random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Monday, December 31, 2007

DVD REVIEW: Live Free or Die Hard: 2-Disc Unrated Edition (2007) ***


2 hr. 10 min.

written by: Mark Bomback & David Marconi (source material from John Carlin's magazine article A Farewell to Arms as well as characters created by author Roderick Thorpe)
produced by: Michael Fottrell
directed by: Len Wiseman

As soon as I found out that this movie was gonna be released on DVD in an "unrated" edition, I knew I could hold off seein' it in the theaters. It's not that I craved more profanity or violence, it's just that all the other Die Hard movies were rated R and it isn't the same without those elements that kinda rating brings. It saddened me that director Len Wiseman was willing to "dumb down" the consistency of this film series in order to possible garner more PG-13 money. Didn't they realize that if fans see another Die Hard movie coming out, they're not gonna pay attention to what the rating is? They're just gonna want nostalgic familiarity and action. The only reason I paid attention to this rating was cuz it's been twelve years since the last one and everything about this new one would be scrutinized to ensure that the quality, consistency (there's that word again) and characterization in this new film would be intact.

Taking that into consideration, this is a fun, over-the-top action movie. I'd kick up my feet and watch it again with some friends on a Friday night. Still, It just doesn't feel like a Die Hard movie and before I go into the reasons why, I'll just go ahead and give you the rundown. The film opens up with a handful of cyber-geek hackers being eliminated after they unknowingly assisted the requisite bad guy infiltrate the FBI's computer system. The killings are untraceable since once these hackers delete a message from our bad guy they explode into fiery oblivion along with everything else around them. Around the same time, the wee hours of the morning, the FBI found out something is up and ask that local police follow up on and any and all hackers that could possibly be doing this.

Bruce Willis as John McClane in 20th Century Fox's Live Free or Die Hard

Computer geek Matthew Harrell (Justin Long) fits this description and it falls to the responsibility of a certain veteran NYPD detective named John McClane (Bruce Willis) to pay him a visit at his apartment somewhere in Jersey. It's here where we become re-introduced to the iconic character that ignited Willis' career and I'm gonna have to get into that re-introduction a lil later. Right away I enjoyed the interplay between analog McClane and digital Harrell. I saw where it was going and has ready for their pairing to bring me all sorts of action, mayhem and hilarity throughout the film. McClane winds up saving the kid from permanent deletion when the foreign-accented bad guys attack his apartment and from that point on the two are on the run from terrorists, naturally.

Along the way, the father and son-like duo run into some requisite supporting characters. Some of these are on the good guys team like Special Agent Bowman (the always great Cliff Curtis), McClane's daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and the distracting presence of actor/director Kevin Smith as a computer guru names Warlock. The odd thing I found with many of the bad guy lackeys is that they were Italian (say what? Italian terrorists?) with no explanation as to how they hooked up with this American bad guy. On that note, it woulda been nice to see this guy switch roles with his right-hand woman, Mai (Maggie Q) who at least had a formidable presence. Plus, it woulda been refreshing for a woman to be the villain in a movie like this. Ah well.

So, the main bag guy is a ruthless computer whiz named Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) has taken over most of America's computerized systems, causing mass chaos nationwide. Harrell has to break that all down for McClane as they witness various traffic and power calamity on the way to DC's FBI branch. The premise is absolutely preposterous, but that's never really been a problem for "Die Hard" before and might even honestly be considered one of the series' hallmarks. That being said, it's still the least plausible of any of the "Die Hard" stories so far, and that even includes terrorists taking over an airport in "Die Hard 2: Die Harder".

This is the first Die Hard film where McClane doesn't buddy up with an African American, instead we're given a generation gap to keep things interesting. Willis and Long manage to establish a fairly amusing rapport early on, and it's this dynamic that keeps things rolling through a few rough patches. Anyone knows that a great action movie must always be measured by the threat....or how "bad" is the bad guy. This is where the film goes limp. Olyphant is just miscast. He just comes across as a crybaby who didn't get what he wanted and is lashing back at "the system" like a wounded dog by using "the system". His evil intentions weren't convincing and were basically MIA for most of the film. But siding with or understanding the villain isn't what this entertaining action flick is about.

