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Die Hard 25th Anniversary Collection

Die Hard

What can I possibly say about the original Die Hard that you don’t already know? Nothing. I can say nothing, so let’s just move on to the A/V quality.

I’ll start out with the bad news right now – this collection has not been re-mastered in any way. This first movie was re-mastered in 4K for the limited theatrical re-release, but it is not available here. All four transfers are, from what my eyes can see, exactly the same as the previous Blu-ray releases. Having never seen the film during its original release, I have no distinct basis for my assumptions about some of this transfer’s qualities, but I don’t think I’m jumping to any conclusions when I say everything is a hair darker than intended (I believe the opening sequences were shot day for night). Clearly, Die Hard is a pretty dark movie to begin with, but at times the image here is a little muddy. The film grain appears mostly natural, though there is a bit of shimmer long some of the harder edges and a little minor discolourations in the backdrops. The colour quality is sometimes warmer/redder than the older DVD releases, but not unnaturally so. Highlight hues also have a habit of bleeding out a bit, but the basic separation is about as tight as the material will allow. Cinematographer Jan de Bont uses a lot of pinpointed focus throughout the film, even racking focus during dialogue-heavy sequences to maintain foreground sharpness, which makes the more complex background textures somewhat underwhelming overall. There have been questions brought up concerning this transfer’s aspect ratio (2.40:1 vs. the theatrical 2.35:1 and 2.20:1 65mm releases), but nothing outside of the opening logo appears squished.

The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack uses the same 5.1 remix that’s been floating around since the films first hit DVD (possibly even Laserdisc?). The original stereo-surround mix (six channel on the 65mm prints) makes a solid base for the remix and most of the surround enhancements and directional movements take their cue from this. Occasionally, the now discreetly centered dialogue sounds a bit canned and something will bleed out into the right or left channels. The film’s age does dictate that the sound is generally less stylistic than modern releases, so the sudden uptake in stereo and surround noise during gun battles is a bit awkward, but there’s still nice dynamic range and surprisingly immersive bits throughout. Besides potent gunshots, Michael Kamen’s score stands out nicely, especially those big, brassy notes that accompany suspenseful sequences.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with Director John McTiernan and Production Designer Jackson De Govia
  • Scene Specific Commentary with FX Supervisor Richard Edlund
  • Subtitle Commentary with the Cast and Crew
  • The Newscasts (8:00, SD)
  • Interactive Still Gallery
  • Three Trailers and Seven TV Spots

Die Hard 25th Anniversary Collection

Die Hard 2: Die Harder

By all rights, Die Harder should be a terrible movie – it robs the first film’s structure and strains credibility by sticking McClane in another, even bigger ‘wrong-place/wrong-time’ situation. The first rule of sequels is that you shouldn’t just remake the first film, you should find a creative and original reason to continue the story. However, Die Harder was directed by Renny Harlin and at the peak of his powers Harlin was somehow able to transcend the rules of decent cinema. I’m not sure if any single filmmaker has ever produced so much likeable trash under similarly massive Hollywood budgets than Harlin. Die Harder was handed to Harlin as he came off the surprise success of Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and was released alongside his first major flop, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (the month of July in 1990 must have been very emotionally confusing for the poor guy). Like Die Hard director John McTiernan, Harlin’s career has fizzled in the last decade-plus (few things are sadder than former box-office kings finding themselves relegated to the realms of STV), but, following Die Harder, even his box-office disappointments are mostly inexplicably likeable, especially The Long Kiss Goodnight, Deep Blue Sea, and (to a lesser extent) Driven. Die Harder also benefits from a motley cadre of strong villains. William Sadler can’t compete with Alan Rickman, of course, despite his jaw-dropping character introduction, but he’s joined by the likes of John Amos, pre-fame John Leguizamo, Robert Patrick, and Vondie Curtis-Hall, not to mention Django himself, Franco Nero (‘Freedom…’ smack ‘Not yet!’). Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson’s script (based on Walter Wager’s novel, 58 Minutes) is sometimes too route in the way set-pieces are lined-up, but their pattern stands as a good reminder of an era when action movies made narrative sense, even if they were a bit predictable. Besides, you have to extend some credit to the guys that had to find a plausible reason for McClane to involve himself in another impossibly high-stake rescue mission.

