Michael Coate: Remembering Return of the Jedi on its 30th Anniversary! http://t.co/fXl8WfixzH
Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Collection
Release Date(s)1988-2007 (January 29, 2013)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
For a franchise created out of a single character and a catchphrase, the Die Hard series has seemed to really endure with the changing times much better than many of its genre contemporaries. The concept of the everyday schlub who happens to be a cop being pitted against forces bigger than him was something novel in 1988, and it still manages to hold up today.
The Die Hard series and its legacy in entertainment and filmmaking in general has been talked to death and well-documented elsewhere, so instead of just retreading all of that stuff or getting into plot synopses, I’ll just tell you which of the films are my personal favorites. This one’s a no-brainer, but without question, my favorite is the first film. It also happens to be my favorite action film, if you want to know. My second-favorite is the third film. A controversial choice to some because many saw Die Hard With a Vengeance as a step down for the series rather than up. It feels like a logical place to continue to story-wise and it also seems like much more of a real sequel than the previous film. Speaking of which, Die Hard 2: Die Harder is my third favorite in the series. Having re-watched it recently, I had forgotten just how kooky that film can be at times: the bad puns, the one-liners, the film’s subtitle, etc. Oh, and something else that no one talks about when it comes to Die Hard 2 is the language. I certainly don’t mind cursing in the movies that I watch, but this one feels bluer than any of the others. Every other word is an expletive, almost in a blatant way. Maybe it’s just my imagination or me looking for a reason to pick on it, but the other films in the series don’t come off that way to me. As for the other films, they follow suit in my order of favorites: Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard. While I didn’t find the fifth movie to be quite the steaming pile that everyone else seemed to find it to be, it’s still my least favorite, and Live Free to Die Hard is just marginally better by comparison. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at this new Blu-ray set and see if it measures up.
Well, first things first. For those who have purchased these films on Blu-ray before, congratulations, you’re buying the exact same discs over again with the exact same transfers. It’s a shame too because this was a good opportunity to re-release these films in a new light before the release of the fifth film. They attempted to do that, sort of, but you can throw around the phrase “rush-job” pretty easily on this one. Considering the possibility that some of you don’t already own these movies and you were thinking about picking this set up, let’s see what it has to offer first.
Disc One – Die Hard
What we have here is a very solid Blu-ray transfer of the original film that does quite well without being overly impressive. The main thing here though is that it’s definitely sharper and more well-defined that any previous DVD release. Image detail is abundant, especially skin and clothing textures. There’s some light grain throughout, but for a good comparison of grain structures, check out the raw dailies in the Interactive Still Gallery portion of the extras to see just how much this has been cleaned up. It seems like a bit too much, but not enough to warrant complaining too much about. Contrast is also a bit better and skin tones look more convincing, but they still look a bit on the orange side to me. So it’s not an astonishing transfer, but it looks decent enough. For the audio there are four options: English 5.1 DTS-HD, English 2.0 Dolby Digital and Spanish & French 2.0 Dolby Digital. The DTS track sounds pretty good, but again, like the video, not amazing. It sounds pretty clean with the dialogue nice and balanced. The LFE moments are sparse but they’re there, and there’s enough surround activity to warrant its inclusion. I personally would have liked to have had the film’s original soundtrack, but this will do for now. There are also subtitles in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Korean for those who might need them.
In the extras, you’ll find an audio commentary with director John McTiernan and production designer Jackson De Govia, a scene-specific audio commentary with special effects supervisor Richard Edlund, a subtitle commentary with various cast and crew, The Newscasts used in the film, the aforementioned Interactive Still Gallery, 3 theatrical trailers, 7 TV spots, trailers for the other Die Hard movies (and Alien vs. Predator) and a D-Box Motion Code option. In addition, there’s also a personal scene selections option.
Film Rating: A+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/B+
Disc Two – Die Hard 2: Die Harder
Of the four films in this set, Die Hard 2 probably looks the worst on Blu-ray. It’s not an overly grainy presentation, but the special effects shots are certainly loaded with it. The colors are pretty strong, well, what colors there are (blue, green and white mostly). The contrast is about the same as the first disc, but blacks aren’t altogether deep at times. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. Skin tones look pretty orange most of the time and image detail isn’t quite as refined as it could be, so overall, it’s not a great presentation, but it’s only a minor step up from the DVD. The audio selection is the same: English 5.1 DTS-HD, English 2.0 Dolby Digital and Spanish & French 2.0 Dolby Digital. Personally, I’ve never really cared for the sound design of this film. The crystal-clear gunfire, dialogue and sound effects have always sounded separate from each other to me, rather than part of the same team, and the audio on this release reflects that. Nothing quite works well together. There is some surround activity, but it feels clunky. Even the low-end moments don’t seem to have much of an impact. On the bright side, the dialogue is very clear and they do attempt to have some kind of ambience, although not much. Again, there are also subtitles in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Korean for those who might need them.
