"Die Hard"

John McTiernan's thrill ride started an avalanche of knockoffs, but there's still no beating the original.

Published August 30, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"Die Hard"
Directed by John McTiernan
Starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; widescreen (1.35:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Trailers for all three "Die Hard" movies, making-of featurette, slide show

Every so often an otherwise routine genre film nails the target so squarely it creates a subgenre all its own. "Die Hard" is one such film. This cops-and-robbers, cat-and-mouse thrill ride not only made a multimillion-dollar action star of Bruce Willis but also gave birth to a dizzying variety of knockoffs that run the gamut from "Die Hard" on a bus ("Speed") to "Die Hard" with the president ("Air Force One"). Two sequels followed, and a third is said to be in the works. But there's still no beating the original.

Willis plays John McClane, a New York cop who's invited to his estranged wife's high-rise office Christmas party in Los Angeles. Also attending, though, is a collection of Euro-nasties led by the terrific Alan Rickman, who plays the suave yet psycho criminal mastermind to the hilt. Their attempt to shake down the Nakatomi Corp. for millions in bearer bonds quickly goes awry as McClane single-handedly derails the group's well-laid plans and plays, as he says, "the fly in the ointment, the monkey in the wrench." With the cops and feds outside consistently bungling things up, McClane must rely on all his street smarts and ingenuity to foil the bad guys' plot and save his wife. Cool action sequences, glib banter and memorable characters combine to make "Die Hard" a uniquely entertaining experience.

The DVD version lacks commentary by cast or crew, but this isn't such a severe omission -- the film is straightforward enough, and there's only so much they could say about a building getting blown to pieces. The making-of featurette provides some behind-the-scenes glimpses of the sort usually encountered on "Entertainment Tonight," and includes Willis describing the indestructible McClane as "not some supercop. He's just an ordinary guy." Yeah, and Batman is just a rich dude with a taste for tight clothes. The disc's real treat is its digitally mastered THX sound, which brings new life to all the machine guns, explosions and shattered glass. Pipe this sucker through your stereo, and you're practically a member of the Nakatomi board.

By David Lazarus

David Lazarus covers business and technology for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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