Monday, December 12, 2016

Christmas Movie Marathon Day 17

           I'm trying something different to get in the holiday spirit this year. Every day, from now through Christmas, I will be watching a different Christmas movie or television special. I have compiled the list of features ahead of time and am drawing one, at random, from my Christmas stocking everyday to determine what gets watched. Thank you for joining me in this endeavor. What will I be viewing for day seventeen?

Die Hard (1988)

           I am beginning to think that this stocking may actually have gained sentience and is just messing with me. First it gave me Home Alone 2 followed three days later by Home Alone. Then it gave me Die Hard 2. Now, three days later, it has given me the original Die Hard. I received this movie on DVD from my brother the same Christmas that he gave me Die Hard 2. Originally released in 1988 this is the film that cemented Bruce Willis as an action star. Even though I didn't see it until nearly two decades later I was a fan almost immediately. This is another pick that stretches the definition of Christmas movie, but it is one that I am looking forward to. Let's get under way.


           Die Hard opens with John McClane arriving via airliner in Los Angeles from New York. We are rapidly introduced to the fact that John is a New York City police officer and that he is currently estranged from his wife, Holly, who has moved out to Los Angeles for work with their two kids while John stayed in New York. He is on his way to meet Holly at her office in Nakatomi Plaza. He arrives in the middle of the company Christmas Party and, while things seem to be going well between he and his wife at first, he soon pushes too far on the fact that she is using her maiden name and is left alone while she leaves to give a motivational speech to the rest of the office. Frustrated at having made things worse, John takes the advice of a businessman he met on the plane he takes off his shoes and socks and clenches the carpet between his toes to attempt to relax.
           As this is going on, terrorists, led by Hans Gruber, have begun to infiltrate the building, taking out the security guard, locking down the elevators, and cutting the phone lines. After completing these tasks they head to the 30th floor where the party is taking place, fire warning shots and take everyone there hostage. John hears the gun fire and escapes to the stairwell, heading towards the upper floors that are still under construction. Back on the 30th floor, the terrorists are seeking out Joseph Takagi, the executive in charge of the office. After locating Takagi, they take him back to his office and press him for the password to the first of seven locks on the building's vault. John has furtively made his way back downstairs and is outside the office door. Hans continues to press Takagi for the password and tells him that he has until the count of three or he will shoot him. Takagi refuses and Hans follows through on his threat.
           John escapes back upstairs and is furious that he was unable to intervene as all that would have been accomplished would be that there would have been a second corpse in the office. John's mind is racing as to how he can attract the authorities to the building when he sees the fire alarm. He pulls it and can see the fire department on their way, but the terrorists are able to call it off as a false alarm and all that John has ended up accomplishing is that he has alerted the terrorists to was floor he is on. They send someone to search for John, but John is able to get the upper hand and, after an intense struggle, there is one less terrorist.

A traditional holiday greeting.

           He recovers a radio from the dead terrorist and goes to the roof to contact the police. Instead of immediately sending officers to Nakatomi Plaza, they scold him for the misuse of an emergency band. However, they do send a single officer to investigate. Meanwhile, the terrorists figure out that the best place to transmit would be the roof and again send men to hunt John down. John barely escapes again, and soon the officer, Sgt. Al Powell, arrives at the building. He is convinced everything is okay by the fake security guard and is about to leave when John manages to drop a terrorist corpse on to his squad car to alert him that all is not as it seems. The terrorist open up on the car with heavy machine gun fire, but Al evades it and radios dispatch. Help is finally on the way.
           This ends up not being as much of a relief as John had hoped. The deputy chief in charge of the scene consistently underestimates the situation and jeopardizes the lives of the hostages as well as his own men. Inside the building, John continues to be a thorn in the side of Hans Gruber. John has recovered detonators off of one of the terrorists that he killed and Hans is adamant that they get them back. Through a twist of fate John and Hans end up meeting face to face with Hans adopting an American accent and pretending to be one of the hostages. John outs him as one of the terrorists but is forced to flee by the arrival of more of Hans' men. Hans now knows that he is not wearing shoes and has his men shoot out all the glass in the area, making John walk across broken glass with his bare feet to escape.

You really feel the cost of every one of McClane's victories.

           By this time the FBI have arrived and taken over control of the operation. This is all part of Hans' plan as the last lock on the vault is electromagnetic and can't be cut locally. Part of the FBI's terrorist response is to cut power to the building, finally giving the terrorists unfettered access to the vault's contents. John is battered and bruised but is still trying to figure out what Hans was investigating when he found him and why he was so desperate for the detonators. He heads back to check and finds that the whole roof is wired to explode. The terrorists are sending the hostages to the roof to meet helicopters that they have requested from the FBI. The helicopters are supposed to be transports, but the FBI has subbed in gunships. Hans is again counting on this duplicity. John manages to get the hostages to go back downstairs and narrowly escapes as the roof is blown taking out the helicopters.
           By this point, Hans has figured out that Holly is John's wife and has her with him as special leverage. John makes his way to Hans for a final confrontation and by taping his gun to his back he is able to get the drop on Hans and his last crony. Hans starts fall out of a window and tries to take Holly with him, but by unlatching her Rolex, she is saved. Our hero, much worse for the wear, leaves the scene, Let it Snow plays, and the credits roll.

Final Thoughts

           Die Hard is a phenomenal action movie. One of its greatest strengths is the fact that, compared to movies that preceded it earlier in the eighties, like Commando or Rambo, its protagonist is not unstoppable. Bruce Willis's John McClane gets beat up, he bleeds, and he always seems to just be getting by, as though one false move and his opponents would be victorious. The other major strength of Die Hard is its villian. Alan Rickman is amazing as Hans Gruber. The character oozes charm even as he is doing despicable things and always seems in control of the situation. This serves as the perfect foil for the seat of the pants heroics of McClane.

Hans Gruber is the action movie bad guy that other action movie bad guys aspire to be.

           Die Hard is also smarter than your average action film. The characters are more fleshed out than one would expect for a movie of this genre and the plot is complex enough that it keeps you guessing. It is also amusing in the fact that, as it is a product of the late eighties, it makes fun of some to the tropes of the decade that it was produced in. While such things could serve to date the film, Die Hard seems to avoid that potential pitfall and instead it works to its benefit.

This guy has Go-Go 80s Reaganaut written all over him.

          Obviously, this is another unorthodox pick and like its sequel it is not really suitable for family viewing. However, one thing I am discovering through this project is that variety in your Christmas features makes all of them stand out better. A Die Hard here and there prevents the traditional Christmas movies from overwhelming you with their particular brand of overly saccharine sweetness. I'd recommend Die Hard heartily outside of a Christmas movie list and I'm confident that most people will enjoy it as an addition to their seasonal viewing if they give it a try. See you back here tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment