9 DAYS TO CHRISTMAS: ‘Die Hard’

9. Die Hard (1988)

Every Christmas, the first film that I take the time to watch to put myself in the classiest of Christmas moods is Die Hard. I don’t care what any of you have to say about it. It is a Christmas movie, damn it! With the Christmas rap song at the beginning, a classical rendition of Ode to Joy serenading John McClane’s ridiculous chaos, and the ingenious, “Ho, Ho, Ho, now I have a machine gun” moment, its Christmas-ness undeniable. The fact of the matter is: Die Hard is an excellent way compliment a cup of eggnog and decorating the tree. And more than just being a Christmas movie, I think it is a fantastic film as well.

Let’s put it in historical context. This is only a few years after the final outing for Clint Eastwood’s legendary hero, Harry Callahan. It is also only a few years removed from Sean Connery’s return to Bond with Never Say Never Again. While both of those films can be satisfying views, they both look dated, whereas the cheesy intensity of Die Hard remains both fresh and intense even today. Die Hard upped the ante of violence, extremities and intensity. And it did so with style, personality, and a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. It is wildly entertaining and can put anyone in the holiday spirit.

The film is about a hard east-coast cop who comes out west to visit his family for Christmas. Just as he arrives at his wife’s upscale workplace, the place is held hostage by Hans Gruber. Gruber is played by Alan Rickman and he is kind of the gold standard for action movie villains. He is funny, sadistic, dangerous, outrageous, and very, very classy. McClane manages to evade the hostage situation and engages in a deadly game of cat and mouse with them from a distance. Die Hard managed to up the ante of violence and intensity while utilizing only one location and telling a story that lasts about eight hours in real time.

Director John Mctiernan stages each scene with great confidence; everything that happens in the film is done with great deliberation, most notably the film’s first assassination. The film is almost cocky in how far it goes for the sake of being badass. But that’s really the point of the film. It takes the material as far as it can go and tries to milk the audience for as much popcorn as it possibly can.

The film has a true Christmas spirit embedded in it (sort of). This surfaces a few times as a method of making our good guy inherently good. McClane talks on a radio with a cop down below who also happens to be the only cop that believes he is not a terrorist. This cop is a cliché good-guy that can’t shoot a gun (very much like John C. Reilly in Magnolia). In the end he must overcome this fault to save McClane and his wife, who are temporarily separated. None of this can be taken seriously enough to have any emotional depth what-so-ever, but it does help to humanize the tone of the film.

Die Hard is great for its ridiculousness. For God’s sake, the cops use a tank to try to get into the hotel. And McClane bombing the hotel serves almost no valid purpose and is completely absurd. But it’s pretty cool. Also, the music is complimented by the deep blue hues that are accentuated by the very modern (and probably extensive steadicam) cinematography.

Die Hard is a certifiable classic. I think it holds up as a landmark action film that forever changed the genre. The smooth intensity is essentially the format for all following action films. Die Hard was something of a revelation and a step further into the realm of mindless action. The mindlessness was dealt with in a humorous manner with Die Hard. For that, among other reasons, Die Hard finds itself superior to all knock-offs and follow-ups. The original is the only one that I watch or enjoy in any capacity. The film didn’t need follow-ups. It did everything it needed to do to the best of its ability. And it threw in Christmas as well!

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  • Brandon Cooley

    Great movie. I’m going to watch this and Die Hard 2 which is not as good as the first but still on my top 12 christmas movies list.

  • Love ‘Die Hard’.

    I just realized our first four films are all from 1988-90. Apparently there was a 3 year span in the late 80s with a glut of pretty good Christmas movies.

  • You make some good points about this being a Christmas movie (the machine gun line is classic), however I’m really not sure how anyone can consider it “great”. It’s Bruce Willis blowing through a bunch of bad guys. There’s no depth, no emotion…

    It’s a heck of a lot of fun, though, and #9 sounds about right. At least it’s higher than the hideous “Home Alone”.

  • Brandon Cooley

    It works great as an action movie because it knows that it’s purpose is to just be an action movie. Action movies today have terrible love stories attached to it and always focus on CGI and awful plot lines. I would also argue that it does have depth. No one can deny that the scene where Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman come face to face is suspenceful or that scene where that one guy is trying to convince Willis to turn himself in.

    Also why don’t you like Home Alone.

  • Um…

    1. It’s preposterous.

    They forget their kid, and don’t even realize it until they’re on the plane. In the meantime, he fends off two burglars using a bunch of elaborate traps. Yeah… completely believable (and yes, I realize it’s not meant to be taken at face value).

    2. It’s just plain mean.

    Slapstick can be funny, but watching those two burglars (who by the way would have been caught in real life had they been that stupid) step on Christmas ornaments and slip on toys… there’s nothing funny abour that.

    3. Macaulay Culkin is annoying, as is his character.

    I don’t know what else Culkin has been in, but his performance here just grates. On top of that, his character is an obnoxious and annoying kid who never really learns anything (not that movies need to have lessons).

    Need I go on?

  • First of all I would like to say congratulations, G1000 on your 400th comment at Film Misery!

    Second of all you’re completely wrong.

    1) It’s supposed to be preposterous. I kind of believe that a child could be forgotten in the hectic situation the McAllisters are in. You take things for granted until you make a huge mistake.

    2) The final confrontation is the one part of the movie that I will admit is flawed as it becomes too slapsticky and drags on a bit long, but from a child’s perspective it is pure fun.

    3) What was annoying about Culkin’s character? I thought he played Kevin McAllister with great maturity and honesty. And how could you not say he learns anything when he goes from wishing for his parents to disappear to desperately missing his entire family. I think the lesson may suffer from TOO MANY lessons and non-subtle ones at that.

    Love having you as a commenter, G. :)

  • Andrew R.

    Home Alone: Cute but annoying. Good for kids, but adults will hate it. (Home Alone 2 is REALLY unrealistic.)

    Die Hard: One of the great action movies.

    Alex, how are you keeping track of G1000’s comments?

  • Good point, Andrew. I remember loving the movie when I was like 8, to the point where I even asked for (and received) it for Christmas. It’s still sitting in my DVD library, unwatched for years. I should probably sell it or something.

  • @Andrew – In the admin page for WordPress there is a comment count. You’re at 212, Andrew – 4th place behind G1000, Jose, and me.

  • Brandon Cooley

    I geuss I need to speed up my comment posting.

  • What’s my comment count? Hahaha

  • @Quinn – You’re 5th with 129 comments.

    I’ll have to do a piece at the end of the year updating everybody on where they currently stand.

  • Jose

    I’d have more comments if my computer didn’t break and kept me away from leaving comments for 2 weeks. Now it’s fixed though.

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