Bruce Willis as John McClane in 20th Century Fox's Live Free or Die Hard

My biggest problem is that re-introduction I mentioned, he just doesn't look like the John McClane we know. I know, it seems picky but it's kinda integral if you ask me. McClane's saved his head bald, is totally serious and is lean and trim. There's no explanation as to what became of the endearing, frazzle-haired wino that was peeled off the floor 12 years ago in the beginning of the last film. So, instead we're treated to a slim and fit, head-shaven Bruce Willis. I say that cuz that's all I saw. I saw Willis and not McClane. Not that I didn't enjoy seeing Willis run around in this film but he didn't look like John McClane and with the movie not explaining what had happened to him in 12 years. It's just a lil jarring for my continuity-conscious mind.

It's obvious that action films must adapt due to "our changing times" but I just feel like the whole "computer hacker" bit has been done to death over the years. I imagine it's hard to find a good script for a McClane movie cuz viewers are inundated with all these tech-savvy Jack Bauer types. It felt like this time around McClane was this unstoppable supercop and that's why I'm fine with it as a Bruce Willis film. You can't tell me that McClane wouldn't have had several broken bones, a punctured lung and some severe burns. Then again this is a summer blockbuster movie so the believability factor thrown out threw the windshield.

The action is expectantly brisk and non-stop: baddies are dispatched violently, car chases come fast and furious and explosions abound. McClane has almost become a caricature of the tough, wisecracking cop we first met in 1988---and there are still traces of mortality at times, but the danger doesn't feel quite as dangerous anymore. We could almost substitute Jack Bauer himself in John McClane's role---and let's be honest, it really wouldn't change much. It would been cool if the setting of the film went back to Christmas time like in the first two but I can't have everything. Still, there's a lot to like here: from the stylishly shot action sequences to the razor-sharp editing and effective comic relief....for a Bruce Willis action film. It just doesn't feel like a Die Hard film and once I acknowledged that, I enjoyed it and hey....what it lacks in believability it makes up for in action.


Special Features:

This unrated, two-disc package gives fans what they should've gotten at the theater: more profanity and blood (what can I say? It keeps with continuity) Interestingly enough, both cuts are included on Disc 1, which leads me to think, if you're given the better version, why would you opt for the watered-down? The story in this uncut version hasn't changed one bit, but it's good to know that such an lame marketing decision has been reversed for the DVD release. Thing is, I knew it would cuz the latest fad is to release a movie in an "unrated and uncut" version to draw in more numbers.

There's a ton of good features here and some that are kinda weak, all of which have a solid technical presentation. As usual, I didn't devour them all but I'll list them out for ya and comment on what I did take in.

The only extra on Disc 1 is a feature-length Audio Commentary with star Willis, director Len Wiseman and editor Nicholas de Toth. I didn't re-watch the film with this commentary but I wouldn't mind doing so, if the copy I had wasn't borrowed from a co-worker I woulda made time for it and the other extras.

