Die Hard (1988) from Tuna

I usually leave the projects that have nothing to cap to Scoopy, but am making an exception. Next Tuesday is not a banner week for films with nudity, but is nevertheless a very good week for DVD releases, including three Dario Argento special double feature editions, The Best of Benny Hill, And the Ultimate Die Hard Collection. When I saw ultimate in the title, I was skeptical, but with a double CD presentation of each of the three films in the trilogy for only $60.00, I took a chance. They were not kidding when they said ultimate.

The Ultimate Die Hard Collection is a terrific bargain. The main DVD of Die Hard has an audio commentary that is among the most interesting I have heard, and has a subtitle commentary from tech folks that is also excellent. There is too much info in either to do them both at once, so you need to invest 6 hours in the first CD alone, 2 for the film, and 2 for each commentary. And, after 6 hours, you have not even started the special features disk, which includes alternate endings, the complete script, deleted scenes and bloopers, advertising, trailers, and some of the most interesting technical footage I have seen yet.

In one sequence, they compare the anamorphic version to a center shot 4/3 version and a pan and scan 4/3 version. We have all seen how much information is lost in converting widescreen to 4/3, but this short shows what the prejudice against letterboxing does cinematically to the film as no still comparison could do. First, to convert to 4/3 from anamorphic, they enlarge the frame, which cuts the resolution nearly in half, and makes the images grainy and fuzzy. Second, the center justified 4/3 version was unwatchable, missing nearly all of the frame's dramatic content. The pan and scan version made logical sense, and conveyed most of the plot information, but added (simulated) camera motion not intended by the director, such that the entire mood of the scene was altered.

In another sequence, they use the angle feature of DVDs to show multiple camera shots of the same scene. I found it interesting that in two of the three cases, they used multiple cameras shooting from the same angle but with different lenses (which are identified at the bottom of the frame) to get establishing shots, action shots, and inserts all at once. You are able to switch at will among the different versions. It is obvious that no one angle would work for the entire scene.

There are interactive CD features on both disks as well that I have not yet explored, including one that supposedly lets you re-edit the film. All three films seem to have the same extensive treatment. Even though Die Hard is my personal favorite of the pure action genre, I found myself thinking that there are other films far more deserving of this treatment, but the special features say so much about the process of film making that it almost doesn't matter which film they did it with. I haven't started on the other two films yet, as I doubt that Funhouse readers would understand a two week gap in my imaging, but I wanted to let you know before this set is released and sells out that it is everything it claims to be. 

Scoop's comments:

Die Hard wasn't nominated for many Oscars, and didn't win any, despite the fact that 1988 was probably the weakest year in memory. Working Girl (6.5 at IMDb) and The Accidental Tourist (6.7 at IMDb) were best picture nominees!

There are two completely separate factors that explain Die Hard's lack of nominations and the lack of wins.

1. Die Hard didn't get more nominations because it was an action picture, and they generally only get the action ghetto nominations:

  • best editing 
  • best sound
  • best visual f/x
  • best sound effects
  • best make-up
  • best cinematography
  • best costumes

Die Hard really wasn't a make-up, costume, and cinematography kind of movie, so it really was restricted to four nominations. If you look at the other great actioners of the 80's and 90's, (Terminator 2, The Matrix, e.g.), you'll see that they also got similar nominations.

2. Die Hard didn't get more wins because of a brutal coincidence. It was nominated for all those technical awards against one of the most spectacular technical achievements ever (Roger Rabbit), and probably no film in history was going to beat Roger in those categories.

Setting aside the academy's prejudice against comedies and action films, Die Hard probably should have been nominated for best picture, and is currently the highest rated 1988 film at IMDb!  Here are the current IMDb scores for the 1988 eligibles (nominees highlighted in teal):

Die Hard 7.9
Rain Man 7.8
A Fish called Wanda 7.7
Dangerous Liaisons 7.7
Midnight Run 7.4
Mississippi Burning 7.4
Roger Rabbit 7.3
Unbearable Lightness of Being 7.3
Last Temptation of Christ 7.3
The Naked Gun 7.3
Eight Men Out 7.3
Running on Empty 7.2
Big  7.2
Bull Durham 7.2
The Accused 7.1
Dead Ringers 6.9
Beetlejuice 6.9
Tucker 6.8
Accidental Tourist 6.7
Gorillas in the Mist 6.7
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels 6.7
Willow 6.6
Coming to America 6.5
Hairspray 6.5
Frantic 6.5
Working Girl 6.5

Not only was it about the weakest slate of films of any year in history (no eligible film rated 8.0 or better, only four eligible films at 7.5 or better), but the academy did even a worse job than usual in choosing a slate of nominees, thereby making the year seem even worse than it was.

If I had to make the choices among the group, I'd nominate: Die Hard, Rain Man, Roger Rabbit, Unbearable Lightness and ?????

Cinema Paradiso (which is rated 8.2 at IMDb, highest of the 1988 films), was actually nominated for best foreign picture the following year, so was not eligible in this class.



Roger Ebert didn't much care for Die Hard (two stars!), but over the years it has come to be accepted as one of the greatest action films. Although it is rated in the top 150 at IMDb, its 7.9 rating is nowhere near the top of the action genre. Here's how the actioners rate at IMDb.


The Seven Samurai 9.0
Star Wars 8.9
Crouching Tiger 8.7
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly 8.6
Raiders of the Lost Ark 8.6
The Empire Strikes Back 8.6
Pulp Fiction 8.6
The Matrix 8.6


DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic

  • six disks

  • see main commentary


Die Hard has brief exposure from Cheryl Baker as the young woman who is trying to find an empty room to give her boyfriend his Xmas present. This is the only female exposure in the trilogy.

The sequel, Die Harder, was directed by Renny Harlin, and is rated a respectable 6.6 at IMDb. The film is OK, but didn't have a bad guy as effective as Allan Rickman.

McTiernan came back to the series to direct the third one, "Die Hard With a Vengeance". He brought in Samuel L Jackson to join Willis, and brought in Jeremy Irons to be the baddie, and that film is rated 6.8. It isn't a bad actioner, but it is dominated by a single cliché - Willis and Jackson solving riddles, running from phone booth to phone booth for the next installment. Roger Ebert gave this film three stars, even though he gave only two to the original. 

By the way, Roger Ebert gave three and a half stars to Die Harder, even though that is generally acknowledged to be the weak link in the series.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: an average of three stars, but wide disagreement. Maltin 3/4, Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 4/4

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 80% positive overall, 50% from the top critics. Those numbers are mathematically misleading. Roger Ebert was the only critic to pan the film, so it's four out of five from all critics, one out of two from the elite.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.9
  • With their dollars ... it was a hit. domestic $81 million, overseas $56 million, rental income over $30 million
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Tuna rates Die Hard an A-, Scoopy a B-. Two thumbs up.

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