Another Geek Juice contributor, James Sullivan, does a really great comparison between Die Hard movie and a novel Nothing Lasts Forever (which this movie based on). You can check out his review here.
I really love Die Hard. It’s one of my all-time favorite action films besides The Terminator, Mad Max, Escape From New York, Speed, and original Assault on Precinct 13. At this point, I think everyone knows what happens in the film, so I have to make clear here that this review has two main topics about the film: “how could Die Hard stand the test of time?” and “Is Die Hard qualified as a Christmas film?”. Yep, some people think Die Hard is just an action film that takes place on Christmas. Is this true? We’ll find out in a minute.
Why do we love Die Hard?
Basically, I think because it has reasonable pacing. It’s not too slow or too fast by today’s standard and it gives us a really great build-up to each next scene. Also, it takes place mostly in one place: Nakatomi Building. It creates an excitement since our hero has to go to each floor of the building and he has no idea what he has to get through. From another henchman to a giant rotating fan, it could be anything that tries to stop John McClane, a New York cop who gets here wrong place at the wrong time.
And speaking of characters, we have really great characterization here. From an anti-hero cop to witty villains to another cop who proves us that sometimes common sense works better than police rule to a media that wants to exploit an event, it creates hype among audience pretty well as story goes by and it sets realistic atmosphere since these are groups of people that we have to deal with…one way or another. We’ll get into each character in next topic here.
Is Die Hard a Christmas film?
Yes! Although it takes place on Christmas day, it still has Christmas spirits in this film. I’m not going in details and compare things to Bible since I’m not Christian, but I’ll try my best in explanation. Let’s take a look at what each character does on that day…
John McClane: His life at the time is definitely a nightmare. Not only does he have to get through separation between him and his wife, he has to fight a group of robbers that disguises themselves as terrorists. It looks like that this Christmas is a test of his ability and morality. Of course, he’s an anti-hero through and through (like the fact that he lets Hans kills Ellis or the way he behave towards Chief of LAPD), but at least he gets out and tries to save people in the building. It shows us that sometimes humanity doesn’t have to come from “a good guy” stereotypes. We’re not that sort of good guys, but we can be hero and save other people if we believe we can do it. That’s right. Even in the beginning, Mr. McClane doesn’t believe that he can get through it, but at least he gets more and more confident through a help from other character. We’ll get into him soon.
The Villains: Of course, they are bunch of robbers who claims that he hates the way Nakatomi Corporation works. But take a look closely at this dialogue.
And you better be right, because
this one’s going to take a miracle.
It’s Christmas, Theo, it’s the time
of miracles. So be of good cheer
and call me when you hit the last
As you can see, this is the time that lots of people believe that wonderful things will happen today. It shows us that everybody wants something special today, whether it’s a gift or something else. In this case, criminals believe that they will actually find a way to break the vault and successfully steal money from a building. Not a great kind of “charity”, huh?
Sgt. Al Powell: Here it is, a guy who brings us a whole Christmas spirits here. According to Wikipedia, there’s a phrase that sums up true meaning of Christmas…
“to give up one’s very self — to think only of others — how to bring the greatest happiness to others — that is the true meaning of Christmas”
What does he do in this film beside humming to Let It Snow? He’s one of a few cops who believe in what John says through CB radio, while other cops still think he could be another terrorists and say stupid things like this…
What’s going on?
What’s it look like? We’re going
Going in…are you out of your mind?
There’s 30 hostages in there — for
all we know —
— all we know? We don’t know shit,
Powell. If there’s hostages why
hasn’t anyone asked for ransom? If
there’s terrorists, where’s their
goddamn list of demands? All we know
is that someone shot up your car, and
it could be the same flake you’ve been
talking to on the radio!
What about the body that fell out of
the window — ?
Who the hell knows? Maybe he was a
stockbroker who looked at the Dow Jones
and opted for early retirement!
As you can see, Powell willing to do anything to prove that the old play-by-the-book style of LAPD (and later, FBI) doesn’t work here and insist that sometimes common sense works better. There’s even a scene in which LAPD Chief threats that Powell will be fired if he doesn’t “co-operate” with LAPD, but he doesn’t care about it. He cares only how to save people in the building by team-up with John.
Anytime you want to go home,
Sergeant…consider yourself dismissed.
They lock eyes.
No Sir. You couldn’t drag me away.
The media: Christmas is the time when lots of people stay at home and gather together to do something together, like watching TV. This is an important reason why many TV channels have to bring us spectacular stuff in order to gain highest ratings. Well, in this film, a local TV station gains ratings by providing footage of Nakatomi building exploded, getting an “expert” on terrorism to analyse an event, and doing interview with John’s relative. Sure, that last one is really heart-touching and skyrockets ratings, but what they don’t know is the fact that Hans has TV in his room. He gets lots of information about John because of this sensationalize kind of news outlet. This is another interesting topic in the film: an exploitation of public figures. These news outlet try to get everything first in order to gain ratings no matter how corrupt they are. Remember OJ case? There was a TV station that interrupts a live broadcast of basketball match just to show an OJ car chase (which is a really boring chase, BTW) and after that…every TV stations tried to exploit this event as much as possible by provide us an analysis or an “update” (see quotation marks?). There was even a TV movie about this case! Or in case you forget all about them, let me ask this question: what would happen if Bill Cosby wasn’t a rapists as many people claim?* By now, his entertainment career is almost over thanks to 24/7 report of this story.
The media usually claim that we provide story to people to have idea what’s going on, although we all know that they do stuffs only to get ratings for themselves. It’s kinda anti- Christmas spirits since…okay, we all know that TV stations need to get ratings in order to attract advertisers and money, but does that mean that TV stations have rights to exploit other people’s live and still claiming that they care about other people, including audience? Here’s an example from Mr. Thornburg.
One minute, that’s all we ask. You
could be denying them their last
chance to talk to their parents.
I’m sorry…Mrs. Holly says I
couldn’t let strangers into —
Strangers? I’m with KFLW TV, that’s
affiliated with the FCC, and I’m sure
you know that’s the United States
government…just like the INS?
Keep in mind this comes from an original script. In the film, he says “You let me in right now, or I call the INS, comprende?” Wow.What a journalism we have here! And after he almost wrecks McClain and his wife’s life…
Mr. McClane…Mrs. McClane…any
comment on your incredible ordeal?
What are your feelings now that it’s
Without a beat, Holly PUNCHES HIM in the chops. He FALLS,
dropping the mike with an electronic SQUEAL. McClane looks at
his wife, amazed. Behind them, Thornburg sits on the ground,
nurses his lip, turns to his camerman.
Did you get that?
Did you get that? (pun intended)
As you can see, Die Hard is qualified as Christmas film. It has not only an excitement and great story, it tells us something about caring for other people and shows us bad example of people who exploit public figures by claiming “we do it because we care audience”. I surprisingly find pretty good meanings in this film that connect into a spirit of Christmas.
*Well, personally I have my own opinion about both cases, but I bring the “what if…” situation here just to illustrate dark side of journalism that depicted in this film.