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Today's Date is:

Die Hard 2

Reviewed by: Tom Reynolds
Genre: Action
Video: Widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1
Audio: DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (English); Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (French)
Language: English, French
Subtitle: English, Spanish
Length: 124 mins.
Rating: R
Release Date: July 10, 2001
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Commentary: Director Renny Harlin
Documentaries: "The Making of Die Hard 2"
Featurettes: "Making of (short version);" "Behind the Scenes and Story Boards;" "Visual Effects"
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: Renny Harlin; Villains Profile
Trailers/TV Spots: Four theatrical trailers, one TV spot
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: Four deleted scenes
Music Video: None
Other: None
Cast and Crew: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton, Reginald Veljohnson, Franco Nero, William Sadler, John Amos, Dennis Franz, Tom Bower, Sheila McCarthy, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Robert Patrick, John Leguizamo
Screenplay by: Steven E. De Souza, Doug Richardson
Produced by: Charles Gordon, Joel Silver, Lawrence Gordon
Directed By: Renny Harlin
Music: Michael Kamen
The Review: It's Christmas time, and the finest of the LAPD's finest, John McClane (Bruce Willis), is in Washington, D.C. awaiting the arrival of his wife's plane at Dulles International Airport. They are planning on spending the holidays with her parents, and except for the fact that it's snowing and the weather is chancy, all is well. Or so it seems. But this is John McClane, and trouble seems to follow him around like a bloodhound on a scent, and the peace of the Yuletide season is about to be put on hold, big-time. It just so happens that deposed South American General Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero), a top dog in the cocaine trade, is being extradited to the United States to stand trial, and his plane is scheduled to land shortly at Dulles. And waiting in the wings are some people who are about to make life miserable for McClane and everyone else in their proximity. A band of highly trained mercenaries-- all former U.S. Army commandos-- have been deployed in and around Dulles, and are ready to whisk Esperanza safely away as soon as he lands. To successfully effect his escape, they are prepared to do what they do best: Make war and create havoc. But in this case the recipients will all be innocent people with nothing on their minds save making merry, including John's wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), whose plane is scheduled to arrive dangerously close to zero hour. The mercenaries, lead by the psychotic Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), have planned their operation down to the last detail, with the exception of one element they had no way of foreseeing. And that would be a one-man wrecking crew named John McClane. "Die Hard 2," directed by Renny Harlin, had some big shoes to fill as the follow-up to the hugely successful "Die Hard," which introduced John McClane to the world and propelled Bruce Willis' rising star into the stratosphere at something approaching light-speed. And it not only succeeded, but managed to stretch those shoes into a size even larger for the next sequel to fill by delivering exactly what an action film is supposed to deliver: Action, and plenty of it. it starts quickly, and once it begins, the action takes you right on through to the end without ever stalling out or issuing so much as a sputter. The story is good (better than most of the genre), but like any action film requires the viewer to suspend disbelief somewhat and just go with the flow, which in this case is easy because it's so well done and offers some characters with whom you are actually able to become emotionally involved. It gives you a good guy to root for and a terrific villain, who you just know is going to get it in the end; and meanwhile, it takes you on one fantastic ride-- and like your favorite at Disneyland or one of the "Six Flags" parks, as soon as it's over you're probably going to want to do it again. Or as John McClane would say, "Yippee-kai-ay, (ladies and gentlemen--).
Image and Sound This film is eleven years old, but this transfer to DVD makes it look alike new; it may lack that overall sheen that so many new films have when they make it to disc, but regardless, the picture you get here is sharp and clear without any discernible indications of wear or aging. The transfer was obviously handled with great care and with the maximum use of the technology available. The picture is clean from one side of the screen to the other and devoid of any roughness or loss of resolution. The color is every bit as good as what you would get in a theater, and though much of this film takes place at night or in the dark, the images and color come through perfectly and well-defined even in the darker or shadowed scenes. Willis winds up with quite a bit of blood on him in this film (especially on his face), and the texture and shades of red look very real. The weather-- and snow in particular-- plays a big role in this film, and the snowflakes (sometimes entirely artificial) and icicles look quite authentic. The sound on this DVD is excellent, with good resonance and balance, and the background sounds and noises are integrated into the action and dialogue exceptionally well. The sounds of the jet engines fairly shake the room, and the gunfire has real depth and distinction, and in certain scenes-- like the luggage/conveyor belt scene near the beginning of the movie-- you can hear the echo and reverberation of the cracks! as the weapons are discharged, which makes the sensation very real. There is a lot of shattering glass in various scenes, and at times it's so powerful and realistic that you'll be looking for debris around your television set. But hold off on those brooms, folks, it's only a movie! And the sounds of the jets exploding absolutely rock the room, and the blaze of the ensuing fire glows brilliantly with deep hues of yellow tinged with red. Overall, the look of the picture is very good, and the sound is even better; all of which makes the experience of this DVD very satisfying.
