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. That latter aspect of the disc offered one advance over the prior release, which lacked anamorphic enhancement. However, that wasn’t the only improvement I noted between the two discs, as the new one provided a much nicer visual experience.
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 housetrain her as easily as I adapted her to the home theater environment!
While the original Die Hard 2 DVD provided only a smattering of very minor extras, this new 2-DVD package finally gives us a decent special edition. It doesn’t compare to the fine supplements prepared for the first Die Hard, but it’s still a nice little package nonetheless.
First up we find an audio commentary from director Renny Harlin. He speaks alone on this running, screen-specific track. This is the third commentary I’ve heard from Harlin, and it fits in well with pieces found on Deep Blue Sea and Cliffhanger. Overall, Harlin offers a generally interesting piece, but it’s not something tremendously fascinating.
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 acceptably entertaining and informative commentary.
The only other extra on DVD One was the THX Optimode program. As also found on other Fox DVDs like Cast Away and Tora! Tora! Tora!, 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.
On DVD Two, we discover a solid mix of additional supplements, all of which are arranged into a few different areas. When we look in Television Special and Featurette, we find… a TV special and a featurette. Called “The Making of Die Hard 2”, the former runs for 23 minutes and five seconds, and it provides a fluffy but generally interesting look at the creation of the movie. Created to tout the film prior to its 1990 theatrical run, the program uses the standard format as it combines scads of film clips plus short interview snippets from cast and crew and some shots from the set.
Because the emphasis firmly stays on the promotional side, the documentary never becomes terribly rich of deep, but it was reasonably entertaining and watchable. The best aspects of the show related to some of the “behind the scenes” material, as the piece presented some interesting material from the shoot. Ultimately “Making of DH2” merited a look, but it wasn’t anything terribly special. By the way, stick around for an ending sound bite from Bruce Willis. He mentions that if there were to be a third DH film, McClane’d have to “save the planet” to make it worthwhile. Although Die Hard With A Vengeance didn’t go global in that manner, in 1998, Willis would indeed get the chance to rescue the world with Armageddon.
The DVD’s “Featurette” offers little more than a greatly abbreviated version of the “Making Of” show. This piece lasts four minutes and consists almost totally of materials we already saw during the longer show. A couple of minor bits were different, but not enough to merit a viewing; if you’ve watched the “Making Of”, there’s very little reason to screen the “Featurette”. By the way, this “Featurette” is mainly the same one found on the original 1999 DH2 DVD; the older piece ran 25 seconds shorter.
In the Trailers and TV Spots area, we find… four trailers and a TV ad. There’s nothing terribly unusual about these except one of the promos includes what appears to be an alternate “clean” take of one McClane soundbite. In the film itself, he states that “we’re just up to our ass in terrorists”, whereas the ad changes “ass” to “neck”. Usually these alterations result from simple - and frequently awkward - dubs, but in this case, it really looked like the change came from a different shot. Willis’ “neck” fit the scene more cleanly than I’d expect from a dub.
Next we go to Deleted Scenes, where we’ll get four unused sequences. “Merry Christmas” mildly alters the early scene in which McClane first sees the terrorists in the airport; in this version, we see a few snippets of a children’s choir. If you check out the final product, you’ll still hear the kiddies, but this 41-second clip shows them to us as well. I have no idea why these bits were cut; they add nothing, but they don’t detract from the scene either.
Titled “Rabbit Hole”, the second “Deleted Scene” lasts for 65 seconds and seemed to be a more logical omission. We see a little more of Terminator 2’s Robert Patrick as a terrorist; he offs a couple of airport maintenance workers as he and his compatriots execute their plan. I fully understand this clip’s removal; it’s just more violence that isn’t necessary for the plot. Still, it’s fun to get additional shots of Patrick, one of the many DH2 performers who’d go on to bigger things.
The final two “Deleted Scenes” were more interesting. “Marvin” provides an alternate introduction to Tom Bower’s janitor character. Note that this three-minute clip doesn’t offer an extended version of the existing sequence; it’s a virtually different take that I was glad didn’t make the cut. This segment makes Marvin look more mean-spirited and bitter, and he’s a less endearing presence.
