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20th Century Fox presents
Matt Farrell: "You just killed a helicopter with a car!"
DVD ReviewAfter battling wits with Jeremy Irons in 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance, Bruce Willis’ beloved detective John McClane appeared ready to take a permanent breather. But twelve years later, this reluctant hero finds his way into a global mess and must do the impossible again. Sporting a completely shaved head and more wrinkles, McClane is still able to perform superhuman feats and is ready for action. Fans were obviously excited about this fourth installment, but will it stand the test of time like the original, or feel less than stellar like its other sequels? The answer is probably somewhere in between.
With the exception of its awful title and a few ridiculous late scenes, Live Free or Die Hard succeeds in capturing the charm of the first film. The story involves the shutdown of our country’s entire network, including the transportation and financial sectors. Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) has a bone to pick with our government and aims to damage them to the furthest degree. Alongside his attractive partner Mai (Maggie Q), he quickly infiltrates the U.S. security systems and generates chaos throughout the land. His plans are larger than any previous franchise villain, but they eventually find a target closer to McClane’s heart. The threat is larger and the action covers a much greater geographic area, but it does retain a few signature moments. You can tell that director Len Wiseman (Underworld) and writer Mark Bomback (Godsend) are Die Hard fans. Although the situation varies drastically, they retain the essence of the McClane character, which is a pivotal aspect of this picture.
McClane becomes involved randomly when he’s asked to pick up young hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long), who may have inadvertent ties to Gabriel. After arriving in Farrell’s apartment, McClane becomes involved in a surprise shootout that could end them both. Working with the hacker, he sees the enemy’s big picture and aims to stop him. The plot is fairly linear but does include the silly technology you might expect to see in a Bruckheimer film. Brilliant hackers are able to pull up satellites and uncover complex information in a matter of seconds. McClane remains oblivious to the new technology, which makes Farrell so valuable. The weary cop’s value involves gliding cars through crazy traffic, battling goons in any situation, and even avoiding death by military jet. Each situation is more preposterous than the last, but the fun atmosphere keeps us from taking it too seriously.
In this type of crazy action film, the big question is whether it delivers the thrills expected from the franchise. If you’re able to suspend your disbelief, the remarkable stunts should be highly entertaining. My favorite sequence involves McClane and Farrell unwisely entering a tunnel, which causes Gabriel to manipulate traffic to destroy them. Facing a massive group of onrushing cars and a helicopter waiting outside, McClane “kills a helicopter with a car." The reason this scene works so well is the absence of digital effects, which would have cheapened the moment. Instead, a car actually hits the helicopter. Some less-stellar CGI does appear later during a highway chase, but true special effects rule the day here.
Live Free or Die Hard is not going to win over cynics who just don’t enjoy seeing gunfights and major explosions. I enjoyed the first hour and a half, but it did become overkill during the final act. Thankfully, Bruce Willis doesn’t change his approach to McClane and keeps him identifiable, even when he’s performing crazy acts. Justin Long also brings some much-needed humor and depth to a character that could have been painfully one-note. Timothy Olyphant is no Alan Rickman, but he plays it straight and creates a believable villain. In similar fashion to her part in Mission Impossible III, Maggie Q plays this type of role well. Mai barely speaks, which makes her evil abilities more chilling. The actors realize they’re doing a summer popcorn movie and enjoy it, but don’t try to steal the picture. Instead, they allow McClane to be the centerpiece and try to save the day—for the fourth time.
A final note about the rated and unrated versions offered on this DVD: Prior to the theatrical release, fans were soured to see another beloved franchise tone things down to appease a larger audience. This DVD rectifies that problem and gives you the option to watch the original cut, which contains much more language and stronger violence. You also get a clearer version of McClane’s famous quote, which was initially obscured by the sound of a gunshot. This version should please devoted fans, but the PG-13 option remains for younger teens or audiences who don’t care for the graphic language.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Live Free or Die Hard utilizes a strong 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents the numerous chases and explosions clearly. Many of the early scenes take place at night and are a bit grainy, but the sunny daytime footage is especially bright.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: This release offers a booming 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that sends the bullets flying all over your living room. The audio is clear, but it doesn’t offer the crisp sharpness provided by the best discs. You’ll still be impressed by the tunnel chase and other major scenes, but this transfer could have been even better.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Hit Man, The Simpsons Movie, Mr. Brooks, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 24: Season 6, The Last of the Mohicans
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Bruce Willis, Director Len Wiseman and Editor Nicolas De Toth
The bonus disc offers the feature-length documentary Analog Hero in a Digital World: Making of Live Free or Die Hard&8212a detailed look at the entire filmmaking process. If you don’t have time to watch the entire feature or just want to check out a specific area, there are 10 chapters available on the menu. The better sections occur during the first half, which includes a discussion of the franchise and its casting. The Texture and Tone chapter also deserves your time and contains significant behind-the-scenes footage. Other areas covered in this documentary include stunts, editing, special and visual effects, and sound mixing.
My favorite remaining feature is Yippee Ki Yay Motherf*****!, a 22-minute conversation between Bruce Willis and Kevin Smith. They simply sit on a front step near Fox’s lot and discuss plenty of intriguing topics. Willis actually speaks about his lukewarm feelings about the middle sequels, though he doesn’t go into specific details. Another fun item is their talk of Willis’ frequent postings on web forums, which caused the expected wary fan reaction. It’s rare to view such an uncomplicated, honest interview that doesn’t insert film clips and waste time with plot summary. This interview offers an excellent model for DVD producers to use instead of adding unnecessary fluff. In that vein, this release includes Fox Movie Channel Presents Fox Legacy, which conveys six minutes of back-slapping by 20th Century Fox’s Tom Rothman. I would recommend that you avoid this dull promotional piece.
The remaining supplements include an extremely cheesy video for the upbeat song Die Hard by Guyz Nite. Each verse covers a Die Hard movie, and the refrain is the grating ”we’re gonna die die die die hard!” I understand the video’s inclusion as a novelty, but Behind the Scenes with Guyz Nite seems like too much. According to their MySpace page, the band aims to “put the amp back in anthem,” which is one way to look at their role. I have a different opinion, but can’t deny that they are having a good time. Finally, we have the theatrical trailer, which highlights the crazy, over-the-top action scenes and big confrontations.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsIf you’re the type of person who likes to rank franchise movies (like me), then you should enjoy my current order of Die Hard success. The first film is the obvious winner, but Live Free or Die Hard does sneak into the second spot. The third picture is suitably third, while Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2: Die Harder is the dud of the group. All have their thrills, but the closest to the original’s charm comes from this fourth entry. It still falls well short of that seminal film, but should provide two hours of entertainment to a certain audience.
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