Die Hard With A Vengeance appears in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. That latter aspect of the disc offered one improvement over the prior release. The original DVD was widely excoriated for excessive edge enhancement, but I had found it to look pretty good at the time.
In retrospect, I’ve altered my opinion of the old disc, which now looks horrible. I hoped the remaster would surpass it. It did, but not by much, as the updated Vengeance still suffered from a lot of problems.
Edge enhancement was the main issue on both discs. I saw a little shimmering during a couple of scenes – mainly due to grates – but these instances were quite minor, especially when compared to what I saw on the old DVD. However, many scenes in Vengeance displayed halos around performers and objects. As I watched the movie on this DVD, I started to keep track of the most egregious examples of this concern, but I gave up after a while because the list started to grow too long. Not every part of every scene demonstrated this concern, but too much evidence of it appeared.
Close-ups tended to display passable definition, but wider shots displayed serious problems. On those occasions, the edge enhancement caused the picture to seem blurry. Close-ups were better but they suffered from thin outlines, whereas wider images became muddled due to the edge enhancement. For example, check out the sequence in which Simon and his crew approach the Federal Reserve; this scene exhibited a very soft quality that it shouldn’t have offered.
The excessive edge enhancement found on Vengeance was a shame, for otherwise it presented a fairly solid picture. Print flaws appeared at times, but they seemed to be generally minor. I saw a few scratches and periodic examples of grit, grain and speckles, but these stayed subdued for the most part. The new DVD cleaned up the image of the old one to a degree, but a lot of the defects were consistent between the two.
Colors stayed similar, which was a good thing. I thought the hues looked nicely warm and natural, and the movie displayed a bright and vivid palette throughout the film. When confronted with colored lighting, the image remained stable and showed no signs of bleeding or noise. Black levels appeared deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not excessively thick.
Ultimately, the main flaw found during Vengeance related to edge enhancement, and it proved fatal. I thought this ended up as an ugly transfer. That meant a serious disappointment and a “D+” grade.
Happily, matters were much more positive in regard to the soundtracks of Die Hard With A Vengeance. As was the case with the other two Die Hard special edition DVDs, we got both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes on this disc. As also was the case with the other DVDs, I thought that the DD and DTS tracks seemed to be largely identical. Actually, if I had to choose one or the other, I’d probably opt for the Dolby mix, mainly because it displayed tighter, richer bass response; low-end on the DTS track seemed to be slightly boomy at times, while the DD version managed to provide nicely deep tones. Nonetheless, the differences appeared to be minor, and I found the two tracks to be very similar.
As a whole, Vengeance offered a consistently fine auditory presentation. The soundfield was very well-defined and engaging. Throughout the movie, all five speakers received a nice workout. The forward spectrum provided clean and well-delineated sound that spread clearly and accurately across the front speakers. Music showed positive stereo separation, and effects were placed appropriately within the spectrum. Elements also blended together well, and they panned neatly from side to side.
Surround usage seemed to be excellent, as the rear speakers often added some serious punch to the package. During quieter scenes, the surrounds stayed with general ambience, but the louder sequences strongly ratcheted up the auditory action. Those parts of the film made the rear channels active partners in the mix and they created a very encompassing and aggressive setting. When appropriate, the soundfield became quite involving and powerful. To see what I mean, check out the subway train sequence, or the climactic helicopter bit.
Audio quality also seemed to be quite good. At times, some dialogue sounded slightly rough and unnatural, but as a whole, speech was fairly warm and natural. Some very slight edginess interfered on a few occasions, but those were rare, and I experienced no problems related to intelligibility.
Music appeared robust and bright, and it held its own among the mix of competing elements. During DH2, I thought the score got buried beneath the effects, but the mix for Vengeance maintained a better balance, and I enjoyed the clear and vivid tones of the music. Effects were positively terrific, as they showed fine clarity and excellent dynamics. When the mix got loud, the effects appeared powerful and accurate. Low-end seemed to be very strong, as explosions and other deep elements sounded rich and vibrant. Ultimately, Vengeance offered a very fine auditory experience.
While the original Die Hard With A Vengeance DVD provided only a smattering of very minor extras, this new 2-DVD package finally gives us a decent special edition. Most of these appear on the second disc, but DVD One includes a couple of pieces. Most significant was an audio commentary. We hear from director John McTiernan, screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh, and former 20th Century Fox President of Marketing and Distribution Tom Sherak. The three men were recorded separately and the results were edited together for this screen-specific track.
