Good Day to Die Hard, A (US - BD RA)
Gabe thinks a better day would be one where this franchise actually did die...
New York City cop John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) latest predicament takes him all the way to Russia to track down his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who has been imprisoned in Moscow. But the mission takes a deadly turn as father and son must join forces to thwart a nuclear weapons heist that could trigger World War III! (From Fox’s original synopsis)
The first three Die Hard movies are all among my favourite R-rated action movies of their era. The original is a perfect machine and template for future type. The second film, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, covers the fact that it unnecessarily retreads so much of the original film with strong direction and characterization. The third film, Die Hard with a Vengeance, is a near-brilliant inversion of the formula, adapting an unrelated screenplay into a perfect would-be final outing for John McClane. After a 12 year gap, Fox attempted to revive the franchise with Live Free or Die Hard, an awkward, overblown action flick that had almost nothing in common with the previous three films beyond the inclusion of Bruce Willis as a guy named John McClane, though the dude on-screen had very little in common with the poor sap we’d left at a phone booth back in 1995. Live Free or Die Hard is a bad Die Hard film, but a decent standalone, effects-heavy action flick. It would be easy enough to forget it ever existed and move on to rewatching the original trilogy every year or so. But, Live Free or Die Hard made money and Bruce Willis continued to be a commodity even as he approached his sixth decade of life, so, clearly, Fox had to keep the Die Hard train rolling. At least before Willis broke a hip or something.
A Good Day to Die Hard makes me wish Willis had injured himself badly enough during the last Die Hard. Not that I wish pain on the guy or even want him disappear from the film scene altogether – just last year, he made two of his best movies in Moonrise Kingdom and Looper – I just wish he hadn’t been on hand to help Fox exects ravage his most famous brand and assume a broken hip would’ve kept him away. A Good Day to Die Hard is, indeed, a freaking horrible movie that makes Live Free or Die Hard look like a thoughtful, genre-re-defining masterpiece. Problems begin, obviously, with writer Skip Woods’ screenplay or what I assume was some kind of napkin-scribbled half idea that was being written while the multi-million dollar production had already started filming. Woods is best known as the mastermind behind such ridiculously floppy action screenplays as Swordfish, Hitman, and The A-Team. None of these movies were as terrible as they could’ve been, but X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which Woods rewrote based on David Benioff’s original screenplay, is the same kind of kitchen sink-level abysmal that is presented here. A Good Day to Die Hard has no character, no focus, and merely a vague outline to verify that Woods physically wrote anything on the page.
Then there’s director John Moore, who has found success with some of the most indefinably bland movies ever made, including an Owen Wilson action vehicle, Behind Enemy Lines, two unneeded remakes, Flight of the Phoenix and The Omen, and a videogame adaptation, Max Payne. His basic skills appear to have escaped him when handed a franchise, because A Good Day to Die Hard is among the most unattractive tentpole features I’ve ever seen. Moore makes terrible choices in abstractly handheld cameras, hideously flat compositions, digital colour timing (more on that in the video section) – even his choice in subtitle font is distractingly ugly. Stuff just keeps happening and Moore mistakes constant movement and property destruction for real filmmaking. A Good Day to Die Hard is a numbing, idiotic swath of shit breaking and breaking loudly. Moore doesn’t direct these scenes as much as he sets up as many cameras as he can, then lets his editors run wild with the footage. There’s no sense of visual logic or geography, even during simple dialogue sequences, where the camera still manages to shake uncontrollably and crash-zoom into nothing at every possible opportunity.
