Here’s how you can tell when a movie has become part of the pop culture firmament: The title can be used as descriptive shorthand. Sometimes that’s a bad thing (like ”Ishtar”), but in Die Hard‘s case, it’s more of a ratification — ”Die Hard” on a plane (”Passenger 57”), ”Die Hard” on a boat (”Under Siege”), ”Die Hard” on a mountain (”Cliffhanger”). The seemingly simple formula — take a working-class hero, confine him, add a damsel in distress and a bunch of villains, usually terrorists, and shake well — often flummoxed imitators, and this new six disc boxed set will help you see for yourself why the franchise started by director John McTiernan’s tense thriller has been so difficult to duplicate.
Die Hard gets the lion’s share of the bells and whistles in this collection (which also includes Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Die Hard With a Vengeance) and that’s saying a lot, as each title gets two discs, with features including director commentaries, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes documentaries, storyboards, trailers, and special effects breakdowns.
Die Hard (also sold separately) boasts two of the most impressive supplements ever seen on a DVD. The first, a scene-editing workshop, is a smooth application that allows you to monkey with three different sequences to learn how editing choices affect the tone and content of the finished product. The other, an audio mixing lab, allows you to control how loud the various audio elements — dialogue, music, and effects — are heard in the final mix. It’s a little simplistic and clunky, but it’s still a marvelous way to bring the viewer into the filmmaking experience.
As for the other Die Hard only goodies, the McTiernan commentary is pretty good, when he’s not interrupted by production designer Jackson DeGovia. The two were obviously not in the same room for the track’s recording, and it’s somewhat distracting to cut from McTiernan talking about something of genuine cinematic interest to DeGovia waxing about wallpaper. There’s also a somewhat successful subtitled text commentary, taken from new interviews with actor Alan Rickman, writer Steven E. de Souza, producer Lawrence Gordon, and composer Michael Kamen.
So what will the viewer come away with? A great film about Bruce Willis’ running around an office building, two pretty decent sequels, and a deeper understanding of how they got that way. A