This transfer is overall stronger than the first disc, but features similar issues with overall softness. Details are definitely sharper than those of the previous SD releases, especially foreground skin and clothing textures, but the farther things get from camera, the fuzzier they get. So much of this is due to Harlin and cinematographer Oliver Wood’s mimicry of Jan de Bont’s Die Hard look that I’m not sure I can really refer to it as the transfer’s problem. The use of smoky, diffused lighting sources doesn’t exactly help matters. When I think of Die Harder, I tend to think of the colour blue, because the majority of the film takes place in a cold environment. It turns out those memories are somewhat false – plenty of scenes, specifically those taking place in daylight, are warm and filled out with oranges and browns. The inside of the airplane is downright creamsicle-coloured. Grain levels are light, but don’t appear to have been scrubbed and, aside from minor haloes, there’s nothing remarkable to report concerning compression noise. There’s room for improvement next time around, though I don’t think there are any plans for a 4K restoration, so this will have to do.

Die Harder also kicks off with an improved DTS-HD Master Audio mix that fills out a modern 5.1 speaker set with generally more grace than the first disc. There’s nothing here that stands out as particularly odd in terms of the additional channel upgrade. The stereo and surround enhanced environment is pretty wide and the multi-channel movement is pretty effective, if not a little aggressive (if a sound takes place anywhere near the right or left side of the screen, it is moved to the corresponding speaker). The action sequences are nice and aggressive with all the appropriate gunshots and explosions delegated to the appropriate speaker and given the proper LFE support. The goopy glop of blood squibs popping isn’t lost in the bombast, either. I doubt many people would mark Die Harder as the best film in the series, but it arguably features Michael Kamen’s strongest score. Unfortunately, the music entirely disappears under the rest of the mix on too many occasions.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with Director Renny Harlin
  • Four Deleted Scenes (8:20, SD)
  • HBO First Look (23:10, SD)
  • Behind the Scenes Featurette (4:10, SD)
  • The Bad Guys (6:40, SD)
  • Breaking the Ice (4:10, SD)
  • Chaos on the Conveyor Belt (7:50, SD)
  • Renny Harlin Interview (6:40, SD)
  • Three Visual Effects Breakdowns
  • Three Side-by-Side Effects Comparisons
  • Four Trailers and Two TV Spots

Die Hard 25th Anniversary Collection

Die Hard with a Vengeance

If the second film in the series is a surprise, the third is a genuine shock. With a Vengeance is so different from the first two films that it’s almost unrelated, outside of the John McClane character and the fact that he doesn’t die easily. This isn’t a surprise, since the script began its life as an entirely unrelated project called Simon Says (written by decent writer-turned-horrible director Jonathan Hensleigh). However, unlike the badly designed fourth film (more on that in a moment), the misplaced McClane is still the McClane we know and love from the first two movies and, thematically, the non-McClane-prepped narrative works well for the character. Even the shoehorned ‘buddy’ aspects of the movie, which are overrun with genre clichés, works, largely because Sam Jackson is so damn good as McClane’s reluctant civilian partner. Though conceptualized as a sort of spoof of the loud, angry characters Jackson played leading up to the film’s release, Zeus Carver might actually be my personal favourite of these characters – he’s very funny and has a good arc throughout the film. And, like the first two movies, With a Vengeance is a strong sampling of the culture of the era it was released. McTiernan, who returned to the franchise after the double-flop of Medicine Man and Last Action Hero (the latter actually made money in the long run), took his visual cues from popular ‘90s television shows, like Law and Order and NYPD Blue and laced them with over-the-top action. Only the flooded tunnel sequence exceeds the film’s hyper-realistic tone. Hensleigh’s script also pokes fun at the Clinton era’s PC-overload. Despite a terrible, limp-noodle ending and some awkward expositional dialogue, With a Vengeance may be my favourite film in the entire series and sits among quintessential New York cop movies, like Serpico and The French Connection.

