Die Hard: Special Edition (1988)

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Released 22-Apr-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-John McTiernan (Director) & Jackson DeGovia
Audio Commentary-Richard Edlund
Subtitle Commentary
Seamless Branching-Extended Version
Deleted Scenes-The Vault; Turning Off The Power; The Newscasts
Notes-Magazine Articles
Scene Editing Workshop
Multiple Angles-3
Audio Mixing Workshop
Featurette-Why Letterbox?
Notes-Glossary
Gallery
Theatrical Trailer-3
Featurette
Script
Easter Egg-Blow-up Fox Home Entertainment
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 126:49
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (63:57)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John McTiernan
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Bruce Willis
Alan Rickman
Alexander Godunov
Bonnie Bedelia
Case Soft Brackley-Transp-Dual v2
RPI $44.95 Music Michael Kamen


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (96Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (96Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Czech
Danish
Dutch
English
Finnish
Hebrew
Hungarian
Icelandic
Norwegian
Polish
Portuguese
Swedish
English Text Commentary
Smoking Yes, and lots of it
Annoying Product Placement Yes, chocolate bars
Action In or After Credits Yes, credits begin over the final shot of the movie

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Die Hard is considered to be one of the seminal films of the action genre. Produced in 1988, it not only catapulted Bruce Willis from his status of "that guy who was in Moonlighting" to super-stardom, but showed that action films could be truly original and break new boundaries whilst still giving the audience what they wanted. By today's standards, the action in Die Hard is quite tame (although there is more coarse language here than in most modern action blockbusters). The fight scenes seem cramped and sweatier than the current martial-arts style sequences, and the gun battles have nothing on movies such as The Matrix for visual style or presentation. For all those reasons however, what is contained in Die Hard seems somehow more real, more as if it were the way Real Men would do battle - not the girly dance-like moves of the last few years.

    The plot of Die Hard is at once as uncomplicated and simple as it is involving. John McClane (Bruce Willis) is a New York cop just disembarked from a plane to Los Angeles where he heads to meet up with his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) at her office Christmas party. Unfortunately for McClane, a group of terrorists-turned-thieves (upper-class thieves mind you), led by the suavely evil Hans Gruber (the brilliant Alan Rickman in another great performance), have decided to crash the party. McClane is lucky enough to be in a separate room when the terrorists make their presence known, and slips away. Thus begins his tortuous time trying to both evade the terrorists and bring them down from the inside. This story has all the stereotypes present - the Big Hero, the Bad Guys, the token black guy (Reginald Veljohnston), the big-headed yet stupid police chief (Paul Gleason), the even bigger-headed and even more stupid federal agents (Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush), and the ex-wife who is really still in love with the Big Hero. All this is fine however, as it was largely Die Hard that spawned these stereotypes.

    For me, Die Hard's greatest success is also its greatest weakness - the casting of Alan Rickman as terrorist leader Hans Gruber. He is simply a brilliant actor, who easily stomps all over Bruce Willis. This has the unfortunate side-effect of making his character more likeable than the hero, something that is both disturbing and annoying - especially each time I watch the conclusion to the film. This was really the movie equivalent of putting a super-charged V8 in a mini. Some may argue that this is a failing on behalf of Alan Rickman, but I believe that if the hero role had been better cast, this could easily have become the greatest action movie of all time. Having said all that, I have nothing against Bruce Willis - he is a competent actor who has proven himself on numerous occasions (especially with a very good sense of comic timing), but he just is not in the same class as Rickman.

    No review of Die Hard can be complete without mention of the special effects. For their time, the effects present in this movie were absolutely first class, and look as good today as any digital equivalent. The levels to which practical effects were taken in this movie are extraordinary and serve as a good reminder and tribute to what is rapidly becoming a lost art now that CGI has taken over.

    Any action fan owes it to themselves to check out Die Hard (I cannot imagine there are any out there who have not). This movie is an absolute classic and deserves to be in any DVD collection.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This transfer is, while not perfect, extremely good - especially given the period in which this film was produced is not renowned for making the best DVD transfers.