Lastly, The Boiler Room also adds to the interaction between Marvin and McClane. During this three-minute and 50-second clip, we see McClane as he plans and executes a move through a hazardous area. It resembles a tamer version of a scene from 1996’s The Rock and though it stands well on its own, I think it was a good idea to remove it from the final film. The piece moves slowly and was unnecessary; yes, we like to see McClane encounter danger, but there’s enough peril in the rest of the film to make this instance superfluous.
The next section includes an Interview and a Villain’s Profile. Essentially, this just means we get two additional featurettes. Both of these programs use the same format found during the main “Featurette”, but they focus more specifically on different topics. “Interview” talks about Harlin and sticks with some soundbites from the director, but we also hear from actors Sadler and Willis plus production designer John Vallone and special effects coordinator Al Di Sarro. It’s a mildly interesting but fairly drab six minute and 40 second piece.
More compelling is the second part of this area, the “Villain’s Profile”. This six and a half minute featurette focuses on Sadler, and it offers a more entertaining piece just because it concentrates on that actor. He seems to be a good interview subject, and his presence makes this show better than most.
Within Behind the Scenes and Storyboards, we get a mix of features that fit that motif. “Breaking the Ice” concentrates on the snowmobile sequence. It runs for four minutes and five seconds as it shows some small interview clips with Harlin, Willis, Di Sarro and stunt coordinator Charlie Picerni and shots from the set. The show is decent, but it sticks with the same style as the other featurettes and doesn’t become more interesting than those.
Much more fun was “Chaos on the Conveyor Belt”. Unlike the prior featurettes, this seven minute and 45 second program features nothing other than footage from the set. No interviews appear during this fun and vivid look behind the scenes. We get to watch fine shots of fight choreography, and I thought this was an excellent little piece. My only complaint: why couldn’t they give the stuntman for Vondi Curtis Hall the same haircut? Okay, I never noticed the difference when I used to watch the movie, but now that I’ve seen close shots of the stuntman, his presence seems awfully obvious and will continue to irk me eternally.
The “Storyboard Sequence” lasts for two minutes and 45 seconds. It shows filmed boards for the annex skywalk scene; the finished film of the sequence follows the art. It’s an okay presentation, but it didn’t do a great deal for me. By the way, am I the only one who wonders if “annex skywalk” is a play on “Anakin Skywalker”? Yeah, probably.
Lastly, the Visual Effects area focuses on those aspects of the movie. “Visual Effects Breakdowns” look at two scenes. “Ejector Seat” runs for three minutes and five seconds as it shows storyboards, blue screen shots, and the compositing process for this part of the film. We simply find raw material; there’s no commentary or explanation of the shots. Because of that, this was a decent piece but it didn’t do a lot for me.
The second “VE” piece works along the same lines. “Airport Runway” shows how mattes for the final scene were composited together. It lasts for 105 seconds and was another modestly watchable program.
“Side By Side Comparisons” shows “a cross section of visual effects and stunt sequences”. That means we see intermixed shots of behind the scenes material and the final product. “Chopper” runs for 85 seconds, while “Airplane Models” lasts 205 seconds and “Wing Fight” goes for 120 seconds. There’s some decent footage from the set, but overall these clips were a little drab.
While Die Hard 2 wasn’t a fantastic special edition, it still vastly outdid the old DVD release, and it showed additional improvements as well. The movie remains my least favorite of the 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 new DVD greatly improves upon the original release. Sound quality remains consistent, but the 2001 edition offers a stronger picture and it adds a bunch of fairly good extras.
I’d recommend the two-DVD release of Die Hard 2 to anyone who likes the film. Folks who don’t already own the original disc will definitely be pleased with it, and those who do have the 1999 disc should want to upgrade. Even if the extras don’t interest you, the stronger picture quality means that this new package merits your consideration.
Note that Die Hard 2 is available either on its own or packaged with new special editions of Die Hard and Die Hard With a Vengeance. The latter box is called “Die Hard: The Ultimate Collection”. If you want to own all three movies, the boxed set may be the way to go; with a list price of $79.98, it offers a savings of almost $10 off the separate cost of the DVDs.