The fifth film in the Die Hard series hits theaters in less than two weeks so it makes sense that 20th Century Fox would want to cash in on the impending excitement with the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Collection. Sure the first four films have already been released as a set with the same transfers and features, and sure they could have waited until A Good Day to Die Hard makes its way to Blu-ray/DVD this summer to include it… but it’s not like film fans have ever shown an aversion to double or triple-dipping.
And cynical commentary aside, I’m one of those fans.
The new set includes all four current films as well as over a hundred minutes worth of new special features. The movie discs are essentially unchanged from their previous appearances, but Fox has vastly improved the case by making it a sturdy book-like model that slides into an outer sleeve with discs that slip into waxed sleeves instead of popping onto plastic buttons.
It’s a solid release on the outside, but how does it stack up inside? Keep reading for a look at Fox’s new Die Hard 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Collection.
The Die Hard films represent one of the most popular action franchises in cinema, and the odds are more than good that if you’re reading this you’ve already seen at least the first three movies in the series. (You’re forgiven for “missing” the fourth.) Since the films are so familiar and the discs are recycled from Fox’s earlier collection we’ll keep this section brief.
Die Hard (1988) ‐ John McClane (Bruce Willis) is a NYC detective who’s arrived in LA to celebrate Christmas with his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and children. He’s only just settling in when the party outside her office is interrupted by gunfire and a Benetton ad’s worth of apparent terrorists. Now it’s up to an off-duty cop in the wrong place at the wrong time to save hundreds of lives. Not only is John McTiernan’s film the gold standard when it comes to action cinema, but it’s also one of the most popular Christmas movies of all time. (Seriously, Twitter told me so.) McClane was the first real everyman action-hero, and Willis made him more appealing than anyone could have expected. Alan Rickman is equally memorable as lead villain Hans Gruber, and the supporting cast is chock full of faces that add to the film including William Atherton, Reginald VelJohnson and Paul Gleason. The action is also pretty spectacular with a thrilling mix of fight scenes and explosive conflicts. The damn thing’s as close to perfection as action cinema gets. (Includes: Commentary, outtakes, still gallery)
Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) ‐ Washington DC’s Dulles International Airport is the setting for a terrorist attack perpetrated by US soldiers, and the traitorous bastards planned for every contingency but one… John McClane. As multiple planes are forced to fly in circles above the airport, one of them with McClane’s wife onboard, the bad guys take over the control tower with demands for a certain South American general’s freedom. Renny Harlin takes the helm here, and while it’s the biggest film of his career it remains the weakest of the sequels by a slim margin. (Yes, I’ve seen Live Free or Die Hard.) The film goes for bigger everything from its immense body count to its ridiculous antics, and while there are definitely some fun moments it suffers from a darker, crueler tone. (Includes: Commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes)
Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995) ‐ McClane is back in NYC, separated from his wife and drowning his sorrows in a bottle, but when an international terrorist sets his sights on the city in general and McClane in particular the begrudging hero finds himself needed once again. Samuel L. Jackson joins in the fun as an accidental good Samaritan while Jeremy Irons tackles the villain role. McTiernan returns to the director’s chair resulting in a big, exciting movie that balances both a bombastic experience and a charismatic presence. Simply put the movie rocks its action scenes, humorous exchanges and suspenseful set-pieces. (Includes: Commentary, alternate ending, featurettes)
Live Free or Die Hard (2007) ‐ A new breed of terrorist has set his sights on America, and once again McClane wanders unintentionally into the fray. Cyber-terrorists (including Timothy Olyphant and Maggie Q) have taken control of various computer networks and thrown the country into chaos causing traffic accidents, panic and financial ruin. McClane is tasked with delivering a known hacker (Justin Long) from point A to point B, but that simple job turns into a fiasco. Len Wiseman’s stab at the franchise had an uphill battle from day one due to it coming twelve years after the third film, being saddled with a PG-13 rating and the presence of, well, Len Wiseman. The film’s last twenty minutes are stupid beyond belief, but fans of the series and McClane have little to complain about the near two hours worth of solid action and laughs that preceded it. It also has the best supporting cast since the first film, and not even Kevin Smith can take away from that.