With a Vengeance could probably look better, but I’ve got absolutely zero complaints about this 1080p, 2.40:1 HD transfer. The natural, mostly daylight-shot photography lends itself well to a clean, natural image brimming with impressive foreground textures, relatively complex background patterns (like the first film, there’s a lot of racked focus and close-ups). The film grain adds to the texture without damaging the overall clarity (thank goodness for the lack of DNR). The colours skew a little warm to capture the summer heat and are flecked nicely with plenty of eclectic highlight hues. Everything is supported with deep blacks and crisp whites that only cause a handful of minor edge haloes. With this film, the Die Hard series officially entered the realm of digital sound design. With a Vengeance features a full-bodied, thoughtfully designed, and largely natural DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, probably the best in the collection. The motion effects are well-balanced, creating a natural and immersive cityscape environment that makes plenty of ambient noise even during the film’s most quiet moments. The explosive action sequence are, naturally, more aggressive, and include heavy layers of effects throughout each bullet hit and bomb blast. Kamen’s score sits a bit low on the track, but still blasts a bit of brass when needed.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with Director John McTiernan, Writer Jonathan Hensleigh and Film Executive Tom Sherak
  • Alternate Ending (With Optional Hensleigh Commentary, 6:00, SD)
  • HBO First Look (21:50, SD)
  • CBS: A Night to Die For (21:40, SD)
  • Behind the Scenes EPK (4:20, SD)
  • Bruce Willis Interview (6:20, SD)
  • Villains with a Vengeance (4:30, SD)
  • Storyboard Sequence (2:10, SD)
  • Three Digital Effects Breakdowns
  • Six Side-by-Side Effects Comparisons
  • Two Trailers and Ten TV Spots

Die Hard 25th Anniversary Collection

Live Free or Die Hard

I often have to be reminded that there was a fourth Indiana Jones movie. Similarly I tend to forget Live Free or Die Hard exists. This isn’t because I hate these tardy ‘fourquels’ (tetraquel?) so much that I try to forget them, it’s because they’re such blindingly unremarkable movies that I have little reason to recall them. It’s also pretty easy to ignore Live Free or Die Hard, because it doesn’t really resemble the other three films in the series. Besides the appearance of an actor named Bruce Willis playing a character named John McClane who refuses to die easily, it’s really more of a Die Hard-inspired movie than another entry in the ongoing, already not particularly serialized series. It’s not a bad movie – it’s actually better than similarly stupid, effects-heavy action movies released around the same time simply because the plot has some structure – but it’s a dull and flavourless exercise that doesn’t really deserve any attention. Live Free or Die Hard had the misfortune of being directed by the reigning king of dull, Len Wiseman, whose already tedious style and weightless action sequences were met with a violence and catchphrase quelling PG-13 rating (and yes, this is the PG-13 cut, not the unrated cut). Again, it’s not a bad movie, it has its moments (most of the big action bits are theoretically cool) and no dumb action film should be immediately dismissed simply for being dumb. The cast is also acceptable – Justin Long is genuinely likeable, despite being stuck in a thanklessly obnoxious role, Maggie Q is an effective steely bitch, and Wills, though playing John McClane in-name-only, is pleasantly gruff. The only major disappointment is Timothy Olyphant, who entered the role of Die Hard villain coming off the strength of his leading role on Deadwood and managed to do nothing but angry cry the whole movie. The less said about Kevin Smith’s appearance, the better.

