Okay, let’s get the big piece out of the way. DIE HARD is a Christmas movie. Beyond the obvious (the action takes place during a holiday party), there is a sense of reconnecting with family, of finding happiness in little things, and of course Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
DIE HARD came out in 1988, based on a novel by Roderick Thorp, NOTHING LASTS FOREVER . There are significant changes between the novel and the book, enough that DIE HARD can legitimately seen as its own product.
For the five or so people who haven’t seen it, the basic plot is that John McClane is flying from New York to Los Angeles in an attempt to reconnect with his estranged wife, Holly. McClane is a beat cop, eleven years on the force. His wife is a high powered executive married to her job. He’s supposed to go to her holiday party, which is being held at the unfinished Nakatomi Plaza skyscraper. Unfortunately for John and Holly, their reunion is interrupted by Hans Gruber and his merry band of thieves masquerading as terrorists who are after the $640 million in bearer bonds being held in the on-site safe.
Only, John isn’t in the main area where the party is being held when the terrorists arrive, and is able to elude their initial sweep of the offices because the thieves end up distracted by a woman who was mostly naked at the time. McClane initially tries, and fails, to contact the police for help, but ends up being unsuccessful until he drops the body of one of Hans’ group onto the police cruiser of Al Powell. McClane doesn’t want to try and take on the bad guys by himself. His initial instinct is to get away and get reinforcements (though the LAPD and later the FBI are not only incompetent but actually end up playing into Gruber’s plans). He doesn’t step up until it becomes obvious that the outside world won’t be able to help after all.
DIE HARD is also noteworthy in that the villains’ plan and execution is very, very smart. They have a well detailed plan and stick to it. Gruber has taken into account most variables, even baking the FBI and police response into his overall scheme. They have a clear exit strategy and concise goals and are prepared for contingencies (why else bring rocket launchers unless they were planning on using them?).
The biggest stumbling block of course is McClane, which is especially notable in that he rarely has a concise plan. As a great example, see where he is tying himself to the fire
hose before jumping off the roof and asking himself “John, what the fuck are you doing?” Or before that sticking a bunch of detonators into a brick of plastic explosive because he doesn’t actually know what he is doing. McClane’s biggest advantage is his ability to think on his feet and react quickly… well, that and his ability to never quit .
DIE HARD also doesn’t need to fill every moment with action. There are several quiet scenes where John and Al talk, where John and Hans meet near the roof (and which makes John realize there is something going on with the roof), and where John and Holly’s children are interviewed that act as brief breathers to the rest of the action.
Finally, DIE HARD is one of those movies that rewards the viewer for paying attention. From Holly’s gold watch to Argyle being trapped in the garage in the limo to the nationality of the kids’ babysitter, it all comes into play and finds use in the film. So yes, I’ll be watching DIE HARD again this Christmas, and so should you.