On Disc 2, the longest feature is entitled "Analog Hero in a Digital World: The Making of Live Free or Die Hard" This documentary is a fairly detailed promotional nugget, covering the story origins, franchise history, casting, stunts, editing, visual effects, sound mixing and music...everything is covered here. Because "Analog Hero" covers so much, I did wind up skimming through it. It was indepth and insightful but a lot of ground to cover.
Then there's the "Yippee Ki Yay MotherF*****!" feature, a casual chat with co-star Kevin Smith and Willis, who discuss the star's career while simply hanging out on the Fox lot. It's just the two of them sitting on the steps if the set. Willis looks like a Hobbit next to Smith. It's a laid-back interview that doesn't include a much brand-new information, but the candid atmosphere really stands in good contrast to everything else. It was interesting to see what Willis thinks of his previous two sequels. While I liked them both, apparently he feels this film is the superior to those two....how wrong you are, Mr. Willis. Obverall, this interview seems as pretentious and uneccessary as Smith's inclusion in the film.
I didn't bother with the next three extras: first up is a Music Video for the film by Guyz Nite, which I actually did scan out of curiosity. I didn't know if the guys in this band were for real or what. After all, I didn't remember any song that stood out as I watched things blow up in the movie. From what little I caught, it's a stupid song with the gratuitous inclusion of the trademark Willis catchphrase in rowdy rock fashion. Accompanying the insipid music video is "Behind-the-Scenes with Guyz Nite", which will probably only be of interest to fans of the band (you know who you are).
The final feature I did see was the boring "Fox Movie Channel Presents: Fox Legacy", a brief, promotional-type recap of the franchise which doesn't really add much but it did ceack me up when the host described why the movie is called "Die Hard 4.0" (see above) to non-U.S. theatres. Sigh.
Of couse, there's the Theatrical Trailer, as well as a few Previews for current and upcoming Fox releases. Not all of these minor features fit in with the main "Analog Hero" one and it's too bad cuz I woulda preferred some focus on storyboards. They could even included some deleted scenes or man, at least a gag reel. Oh well.
Bruce Willis and
 director Len Wiseman set up a scene for 20th Century Fox's Live Free or Die Hard
The Skinny:
  • While in early development with a script that was eventually discarded, the movie had been given the subtitle "Tears of the Sun". Willis told the studio he would commit to a Die Hard 4 if he could use the title for Tears of the Sun (2003).
  • The French title translates as "Die Hard 4.0: Return to Hell".
  • Prints were sent out to UK cinemas under the fake name "New Hampshire" - a reference to the state's "Live Free or Die" motto and the movie's original title - in spite of the title being changed to "Die Hard 4.0" in European territories.
  • This film addresses the apparent continuity error in earlier installments - McClane is afraid of flying in the first two films, but not the third. Here, he explains that he took flying lessons in order to face his fears.
  • Jessica Simpson auditioned unsuccessfully for the role of Willis' daughter. She can be seen on the way to the audition and coming out of the audition in "Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica" Mismatched Threesome (2004)_ .
  • The movie's title, "Live Free or Die Hard", is a reference to New Hampshire's State Motto "Live Free or Die". Consequently, the New Hampshire state film office received several phone calls asking where in the state the movie was filmed.
  • Justin Timberlake was in talks to play McClane's son.
  • According to Willis and Director Wiseman in the DVD Commentary, the story originally involved McClane's son, Jack. Originally, he was supposed to be the computer hacker John has to deliver to the FBI. Eventually that idea was dropped and the hacker became the Matt Ferrell character. It was then decided to bring in his daughter Lucy to keep up the series continuity of McLane always having a personal stake in what happens in the story.
  • When filming the scenes of John walking through the corridors talking to Gabriel on the two-way, there were no written lines of dialog for Willis, according to Wiseman on the DVD Commentary. So what they did on set was have Willis hold the two-way up to his mouth and speak gibberish so it looks like he's talking to Gabriel. If you'll notice, there are a couple of times where the two-way isn't all the way up to Willis's face and you can see his mouth doesn't match the dialog being spoken.
  • In the elevator shaft scene where Mai Lihn swings on the wire and flies into the truck and hits McClane, the stunt double accidentally cut Willis's eyebrow with her spiked heel and according to Wiseman in the DVD Commentary, she jabbed Willis hard enough that when medics examined the injury, the brow bone was exposed.
  • The film was edited down to a PG-13 rating for commercial reasons, thus making it the first film in the series not rated R.
  • In the beginning credits when Kevin Smith's name comes on the screen. The "m" in smith disappears and you see "Sith" for a few seconds paying homage to Kevin Smith's love of all things 'Star Wars' which also reflects in his character in the movie.
