For most people, ’tis the season to be jolly. For me it’s a time to watch one of my favourite Christmas movies, the greatest Christmas movie of all…Die Hard. A tradition made all the more poignant this year with the loss of Alan Rickman. When terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) seize control of Nakatomi Plaza taking thirty people hostage, the last thing they expect to find is John McClane (Bruce Willis). McClane, a New York Police Detective is in town to spend Christmas with his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). With the building locked down by the heavily armed terrorists, McClane is the only one who can save the hostages.
I know I don’t need to talk about Die Hard, it’s a classic. Not only is Die Hard my favourite Christmas movie, it’s probably my favourite movie in general. And before the naysayers start complaining that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie, here’s proof that it is:
• The story takes place during a Christmas party on Christmas Eve
• There’s Christmas music
• McClane uses Christmas tape in a rather unique way
• There’s at least one giant Christmas tree in the movie
• The terrorists receive a Christmas message (wearing a Santa hat) that reads: “Now I have a machinegun Ho-Ho-Ho”, coldly read by Hans Gruber
• In saving the hostages McClane clearly pulls off a Christmas miracle, and
• It’s on TV every Christmas
There you have it, definitive proof that Die Hard is without doubt a Christmas movie!
The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s second book Nothing Lasts Forever. The title “Die Hard” was developed by Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black for another script, but was purchased by the producers for use with this movie. Thorp’s first book, The Detective was the inspiration for the 1968 movie of the same name starring Frank Sinatra. Due to the fact Nothing Lasts Forever is a sequel to The Detective, Fox was contractually obligated to offer Sinatra the lead role when it was adapted into a movie. At the time Sinatra was in his early seventies, when he turned down the role it was decided to distance the project from the source material and the 1968 movie.
The movie was then pitched to Arnold Schwarzenegger as a sequel to Commando, although writer Steven E. de Souza has since denied this. Did they really think steel drums would work with Christmas music? Originally the main character was supposed to be more of a super-hero cop hence why Sylvester Stallone was also considered for the role. Director John McTiernan was bored of this type of character, wanting McClane to be more of an “average guy” who acted because he knew he was the hostages only hope. It was felt that Willis could play the average guy securing him the role and a $5 million salary.
It wasn’t just Willis who got his big break with Die Hard, this was Alan Rickman’s first movie. John McTiernan and producer Joel Silver saw Rickman play Vicomte de Valmont in a stage production of Dangerous Liaisons, it was this performance that earned Rickman the role of Hans Gruber. The scene where McClane and Gruber first meet was inserted into the script during filming because of Rickman’s ability to convincingly mimic an American accent.
Made with a budget of $28 million, Die Hard went on to gross over $140 million worldwide. The movie has developed quite a legacy, spawning a good sequel (Die Hard 2), a great sequel (Die Hard with a Vengeance) and two fucking awful sequels (Die Hard 4.0 and A Good Day to Die Hard). The original format has become a template for action movies in which lone heroes face seemingly insurmountable odds, and the title is frequently used to nickname new action movies. Under Siege was dubbed “Die Hard on a battleship” and Olympus has Fallen was dubbed “Die Hard in The White House”. I am guilty of this myself, I dubbed my review of London has Fallen as Fallen 2: Fall Harder, a play on Die Hard 2: Die Harder.
One thing that differentiates a (real) Die Hard movie from other action movies is the location. Die Hard has the Nakatomi building, with McClane running around barefoot. This iconic looking building is in reality the Fox building in Los Angeles, which really was under construction at the time of filming. For Die Hard 2 it’s the airport caught in a snow storm. Even Die Hard with a Vengeance has New York, the people, the places, the traffic, the Indian summer. These are all things McClane and Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) have to deal with while Simon (Jeremy Irons) uses them to his advantage. The location is such a big part of the story it almost becomes a character itself. Len Wiseman and John Moore seemed to forget about this important element, part of what makes a movie a Die Hard movie. 4.0 jumps from place to place meaning no one location has any real effect on the story. The same can be said of A Good Day to Die Hard, the story begins in Moscow and moves to Chernobyl, again with no major bearing on the story.
