I won't reveal) to act as an unwitting player in a bizarre game of "Simon Says." Speaking in child-like rhymes via the telephone, Simon forces McClane to play along, all to prevent more deadly explosions.
Simon's first Žgame' sends a miserably hungover McClane into Harlem, wearing only a sandwich-board painted with racial epithets. Shop owner Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) unsuspectingly saves McClane's life, and in the process becomes his partner in the rest of the Žgames', as dictated by Simon, who calls Zeus "The Samaritan". The newly thrown together odd couple of McClane and Zeus are led around New York City, racing to make deadlines, at a frenetic pace, solving Simon's riddles. Just before the film's midpoint do we realize Simon's true intent.
Simon has a small army of soldiers and killers, and they execute their orders meticulously with extreme precision, as can only happen in the movies. Don't question the far-fetched coordination required, just enjoy the way things are carried out. Simon's second-in-command is the violent Targo (Nicholas Wyman), a scowling, square faced giant. Sam Phillips has a woefully small role as the super sexy killing machine Katya.
In a risky move to breathe new life into the series, after Harlin's slightly uneven Die Hard 2: Die Harder, McTiernan added the dreaded Žbuddy picture' ingredient to DH:DHWAV. You knowůput together two diametrically opposed individuals (McClane and Zeus), give them a life-or-death task that requires them to work as partners, and watch the sparks fly. A tired genre, in my opinion, (Lethal Weapon anyone?), but it works exceptionally well here. Credit the two leads, please. Jackson is hilariously foul-mouthed, and Willis delivers his one-liners with his standard smirky squint. There is some genuinely funny dialogue in DH:DHWAV, and Jackson and Willis give a couple of great performances that add much needed character depth.
McTiernan did not take the easy route in putting together the action sequences that occur throughout DH:DHWAV by skimping on extras. Thankfully, the streets of DH:DHWAV New York are jam-packed with cars, and the sidewalks are loaded with people. Why is this important? Because it adds realism and anxiety. How many times has a film featured suspiciously empty streets, and intersections with little or no traffic? Not so in DH:DHWAV. The extra effort involved in creating realistic street scenes adds significantly to the never-ending tension of the film.
Sure, a film like DH:DHWAV is no Seventh Seal. It's no Citizen Kane. This is not a film where you analyze the subtleties afterward over a Chardonnay in a quiet downtown bistro. This a first rate beer and pizza thrill-ride that hits you over the head and leaves you bleeding.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Incredible, to say the least. An exceptional anamorphic transfer from an apparently pristine print. DH:DHWAV has never looked this good. Colors don't bleed, and are vivid and alive. Fleshtones are dead-on, and you can pick out every bead of sweat and drop of blood on McClane's face. As one would expect from a transfer of this high quality, the black levels play true, also, with regard to depth and detail. No artifacts or compression issues here. Just a beautiful image transfer by Fox. Excellent!
Image Transfer Grade: A+
Audio Transfer Review: Tons of optionsůenough for just about everyone. Digitally mastered in THX, the roaring DTS mix brings DH:DHWAV alive, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is equally resonant, and nothing less in comparison. Explosions boom like cannons, gunfire screams overhead, while dialogue remains consistently anchored. Michael Kamen's brassy score sounds crisp and regal, and the percussion thunders loudly. When John McClane is deep in the tunnel near the film's climax, the echoes of his voice and footsteps provide some top quality, though subtle, surround effects. Overallůsuperb!
An English and French 2.0 mix round out the selections, and are decent transfers as well. If you don't have access to a DTS or DD system, these options will more than help make viewing DH:DHWAV a treat.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
10 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Alternate Endings
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director John McTiernan, Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh, and a former 20th Century Fox President of Marketing and Distribution
Layers Switch: 00h:56M:07s
An audio/video setup option that helps you maximize your home theater settings to take advantage of the killer THX sound on DH:DHWAV
A fascinating analysis of 7 scenes, consisting of three components:
- a widescreen side-by-side display of green screen and actual scene
- a full screen of the actual green screen effect shot
- the final completed scene, as shown in the film
Behind The Scenes/Storyboards
This extra contains the following three mini behind-the-scenes segments:
- Terror In The Subway (8m:45s) explains how the bomb-in-the-subway scene was shot
- Prepping The Park (10m:22s) details the taxi-through-Central-Park scene
- Blowing Up Bonwits (7m:50s) provides behind-the-scenes on DH:DHWAV opening sequence
The Storyboard sequence details the tunnel scene where John McClane attempts to outrace a deluge. The section is intercut between storyboards and actual footage.
Interview and Profile
Two separate segments, one a Bruce Willis interview (approximately 5 minutes), which actually features most of the cast and production team, as well as behind-the-scene footage. The second segment is entitled "Villain's Profile," and it focuses more upon Jeremy Iron's "Simon" character and the other DH:DHWAV baddies.
The Alternate Ending
This has the option of standard audio or commentary by Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh, presents an interesting spin on the end of the film, but was deemed too Ždark' by studio heads. You be the judge on that, but it was great to have the opportunity to see it.
The featurettes and documentaries are well done, even though one was a ŽMade for HBO' piece, and one was made for television to coincide with a telecast of Die Hard 2. Each are a little over twenty minutes long, and while not offering any earth-shattering insight, provide the chance to see some background footage and interviews. A four minute ŽElectronic Presskit' rounds out the features, and is nothing exceptional.
Trailers, TV Spots
The theatrical trailers are both in widescreen format, and look terrific. The ten (yes, 10!) TV spots give a nice back-to-back peek at the different ways a film can be marketed.
The commentary track features McTiernan and Hensleigh, though not together. Apparently their tracks were recorded separately and intercut within the framework as needed. A stern sounding McTiernan provides a nice sampling of production info, but an effusive Hensleigh offers a wealth of info on how the final script varied from his original story, and why.
If you're a fan of extras, this should keep you thoroughly sated. If you're a fan of DH:DHWAV, then the extras will be that much sweeter. Truly deserves the "Special Edition" moniker.
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsLet me try to stop drooling over DH:DHWAV for a second. I understand that if you are not a fan of this type of film, all the praise in the world will fall on deaf ears. Too bad for you, because you are really missing something if you pass on this one. Uh-oh, I'm drooling again. Die Hard: Die Hard With A Vengeance is excellent entertainment, in a leave-your-mind-at-the-door kind of way, but grand amusement nonetheless. This "Special Edition" release is a must own for fans of the Die Hard series, and for action fans in general. I just can't give this release enough praise. You deserve to add this two-disc set to your collection. GO GET IT NOW!!!
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