Keep reading for a look at the collection’s new special features.
As already stated above the four films are presented on essentially the same discs that we’ve seen before… the same video transfers, the same special features, and in the case of Live Free or Die Hard the same “coming soon” trailer for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. They all looks and sound fine, but we can only hope the next anniversary release remasters the first three films to the high standards of the last.
The set also includes a fifth disc packed with trailers and all-new behind-the-scenes material under the title “Decoding Die Hard.” The individual features are listed below, and while Willis never makes an appearance plenty of other familiar faces do.
- Origins ‐ Reinventing the Action Genre [19:35] ‐ Joel Silver and others talk about the film’s production process starting from Roderick Thorpe’s novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, which was actually a sequel to Frank Sinatra’s film, The Detective. It was apparently McTiernan’s input that shifted the bad guys from terrorists to robbers so that they could actually have fun with it. It continues on through the sequels and includes Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard) referring to the series as “stale.” So. Yeah.
- John McClane ‐ Modern Day Hero [16:29] ‐ The same folks chat about the character and what makes him so identifiable as an everyman. That’s understandable for the first film and maybe a bit of the 2nd and 3rd, but they’re kidding themselves to think it applies to the fourth. They also discuss how McClane’s “Yippee kay ay motherfucker!” in Die Hard: With a Vengeance was filmed just six days before it opened since they hadn’t felt it necessary until test screening audiences asked where the hell it was.
- Villains ‐ Bad to the Bone [20:41] ‐ The bad guys and the actors who play them are the focus here with the majority of the time being spent, deservedly so, on Rickman’s Hans Gruber. We get dueling origin stories for the meetup scene between Gruber and McClane, William Sadler’s recollection at hearing his opening scene would feature him nude, Irons acknowledging that he’s never a casting director’s first choice for a film and Long complaining that his only issue with Olyphant’s villain is that he’s too damn gorgeous.
- Sidekicks ‐ Along for the Ride [19:09] ‐ Every single sidekick gets a minute or two of the spotlight here as they go through all four films covering how and why they’re in the film. Highlights include learning that Harlin had to fight to bring back Atherton’s dickish Richard Thornburg, Smith re-wrote his character’s dialogue and Wiseman had multiple meetings with the studio regarding how much facial hair Long’s character would have. None of those facts are surprising.
- Fight Sequences ‐ Punishing Blows [7:29] ‐ This is a too-short look at the series’ multiple fight scenes and McClane’s multiple opponents. We learn that Willis is left-handed, they had 17 white t-shirts “in various stages of degradation” for the first film and that Sadler really enjoyed beating up on Willis. “Not many people get to do that,” he says with a mild grin. Sadly there’s no mention of the inherent and obvious difficulty in stunt doubling Willis’ receding hairline in the first few films.
- Action ‐ Explosive Effects [14:37] ‐ They walk through several of the action scenes in the series, and while there’s some fun bits here and there the highlight is easily everyone’s acknowledgement that the jet fighter sequence at the end of Live Free or Die Hard is ridiculous. Yes, even Wiseman admits that in retrospect it was “a bit too much.”
- The Legacy ‐ The Right Hero for the Right Time [8:55] ‐ “I’ve done a lot of shitty movies,” says Long, “so I know how important it is to be a part of a good one.”
The Bottom Line:
Normally I’d offer a definitive conclusion as to whether or not something is worth buying, but the timing and content here leaves it open to debate. On the plus side the films speak for themselves, the packaging is solid and the new special features are pretty entertaining. But the film discs haven’t been remastered from earlier releases, and odds are there will be another collection released by the end of the year. So…
Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Collection is currently available from Amazon.