    This transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. An interesting point to note is that the 20th Century Fox logo that runs at the start of the film is stretched horizontally, as if a letterboxed 4:3 image were being stretched to 16x9 - despite the fact that it is present on a 16x9 enhanced transfer. This is not present on the R1 disc, so I do not know why it is included in the PAL transfer, as aside from that the two transfers are very similar.

    This transfer is quite sharp. Certainly it is not as sharp as good transfers of more recent movies, but what is presented here is still of very high quality. Grain levels are quite well controlled, and while background grain is frequently present, there is only one occasion when the grain level went off the scale. This is at 16:22 just as the terrorists truck turns into the Nakatomi driveway. There are also portions of the transfer that are quite "hazy", such as the entire final sequence from around 115:00 on, and these times also result in a drop in the sharpness of the transfer. The shadow detail of this transfer is excellent, always giving enough information to make out any action that is occurring. As much of this film takes place with large portions of darkness on the screen, this is quite important. There was no low-level noise detected in the transfer.

    Colours are represented very well, with the orange-tinged late-afternoon really feeling like late afternoon. The stark white of the fluorescent lighting on the levels still under construction also contrasts well to the location of the party that is far more naturally lit, and that has quite a sumptuous feel.

    There were very few compression artefacts in this transfer, with only a small amount of background pixelization, and some more obvious pixelization when the grain level rises at 16:22. Aliasing is far more prevalent, with many examples of minor aliasing. It also breaks out wholesale on a number of occasions, such as at 18:36 and 18:45 on the car-park gates. It is also quite annoying on the picture frame that Holly has of the family, such as at 4:19. Fortunately, the instances of bad aliasing largely disappear after the first half hour, leaving the rest of the film with few problems. Film artefacts are constantly present, usually in small specks and dots, occasionally however, such as at 17:37 there are larger artefacts that considerably detract from the film.

    The English dialogue subtitles are usually quite accurate, nicely placed, and easy to read. There are a few occasions, however, where the subtitles diverge from the spoken word for the sake of brevity, and lose a large part of the impact of the dialogue as a result. However, the biggest problem I found in my sampling of the subtitles comes at 101:00-101:06 where Hans has a full sentence of dialogue that is not subtitled. Annoyingly, this subtitling is present on the R1 DVD.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc with the layer change occurring during Chapter 31 at 63:57. This is certainly not the best place possible for a layer change, as it occurs mid-scene, however it does not break any dialogue so the placement could have also been worse.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio transfer is a very good remix into 5.1 from a stereo source, although it is not entirely without its problems.

    There are four audio tracks present on this disc. These are the original English dialogue in 5.1 Dolby Digital (at 384 Kbps) and 5.1 dts (at 768 Kbps), and two audio commentary tracks, both in surround encoded Dolby Digital 2.0 (both at 96 Kbps). The debate between Dolby Digital and DTS will not be settled by these soundtracks, as the two are virtually indistinguishable (as is often the case with half-bitrate DTS tracks).

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, never being drowned out by the effects or the score. The only real problem in this regard could be for people who have difficulty understanding heavy European accents, as many of the terrorists have been cast from non-English speaking countries and use their native accents. On a slightly more annoying level, there is considerable hiss present in all channels during many quieter (dialogue) sequences, such as from 14:57 to 15:35. This appears to be caused by the use of poor quality original dialogue recordings, and suggests that there was little to no ADR work done on the film. While this certainly helps in the audio sync department, when the noise is as noticeable and annoying as is present here, it really should have been considered.

    There are no problems with audio sync during this transfer.

    The score for Die Hard is by eighties action movie stalwart Michael Kamen (I do not think it a coincidence that many of the movies he has scored have also been produced by Joel Silver - as is the case here). While for the most part this score is very typical for the genre, it has one aspect that very clearly sets it aside - it heavily works in Beethoven's 9th symphony, particularly the Allegro vivace assai, more commonly known as "Ode To Joy". This is extremely effective and really sets the score apart from standard action fare in my book.

    The surround channels are extensively used during action sequences, but tend to fall very quiet during dialogue sequences. When they are being used however, they really come alive, containing aggressive split-surround usage that really makes you feel like you are in the middle of a firefight.