As a former postman I can come across as a little “bah humbug” at this time of year. But you try watching your workload quadruple over the course of a few months knowing full well that some imaginary fat guy in a red suit will get all the credit. I think the problem with Christmas is everything starts way too early. You wake up on 1st November, walk into Tesco and that wall that was covered in Halloween costumes and pumpkins just yesterday is now filled with Christmas trees, lights, decorations and advent calendars. As I write this in early November, my office building is already decked out in Christmas garb. That’s why Die Hard is the ultimate Christmas movie, you watch it at Christmas and it may give you a warm Christmas feeling, but it’s not so Christmasy you can’t enjoy it all year round. There’s loads of action, one-liners and comedy, combined with an excellent story and great characters that make this movie awesome 365 days of the year!
But I’m not done, in fact to quote the man himself “how can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” If Die Hard is a Christmas movie, surely McClane’s slightly chillier adventure, Die Hard 2 must be as well. It’s a Christmas movie for many of the same reasons as Die Hard…plus there’s snow.
John McClane, now a Detective Lieutenant with the Los Angeles Police Department, is spending Christmas in Washington DC with his in-laws. When he goes to pick Holly up from the airport, terrorists hijack the communications and landing control systems before her plane is able to land. Their goal, to free General Esperanza, a Latin American dictator wanted by the US Government on drug trafficking charges. Now it’s a race against time to stop the terrorists before planes start falling out of the sky.
With John McTiernan busy making The Hunt for Red October, Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger) took over directing duties. The story is based on the book ’58 Minutes’ by Walter Wager and – according to writer Steven E. de Souza – US actions in Central America like Iran Contra. The character of General Esperanza was based on Manuel Noriega. The film crew had to change location several times in order to follow the snow. Fake snow and snow machines had to be brought in for use in certain scenes. Parts of the scene where McClane uses the tunnels to intercept Esperanza’s plane were filmed in eight different locations. Die Hard 2 has been criticised for plotholes regarding what would happen if terrorists tried to take control of an airport, but is this really such a bad thing? Personally I’m glad Hollywood doesn’t make instruction manuals for terrorist attacks. I’m quite happy to watch these stories unfold in movies, that doesn’t mean I want to see them happen in real life!
On a budget of $70 million, Harlin delivered the same basic movie as Die Hard, but on a larger scale. At the box office Die Hard 2 grossed $239.5 million. According to Rotten Tomatoes “it lacks the fresh thrills of its predecessor, but Die Hard 2 still works as an over-the-top – and reasonably taut – big budget sequel, with plenty of set pieces to paper over the plot deficiencies”. Roger Ebert – who famously criticised Die Hard – described Die Hard 2 as “terrific entertainment”, and I agree with him. The story is basically the same but the characters are still fun and interesting. It’s great to see McClane doing what he does best – deliver one-liners, shoot bad guys and smoke cigarettes. Although I would like to have seen more from Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) this time around. But there are definitely worse sequels, look at The Matrix or Taken – great movie followed by crap sequels. This may not be the greatest movie ever, it may not even be the best sequel in this franchise. As far as I’m concerned Renny Harlin definitely did a better job than Len Wiseman (Die Hard 4.0) and John Moore (A Good Day to Die Hard). Where Wiseman and Moore made mediocre action movies, Renny Harlin made a Die Hard movie!
No matter what you think of Christmas, here’s two reasons to enjoy the silly season. Yes, it’s that time of year when it’s dark half the time, cold, wet and you haven’t got any money because Christmas costs a bloody fortune. So why not stay in the warm, kick back, relax and watch some great movies? After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
As a fan of the first three movies, I have to ask, even beg…please leave John McClane alone! Let us remember the good times and forget about those last two sequels. Please, no more sequels. No reboots or re-imaginings either. I think the fans have suffered enough!
What do you think of Die Hard and its four sequels? Is it your favourite Christmas movie? Do you even count it as a Christmas movie? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below or find us on Facebook and Twitter.