Live Free or Die Hard is only about five years old, so it’s no surprise that this 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is sharp and very modern-looking (if there was any lingering question as to if these were the old discs repackaged, this one starts with trailers for The Simpsons Movie and Rise of the Silver Surfer). I can complain all I want about Wiseman’s bland style, but I have to admit he has a distinctive style and cinematographer Simon Duggan (who did nice things with Alex Proyas over the years) doesn’t rock the boat. Like every other Len Wiseman movie ever, this one is very cool, very dark, and very blue. There are differentiations between degrees of blue-ness – some are greenish – but it’s mostly blue. Oranges are used as a contrasting hue against the blues and greens, but things like skin tones and warmly coloured wardrobe items are still plenty rosy. The limited colours are very smooth and clean, similar to a digitally shot feature (obviously, digital grading is being used), but there’s still enough grain to corroborate the assumption that it was shot on 35mm. Details are occasionally limited by the palette choices, heavy blacks, and blooming whites, yet are sharp enough to count stray hairs and the spray as Justin Long opens a can of soda. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is also very modern and plenty aggressive, but also unnatural, in keeping with its modern pedigree. This isn’t a problem, it’s merely an observation. The directional movement is fantastic, especially the poppy shootouts and their diverse calibre bangs that zip with utter precision around the room. The less aggressive sequences are pretty thin, but the dialogue is always clear (even the bits that are clearly redubbed, probably to delete naughty words). Marco Beltrami’s score is certainly extensive, cropping up so often that the sound designers are exactly sure what to do with it, so it’s often either delegated to the rear speakers (nicely) or lost under the bombastic firepower.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with Bruce Willis, Director Len Wiseman, and Editor Nocolas De Toth
  • Black Hat Intercept! Game
  • Analogue Hero in the Digital World: The Making of Live Free or Die Hard (1:37:40, SD)
  • Yippee Ki Yay MotherF*****! (22:40, SD)
  • Behind the Scenes with Guyz Nite (5:50, SD)
  • Trailers

Additional Extras: Decoding Die Hard

The four movie discs are complete ports from the previous Blu-ray editions, but Fox has included one more disc to sweeten the pot a bit. It’s not really worth re-purchase for fans that already own the previous four film set, but is a nice added incentive for those that hadn’t gotten around to buying that release.

This boils down to one long documentary, which is broken down into several parts (with a play-all option), starting with Origins: Reinventing the Action Genre (19:40, HD), which covers the basics of production throughout the movies, including Roderick Thorp’s book, Walter Wager’s sequel to Thorp’s book, 58 Minutes, the original Thorp film adaptation The Detective (starring Frank Sinatra, who was approached to star in Die Hard), screenwriting, assembling the crew, direction, locations, production design, and continuously ‘recapturing the magic of Die Hard.’ John McClane: Modern Day Hero (16:30, HD) covers the character’s growth throughout the series. Villains: Bad to the Bone (20:40, HD) obviously concerns the villains throughout the series and the actors that played them. Sidekicks: Along for the Ride (19:10. HD) again, rather obviously concerns the supporting casts’ good-guys/incidentals throughout the series. Fight Sequences: Punishing Blows (7:30, HD) covers stunt work, fight choreography, and violence. Action: Explosive Effects (14:40, HD) covers the evolution of special effects through the analogue and digital eras. The Legacy: The Right Hero for the Right Time (9:00. HD) wraps things up with a celebratory look back.

Interview subjects throughout the doc include producers Joel Silver, Michael Tadross, and Michael Fottwell, directors John McTiernan, Renny Harlin, and Len Wiseman, screenwriters Steven E. de Souza, Jeb Stuart, Doug Richardson, Jonathan Hensleigh, and Mark Bomback, production designer Jackson DeGovia, cinematographer Jan de Bont, editors John White and Nicolas DeTooth, assistant/Second Unit director Beau Marks, FX supervisors Susan MacLeod, Thaine Morris, John E. Sullivan, Scott E. Anderson,  and Richard Edlund, stunt coordinators Charles Picerni and Brad Martin, costume designer Marylin Vance, and actors William Sadler, Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons, Reginald VelJohnson, Kevin Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Justin Long, De’Veroux Wright, and William Atherton. This disc also features trailers for all five movies in the series.