The Extras "The Making of Die Hard 2" is a twenty-three minute segment that was originally created for television for the Fox affiliate networks. This is a very basic "making of" piece, which in the first half summarizes the plot while showing extensive clips from the movie, interspersed with brief comments from Harlin, Willis, Sadler and Special Effects Coordinator Al Disarro on what it was like to work on this film, who the characters are and some of the challenges they faced while actually shooting it. The consensus was that this was a tough shoot, beginning with the weather, which was extremely cold-- in Alpena, Michigan in January of 1990, for example, it averaged twelve degrees below zero while they were working outside, and it Denver, Colorado it got even lower-- and surprisingly, the lack of snow they had to work with, even as cold as it was. Disarro comments that the most adverse conditions were in Denver, but that Harlin, who is from Finland, just kept working away, seemingly untouched by the cold, while everyone else was freezing. Harlin mentions that when they did have snow it melted so quickly under the equipment and lights that they had to keep moving locations to keep up with it, then ended up trucking in artificial snow anyway. Fox at one point brought in a huge ice-chipping machine that would grind up and spit out three-hundred pound blocks of ice, which they used to simulate a blizzard (as well as augmenting it with the artificial, biodegradable flakes). Sadler said it "Was easier to invade Normandy than to get this film shot." The second half touches on the use of special effects and models, as well as some of the stunts that were involved in the picture. One scene, in which McClane comes up through a grate onto the runway as a plane is landing was actually filmed in eight different locations, then blended together to look like one place. They had to construct a major metropolitan airport with a ten-thousand-foot runway within the confines of a two-hundred foot soundstage, which required calculating a real airport to scale and building a detailed model. For the control tower sequences, a real tower was constructed, then surrounded with the models of the airport. They used a full-scale wing of a 747 for the scene in which McClane has the climactic fight with Stuart, but for the landing and crashing of the jets, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) was engaged to build the models and stage the explosions. For the final crash and explosion at the end of the film, they had to take numerous tests to get the right mixture that would produce the kind of explosion Harlin wanted, and it required a model that was a full twenty feet in length to effect the realism of the blast. In this segment they also demonstrate stunts done with the snowmobiles, and you see Willis walking through the choreography of one of his hand-to-hand fights. The "Making of" featurette is actually just a truncated version of the longer segment, which was created for Fox Publicity's electronic press kit, with a running time of four minutes. Of the four deleted scenes, the first two, "Merry Christmas," in which a choir is singing in the initial airport sequence, and "Down the Rabbit Hole," in which O'Reilly takes out a couple of painters in order to take up his assigned position, are fairly brief and insignificant. The third, "Marvin," runs about three minutes and expands on Marvin's introduction to McClane, and the fourth-- the best of the four-- "The Boiler Room," is a different take on how McClane gets to the skywalk. These scenes are shown "as is," without any commentary, so it's basically just a glimpse at a bit of what was left on the cutting room floor. The "Interviews and Profile" features a short interview with Renny Harlin and an overview of the villains in the film, with brief comments by William Sadler and John Amos. The interview begins with clips from the movie and Harlin explaining that he didn't want to merely copy the original "Die Hard," but was interested in the project because it did retain the elements of humor, action, excitement, suspense and family drama contained in the first film. He points out that the characters in this film are real, that they have emotions, real feelings and relationships. And they made a point of using some of the characters from the original-- like Sergeant Al Powell and the reporter, Thornburg-- to make it familiar to those who saw the first one. He gives Willis a lot of credit for being able to successfully balance out the humor with the action, which he believes was a very difficult thing to do, and he is outspoken as to what a "giving" actor he is, and that he's a movie star who doesn't act like one; Willis, he says, treats everyone, cast and crew, like equals. He also discusses the stunts involved with, especially, the snowmobile sequences, and offers some information about the models and sets that were used extensively in the movie. Harlin concludes his interview by saying that he wants the audience to have a real roller coaster ride with this movie, and he hopes it will make people want to go back and rent the original. In the "Villain's Profile," William Sadler says that what is fun about playing the villain is the fact that you can't have a great hero unless he's up against something monumental, and the bigger and more dangerous the threat, the more remarkable