Nerdist continues its series wherein the local authors admit to missing a classic, and list their impression upon seeing it for the first time. Today, Witney Seibold admits to having never seen Die Hard until recently…
The Film: Die Hard (dir. John McTiernan, 1988)
Age at Which the Author Finally Saw It: 30
How Could You Have Missed It?: I was only 10 when Die Hard was released in theaters, so I wasn’t able to see it then. Also, I was never particularly drawn to action films (and I’m still not, really). When I was a teenager, I actively (and arrogantly) began rejecting any and all action films, thanks mainly to my hatred of Michael Bay’s 1996 film, The Rock. So I blame Michael Bay. It took me many years, and the coaxing of an understanding girlfriend, to lure me back to action movies, and to the 1988 classic in particular. During a condensed period of my life, I saw Die Hard, Aliens, Predator, Lethal Weapon, 48 Hrs., Beverly Hills Cop, and Streets of Fire, all in rapid succession.
Impressions: Something magical happened while I was watching Die Hard for the first time. Because of the film’s taut structure, Bruce Willis’ flip heroism, and gigantic action set pieces, I began to realize where so many of my beloved action movie tropes has originated. Die Hard, I soon realized, was the Rosetta Stone for translating and unlocking all the secrets of all action movies to have followed it. There’s a reason why so many screenwriting handbooks recommend that you watch Die Hard: It has one of the single most impeccable screenplays imaginable, setting a standard for everyone forever. Everything that occurs in the movie comes into play later, right down to a downturned photograph of John McClane.
John McClane is an awesome character, but I think people misinterpret him. McClane is not a superhuman badass with army training and fighting skills. He’s more of a wry, cynical blue-collar dude thrust into an extreme situation, and who uses his resourcefulness – not his well-honed expertise – to escape. John McClane is down-to-earth. It wouldn’t be until the later sequels (which I have also seen now) that John McClane would turn into an indestructible honcho who can launch cars at helicopters. In Die Hard, he constantly comments on how badly deep in doo-doo he is, and that makes him more fun, more relatable, and more interesting. Indeed, Bruce Willis was, at the time, only known largely for Moonlighting, so he was actually a big casting risk to take for an action hero.
This is one of those magical films where all the villains, all the thugs, all the minor supporting characters actually display humanity. No one in this film is disposable. Even that one mute thug, asked to hide out in the lobby, takes a moment to shoplift a candy bar. These small moments seem rare in action films of today, and enrich an action film to a vital degree. The central villain, Hans Gruber, as played by the deliciously smarmy Alan Rickman, is motivated by greed, but feels like a real person with real concerns, even if they are criminal. You get the feeling that you could have a conversation with any of these people, even the coke-snorting yuppie jerkwad (Hart Bochner).
The “It’s Die Hard on a ____________” formula was played out in theaters for many years, making for some awesome imitators (Speed in 1994, White House Down in 2013), and many forgettable ripoffs (even the fourth 3 Ninjas film, High Noon at Mega Mountain, has echoes of Die Hard in it). No film has been able to re-capture the magic. Luckily, the original still plays.
Are You a Convert?: Heck, yes. I have nothing but affection for my newly-discovered classic. Some of the action films of the ’80s feel dated today, many of which were outstripped by their imitators (Beverly Hills Cop, f’rinstance). Die Hard is strangely eternal. I have feeling that Die Hard will enter a strange ever-circling loop of rediscovery as every generation passes. Some classics may fade. Die Hard is evergreen. Well, if you can look past Bonnie Bedelia’s dated hairdo.
And if you haven’t seen Die Hard, then I – as a recent convert – come to proselytize. Go see it immediately.