Die Hard With A Vengeance (Special Edition) Review

The Movie
A recent BBC Panorama documentary looked at how Hollywood had potentially better anticipated the events of September 11th than the US Government did. If you are looking for a clear parallel, then you need look no further than the Die Hard trilogy. The first film is set in a skyscraper attacked by “terrorists”, the second involved commercial airliners being deliberately crashed, and this third instalment features terrorist activities in New York…

Conspiracy theories aside, this episode in the Die Hard saga was released some five years after the second movie, and in that time there had been many imitators – both good and bad - cashing in on the genre. Indeed, Die Hard 2 itself was something of a quickly released re-working of the first film. Some scripts had been touted around for a third movie, including “Die Hard on a ship” amongst others. But this would have been just another remake: “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice” we could just about take. But three times? Fortunately, this time the filmmakers decided to approach things from a different angle. Director John McTiernan returned to the series (after Renny Harlin had directed the second film) only on the proviso that this would indeed be a very different movie. A standalone screenplay called “Simon Says” by Jonathan Hensleigh was taken as the basis of the plot and adapted into a John McClane vehicle. The story puts McClane (Bruce Willis) back in the New York police force – but on suspension. He’s separated from wife Holly, has been drinking heavily and is a mess. But things are about to get a whole lot worse. Terrorists detonate a bomb in a New York shop, and now someone identifying himself only as “Simon” wants McClane, and only him, to perform a number of ridiculous tasks around the city or else he will explode more bombs. His first “task” nearly gets him killed in Harlem, but he’s rescued by shopkeeper Zeus Carver (Samuel L Jackson). Zeus gets dragged into the situation, and they both chase round the city at breakneck speed, solving riddles and challenges to prevent more people being killed. But just who is this “Simon” who is toying with them, and is there more to this than simply getting at John McClane?

So what’s different about this film compared to the previous two? In reality, practically everything is turned on its head. In the first (and somewhat the second) film, McClane was locked into the claustrophobic confines of a skyscraper (and then an airport). Here, everything is opened out as he is rushing across a large city. The first two films had him largely operating solo, whereas here he is partnered up with Jackson’s Zeus, which gives a different dimension in the comic banter that they play off each other. And it’s not Christmas Eve, he’s not rescuing his wife, and there are no meddling incompetents screwing things up. This all adds up to making it a fresh and entertainingly different approach rather than just a re-hash. Yet in another way there is far more of a link here to the original film than the second one had, as the true identity of “Simon” becomes clear.

John McTiernan is an accomplished action director, and keeps everything moving at a brisk pace, making it taut and exciting throughout, even when the plot moves into some of its more preposterous sequences. Only the ending seems a little forced, though it was clear from the extra material in this set that it was the most problematic element for the filmmakers.

What also impresses about the movie is the quality of the acting and dialogue. McClane is the character that Bruce Willis is probably best known for and so has no trouble fitting back into the role. The interplay between his character and Samuel L Jackson’s Zeus really makes the movie, and Jackson is as good here as he always is. Jeremy Irons is suitably menacing as German terrorist “Simon”; he does the bad guy thing well and should do more. It’s just a pity that one of the few other villainous characters he has played was a dreadful pantomime bad guy in Dungeons and Dragons.

Sure, there are plot holes aplenty here, and many of the action sequences are certainly “larger-than-life” to say the least. But this is exactly what these big action pictures are all about, and excellent characters and direction, coupled with a story that is pleasingly different from the original makes this a very enjoyable entry into the Die Hard trilogy, and into the Hollywood action movie genre in general.

The Disc
Die Hard with a Vengeance has not faired well in the UK – in any medium. It was always released in a cut form, even in the cinema, to get it a lower “15” rating. This included the trimming down (but not removing) of the knife scene and the elevator shoot-out, and a general cut back of “F”-words. The feature-free version originally released on region 2 DVD mistakenly used an even more hacked up and sanitised version that was basically unwatchable, and was quickly withdrawn. Unfortunately, this special edition disc still uses the cinematically released edited version, as proven by looking at the DVD-ROM label for disc 1: it’s called “Diehard3_censored”.

As for the disc layout, the menu system from the region 1 disc set has been retained, featuring a navigation system based on the New York subway. A couple of entries have been changed due to disc feature differences, and an incorrect menu entry makes navigation to one feature a little confusing – but more about that later.

The picture quality is largely excellent; with all the sharp detail and colour definition that would be expected of a first rate transfer. Only in a couple of places does it look just a little grainy that prevents it from getting a top mark.

All three of the Die Hard movies were made with the involvement of Twentieth Century Fox, but this edition was distributed by Buena Vista in Europe. The region 2 Fox-released DVDs of the first and second films retained the DTS tracks that were on their region 1 releases but alas this BV version ditches the DTS and has only the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The irony of all this being that this is the only movie of the three that was actually made with a real DTS sound mix.

However, all this sounds like the track we have left is worthless, which is fortunately far from the truth. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is powerful and aggressive, with plenty of excellent directional effects and a thumping workout for the “.1” bass.

So all in all a good soundtrack, but those with DTS capabilities should opt for the region 1 counterpart to get that extra kick that it will deliver.