his overcoming it is, and it's fun to be that character. He takes it as a compliment when people tell him how much they hated him in this film, which indicates that he did his job well. He also mentions that he and Willis did not get too close while making this film, but kept a professional distance from one another in order in order to maintain the sense of the characters. John Amos says that he likes the fact that in this movie the bad guys aren't all in black and white, that you don't know the whole story until a certain point in the film. "Behind the Scenes and Story Boards" begins with "Breaking the Ice," a look at the snowmobile sequence, which was covered in the "Making of" segment, but here Harlin goes over how he planned it out first on the story boards. From there it basically shows how the sequence was filmed, and Harlin mentions that Willis wanted to do his own stunt, getting thrown from the snowmobile, but they wouldn't let him. He was told they needed him alive in order to complete the shooting of the film. The second part, "Chaos on the Conveyor Belt," highlights the stunts that went into the conveyor belt sequence, how they choreographed the fight between McClane and the terrorist on the belt and finally, how they actually filmed the gunfight. The final part of this segment, "Story Board Sequence," shows a number of black and white story board sketches interspersed with clips from the film that demonstrate exactly how the sketches actually translated to film. This is a fairly brief segment, but informative and interesting; definitely worth a look. "Visual Effects" is a three part look at various aspects of the effects used in the making of this film. In "Ejector Seat," the sequence compares the story boards with green screen and final composite of the scene in which McClane escapes from the cockpit of the plane by using the ejector seat. "Airport Runway" simply compared the stages of the runway matte painting with the final composite shot. A "Side-by-Side Comparison" sequence features a gallery that offers a cross section of visual effects and stunt sequences, each of which is a glimpse into the various stages of building a complete effect. The scenes used to demonstrate this process are "The Chopper," which shows the helicopter hovering above the wing of the jet, "The Wing Fight," which shows the fight between McClane and the terrorist, and "The Airplane Models," which demonstrates how the larger models were rigged onto lines in order to simulate a landing or a crash. Again, this is a fairly brief segment, but is worth a look, especially for those who are interested in the technical aspects of filmmaking.
Commentary Director Renny Harlin does the commentary on this track, which is interesting to a point, but overall rather average as far as commentary tracks go. Harlin is very personable and listening to him is actually quite pleasant, and you certainly come away from this track with an appreciation of all that went into bringing this film to the screen. But there is really only so much that can be gleaned from commentary of an action film, though to his credit, Harlin does about as well as could be expected with it. He does manage, for example, to successfully convey a sense of who the characters are in terms of real emotions and feelings, rather than treating them as mere components used simply to advance the action of the film. And, in retrospect, his approach to the human elements of the characters is probably what added that extra touch that made this film as good as it is-- and it is an exceptionally good action film that does exactly what it is supposed to do; it takes you on a wild ride for a couple of hours, while giving you (thanks to Harlin and some good performances) some characters who are real, and more than mere comic book caricatures, which are more often than not what you usually get in films of this genre. Harlin begins by addressing the tight schedule he was on when he began this film, and the fact that he was just finishing up another picture at the same time. He talks about shooting all over the country and chasing down snow in a year that was famous for the lack of it everywhere, even in the dead of winter. He points out that the casting of the terrorists was pursued with great care and that he auditioned literally hundreds of young actors to find the "look" he wanted, which was basically young men, strong and powerful, but all with their own individual look; he wanted to make sure they were different from one another, but cut from the same mold. He mentions some of the actors who were cast, who were virtually unknown at the time but have since gone on to distinctive careers of their own, like John Leguizamo, Robert Patrick, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Dennis Franz. And the actor who plays the part of the employee who unlocks the door to the luggage area for McClane at the beginning of the film, he says, was actually a homeless man the casting director spotted in Los Angeles; he had never acted before, and Harlin was happy to have been able to give him this opportunity. Harlin talks quite a bit throughout the commentary about the need for artificial snow, and obviously the weather was a significant part of this shoot, which was done under some extremely adverse conditions, especially in Denver and Michigan. He also refers frequently to the