Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton, William Sadler, Reginald VelJohnson, Franco Nero, John Amos, Dennis Franz
Walter Wager (novel, "58 Minutes"), Steven E. de Souza, Doug Richardson
John McClane is back in the wrong place at the wrong time!
In this sequel to the classic action movie, renegade commandos seize a major international airport to rescue a drug lord from justice. Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis), there to meet his wife, must battle incompetent airport security, hard-headed, gung-ho anti-terrorist squads and a deadly winter snowstorm to break the terrorist's grip before his wife's plane runs out of fuel. (Based on the novel "58 Minutes" by Walter Wager.)
$21.744 million on 2507 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Runtime: 124 min.
Release Date: 6/19/2007
• Audio Commentary with Director Renny Harlin
• THX Optimode
Available as Part of “The Die Hard Collection”
PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Die Hard 2: Die Harder (The Die Hard Collection - 2007) (1990)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 26, 2007)
When I first saw Die Hard 2: Die Harder during its theatrical release in July, 1990, I actually thought that the original had been outdone. The sequel seemed even more exciting and exhilarating than the initial offering; it appeared to pack greater thrills and spills into its two hours and it came across as a more than adequate successor to a classic.
That's what I thought the first time I saw Die Hard 2. I watched it again a few months later and the film's flaws became much more apparent to me. Eventually, it seemed clear to me that not only did it not approach the consistently high level of the first film, but overall it was a fairly mediocre offering.
During that first screening, the flaws of Die Hard 2 were hidden behind a veil of well-executed stunts and action sequences. The key to the relative failure of the sequel stems from its lack of strong villain who could approach the memory of Rickman's Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). William Sadler plays Colonel Stuart, a vaguely Ollie North-esque character who seems willing to sacrifice any number of civilians in his quest to fulfill what he sees as his duty to protect the United States. I like Sadler; he's a much more charismatic and versatile actor than one would guess from his role here. He seems bound by the nature of the character. Stuart is no charming neo-renaissance man; he's a dispassionate pseudo-zealot, really, and the role offers little opportunity for Sadler to infuse his character with any real personality.
My guess is that the producers of Die Hard 2 knew that they lacked any honest possibility of topping Hans, so they chose the opposite approach. I think they figured that Stuart would stand out simply because he was so incredibly different from Hans. Well, they were wrong. Stuart creates a credible and believable villain, but he lacks any sort of spark that might make him memorable. As a result, he becomes little more than a plot device and the audience fails to feel any real investment in what happens to him at the end of the film; yeah, we want to see him get his just desserts, but we lack any real interest in that result.
Admittedly, this was a “damned if you do” circumstance. If they’d attempted to catch lightening in a bottle and duplicate the success of Hans, they probably would have failed. This also would have made the movie look more like a cheap rip-off of the original. Still, I wish they’d tried a little harder to make Stuart more interesting; he often sucks the life out of the film.
Somewhat more compelling is the movie's subplot that involves John McClane's (Bruce Willis) need to rescue his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). Yes, in essence, the dual plots for Die Hard 2 duplicate those of the first film: 1) Stop terrorists; 2) Save wife. Of course, in both movies, subplot two is what really causes subplot one for McClane; if Holly's not involved in either story, he’d just watch the whole thing evolve on TV. But she is, and he's the only one savvy and gutsy enough to save the day.
While the Holly subplot grabs the viewer a little more strongly than do any scenes with the terrorists, it all seems somewhat contrived. The whole "déjà vu all over again" factor makes it that much harder for the audience to suspend disbelief; really, what are the chances that McClane would be in the middle of such a similar situation again? The filmmakers are savvy enough to poke fun at these extremely coincidental circumstances, but that doesn't really dissipate the inherent improbability.
