Die Hard Collection

Die Hard Collection (1950)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Bruce Willis
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Documentaries, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Endings, Outtakes, Trailers and TV Spots and much much more

One of the most highly anticipated box sets of the year has finally arrived, and the "Die Hard: The Ultimate Collection" proves itself to be quite worth the wait, as it’s overflowing with great bells and whistles. In fact the only real problem with this collection is that they’ve included seemingly everything possible, so information is repeated at times. This set contains all three films in the trilogy, "Die Hard" (1988), "Die Hard 2: Die Harder" (1990), and "Die Hard With A Vengeance" (1995). The latter films are given the 2-disc Special Edition treatment while "Die Hard" is part of the coveted "Five Star Collection" from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. As most of you are probably already familiar with the films themselves, I will forego the usual in-depth plot synopsis and critical analysis and focus more on the special features found in the set.

"Die Hard" is the film that started it all. It redefined the action genre, made Bruce Willis a star, and set the standard for action films to come. Thirteen years later, "Die Hard" is still a crowd-pleaser, incorporating action, humor, and suspense in just the right doses. John McTiernan’s direction is dead-on and Willis is instantly likable as the New York cop who must save a group of hostages from a throng of sleek terrorists.

The first DVD of the 2-disc "Five Star Collection" presentation of "Die Hard" contains three special features. First, we have an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring director John McTiernan and production designer Jackson DeGovia. This is a very technical commentary, as McTiernan discusses how the film was shot, while DeGovia talks about the set design and the locations. While some viewers may find this commentary fascinating, others may find it quite boring, as the two speakers (who were recorded separately) don’t really shed much light on plot development, or share many stories from the set. Still, we are given an idea of the sheer amount of work, which went into making "Die Hard". The second commentary features scene-specific comments from Visual Effects Producer Richard Edlund. Edlund speaks during 10 chapters, which can be accessed from a very handy menu. Edlund’s comments are also of a highly technical nature, as he explains what it took to create the illusion of destroying Nakatomi Plaza. However, Edlund does stop from time-to-time to gives a layman’s explanation of what he’s describing. In addition to this, there is also a "Text Commentary". It consists of messages running across the bottom of the screen like subtitles. In true "Pop-up Video" fashion, these subtitles contains tidbits of information culled from recent interviews with the likes of screenwriter Steven de Souza, actor Alan Rickman, composer Michael Kamen, and many others. This is where one can really learn about the making of the film, as these messages are full of interesting information. The final extra on Disc 1 is a special branching version of the film, which replaces one deleted scene (which will be discussed momentarily). It should be noted that the commentaries can’t be accessed during the branching version.

Disc 2 is the real star of this set. We start with "From the Vault", which contains many goodies. Under "Outtakes", we have a reel entitled "Die Hard: The Vault", which is a mixture of short deleted scenes, outtakes, and alternate takes. This shows some fun clowning around by Willis. This can be watched with production audio & music, or production audio only. Next, we have the one true deleted scene on the disc, "Turning off the Power". This is a longer, more involved version of Chapter 42, in which the FBI orders the power to the building cut. (This scene can be incorporated into "Die Hard" on Disc 1.) Next, there is "The Newscasts", which is original VHS footage of the many news reports that show up in the movie. This includes longer takes, alternate takes, and bloopers. "From the Vault" is rounded out by sharing the complete text of two magazine articles about "Die Hard" — "Sophisticated Violence on a Grand Scale for ’Die Hard’" from the 12/88 issue of AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER and "Exaggerated Reality" from the 11/88 issue of CINEFEX.

