Christmas is just days away and people everywhere ready themselves for the holiday. And part of getting ready for the celebration and family time is more than just last-minute shopping and a mad scramble for decorating. There is also relaxation, listening to Christmas music, and, of course, watching Christmas movies. So for this week’s Theater Thursday, it’s time to gear up for a film that is equal parts Christmas cheer and equal parts action extravaganza. This week it’s a time travel trip to 1988. A year that witnessed the opening of Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the launching of Bill Amend’s comic strip FoxTrot. July of 1988 also saw the release of Die Hard in theaters nationally, and the catapulting of Bruce Willis as a star and action hero.
Every great action film needs a director to guide it to completion. For Die Hard, that director was John McTiernan. At the time, John was still a new face in Hollywood having only made two films prior, Nomads and Predator. Predator was the movie that put John on the map as far as directors go, but it was most certainly Die Hard that cemented him as a helmer of action films. In many ways people could argue that McTiernan was the director who helped pioneer the core concept of the modern action thriller. Take a serious, loner figure, put them into a deadly/daring situation against incalculable odds. Then as the plot progresses, the loner defeats all the ‘bad guys’ using only their wits, the environment and whatever weapons are handy. It is thanks to John McTiernan’s dedication and hard work as a director, that the film genre reached new heights. Of course those heights were given a leg up from the film’s leading man, Bruce Willis.
Bruce Willis is, and always has been firstly, a man of action. Certainly he has done other films over his career: dramas, comedies, family works. But it is the action genre for which he will always be remembered. Die Hard is launching point, the piece that showed Hollywood and everyone else what he was capable of. The character of John McClane is a very serious individual who starts out very conflicted because he is both a father and husband, but also a cop. And not just any cop, a NYPD police detective, which at the time carried a lot of weight as a character trait because New York was in many ways a very crime-heavy city. So take a family man who is also a detective, and put him in an entirely new setting, Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. Throw in the element of a strained marriage, a little murder and mayhem from a small criminal group and voila. Movie lovers are treated to a change of character that is of near Scrooge or Grinch like proportions.
Now for every action hero there is a villain. For Bruce (John), that villain was found in Hans Gruber, played by the talented Alan Rickman. Alan was truly a quintessential actor, whose list of roles was both lengthy and impressive. Of course, so many people will always remember and love him for playing Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise, but it’s here in Die Hard that Alan gets to play around with a villain who is both brilliant and ruthless. His performance is sinister, wedded to a cold, calculating nature. Throughout the course of the story, as John starts to take apart the operation, Hans still maintains a superior nature, a very ‘superior man’ attitude. When things start to fall apart is when the mask of civility and leadership falls away and he comes desperate. And every villain in any movie who gets desperate makes mistakes, which lead to their ultimate demise.
The ‘making of’ is always a fun aspect of any cinematic masterpiece. And so here is an early Christmas present: Enjoy the behind the scenes look at this 80’s Christmas/action classic.
Now there is still an ongoing debate to this day of whether or not Die Hard is, in fact, a Christmas movie. While the story has none of the obvious classic elements of any Christmas story or special, it’s setting and a major overarching plot device allow it to be more than just an action film. Take the setting firstly. It is at John’s wife’s work on Christmas Eve, at a Christmas office party. For the first 17 minutes of this story, things are normal, despite the obvious tension made clear between John and his wife Holly (played by Bonnie Bedelia). Even as the plot continues in the action-oriented aspects, there is still that strong family bond that keeps John fighting, not just for his wife, but for his kids too. In the end, as previously stated, John undergoes a powerful character change and so does his wife. John realizes just how important his family truly is to him and Holly sees that underneath his tough cop exterior is the man she fell in love with, the man who would do anything to keep her safe and make sure they are with their kids during Christmas.
It is the family theme that makes this not just an action movie but a Christmas movie too. Family is one of the biggest reasons for this time of year, coming together with those who are important. In the end, even as John and Holly walk away from what is no doubt a most intense Christmas Eve, they both got a gift they didn’t even expect. The gift of seeing their love re-blossom and the bonds of marriage/family made all the stronger.
As Christmas gets closer and closer, a lot of people can get caught up in all the chaos of the season and focus too much on the wrong parts of it. Let it never be forgotten that Christmas is a time of love, family, and coming together to share in the warmth and joy of this time of year. Take a break from all those holiday hassles and spend some time with loved ones. And what better way to do so then with a nice Christmas movie like Die Hard. Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year as well.