Overall, I thought this was a rather entertaining piece, mainly due to the presence of Hensleigh. The film originated as his script called Simon Says, a project that was modified into Vengeance. He provides a good discussion of changes made between the script and the film and he goes into a lot of details about the project. Hensleigh proves to be a very engaging and lively participant and he seems honest and compelling.
McTiernan also adds some solid contributions, though Hensleigh dominates the piece. The director relates some modestly revealing notes, such as the mild competition between Willis and Jackson, and he also mentions some ways in which Willis matured between the first Die Hard and the third one. He even indicates that he remembers the movie as a weak piece when he states that it’s “not as bad as I remembered”.
Sherak barely registers during the commentary. He doesn’t even appear until the 35-minute mark and he only pops up on a few brief occasions. Sherak notes a couple of financial concerns related to the film, but that was about it. Nonetheless, the commentary works very well due to the combination of Hensleigh and McTiernan, both of whom are nicely frank about the piece, which they feel free to criticize when appropriate. Many commentaries degenerate into excessive praise mode, but that’s not a problem here, as the two say what they think. I felt it was the most compelling track found on any of the three Die Hard movies.
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. (Oddly, the new DVD for Die Hard lacks the Optimode, even though it was also a THX-certified package; Die Hard 2 does toss in the Optimode, though.)
As we move on to DVD Two, we find a wealth of additional materials. First up is the “Featurette and Television Specials” area. Behind the Scenes: The Making of Die Hard With a Vengeance offers a 21-minute and 40-second HBO special used to tout the film during its theatrical release. Hosted by Reginald VelJohnson – Sergeant Al Powell of the first two Die Hard flicks – this show provided the usual fluffy and promotional experience. It combined soundbites from Vengeance cast and crew plus some statements from actors who worked on the older movies; we heard from William Atherton and DH2’s William Sadler, both of whom appeared in archival clips. Otherwise, the show featured a lot of film snippets plus some behind the scenes material from the set. The latter aspects were fairly interesting and they made the program watchable, but make no mistake; this remained a promotional piece that lacked much depth.
Despite that superficial nature, “The Making of Vengance” was much stronger than the second TV special. Called A Night to Die For/McClane Is Back, this CBS program accompanied an airing of DH2. Hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, this 21-minute and 25-second piece provided a few good behind the scenes shots – especially when it looked at the subway explosion scene – but for the most part, it provided nothing more than an exceedingly silly promotional piece.
In addition to movie clips, the show included some of the usual hyperbolic soundbites from cast and crew current and past – you’ll see some material that will look familiar to owners of the new DVD releases of Die Hard and DH2 - plus there are a slew of cutesy snippets from folks not associated with the franchise. We get a Top Ten list from David Letterman that was lifted directly from his show. It never specifically discussed the Die Hardseries, but it was still entertaining.
As for the soundbites themselves, these included sports figures like Steve Young, Wayne Gretsky, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Mike Ditka, entertainer Wayne Newton, actresses Melanie Griffith and Mara Wilson, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, rapper Ice-T, comedian Bill Maher, and the members of the McLaughlin Group. All of them relate their thoughts about John McClane and/or the Die Hard series, which leads to the pathetic moment during which the McLaughlin crew discusses what kind of president McClane would make.
However, as embarrassing as those moments were, I wasn’t prepared for the nadir when I saw fake screentests for the role of McClane. A number of the already-mentioned interview participants took part, and we also found other folks such as B.B. King, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and Kato Kaelin! Despite some decent material from the set, the lame comedic aspects of this program make it a documentary that I will refuse to ever watch again. In fact, I may seek surgery in an attempt to purge all memory of this junk from my brain. I mean, Kato Kaelin, for God’s sake!
As for the Featurette, this four-minute and 15-second program offered a very short and fluffy look at the film, but it wasn’t bad for this kind of piece. If nothing else, it included a fun look at the problems encountered when making a film in New York. Note that this “Featurette” offers a longer version of the one found on the old Vengeance DVD; that piece edited the program down to a slightly-shorter three minutes.