    The subwoofer use is somewhat patchy, often giving a good boost to the explosions going off on-screen, but it is just as likely to sit dormant making the action seem somewhat distant. The strangest aspect of this is with gunfire, as gunfire that is not directly represented off screen has a large bass punch, sounding appropriately muffled, but when actually occurring where the camera is, the gunfire lacks any low frequency impact.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    This two-disc set really raises the bar for not only volume of extras, but for the quality of them. The only extra that is "missing" from these discs is a comprehensive making-of, but with what is present, it will not be missed.

Menu

    The menu is 16x9 enhanced, animated and features a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. While the animated transitions are a nice touch, they are somewhat lengthy and become tedious with repeated use.

Disc 1

Audio Commentary - John McTiernan (Director) and Jackson DeGovia (Production Designer)

    Recorded separately and spliced together, these two provide quite a lot of interesting information, and from very different perspectives. Certainly, they are not two of the most engaging talkers you will ever hear, but what they have to say is worth the listen.

Audio Commentary (Scene Specific) - Richard Edlund (Visual Effects Supervisor)

    This is listed as a "scene specific" commentary which means that Richard Edlund only comments on certain scenes. In practice what this means is that we have a commentary with large gaps in it. Somewhat helpfully, a menu has been provided that gives direct access to the scenes for which there are comments, but this is hampered by two issues. Firstly, it is difficult to tell when Edlund has finished talking on a particular topic. Secondly, pressing the "menu" key from within the movie will only return you to the main menu, from which you then have to browse down two more menus before you can choose the next scene with commentary. If you can get around these problems, Edlund delivers a fascinating account of making special effects before computers made traditional effects almost obsolete overnight.

Text Commentary - Jackson DeGovia (Production Designer), Steven E. DeSouza (Screenwriter), Al Di Sarro (Special Effects Coordinator), Stephen Hunter Flick (Supervising Sound Editor), Lawrence Gordon (Producer), Michael Kamen (Composer), John F. Link (Editor), Charlie Picerni (Stunt Coordinator), Alan Rickman (Actor), and Eric Lichtenfeld (Film journalist)

    This is a subtitle track that includes the comments from the ten individuals listed above. These are mostly not scene specific, but more generally about the film. Most annoyingly, the subtitles flick by so fast at times that they are extremely difficult to read. This is even more annoying when the sequence will finish with a long gap until they start up again.

Extended Branching Version

    An option exists to insert an extra step into the sequence of shutting the power off from the Nakatomi plaza. This is played via seamless branching if selected. It can also be viewed separately on the second disc. A point to note is that an effects shot used in this sequence was never completed and is included in black and white only (the menu prior to launching the extended version mentions this to avoid disappointment - a good step).

Disc 2

The Vault (6:00)

    This is a collection of outtakes and deleted footage. Presented in 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio, it is of decent quality, although dialogue is quite muffled and difficult to make out. Subtitles are also provided, but none are in English. There are two audio options - production audio with or without music. The only difference between the tracks is (unsurprisingly) that one includes music mixed (rather poorly) in with the audio.

Turning Off The Power (3:11)

    Presented at 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio, this is the scene that can be included in the movie via seamless branching on disc one.

The Newscasts (7:36)

    Presented at 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced and featuring Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio, this is more of the footage that was shot for the "newscam" sequences. As it was originally shot on video its quality is terrible, and the content is only slightly less so, featuring a compelling reason why directors should never work with young children.

Sophisticated on Grand Scale for Die Hard - Article from American Cinematographer magazine

    This is 39 pages of an article on special effects reprinted from American Cinematographer magazine, plus interactive photographs (clicking on a photograph leads to more photographs and information on the subject of those photographs). While this article is interesting, the length of the article makes it difficult to read on a Television.

Exaggerated Reality - Article from Cinefex magazine

    This is another article about visual effects, this time reprinted from Cinifex magazine, and 35 pages in length. This article includes interactive video footage to demonstrate how many of the film's effects were achieved. I cannot help but think that Fox have been somewhat lazy with this form of presentation, as I doubt many people will put in the effort of reading these articles, and hence will not find the information contained within. It would not have been difficult to have presented the information in an easy-to-watch effects featurette. Between a featurette and the two articles, both those interested in the in-depth techniques and those looking for a brief overview would have been catered for.

