Thursday, 20 May 2010

"And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer." Benefits of a classical education.

No 29 – Die Hard

Director – John McTiernan

I was enjoying a rock and roll Saturday night after a day in the science museum. Sat at home, drinking Honeydew Beer, thinking about an early night. Then BAM! Die Hard came on TV… Well, I decided, May is close enough to Christmas to watch Die Hard and really it would be too good an opportunity to miss.

So I strapped myself in for some good old fashioned action. From the off three things hit me. Three things that I found surprising:

Firstly, Bruce Willis looks so young! I always forget that he does, but whenever I see him I’m surprised. Secondly, Bruce Willis can smoke in an airport?! My, how times have changed. But, the thing I was most surprised about, the thing I have somehow failed to notice before…. This is based on a NOVEL?! A novel? I will have to hunt it down.

We get a bit of set up. We’re introduced to Argyle who is on his first day as a limo driver and who is obviously (and successfully) the comic relief. We are introduced to John McClane’s wife Holly – who is not a happy bunny, experiencing some kind of marital disputes. And we’re introduced to Harry Ellis who begins life as a smug pompous ‘80s yuppie but who ends up cunto supremo. But at least he has a wonderful beard.

That is one really good thing about the 80’s (and indeed the 70’s) - it was a grand time for facial hair. Beards were actually respected in them days.

But, all these introductions mean nothing. Ellis’ beard is not worth th admiration. For we are about to be introduced to someone else. Someone far better. With a far snazzier beard. Hans Gruber. Villain extraordinaire, played by the legend that is Alan Rickman. Rickman is on top villain form, and he is sporting facial hair which always adds a level of elegance and panache to his baddies.

He is leading a group of Germans planning to steal the $6million conveniently kept in the same building as the company’s staff party. So Holly is held hostage and therefore John is stuck in the building too. The German’s are fairly patchy. Rickman’s accent is wavering at best, occasionally managing a European tint but mostly just staying within the nasal confines of Alan Rickman’s normal voice.

Not that I’m complaining. Alan Rickman has one of the most listenable voices in the world.

Hans Gruber is a wonderful villain though. His little speeches are nicely arrogant. His killings are violent and without remorse. He is a tactical genius. See him put on an (still rather shakey – though that may be deliberate) American accent and pretend to John that he is a party goer – a hostage. Whilst ‘in disguise’ Hans gets information and a gun Unfortunately, John had already seen Hans and is therefore prepared for such treachery, but besides that minor set back, the plan is solid. Well thought up Hans.

His high point has to be when he succeeds to open the safe with the money. Ode to Joy slowly builds up and Rickman manages to look chillingly aloof and proudly triumphant. At the same time. Ruddy impressive.

The rest of Hans’ team are less inspiring: they seem to just shout Schnell a lot. Shouting Schnell a lot does not make you German. This is either lazy character development or lazy script writing. Or both.

Either way, it hardly matters because John McClane is going to instantly change into his vest and beat the crap out of everyone.

Initially John McClane tries to contact the police and get support. However it becomes more and more evident that the police are no help. The only exception to this is Sgt Al who believes John’s story enough to offer feedback, assistance and witty banter. The moment where the two of them finally meet, rather than communicating via radio, is surprisingly touching.

But he is hampered by Paul Gleason’s Deputy Chief Dwayne T Robinson (providing a similar hapless member of authority as he did in The Breakfast Club) and later by two FBI agents (including none other than Goonies villain Jake Fratelli). They don’t trust John, regardless of his police credentials, and would rather sort the situation out themselves. And yet wave after wave of police are shot up and one man succeeds.

After a while the film becomes a dizzying mess of running shooting and bangs. And one awesome explosion when McClane ties C4 to a computer monitor and throws it down a lift shaft. Pretty gosh darned badass. It is just a man on a mission and staying in the tower’s confined environment helps to make a tighter explosive film. It feels a lot more exciting than the open world freedom of say Die Hard 4.0 (they can’t even say Yippee Kay Aye Motherfucker in 4.0).

The premise is simple enough: can the bad guys open the 7 locks on a vault safe before a mysterious vigilante can kill them all.

It is after all, just a simple action film. It is pretty dumb. Big and brash and ballsy. But it is a lot of fun to watch and at least the bad guys get what they deserve.The film might not have the most in depth plot but it has become a key action staple. Other films can only aspire to be Die Hard.

If you can’t be bothered to watch it though, at least watch them put to music.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, Hans is definitely one of the greater villains of action cinema. I didn't think that the plot was dumb at all. If anything, "Die Hard" set the standard for action movies with intelligent plots that were more than just a slapped on excuse for explosions and gunfire. My favorite villains of each medium:
Theater: Iago (Othello)
Literature: Grand Admiral Thrawn (Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy)
Cartoon: Megatron (Transformers Animated)
Martial Arts Film: General Miura (Ip Man)
Superhero Film: The Joker (The Dark Knight)
Video Games: Kane (Command and Conquer)
Anime: Light Yagami (Death Note)