20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has just released the complete "Die Hard" trilogy on DVD as separate discs and as a nice boxed set containing all three parts of the series. The series that made Bruce Willis a Hollywood superstar and box office magnet carries a very unique signature throughout and all three installments are about equally strong quite a rare commodity in films. Since I believe everyone will review the series’ first part, I decided to take a closer look at the third one, titled "Die Hard With A Vengeance". Not only do I believe it is the raciest of all parts, it also teams up Bruce Willis with accomplished actor Samuel L. Jackson in an almost "Lethal Weapon"-like scenario.
After a devastating bombing in the heart of New York City, an anonymous caller who calls himself Simon (Jeremy Irons) confesses the bombing. A determined terrorist, he wants to play a game and police officer John McLane (Bruce Willis) is his toy of choice. When Simon says jump, McLane jumps because otherwise another bomb will explode, killing countless more innocent people. While his department is trying to find out Simon’s true identity, McLane is racing from one end of town to the other in order to disarm one bomb after another. In the maelstrom around him he unintentionally pulls Zeus (Samuel L. Jackson) with him. Zeus is not exactly happy about the circumstances he finds himself in, but effortlessly, Simon integrates him into the game as well. Eventually it dawns on McLane however that there has to be more to this race than what meets the eye, and he tries to figure out the true plan behind Simon’s game. This however puts him and thousands of other people at risk of being blown to pieces.
One of the things that made the "Die Hard" series always very interesting was the fact how the stories reflected their times. First the hostage situation in a skyscraper with no way out, then the airport and cyber junkies who shut down and redirect the entire computer system, and finally in time with the World Trade Center bombing a maniac who doesn’t mind to blow up all of New York City. Although all these stories might no longer be as current as they were at the time the films hit the box office, they still hold up considerably well and "Die Hard With A Vengeance" still hits a nerve.
"Die Hard With A Vengeance" sees Bruce Willis returning to the part of John McLane for the third time and his burned out character still has the same charm as when we first met him years ago, where we witnessed him struggling to get back together with his wife. Well, in this installment of the series he is still struggling, caught up in a never-ending cycle of self-destruction and mistaken pride. Samuel L. Jackson throws in a great performance as Zeus, a racist who sometimes doesn’t even notice how caught up he gets in his own aggressive racial tirades. Slowly however he learns that even white men have guts. The more he learns about McLane the more he starts admiring and liking him, until he ultimately notices that after all they are not all that different.
One of the most striking things about "Die Hard With A Vengeance" is the camera work and the editing style. Like a live newscast the image often duplicates the jerky shouldered-camera feel of "in the action" cameramen. While most directors prefer steady-cams, here we relentlessly see something that could be called the "jerky-cam". To heighten this effect even further, the film has been edited like a music video clip. It has probably the highest cuts-per-second ratio of any film I have seen, adding substantially to the film’s frantic atmosphere. The viewer literally feels how McLane and Zeus are running out of time as the camera is chasing after them.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment have done a good job transferring this film to DVD. Although not anamorphically enhanced, the widescreen image contains plenty of detail and appears very crisp. It is free of any pixelation or other compression artifacts, and maintains all the shadow detail you wish for. No doubt the additional storage capacity the RSDL disc offers helped maintaining such a high video standard. The film’s colors are also absolutely stable, with strong and vibrant hues and naturally rendered fleshtones. No chroma noise or color bleeding is evident on the disc, creating a very natural looking image. As good as the video transfer to this DVD is, the sound transfer sadly lacks a bit. The disc contains a very aggressive 5.1 channel Dolby Digital soundtrack that makes very good and excessive use of the split surrounds. Unfortunately serious clipping is evident in numerous scenes in the Dolby Surround version of the track. Especially in some of the most pounding sequences distortion is clearly noticeable and strangely even in some more subdued scenes, the audio signal exhibits signs of distortion. While these problems are not overly exaggerated, I still found them a bit distracting at times. To be fair, I have to admit that I had not noticed these problems in the Dolby Digital soundtrack however.
What’s much worse than the audio problems are the poorly faked German language parts. In the entire film I was able to spot only two truly German speaking actors. Everyone else was just talking with terrible accents to the point that the lines didn’t even make sense at times. What kind of attitude is that? Hollywood is spending millions of dollars on films like "Die Hard" but can’t afford a decent voice coach for the German lines? Well, why not drop the overly cliched evil German stereotype altogether then?
Apart from the feature presentation, the disc also contains trailers for all three "Die Hard" movies and a small behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of "Die Hard With A Vengeance".
"Die Hard With A Vengeance" is a furious action spectacle from the first to the last minute. Unlike the other parts of the series, this one doesn’t give you a single breather. From the spectacular opening sequence of the bombing in New York over Taxi races through Central Park to Subway disasters and exploding helicopters, this film has it all lined up for the viewer at rapid fire and will keep you right on the edge of your seat. Add to that the charismatic Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson’s great performance, and you have one great blasting action movies. Although with problems in the audio department, Fox’s "Die Hard With A Vengeance" comes highly recommended.