The next section, "The Cutting Room" is very unique. Here, we get a behind the scenes look at filmmaking. First, one can practice editing with the Scene-Editing Workshop. Here, the viewer can choose shots from three different scenes and create their own unique scene. Next, you can bone up on your audio mixing with a section, which allows the viewer to manipulate the dialogue, music, and sound effects in a scene. (This is similar to a feature, which Disney has put on their animated DVDs.) Next, the oft-neglected multi-angle feature can be put to use in a demonstration of multi-camera shooting. In three different scenes, the viewer uses the multi-angle button to toggle between different camera angles. Why Letterbox? is a question that most of us don’t need to ask, but DVD producer David Prior leads us through this segment as he demonstrates the difference between a <$PS,letterboxed> presentation and that of <$PS,pan & scan>. Finally, this tutorial is rounded out with a glossary, which gives easy to understand definitions of many filmmaking and editing terms.

The rest of the special features on Disc 2 are a bit more standard, although equally impressive. The disc contains the entire shooting script for "Die Hard", a feature usually reserved for DVD-ROM. The Interactive Slide Show contains 94 publicity and behind-the-scenes stills from the film. As an added bonus, within this still gallery are 12 short presentations, which can be accessed by clicking on the Nakatomi logo. These presentations consist of blueprints, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes footage, the best being Richard Edlund’s model helicopter, and its subsequent destruction. The DVD contains three theatrical trailers for "Die Hard", seven TV spots, and a seven-and-a-half minute featurette from 1988, which offers some cast & crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

Renny Harlin’s 1990 sequel "Die Hard 2: Die Harder" is often maligned as simply a body-count movie, but I disagree. It’s true that the film isn’t as good as the original "Die Hard", but it certainly has its moments. Director Harlin keeps things moving along at a nice pace and the movie contains many exciting action sequences. Willis is again great as the "fish out of water" cop, this time taking on terrorists led by William Sadler at Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport.

As with "Die Hard", the only extra on Disc 1 of "Die Hard 2" is an <$commentary,audio commentary>. This time, we are treated to a talk by director Renny Harlin, who gets off to a great start by explaining how he went from "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4" to "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane" to "Die Hard 2". Harlin’s demeanor is laid back and chatty, as he describes the hardships that went into making the film. (He mentions several times that there was no snow to be found anywhere.) As with the commentaries on "Die Hard", Harlin’s speech may be a bit too technical at times for some viewers, but he does talk about the actors involved, specifically the many secondary characters.

Although "Die Hard 2" isn’t a "Five Star Collection" disc, the second DVD is loaded with extras. We start off with "Die Harder: The Making of Die Hard 2", a 23-minute documentary created for FOX Network affiliates. This is a nice behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, and has a interesting section which demonstrates how footage from various locations is spliced together seamlessly. It appears that the best footage from this documentary was edited together to make the 4-minute making-of featurette, which next appears on the DVD. Similar material appears in "Interview with Renny Harlin", which is actually a mixture of quotes from Harlin, film clips, and behind-the-scenes footage. This trend continues with "Villain’s Profile", which looks at the bad guys in the film. All of these segments are very slick and corporate, but they offer a great deal of information on the making of the film, and are loaded with interviews with the cast and crew.

As "Die Hard 2" was driven by stunts and special effects, there are several segments dealing with these aspects of the film. There are separate segments revealing how the snowmobile chase and the luggage-area shoot-out were shot. Next, we have visual effects breakdowns showing how the separate elements (green screens, rear projection, models, etc.) in the scenes dealing with the ejector seat and the plane crash were brought together to make the completed scene. Also offered are side-by-side comparisons of the stunt work and special effects used in many of the flying scenes and fight in the finale. Lastly, there are storyboard-to-film comparisons of the skywalk shoot-out.

Finally, Disc 2 of "Die Hard 2" brings us four deleted scenes, which run for a total of 8 minutes. It’s very easy to see why these brief scenes were cut for pacing. There are four theatrical trailers on the disc, all presented at 2.35:1. (Trailer "A" is a great example of what a teaser trailer should be.) And lastly, there is a TV spot, presented full-frame.

John McTiernan returned to the director’s chair for the third film in the series, "Die Hard with a Vengeance". Here, John McClane is taken out of a confined space, and let loose on the streets of New York, to track down a serial bomber. While the latter half of the film becomes more illogically with each passing moment, "Die Hard with a Vengeance" is still a fun ride, and the teaming of Willis with Samuel L. Jackson creates one of the great on-screen teams.