Video Extras
The extras spread across this two disc set are:

On Disc 1:
The director, writer and studio executive commentary features director John McTiernan, screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh and Fox Marketing and Distribution President Tom Sherak. All these people were recorded separately, but it has been edited together well and flows through the film nicely. Hensleigh dominates the proceedings here, talking about the development of the screenplay from the original “Simon Says” plot into a Die Hard movie, as well as happily pointing out plot-holes and some of the more unrealistic elements of the story. McTiernan unsurprisingly talks more about the filming of the movie itself and his directing methods. Interestingly, both men have a completely different story regarding what was actually written on the sandwich board when they filmed for real in Harlem. What they do agree about though is that they are both unhappy with the end of the film. McTiernan talks of another unfilmed alternative ending (other than the one here) set on a private jet. Tom Sherak pops up in a few otherwise dead spaces to basically talk about money, money, and more money – spending it and making it. All in all, this is an entertaining and informative commentary.

On Disc 2:
The “Featurettes and Television Specials” section includes three featurettes. The first of these is Behind the Scenes: Die Hard With A Vengeance and runs for nearly 22 minutes. This is hosted by Reginald VelJohnson (who played Sgt. Powell in the first two movies). It features the usual interviews with the stars, including those in the previous movies. In fact it wastes approximately a quarter of its running times looking at movies 1 and 2, and in general is disappointingly promo. Only in the second half does it pick up to look at some of the stunts, and this is covered in more depth elsewhere on the disc. The second featurette is a television special that was originally broadcast the day before the movie’s opening in US cinemas. This is called A night to die for / McClane is back and also runs for about 22 minutes. This one is if anything even worse, as you learn little or nothing about the movie. When the question is posed about who else had been considered to play John McClane, instead of mentioning Richard Gere (which was true) we get a lot of minor celebs and sports stars acting the fool. Like the first featurette it later goes into some stunt work behind the scenes stuff, and like the first featurette this is covered elsewhere. Finally here we have the Die Hard 3 Featurette which is a four minute promo piece from the original press kit. It’s little more than an extended trailer.

Next up we have the alternative ending. When first looking at the menu items it may not be clear that this is here at all. Unfortunately whoever was responsible for rewriting the menus from the region 1 version mistakenly changed the entry to “Commentary”. This was probably due to the fact that the next screen allows you to select whether to watch the scene with or without a commentary from screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh. As for the scene itself, it fits in much better with the theme of the movie, having McClane track down Simon in Europe many months later and play him at his own game, or “McClane says” - with a rocket launcher. According to Hensleigh’s commentary, it was removed because producers and studio executives felt that it made McClane come across as far too cruel. A pity, because it is a better ending than the rather “crash bang wallop” one that was used.

The “Behind the Scenes and Storyboards” section includes three featurettes on stunt sequences from the movie. Terror in the Subway runs for nearly nine minutes and looks at the crashing subway train. Prepping the Park runs for just over ten minutes and examines the taxi jump sequence. Finally, Blowing up Bonwit runs about eight minutes and looks at the shop explosion from the start of the movie. All these stunt sequences were covered in amongst the three main featurettes, but here they are examined in far more detail, looking at planning, construction and execution. The second and third of these are the more interesting as they show how to perform stunts in the middle of a real city, rather than in the controlled environment of a soundstage or studio backlot.

Finally in this section is Storyboards which runs a standard storyboard to finished scene comparison for the escape from the flooding aqueduct sequence.

The “Interview and Profile” section firstly features an Interview with Bruce Willis. This is a little of a misnomer, as it also includes interviews with others such as director McTiernan and Samuel L Jackson, but the focus is on Willis and the McClane character. Much of the six and a half minute running time is replicated from the main featurettes. The four minute Villain’s Profile focuses on Jeremy Irons’ character and also replicates, but does feature the only interview with Sam Phillips and shows more of the knife attack by her character than this cut version of the movie does.

In this section you will also find an Easter egg gag reel. It’s not too hard to locate and when you do you will see about four minutes of out-takes from the movie.

The Visual Effects section features a broken down look at seven sequences in the movie where special effects rather than stunts were used. These are mainly scenes set around the ship and the flooding aqueduct. The actors are shown filming against the “green screen”, and then the final sequence is shown for comparison.

Finally, there are two theatrical trailers both presented in anamorphic widescreen (the only extras that are), and 2.0 stereo. Note that the region 1 version also contains a further 10 TV spots.

DVD-ROM Extras
There is no ROM content present on these discs.

Final Thoughts
This is an excellent addition to the Die Hard series, and even if it is not as good as the original, is far better than the “re-tread” that was Die Hard 2. As for the disc itself, it is certainly a lot better than the feature-less version that was previously available in region 2. But, and it’s a big “but”, the region 1 version is uncut and features a DTS soundtrack (and some TV spots) – all of which cannot be said for this region 2 copy. On either version the extras are somewhat disappointing; the commentary is good but the three main featurettes say very little, and what is of interest is replicated elsewhere. Still, it’s a good movie, so it’s definitely worth buying... the region 1 version.

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out of 10

Last updated: 23/06/2018 21:36:08

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