Scene Editing Workshop

    This is an interactive featurette that allows the viewer to "edit" together three scenes from the movie. There are a number of alternate angles and takes provided, and by seamless (or not-so-seamless in some cases) branching the scene as "edited" by the viewer is shown. While this is more akin to a DVD game than a genuine extra, it is still very interesting to see the difference that using alternate takes (for instance choosing jump cuts) can have.

Multi-Camera Shooting

    This presents three scenes from the movie that were shot with more than one camera rolling. Each alternate angle is presented as a separate angle in the video stream, and can be switched between using the standard DVD multi-angle feature. This is of mild interest - probably showing a single multi-camera sequence would have been enough. These scenes are presented in 2.35:1, are 16x9 enhanced and feature Dolby Digital surround audio.

Audio Mixing

    This feature allows the viewer to select the audio levels for a three-way breakdown of the soundtrack - into dialogue, music, and effects - to be played over a given scene from the movie. This extra is quite tedious as the differing audio levels make only a predictable difference (there are no surprises to be had here), and the scene over which it is run plays for too long.

Why Letterbox? (3:16)

    This is the single greatest feature that I have ever seen on DVD. It runs a scene from the movie in 2.35:1 letterboxed widescreen, then compares the cropped and pan & scanned versions, explaining what the problems are, and why the widescreen version is clearly superior. An extra such as this should be included on every DVD. It would vastly reduce the complaints aimed at "those ugly black bars". This feature is presented in both letterboxed 2.35:1 and 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced.

Glossary

    This is a listing of many common film terms. The definitions are often as humorous as they are informative. Another brilliant inclusion.

Interactive Slide Show (9:03)

    This is a series of behind the scenes and publicity stills taken from the movie. The 'interactive' part of the show is available when the Nakatomi logo pops up. When this occurs, pressing "enter" will cause an extra sequence to launch. Some of these are simply more stills (such as the blueprints for the vault), and others are motion video, including deleted scenes, and behind the scenes footage of the model helicopter used in the production. Presented in various aspect ratios, 16x9 enhanced, and featuring a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround soundtrack.

Trailers (4:28)

    These are listed as trailers A, B, and C (I'm sure a lot of thought was put into those names). The first two are the theatrical trailers, while "C" is a short 30 second teaser set to "Ode To Joy" and is a brilliant piece of marketing. Trailer A is presented at 2.35:1, while B and C are presented at 1.78:1. All are 16x9 enhanced and feature Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio.

Promotional Featurette (6:59)

Given that this extra is found under the heading "Ad Campaign" you would expect, and get, a lot of the "this was the greatest movie I've ever worked on" type of comments. Presented in 1.33:1, and not 16x9 enhanced, this video features Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio.

Script

    This is, as the name suggests, the entire script for the movie, presented as static pages of text. For those with a lot of time on their hands.

Easter Eggs

    The R1 version of this set has a number of Easter eggs, although none substantial. From what I have been able to locate, we have only one. On the main menu of the extras disc, arrow right to highlight a landing light not related to a menu option. Select it, and the roof of the building will blow up.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     There is no reason to prefer one version of the movie over another, although from a direct comparison the PAL transfer appears of a slightly higher quality than the NTSC on the R1. It is close enough, however, that I am going to call this one even.

Summary

    Die Hard is an action classic that is very close to perfect. If only Bruce Willis was slightly less annoying, and Alan Rickman not so clearly superior in every way!

    The video quality is very good, but it does suffer from too many small problems.

    The audio quality is also excellent, although it too suffers from numerous small problems, under the influence of which it begins to labour.

    The extras package presented here is first class. A collection of extras of both the quantity and quality found on this two-disc set is rare. The only real complaint, and it is a small one, is that it would have been nice to see a featurette or two looking back on the movie, and its impact on the genre.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Nick Jardine (My bio, it's short - read it anyway)
Friday, April 12, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-535, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Xelos 5381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS787, THX Select
SpeakersAll matching Vifa Drivers: centre 2x6.5" + 1" tweeter (d'appolito); fronts and rears 6.5" + 1" tweeter; centre rear 5" + 1" tweeter; sub 10" (150WRMS)

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Comments (Add)
Classic action movie - Khai L (My biodegradable bio)
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