Keeping the trend of the set, Disc 1’s only extra is a commentary by director/producer John McTiernan, screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh, and former Fox president of Marketing and Distribution, the latter two not being listed on the DVD packaging. This is a very informative commentary, as Hensleigh does most of the talking. As is usually the case with screenwriters, Hensleigh has a great memory for detail and gives a ton of info on the making of the film, especially the fact that his script was not initially a "Die Hard" sequel. McTiernan chimes in occasionally with comments like "It’s not as bad as I remembered." My one complaint about this commentary is that in places such as Chapter 12 and Chapter 22, it seems very obvious that footage had been cut out, but no one mentions this.

Disc 2 of "Die Hard with a Vengeance" has enough extras to fill Manhattan. The highlight of this disc (and possibly the whole set) is "A Night to Die For/McClane is Back", a 21-minute featurette which originally aired on CBS to coincide with a broadcast of "Die Hard 2". Hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, this offers an overview of the entire "Die Hard" series, but focuses mostly on the third film. It features interviews with many celebrities, who give their opinions on the films, and has a comedic scene from David Letterman, which is simply hilarious. There is a second 21-minute featurette entitled, "Behind the Scenes: Die Hard with a Vengeance". Made for HBO, this featurette, hosted by Reginald Vel Johnson (which is odd, as he isn’t in the third movie), gives us the standard behind-the-scenes footage and cast and crew interviews. Similar to the "Die Hard 2" bonuses, we next have a 4-minute featurette, which seems to have been culled from the longer "Making-of". Also similar to "Die Hard 2" is "Interview with Bruce Willis", a featurette in which many members of the cast and crew discuss Willis and the John McClane character and "Villains with a Vengeance", a short segment where the villains of the film are profiled and discussed.

There is a great emphasis on exploring the special effects from "Die Hard with a Vengeance". First, we have three separate segments exploring the explosion in the subway, the race through Central Park, and the infamous opening explosion. Each of these goes in-depth to show the careful preparation that went into creating these stunts. Next, we have film-to-storyboard comparisons of the tunnel flood sequence. Many different elements come into play when creating a special effects shot, and these are explored in the visual effects breakdown. Here, seven individual scenes are deconstructed to show how live-action and special effects were merged to create the finished shot.

The most interesting feature on this disc is the alternate ending to the movie, which can be viewed with or without comments from screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh. This scene is very different in tone from the rest of the film and it’s left up to the viewer whether or not it would’ve worked better than the theatrical finale. Finally, we have two theatrical trailers, both <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1, and ten TV spots in various aspect ratios.

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said anything about the technical aspects of the films themselves. That’s because there’s not much to say. Each film in the "Die Hard" series is a <$THX,THX>-certified digital transfer and all three films are basically perfect. All three are presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and are <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1. They all look great, the most noticeable improvement being a lack of grain in some shots, which has been very noticeable in previous versions. The image is sharp and clear on each disc with a high level of detail and colors that are vivid and true. Along with these great visuals, comes a dynamite audio presentation. Each disc features both a <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> soundtrack or a <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 track. Both sound great on each movie, as the explosions are loud and the subwoofer never gets a break. Both tracks show a wide dynamic range and surround sound is put to great use in all three movies. (The only complaint here is that the some of the explosions on the Dolby track of "Die Hard" sound a bit muffled.) So, even if you don’t care about the bonus features, the box set is a worthy investment simply because of the pristine transfers presented here.

The "Die Hard: The Ultimate Collection" is a vast improvement over Fox’s previous treatment of the "Die Hard" films and it truly showcases the power of a well-thought out DVD. The audio and video presentation of each film is excellent and the dearth of extra features will have you watching these discs for hours. Actually, except for the lack of cast & crew profiles, the extras offered here are some of the most all-encompassing material that I’ve ever seen. This set is a must-have for any fan of the "Die Hard" films.

Insert your own "Yippee-ki-yay" joke here.