number and types of models used in this film, but that the airport control tower was actually a two-story set, one of the biggest on the Fox lot in a long time-- it was actually bigger than a real control tower in order to give them some maneuverability and flexibility in filming-- and it was surrounded by all of these very detailed models which in the final film gave the airport such a realistic look. The runway model, which plays a significant part in the film, was one of the largest miniature sets ever built up to that time. Harlin talks about the necessity of creating the conflict between McClane and Captain Lorenzo and the other cops in order to paint him as something of an underdog, which makes McClane seem more like a regular guy, someone to whom you can relate, rather than just making him a tough cop and some kind of superhero. He wanted to establish that this was the kind of guy who puts his family first and has his priorities in order. In the same respect, the scenes of Holly on the plane were so important because it establishes that fact that McClane is in danger of losing what means the most to him, which enhances the drama and the tension all the more. Harlin finds it interesting how the "climates" change over the years, as far as what works in a particular kind of film, and that watching this film now for the first time in ten years, he realizes how much cursing is in it, and how much Willis smokes. He feels that has changed quite a bit now, and feels that in today's world there has to be a real reason for a character to be smoking, for instance-- because it's not the kind of image you want to convey anymore, unless it really serves the character, and the same thing goes for the use of certain language, which he feels you can do without unless, again, it really serves the character in some way. He also notices how the humor has changed over the years, as far as what works in an action film. Ten years ago, the "one-liner," or "punchline" was still new and fresh, and it was very common in movies like "lethal Weapon," and "Terminator," or any of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. But he feels that a lot of that wouldn't work in today's climate, because we've heard it all and it simply isn't fresh anymore. As cruel as it seems, Harlin felt it was necessary to establish the interior of the British airplane and it's passengers just before the terrorists crash it, because it enabled the audience to really relate to everything that was going on; it was crucial to make the audience really feel for these people, and not feel that they were just "faceless extras," but real people like you and I. They had a lot of interior footage they shot that was pretty gruesome-- people being flung around and on fire during the crash-- but the Fox executives drew the line and said it was too much, and Harlin agreed, so it was never used. One of Harlin's favorite scenes in the film is the one in which McClane is trapped in the cockpit of the plane while the terrorists are blasting away at him and finally throw in hand grenades, and it puts him in what appears to be a hopeless situation, which he gets out of by using the ejector seat. It turned out to be a satisfying scene for the audience, which Harlin adds is so gratifying for the filmmaker-- putting together a scene, then at the climax of it having the audience applaud, which is what Harlin experienced with audiences with this scene during some of the preview screenings. He likens doing an action scene to telling a joke-- you set the stage, you set it up, you tell the story and take it to the climax, then give the punchline. And if the joke works, the audience laughs; in an action movie, when an action sequence works it usually gives the audience a great release, and in a crowded theater they either scream or applaud or they laugh, but you know that you've told the joke in the right way when you get this reaction. Harlin also likes the idea that they brought the various characters together at the end, showing that despite all their differences they were able to put it all behind them, they had worked together and saved the day, which made it a happy ending. And that seems to sum up Harlin's attitude; you come away from this commentary with the sense that Harlin is himself one of the "good guys," a professional who is very conscientious and concerned about what he is responsible for putting on the screen. Harlin's manner makes this commentary easy to take, though there isn't a lot of insight to be gleaned from it-- but considering that this is a straight-ahead action film, laden with stunts and effects, it's a minor criticism, and Harlin should be given credit for making it as interesting and informative as it is.
Final Words: The original "Die Hard" made Bruce Willis an international star, and this film certainly refueled his rocket to stardom. It's exciting and entertaining-- escapism at it's best-- and it gives you just what you came to see: Action, from start to finish. The DVD looks and sounds terrific, and although the extras are nothing exceptional, you do get an interesting glimpse behind the scenes at some of the magic that goes into making a movie like this. If action is what you're after, and especially if you're a Bruce Willis fan, you've come to the right place with this DVD.

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July 17, 2001