Next we move to the Alternate Ending. This five-minute and 55-second clip can be viewed with or without commentary from screenwriter Hensleigh. Essentially this sequence would have followed the destruction of the boat and this segment would have replaced all of the Canadian material. While it was an interesting piece, I think it would have seemed out of place in this kind of film. It’s a dark ending and it lacks the visceral release we want from a Die Hard climax.
Hensleigh seems to feel otherwise, and he discusses his opinions during his commentary. We learn the main reasons why this ending wasn’t used, and he relates why he still likes it. The commentary added a little understanding to the segment.
Behind the Scenes and Storyboards includes three segments in the former category plus one batch of boards. In the “BTS” vein, we get “Terror In the Subway”, an eight-minute and 45 second piece that focuses on the subway car crash. “Prepping the Park” takes 10 minutes and 15 seconds to look at the car chase in midtown Manhattan, while “Blowing Up Bonwit” uses seven minutes and 45 seconds to examine the movie’s opening stunt. All use the same format in that they show the stunt choreography of the scenes, with a focus on personnel such as stunt coordinator Terry Leonard. Some interview material appears, but the emphasis sticks with raw footage from the set, which allows us to see cool shots like the low-tech Matchbox car planning for the “Prepping the Park” segment. These are fun and interesting additions to the DVD.
“Storyboards” offers a two-minute and 10 second mix of filmed drawings and final film footage of the tunnel flood sequence. These are accompanied by music from the movie. I’ve never been a huge fan of storyboards, but fans of them may enjoy this brief piece.
Interview and Profiles provides two different featurettes. “Interview With Bruce Willis” lasts for six minutes and 15 seconds and it includes many participants in addition to the star. Yes, we hear some soundbites from Willis, but we also get short interview clips from Samuel L. Jackson, John McTiernan, Graham Greene, and Terry Leonard. The piece showed some shots from the set as well, and it was a generally entertaining and fun program, though it didn’t provide much depth.
This area’s second featurette followed exactly the same format. The “Villains Profile” focused on Jeremy Irons’ Simon, but it also branched into coverage of Sam Phillips’ Katya. At four minutes and 15 seconds, it also doesn’t go too deep, but it was a moderately interesting discussion of the movie’s baddies. We see the normal mix of movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews snippets. The latter featured Irons, Phillips, Willis, Jackson, Greene, and McTiernan.
Visual Effects shows some “Visual Effects Breakdowns”. There are seven of these in all, and they run between 40 seconds and 95 seconds for a total of six and a half minutes worth of footage. Though they have a different name, the “Breakdowns” duplicate the format used for the “Side By Side Comparisons” on the DH2 DVD: each 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. Ultimately, these were modest fun but they didn’t do a ton for me, though I did think it was entertaining to watch the actors perform without realistic backgrounds.
Lastly, Trailer and TV Spots contains two trailers and a whopping 10 television ads. Not surprisingly, these are the usual promos, and many of them barely differ from others. Still, I won’t complain about them. More is always better; I may not get much from a certain piece, but that doesn’t mean someone else won’t enjoy it.
To be certain, I continue to really like Die Hard With A Vengeance. Actually, after some initial dissatisfaction with the movie, I’ve come to think it’s a fine piece of work; my enjoyment of it seems to increase with every addition screening. Unfortunately, this new DVD release of it doesn’t mark the “ultimate” visual execution of the film. The picture looked pretty terrible, primarily due to excessive edge enhancement. Audio quality was consistently strong, however, and the package of supplements seemed to be very satisfying as well.
Despite my disappointment about the visual image, I still recommend the new release of Die Hard With A Vengeance. If you don’t already own the movie on DVD, this edition definitely merits your attention. For those who already have the old disc, I still think it’s worth the upgrade. The remastered picture doesn’t strongly improve upon the original one, but it still marks some progress, and the mix of extras makes it worth the repurchase.
Note that Die Hard With A Vengeance is available either on its own or packaged with new special editions of Die Hard and Die Hard 2. 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.
However, various sales may alter this equation and mean that the individual DVDs could go for less than when combined in the box. In any case, I wanted to mention the various availabilities of the three different DVDs, especially since early reports indicated that the two sequels would not go on sale individually. This is not the case, and “The Ultimate Collection” offers no extra pieces that don’t appear on the individual discs.