Strangely, Die Hard 2 also suffers from the fact that it tries to open things up geographically more so than did the first film. Die Hard stood out from the crowd because of the claustrophobic nature of its action; McClane was physically cut off from the rest of the world as he attempted to battle the terrorists. In the sequel, McClane is in an airport and has a large supporting cast who can aid him. Unfortunately, they largely ignore his advice, so he has to go it alone.
Essentially, that plot contrivance attempts to let Die Hard 2 have its cake and eat it, too. We get a much larger stage on which McClane can perform, but we also force him to work against the system once again. While I applaud the fact that the producers tried to make Die Hard 2 something more than just a rehash of the first film, the stretches they take distance the sequel from the greatness of the original movie. For the most part, Die Hard 2 feels less like a continuation of the first story so much as it appears to be an action film that happens to involve many of the same characters.
As far as those characters go, the already-established McClane and Holly no way expand their roles from the first film. These are the exact same people we saw during the previous go-round, except the movie attempts absolutely no character development at all since we already know these folks. Obviously a sequel doesn't require the same care in regard to establishing characters, but I would have liked to see some form of growth in our protagonists. Their relationship was on the rocks in Die Hard; did it just magically cure itself during the interim?
The only other returning characters include McClane's LAPD buddy Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson). However, while Powell played a major role in the first film, his part barely rates as a cameo in Die Hard 2, and this brief appearance feels forced and gratuitous. William Atherton's TV weasel Dick Thornburgh receives more substantial screentime. Unfortunately, his inclusion in the movie amounts to an extreme stretch of probability; he's put on the same plane as Holly, and thus can once again endanger her through his obsessive desire for TV journalist fame. This is one area in which the sequel duplicated the original but it really should have gone a different way; it’s absolutely unnecessary for the plot and it becomes silly.
Key among the new supporting cast is Dennis Franz, who plays a tubbier New York version of Paul Gleason's deputy police chief from the first film. Franz is a fun actor and he gets the most out of a weak part, but the role basically serves as a plot device to offer some resistance to McClane; he exists just to allow McClane to become the lone wolf. Fred Dalton Thompson performs competently but somewhat sappily in a similar role as the head of the airport; he was a nicely gruff presence before he got into politics, but he seems oddly emasculated here. Finally, Good Times veteran John Amos hams up the joint as a duplicitous Army commander; yeah, he shows more life than does Sadler, but not in a good way. I like Amos, but he lacked realism as Major Grant.
Overall, the entire cast simply seems to try too hard. Director Renny Harlin knows how to execute some remarkable stunts, but he appears to have no talent to adequately work with his actors. As I’ll note when I discuss his audio commentary, Harlin’s a very cool and technical director, and I really don’t think he knows how to evoke positive work from his actors. He seems to have realized that he could not provide any sort of genuine emotional impact in the film, so we get lots of artificial sentiment and overly emoted drama. The whole project seems imbued with a strangely pathetic aura of synthetic emotion; we see the characters experience joy, sorrow, etc., but we don't really buy it.
In the end, Die Hard 2 amounts to less than the sum of its parts. Viewed individually, it all seems to be there, but as a whole, it leaves me somewhat cold. The filmmakers try so hard to top the first movie that they forget what made Die Hard so great. As a result, that film’s formula shows up here but the sequel lacks the passion or spark of the original.
That's not to say that it's a bad film. While it doesn't hold up to repeated viewings nearly as well as does the first one, Die Hard 2 still provides an above-average level of thrills and excitement. Yes, I recognize that this attitude may seem inconsistent since I just griped about the movie for the last 13 paragraphs, but I like enough about DH2 to make it something that I still enjoy after 11 years. For all its flaws, it remains the best film made by Renny Harlin. Flicks like Deep Blue Sea and Cliffhanger display the same flaws found in DH2 but they fail to include many of that movie’s positives. On its own without comparison to the original film, DH2 can be a lot of fun, and it has enough good moments to stay fairly fun after all these years.
