TNow I have a machine gun: Ho. Ho. Ho.
Setting aside the issue of whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie, much less the best Christmas movie ever, it’s almost indisputably the best of the ’80s action films, edging out classics like Lethal Weapon, or anything with Stallone or Schwarzenegger. (To de-controversialize this, I’ll say it’s the best “Buddy Cop” movie of the ’80s, since one could quibble over Aliens or perhaps First Blood.) It is also one of the slickest movies ever made, and epitomizes the ’80s in a way no other movie does, except perhaps its sassy sister flick, Working Girl.
The hair is large. The cocaine plentiful. Rich douchebags, incompetent law enforcement, and unscrupulous media personalities nearly get everyone killed. No one will listen to the man (or woman) doing the actual work. Good and evil are plainly delineated, and violence is the answer to virtually every problem.
The Flower contends that not only is this the best Christmas movie, it’s the Best Movie. (Although she may have been exaggerating for effect.) The Boy (and his girl) liked it, though they both had seen it before. I probably liked it more than I did in the ’80s, when we were driving by the Nakatomi building on our way to school.
The Boy remarked on how much love went into the proceedings, and he is truly correct there. Not a scene passes that doesn’t develop character, provide exciting action or suspense, advance the plot, or just generally ramp up the sense of peril. Classic touches include things like:
- the vacuous anchorman who says “As in Helsinki, Sweden”
- actually that whole running dialogue between the guy hawking the book and the news woman talking about how the hostages were growing to love their captors is priceless
- Asian terrorist’s love of Nestle Crunch and Mars bars
- Alan Rickman’s awful American accent
- Alan Rickman’s everything
- Michael Kamen’s glorious score which, of course, references Beethoven’s 9th, but also a minor key “Winter Wonderland” as a theme.
- McClane’s clearly hetero affection for the pinup girls on the construction walls
- Bonnie Bedelia, who tears up the screen for the few scenes she’s in
- “This is agent Johnson. No the other one.”
- Reginald VelJohnson reciting the ingredients of Twinkies
- The Rolex Ellis wants to embarrass John with is the very one he unstraps to send Rickman to his death (I never noticed this before)
- Alan Rickman
And on and on. The thing that makes the whole movie work in a way that most action films did not, at the time (and probably still today), is that McClane isn’t really an action hero. He becomes one over the course of the movie, naturally, but he’s really just a regular guy (plus a cop). He doesn’t really know what he’s doing. And he does some really dumb and improbable things out of desperation, which makes him less cool—I think Schwarzenegger turned the role down because he saw McClane as a wimp—but infinitely more relatable.
Much like the troubled relationship he has with his wife makes him somehow more relatable than, say, a Liam Neeson finding his daughter or a Stallone rescuing a perfect wife or new girlfriend. Also, there’s something wonderful about the sense that John and Holly are going to make it work because this little episode in their life has given them a new perspective on what’s important. (This is one reason the sequels suck.)
Also, Alan Rickman. He sets the stage for all the awesome villains to come, leading to the classic, horrible ending of Under Siege, where the not-nearly-charimsatic-enough Steven Seagall kills the far superior Tommy Lee Jones.
A few things rankle. I still find the “TV dinner” line too close to the “Come out to the coast. Have a few laughs.” line. And VelJohnson’s “Call it a hunch” speech seems a little too forced. But these are quibbles. There’s a reason this film launched its own genre and for the next few years nearly every action film was “Die Hard on a Plane” (Passenger 57) or “Die Hard on a Boat” (Under Siege) or Die Hard in an Office Building (Hard To Die…wait, what?). They were everywhere, and the basic formula still acts as a template today.
To say nothing of the lasting impact on how we celebrate Christmas.
Ho. Ho. Ho.