4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“DIE HARD: 30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital HD copy; 1988; R for extreme, non-stop action violence, blood, and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: Commentary by Director John McTiernan and Production Designer Jackson DeGovia
When my nephew was very young – just out of preschool – he wandered into the kitchen to ask his dad if he would play cops and bad guys. Dad, washing the dishes, agreed. Minutes later, the kid popped back into the room, aimed his toy ray gun in a two-handed stance, and, in the words of his hero John McClane, yelled, “FREEZE, M***** F*****!”
My brother froze all right. Then turned and spent the next 20 minutes or so explaining how real cops – which he was – did not talk like that.
He lied, but it was better than setting the family up for ongoing parent/teacher conferences in the future.
To say “Die Hard,” directed by John McTiernan, starring Bruce Willis as John McClane is a cultural icon is an understatement. Based on Roderick Thorp’s “Nothing Lasts Forever,” the film broke ground as its everyman hero, trading quips and shots with supervillains, battled impossible odds. That it’s actually a Christmas movie as well is only sauce for the goose.
It’s no surprise 20th Century Fox released its classic actioner on 4K Ultra with High Dynamic Range (HDR10 & Dolby Vision) just before Memorial Day weekend. It’s a great flick to catch after a long, hot day at the beach.
Is there anyone in America who hasn’t seen it on cable, DVD or Blu-ray – or caught one of the sequels? Armed with a giant teddy bear, John McClane is a New York City cop visiting his estranged wife and family in Los Angeles over Christmas. He meets up with Holly Gennaro McClane (Bonnie Bedelia), now working under her maiden name, at the company’s Christmas party in its skyscraper building. They fight; she leaves; German terrorists, led by suave Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) take the party goers hostage, and McClane calls for help. But the super-smart baddies are prepared, sending fire trucks and cops away. McClane fights and kills one of the men, then drops the body on the hood of a cop car several floors below – and the game is on. McClane takes on the terrorists inside the building, while every cop in L.A. charges to the rescue outside.
Guess who wins?
The Fox 2160p transfer (2.39:1 ratio) is definitely a champion, with elevated clarity, dimension and detail. Color is rich, yet natural in sets, backgrounds, clothing and a variety of complexions. Black levels get a major upgrade. The action takes place at night, and interior and exterior shadows look authentic, showing good detail in wide shots. Explosions, breaking glass and gunfire shimmer.
The difference comes from using the original 35mm film, scanned in 4K. Film grain is consistent throughout in a light, even wash. “Die Hard” has never looked better.
The Blu-ray is the same as its earlier releases.
This is where the Fox package becomes a mixed bag. The HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is the same as the one on earlier Blu-rays. It’s good – dialogue is clear; effects, like gunfire, explosions and fight sequences, are immersive, but surely “Die Hard” warranted a sound upgrade. Imagine how scenes with the helicopter crash, swat team ambush or McClane busting through the window on a fire hose would have improved in Dolby Atmos.
Again – there’s nothing new, but all the good bonus features were ported over from previous Blu-rays. Most are found on the Blu-ray disc, but the 4K also has commentary by Director John McTiernan and Production Designer Jackson DeGovia; Scene Specific Audio Commentary by Visual Effects Producer Richard Edlund; and Subtitle Text Commentary by Cast and Crew.
Additional extras on Blu-ray include “Newscast Footage” compiled from the film; an interactive still gallery; trailer gallery, and D-Box Motion Code for use with D-Box motion control systems.
“Die Hard” wasn’t only a first in action films; it marked the beginning of great film careers for Willis and Rickman. The McClane role had been offered to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had worked with McTiernan on “Predator” (1987). Sylvester Stallone, Richard Gere, Clint Eastwood, even Burt Reynolds turned it down. At the time, Willis was only known for playing a wisecracking detective in the TV series “Moonlighting.” The studio was so nervous, it did not use his photo on the movie posters.
As for Rickman, McTiernan and producer Joel Silver saw him onstage in the role of Valmont in “Dangerous Liaisons,” and knew they’d found their Hans Gruber. It was Rickman’s first leading film role.
Much of the dialogue and some of the action was improvised, but commentary reveals the scene in which Gruber, found alone by McClane, pretends to be a hostage was written after McTiernan heard Rickman do a remarkable American accent at a party.
It’s easy to poke fun at a classic, and “Die Hard” is no exception. That’s OK, McTeirnan agrees. The story – originally written to take place over three nights, then compiled into one for the movie – is unbelievable. Even “ridiculous,” he says.
The oft-imitated “Die Hard” is still one of the best of its kind, and the picture upgrade is definitely worth your time.
— Kay Reynolds