However, the film does little to set it apart from the crowd. Since the original appeared in 1988, many imitators have appeared, and quite a few of them are better Die Hard than is the first sequel. Frankly, I'll always take Speed or Air Force One over Die Hard 2. It’s a generally fun and entertaining film, but a number of miscalculations cause it to be less than the sum of its parts.
The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus C+
Die Hard 2: Die Harder appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not flawless, the transfer usually seemed strong.
Sharpness appeared quite good. Throughout the movie, the image looked pretty crisp and concise. A little softness occasionally interfered with some wide shots, and I noticed a little edge enhancement, but the majority of the movie was well-defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and print flaws were almost modest. I occasionally saw a few small specks and nicks, and there’s a very noticeable blotch onscreen when McClane enters the baggage area, but otherwise I thought this was a clean presentation.
Although much of DH2 featured a rather subdued palette, the DVD replicated its tones quite well. Reds looked especially bright and vivid, and the many instances of colored lighting came across nicely clear and vibrant. Virtually all of the shots in the air control tower were bathed in colored lights, and these could have caused havoc with the picture. However, they remained tight and concise, and I saw no problems related to bleeding or noise. These aspects of the old transfers always looked a bit thick, but the new one avoided those problems.
One thing I noticed as I watched DH2: whenever a secondary character from the first film initially reappeared, they were shown in golden sunlight. This occurred when we first saw Powell, Holly, and Thornburgh. Many shots from Die Hard featured similar lighting, and I wondered if this was an intentional callback to the original movie. Frankly, I doubt it, but this seemed like it might have been a little more than coincidental.
Black levels appeared to be deep and rich, and shadow detail consistently came across as clean and appropriately opaque. A number of shots featured somewhat heavy use of smoke effects, and those elements made prior releases look fairly muddy. Those concerns seemed lessened for the new DVD, and the disc showed a rather clean and distinct presentation throughout the film. Honestly, I never thought Die Hard 2 could look this good; I was consistently impressed with the image.
I didn’t think as highly of the movie’s soundtracks, though they worked fairly well for a modestly older film. As is the case with the other two films in the series, Die Hard 2 includes both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. I thought the DD and DTS editions of DH2 seemed to be essentially identical. At times the DTS mix sounded slightly richer, but I also found that some parts of the DD track appeared to be a little clearer and crisper. The differences seemed to be quite minor, however, and I felt that neither mix offered any distinct advantages over the other.
For this film, I thought that the new DVD presented a soundtrack that seemed fairly good for its era, but it lacked some of the high points I expected. Interestingly, the tracks for Die Hard showed some distinct flaws, but they also offered some very strong aspects. DH2 walked more of a central path, whereby it lacked some of the problems heard during the first film, but it also failed to provide that movie’s high points.
The soundfield stayed with a fairly forward-oriented presentation. Within those limitations, I thought the front channels featured a fairly high level of activity, though the mix occasionally seemed to be somewhat unnatural. I heard quite a lot of sound spread across the three forward speakers, but at times the delineation of the channels appeared to be moderately flawed. Some of the audio lacked clear separation, and it just sounded like chatter for the sake of general noise; those elements came across as too vague at times.
These problems largely were isolated to scenes that featured general ambience, such as those in the airport terminal. When the movie went with louder action sequences, the audio became better defined. It could still be a little unfocussed at times, but I thought that the broader pieces were more involving and engaging. When necessary, audio panned nicely across channels, and most sounds seemed to be appropriately placed within the environment. Stereo separation for music appeared to be pretty solid; the score remained in the background behind the effects, but the music still showed fairly positive presence.
Surround usage appeared to be monaural and it lacked the force I expected. For much of the movie, the rear channels offered general reinforcement, and I didn’t think they often went much above that level. Those speakers kicked in fairly well during louder action scenes, and the entire mix could become adequately involving at those times, but after the rather rambunctious affair that was Die Hard, I expected more from this mix. As it stood, the soundfield provided a generally solid presentation, but it wasn’t as engaging as I thought it could be, even when I factored in the age of the material.