Live Free or Die Hard got away with stupid plotting, because director Len Wiseman gave the audience a chance to breathe between action sequences. He made sure McClane and his geeky sidekick had some amusing interactions. The franchise’s lifeblood was anemic, but still recognizable on at least a base level. Bruce Willis was what we’d consider ‘off model’ when he appeared in Wiseman’s movie. It’s forgivable in hindsight. This time, he’s basically absent from the film entirely. McClane is no longer the man that always finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time – he’s the grumpy, confused, elderly man whining about being on vacation and shouting ‘Jack! Jack! Jack!’ at his son, who does his best to ignore him so that the story may get underway. The screenplay attempts to draw upon our memories of the previous films to create character drama, but there’s almost nothing about this character or the tone of the story he’s very purposefully flinging himself into that recalls those other movies. I have to appreciate how quickly the film moves, though there’s not really a story to unravel – just another awkward father/son moment before more explosions. As McClane enters Russia, he also enters some kind of fugue state where he happens to walk by every important establishing element. Oh, and that old-fashioned John McClane sarcasm? It’s here, but it’s forced and painful. Willis is so obnoxious that I found myself rooting for the bad guys to take him out. It’s not like his presence has any bearing on the good guys winning – he’s the one messing things up from the word ‘Go.’ With this movie, John McClane has become the Jar Jar Binks of the Die Hard franchise.
From what I can tell, without sitting through the entire horrible movie twice, the major difference between the theatrical, R-rated and extended/unrated version is that Mary Elizabeth Winsted only appears in the theatrical version.
A Good Day to Die Hard was shot on 35mm, though I’m not sure why because every ounce of natural colour and dynamic range has been eradicated with insipid digital colour timing practices. For some reason, it was also shown on IMAX screens, despite not being shot in IMAX or a comparable 70mm or 4K format. This 1.85:1 (every other Die Hard film is 2.35/40:1, for the record), 1080p transfer does everything it can with the hideously over-processed image. I’ve gotten in the habit of complaining about orange and teal colour timing practices and, in my complacence, I lost track of how bad such processing can get. The Moscow of A Good Day to Die Hard clearly takes place in an alternate universe where Chernobyl has steadily leaked radiation into the atmosphere until everything has turned a sickly green and teal. Highlights are either represented by yellow/oranges or blown-out ‘white’ levels that are just a lighter shade of teal. I suppose I shouldn’t entirely dismiss the use of film, because, oh my God, is this a grainy freaking movie. Every inch of the screen is slathered in thick, lumpy granules that must have been the size of a human head on an IMAX screen. This grain, coupled with the constant smoke/dust and the general darkness of the frame, makes for some pretty weak detail levels, especially the backgrounds. Foreground textures are pretty sharp, assuming the camera stops zipping around long enough to absorb any detail. The harsh contrast and crushed blacks help in this regard. Complex patterns don’t do quite so well among all the grain and noise, but there isn’t a lot of edge enhancement or major moiré noise. All in all: a hideous transfer that looks exactly as the filmmakers intended.
Well, it ain’t any good, but A Good Day to Die Hard is certainly a very loud movie, which is good news for this 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (apparently some theaters showed the film in the new Dolby Atmos sound). The film opens on a black screen with the sounds of war, which spreads all the way across the channels and give the LFE a huge pop. Then Moore and his sound designers decide to get all ‘arthouse’ with the soundtrack as they use slow-motion abstractions throughout the stereo and surround channels to build up to a very punchy series of massive explosions. Then there’s a really long, pointless vehicle chase that gives the system plenty to do between shattering glass, throbbing impacts, grinding engines, and the sad little cries of innocent bystanders as their tiny Russian cars are crushed. This chase never really ends, but the mixers do their best to add some texture to the chaos. In contrast, the opening and closing acts of the elongated action sequences are quiet – sometimes entirely silent. Dialogue is clear and warm throughout and can usually be understood over the machine gun fire and crashing cars, only with a bit of an artificial slant when things get particularly loud. Marco Beltrami’s score more or less follows the lead set by the other Die Hard films, but it’s usually blocked out by the throbbing bass of more explosions.
The extras begin with a commentary from Moore and first assistant director Mark Cotone, available only with the extended version. The tone is friendly between the commentators, who are clearly friends, but the information is a bit too jokey for my taste. Among the jokes are some amusing factoids about the filming process, including comparisons between the two cuts of the film, facts about the ‘in flux’ screenplay, and casting creepy Eurotrash villains. There’s also quite a bit of down time throughout the track as Moore and Cotone struggle to find new and interesting things to talk about.
