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Catching Up with Classics: Die Hard (1988)

Hello, dear readers. As I type this, it is Monday 14th December, around 5.30pm. News channels have just announced that my local area is moving into Tier 3. If you’ve time-travelled here from the start of the year to read ahead in my Catching Up series, you’re probably wondering what a ‘Tier 3’ is. Don’t worry, you’ll find out soon enough – I finished writing this feature the morning after we moved into Tier 4. Merry Christmas, love from Boris Johnson.

This is it, my friends. We’ve reached the end of the year, nearly. Just 11 days until the end of 2020, something we’re apparently all looking forward to despite there being no evidence that 2021 will be any better. Ah well, nothing like an anticlimactic conclusion…which is not what Die Hard has been for me!

If you’re catching up with my Catching Up now, the premise is simple: I’ve seen zero films, apparently. I’ve spent the last 12 months righting that wrong by watching one classic a month and reflecting on how well it’s aged. We’ve been shot into space a couple of times, fought off orcs, been imprisoned and tunnelled our way out, busted ghosts and raided an ark, amongst other adventures. This time, for the final time, we’re saving the residents of Nakatomi Plaza from a Mr Hans Gruber.

December’s pick: Die Hard

We open on NYPD detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) landing in Los Angeles, planning to spend his Christmas break playing nice with his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). He jumps in a car, driven by wise-cracking hipster Argyle (De’voreaux White), and taken to Nakatomi Plaza to attend Holly’s workplace Christmas party.

After some cutting words are exchanged between the couple, John takes a moment to regroup and freshen up. Several floors below, as Holly mingles in the crowd, a heavily armed team of men swarm the room, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), a German radical out to take down the Nakatomi Corporation. Rounding up the party guests and taking them hostage, Gruber and his men attempt to break into the company’s vault, planning to steal $640 million in bonds.

John, hiding away upstairs, sets off a fire alarm in an attempt to summon the fire service; instead, he’s hunted down by one of Gruber’s goons, who John swiftly takes out. Now armed with an assault rifle and a walkie-talkie, John contacts the police…who don’t believe that the building and its inhabitants are under siege.

I won’t go into too much detail as I don’t want to spoil the fun, but what I will say is that the film certainly earns its 18-rated certificate, that Willis is the perfect action movie hero…and it’s definitely a Christmas film, if Christmas films include lots of blood, swearing, explosions and gunfire.

Rather than bore you with ‘making of’ facts and figures, I thought I’d pick from some of my favourite Die Hard trivia titbits, as a festive treat from me to you!

  • The Nakatomi Plaza building we see onscreen was the newly-built-but-still-under-construction headquarters of 20th Century Fox. They charged themselves rent during filming.
  • Director John McTiernan confirmed that the explosions we see on and around the building were real!
  • Jeb Stuart, working on the Die Hard screenplay, was having a hard time completing it until he experienced his own brush with death. After having an argument with his wife and storming out the house, he was driving behind a lorry carrying refrigerators when one of them fell out the back and came close to wiping out his car. He realised that he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to apologise to his wife, and this inspired the tension between John and Holly.
  • Robert De Niro, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger are just some of the names who turned down the role of John, which was then offered to Willis.
  • And finally, according to IMDb, in the suitable-for-TV edit John’s famous line ‘Yippie ki-yay, motherfucker!’ is changed to ‘Yippie ki-yay, melon farmer!’

Has it aged well?

100%! Aside from the tacky 80s fashions and haircuts of the party guests, you could show this to someone in the year 2020 and it would still feel fresh. As exampled earlier in my Catching Up series, the 1980s was peak American action movie season and Die Hard was just one of many released in the decade to now be considered a classic – but it really does earns that title.

Willis is a fantastic leading man – self-deprecating, weary, cocky, handsome – and a brilliant force against Rickman’s conniving Gruber. The explosions and tense action sequences are genuine, edge-of-your-seat stuff, and the wholesome ending is very Christmassy. Love Actually, you’ve got competition.

Hindsight is 2020

I was shocked to discover that Die Hard is quite inclusive, sort of. A cast of actors from a range of diverse backgrounds was a surprise, as was the lack of ‘damsel in distress’ plotting; Holly holds her own and helps save the day alongside John, which was a lovely twist on typical shoot ’em up stories.

Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), John’s connection with the outside world while stuck inside fighting bad guys, does fit the Token Black Friend character trope – full of wise advice helping to boost John’s self-confidence – but I let that slide. He brings out a softer side to John and their sweet reunion brought a tear to my eye.

Classy or classless classic?

Out of all of the films in this series, John McTiernan‘s Die Hard is the title that receives the most praise/most disgust that I haven’t (now hadn’t) seen. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t love it; people are very passionate about it and I’m now one of them.

From the moment the opening credits rolled, I was in. As a secret fan of recent action adventures (things like The Expendables and the Fast & Furious stuff) Die Hard was right up my street, and I’ll be adding it to my list of traditions for Christmases to come.

Thank you for joining me as I caught up with classics this year – I’ve had a lot of fun!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy 2021.

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