My main complaint about the audio for Die Hard centered on the quality of the sound; the five-channel usage was fine, but some of the material displayed various flaws. For the most part, DH2 corrected those concerns, though the overall timbre appeared to be somewhat flat. As was the case with the first film, dialogue showed some of the biggest concerns. DH2 offered generally distinct and clear speech, but the lines usually lacked much warmth, and they often betrayed the fact they’d been looped. While most of the dialogue remained easily intelligible and could become fairly natural, some lines stood out due to this factor.
Music appeared to be acceptably robust. I thought that the score became buried under effects during much of the film, and this meant that the music lacked the dynamic presence it could have achieved, but as a whole, these elements were fairly bright and bold. Effects were also generally satisfying, though I thought they failed to deliver the “oomph” I expected after I screened Die Hard. That film displayed some scenes that offered a powerful punch, but most of DH2’s sequences lacked the same strength. Even when loud explosions occurred, they seemed to be mildly restricted and they didn’t blast me like I thought they could. They maintained acceptably fidelity, but after the drama of the first film, Die Hard 2 came across as good but not terribly special.
One personal note: I got a new puppy the weekend I originally watched this DVD, and Die Hard 2 was the first movie I screened with her in tow. I was a little reluctant to subject her to the experience. After all, Biscuits and I had only known each other for about 24 hours, and even if she felt secure with me, adult toy poodles aren’t known for their strength in the face of loud adversity. How would a nine-week-old, 32-ounce version of that kind of animal react to a literally explosive affair like DH2?
Quite well, I’m happy to report. Little Biscuits appeared startled during a few early sequences, but after about 10 minutes, she settled onto my lap and laid comfortably for most of the rest of the movie. She popped up once or twice, but she managed to snooze during the film’s biggest explosions and gun battles. If only I could have housetrained her as easily as I adapted her to the home theater environment!
When I compared this 2007 release to the special edition from 2001, I found the pair to be identical. It was clear that this version simply took DVD One from the 2001 set and presented it on its own.
That meant only a few extras appeared here. First up we find an audio commentary from director Renny Harlin. He speaks alone on this running, screen-specific track. Overall, Harlin offers a good examination of his film.
As with the earlier commentaries, Harlin sticks mainly with technical aspects of the filmmaking process. His directorial style seems to tend toward the mechanical side of the coin and his remarks follow that vein. We hear a lot about the challenges encountered during the shoot, many of which related to the need for snow and its absence in the natural environment. Otherwise, he connects to a number of fairly interesting topics. While his statements could easily become dry and tedious, Harlin maintains a nicely earnest and genuine tone throughout the piece, and this makes the track more interesting. He touches upon some more controversial aspects of the filmmaking process - mainly as they relate to some apparently-excessive violence - and he even has some fun with the flick’s adherence to action movie conventions as he notes the movie’s unrealistic aspects. Ultimately, I thought this was an entertaining and informative commentary.
The only other extra on DVD One was the THX Optimode program. As also found on some other Fox DVDs, this is supposed to be used to set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimode is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimode should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimode. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimode could be a helpful addition.
Die Hard 2 remains my least favorite of the first three Die Hard flicks, as it shows a variety of problems that make it little more than an average action piece. Still, I like it enough to continue to find it interesting after more than a decade, so for all my complaints, I continue to get a general kick out of the program. The DVD presents very good picture along with positive audio and a reasonably useful commentary.
Note that this version of Die Hard 2 comes as part of the four-disc “Die Hard Collection”. That set also includes single-DVD editions of Die Hard and Die Hard With a Vengeance plus a fourth platter with some exclusive extras. The three movie discs appear to be identical to the ones already on the market, but you have to buy the “Collection” to get the fourth DVD.
To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of DIE HARD II: DIE HARDER