Making It Hard to Die (1:00, HD) is a 15-part making-of featurette, including:
- Introduction – an unbelievably self-important series of introductory interviews where the cast and crew act like they’re making magic (complete with horribly uplifting music).
- Stunts – a closer look at some of the complex stunts you couldn’t see on-screen because the editing was so bad.
- Helicopters and Aerial – on the process of shooting with and around helicopters.
- Special Effects – on the in-camera effects and explosions.
- Motion Base – about using the truck gimble for close-up scenes.
- Armoury – concerning the many, many guns the production used.
- Russia & Budapest – on the process of shooting on location.
- The Look of the Movie – featuring concept art and production design.
- Chernobyl – on designing and building the set for the climax.
- Camera Work – concerning the film’s handheld look. No one but the director seems to think this was a good idea.
- Editorial Los Angeles – where the poor editorial department tries to make sense of Moore’s horrible footage.
- Color Grading – on the process of fully destroying anything beautiful in the negative.
- Visual Effects – concerning digital effects and composition.
- Film Scoring – with composer Marco Beltrami discussing his music.
- Wrap Up – which, um, wraps things up.
The behind-the-scenes stuff continues with Anatomy of a Car Chase (26:10, HD), which breaks down the film’s first major action sequence. It’s fascinating watching so much effort go so wrong. Two of a Kind (8:00, HD), Back in Action (7:10, HD), and The New Face of Evil (7:00, HD) are more EPK-type things, including some retread interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Maximum McClane (3:20, HD) gives a brief replay of the previous film’s best one-liners and acts of violence.
Interview subjects throughout the featurettes include Moore, producers Peter Veverka, Wyck Godfrey, and Jason Keller, cinematographer Jonathan Sela, editor Dan Zimmerman, stunt coordinator Steve Davison, camera operator Des Wahlan, special effects supervisor Gerd Nefzer, stuntman Jeffery Deshnaw, production designer Daniel T. Dorrance, second unit director Sean Guest, sound designer Ian Voigt, visual effects supervisors Everette Burrell and Sean Faden, production supervisor Luca Bercovici, boom operator Don Voigt, armourers Michael Picpac and Shasha Robrey, concept artist Chris Rosewarne, post-production supervisor David McKimmie, composer Marco Beltrami, and actors Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Radivoje Bukvic, Yuliya Snigir, and Sebastian Kock.
The disc also features seven deleted scenes (featuring more plot than anything that made the final film, 14:30, HD), three pre-vis comparisons (two of these scenes aren’t even in the movie, 11:40, HD), 16 visual effects comparisons (5:40, HD), storyboard galleries (7:10, HD), concept art gallery, and trailers.
A Good Day to Die Hard is not only the worst Die Hard movie ever made, it is among the most scatterbrained and unattractive big budget action movies I’ve ever seen. At one point during the black and white ‘confessionals’ that accompany the behind the scenes documentary, second assistant director Yumiko Takeya says ‘ Die Hard 5 means: no script, no schedule.’ Then she laughs. I suppose that sort of says it all. The behind-the-scenes material is actually brimming with similar tidbits, where crew members vaguely complain about John Moore’s dumb choices as director and the film’s impossibly compacted production schedule. It’s usually hard to pin a bad film on anyone in particular, but the people behind this Blu-ray have given us plenty of evidence on what precisely went wrong here. This means Fox has an abject, on the record lesson on what not to do next time. The only remaining question is: are they willing to learn this lesson? Probably not.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 4th June 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English Descriptive Audio (Theatrical Cut only), Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish and French
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Rated and Extended Versions, Director and First Assistant Director Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Making it Hard to Die, Anatomy of a Car Chase, Two of a Kind, Back in Action, The New Face of Evil, Pre-vis, VFX Sequences, Maximum McClane, Still Gallery, Trailers, DVD Copy, UltraViolet Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Moore
Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Radivoje Bukvić, Cole Hauser
Length: 97 minutes