is the movie franchise that made a movie star out of TV star Bruce Willis, and created an entire action-movie genre of its own. In the original 1988 film, Willis plays wisecracking New York cop John McClane, who arrives at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles to meet up with his estranged wife, Holly (Bonny Bedelia), at her office Christmas party. As luck would have it, the company ends up in the middle of a terrorist plot led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his gang of expert killers, and with little help coming from outside, McClane has to pick off his enemies one by one. Thus was born the "Die Hard
genre," epitomized by such films as Under Siege
on a ship"), Passenger 57
on a plane"), Speed
on a bus"), and Cliffhanger
on a mountain"). But few measure up to the explosive brilliance of Die Hard
. Director John McTiernan develops the action at a fast and furious pace, culminating in some fantastic set-pieces on the top of the building, in the elevator shaft, and in the building's outer plaza. Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza's script, based on Roderick Thorp's novel Nothing Lasts Forever
, is smart, funny, and full of memorable lines (among them "Welcome to the party, pal!" and of course "Yippee ki-ay, motherf*****"), and the cast is perfection, especially Rickman as the cunningly evil villain, and Willis, whose McClane character--bloodied, beaten, bruised, and barely breathing, as he battles both bad guys and bureaucrats--is someone audiences could genuinely cheer for.
Directed by Renny Harlin, the 1990 sequel, Die Hard 2 (unofficially referred to as Die Harder), doesn't match the level of the original, but it's still an exciting thrill ride with some terrific action sequences. One year after the Nakatomi incident, McClane (Willis) is awaiting his wife's (Bedelia) plane to arrive at Dulles Airport when he stumbles onto a plot to paralyze the entire airport, including all the planes trying to land. It's up to McClane to take on the cadre of bad guys despite all the bureaucrats standing in his way, and before the planes run out of fuel and crash to the ground. The cast includes William Sadler as rogue military man Col. Stuart, Dennis Franz as the latest bureaucratic cop to get in McClane's way, Richard Thornburg as the annoying reporter from the original movie, John Amos as a special-forces commander, early-in-their-career John Leguizamo and Robert Patrick as terrorists, and future politician and Law and Order actor Fred Thompson as the head of air traffic control.
The third film in the series, Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), was again directed by John McTiernan and uses a different concept. The villain (played by Jeremy Irons) claims to have planted bombs all over New York City and gives John McClane (Willis), now alchoholic and separated, a series of clues to try to track them down. Along the way, he's aided by, and eventually teams up with, a Harlem shopkeeper named Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson). The interplay between Willis and Jackson is engaging, but better suited to the Lethal Weapon franchise it was previously considered for, and not till the end does the movie return to the familiar McClane-vs.-villains-showdown format.
The 2007 Die Hard Collection is a four-disc set that comes up short when compared to the previous six-disc Ultimate Collection , which is now out of print. That 2001 set had two discs for each film (plus, Die Hard was a Five Star Collection release). This set does away with all of the second discs, though it retains the features that were on the movie-only discs, including director commentaries and the seamlessly branched version of the first film with a scene added back in. There's also a brand-new fourth disc, but it's pretty minor. "Wrong Guy, Wrong Place, Wrong Time" is a 40-minute retrospective of the original movie. Wide-ranging but rather dull, it collects interviews with director John McTiernan, cinematographer Jan De Bont, screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. De Souza, other crew, and actors Reginald Veljohnson, Hart Bochner, and William Atherton. Also from 2007, "The Continuing Adventures of John McClane" looks at the second and third movies in the series. It's a mere 13 minutes and only interviews the two directors, Renny Harlin and (in new and old footage) John McTiernan. Last, three trailers for the 2007 film, Live Free or Die Hard, make this set look like something that was released merely to have something on the shelves while the new film was in theaters. --David Horiuchi