  • When introduced to an agent Johnson, McClane says: "Johnson, again?". A nod to the two agents Johnson in Die Hard (1988), despite the fact that McClane and the two agents Johnson never spoke to each other or met face to face.
  • In the beginning of the film, John McClane and Lucy have an argument that eventually leads to them discussing her use of her mother's last name, Gennero. This was also a discussion in the first Die Hard (1988) film, as seen when John McClane is searching for the location of his wife, Holly, in the Nakatomi building. He does not find her under Holly McClane, but does find her under her maiden name Gennero.
  • The Terminator action figure in Matt's apartment is a nod to executive producer William Wisher Jr. and composer Marco Beltrami. Wisher co-wrote and appeared in The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and Beltrami composed the score for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003).
  • The first film in the Die Hard series not to be shot in the anamorphic Panavision process. This film was shot with 3-Perf Super35 process to save money with visual effects.
  • When McClane is driving in Jersey and talking to the chief captain of Camden, the guy's name is Wiseman, same name as the director, Wiseman.
  • The screen to the far left of all of Warlock's hacking screens has the auction website eBay open with a Boba Fett action figure being watched.
  • In addition to the 'Agent Johnson' reference, several other elements from the first film are revisited as series trademarks. Among them are: crawling on broken glass, use of air-ducts, elevator shafts, and maintenance areas in corporate buildings, a henchman falling down stairs, an inquiry on the E.T.A. of a helicopter, and McClane's "Yippie Ki Yay' catchphrase.
  • When Gabriel is talking to McClane over the phone and pulling up his information on the computer, Bonnie Bedelia makes a cameo appearance in the form of her character Holly McClane's driver's license photo. The photo appears as though it may be either a publicity shot from a prior "Die Hard" film or a still photo (i.e. family portrait) from one of the movies.
  • All the IP-addresses shown in the movie are legal ones. However, most start with either 10, 172.16 or 192.168. Those numbers are reserved for local traffic only. Matt transfers the data with scp to, which is owned by a Japanese company.
  • On the traffic monitoring screens showing the created traffic jam ups, some reused footage (armored car turning) from the The Italian Job (2003) can be seen.
  • The bad guy, Thomas Gabriel points a gun at McClane and declares "On your tombstone it will say 'Always in the wrong place at the wrong time'." 'John McClane is back in the wrong place at the wrong time!' was a tagline used for Die Hard 2 (1990).
  • The video game Gears of War (2006) (VG) for the Xbox 360 is featured twice in the film: on televisions in the first hacker's apartment and in the Warlock's basement.
  • The name "Tovarek", which Mai Lihn uses as an FBI agent, is a Polish word and one of it meanings is "hot chick" (the correct Polish word is "towarek", but it's pronounced like this).
  • The car that is stolen in the film by McClane and Farrell is a 2006 E60 BMW 5 series, which was chosen due to a poll that found that people wanted films that had more BMWs in it. The main reason being that the alternatives (Audis and Mercedes-Benzes) were too common and not bold and imposing enough to go with the characters in the film. The particular BMW model (5 series) was chosen because the director, Wiseman, found "the 3 series too common, the 7 series too uptight and every other car either too feminine or compensative for a midlife crisis.... Everything McClane isn't, yet".
  • Filming started in downtown Baltimore, Maryland on September 23, 2006.The Social Security Datacenter exteriors were shot at Diamond Ranch High Schol in California.
  • Eight different sets were built on a large soundstage for filming many scenes throughout the film.
  • In order to prevent possible injuries and be in peak condition for the film, Willis worked out almost daily for several months prior to filming.Willis was injured January 24, 2007 during a fight scene, when he was kicked above his right eye by a stunt double for actress Maggie Q. The injury was regarded as "no big deal" and Willis saw a doctor and went home for the rest of the day.
  • Throughout filming, between 200 and 250 stunt people were used. Willis' stunt double, Larry Rippenkroeger, was knocked unconscious when he fell twenty-five feet from a fire escape to the pavement. Rippenkroeger suffered broken bones in his face, several broken ribs, a punctured lung, and fractures in both wrists. Due to his injuries, production was temporarily shut down. Willis picked up the tab at area hotels for Rippenkroeger's parents and visited him a number of times at the hospital.
  • Larry also doubles for 'James Caan' in his TV series, "Las Vegas" (2003). Caan came and visited Larry in the hospital and joked around for over an hour. Larry told his parents he was glad when Caan left because he hurt so bad laughing at Caan's jokes.

Live Free or Die Hard (2007) Poster

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