In the extras, there’s an audio commentary with director Renny Harlin, 4 deleted scenes, 8 featurettes (HBO First Look, Making Of, The Bad Guys, Breaking the Ice, Chaos on the Conveyor Belt, Interview with Renny Harlin, Visual Effects Breakdowns and Side-by-Side Comparisons), 4 theatrical trailers, 2 TV spots, the previously-mentioned other trailers, the D-Box Motion Code option and the personal scene selections option.
Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/C/A-
Disc Three – Die Hard with a Vengeance
Die Hard With a Vengeance is almost as good as the first in terms of video quality. Although it has higher grain levels than all of the films in the series, it’s a step up from the DVD with very little edge enhancement. It certainly isn’t lacking in image detail either. Colors are really strong and skin tones look more natural, too. Contrast isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough. Overall, I’d say it’s the best-looking sequel of the original trilogy. In the audio department, there are only three options this time: English 5.1 DTS-HD and French & Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital. The DTS track is a very good mix. It has a lot of clarity in the dialogue and the music, and both are well-represented here. Of course, being set in the streets of New York, there’s an abundance of ambience to be heard. The sound effects, explosions and gunfire are much better this time around too, and there’s enough surround and LFE activity to keep you happy. Again, there are also subtitles in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Korean for those who might need them.
Extras include an audio commentary with director John McTiernan, writer Jonathan Hensleigh and film executive Tom Sherak, an alternate ending, 8 featurettes (HBO First Look, CBS: A Night to Die For, Making Of, Bruce Willis Interview, Villains with a Vengeance, Storyboard Sequence, Visual Effects Breakdowns and Side-by-Side Comparisons), 2 theatrical trailers, 10 TV spots, the previously-mentioned other trailers, the D-Box Motion Code option and the personal scene selections option.
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/A-
Disc Four – Live Free or Die Hard
As far as video quality is concerned, you can’t go wrong with Live Free or Die Hard. Despite the fact that is was shot on film, it looks much better than the films preceding it, sorry to say. Don’t get me wrong though. If you’re a fan of this film, and I know many of you are, then you’ll get a lot out of this presentation. Grain is minimal, colors are sparse but well-defined, blacks are inky-deep, contrast is perfect and skin tones look very good. All things told, it’s a gorgeous presentation. The audio is equally impressive. You get four options: English 5.1 DTS-HD and English, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Dialogue is well-balanced and clear, sound effects are nice and juicy, the music sounds great, ambience is very good and there are LFE moments a-plenty. There’s also a lot of surround activity to keep your system busy, so all in all, you should be perfectly satisfied with the presentation of this film. Again, there are also subtitles in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Korean for those who might them.
Extras include an audio commentary with Bruce Willis, director Len Wiseman and editor Nicolas De Toth, a Black Hat Intercept! game, the Analog Hero in a Digital World: Making of Live Free or Die Hard documentary in 10 parts (Prelude, Attack of the Franchise, Cast and Characters, Texture and Tone, Unimaginable Feats, The Cutting Room, Eye Candy, The World of D.I., Sound and Fury and Symphonic Boom!), the Yippee Ki Yay MotherF********! featurette, the Die Hard music video by Guyz Nite, the behind the scenes of the music video, the theatrical trailer, the Fox Movie Channel Presents Fox Legacy featurette on the Die Hard franchise, the previously-mentioned other trailers (substituting The Siege for Alien vs. Predator) and the D-Box Motion Code option.
Film Rating: C
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A+/A-
Disc Five – Decoding Die Hard
The fifth disc of the set is one long documentary plus trailers. You have the Decoding Die Hard documentary itself, which is broken up into 7 parts (Origins - Reinventing the Genre, John McClane - Modern Day Hero, Villains - Bad to the Bone, Sidekicks - Along For the Ride, Fight Sequences - Punishing Blows, Action - Explosive Effects and The Legacy - The Right Hero For the Right Time) and trailers (yet again) for all of the films in the series plus a trailer for A Good Day to Die Hard. Now that all of that’s covered, let’s take a look at what’s NOT included in this set.
The original Die Hard: Five Star Collection DVD was one of those great landmark releases that, unfortunately, seems to have been left in the digital dust as far as the fantastic extras on that release are concerned. There are some things missing from this Blu-ray release that should have been included from it. There were outtakes (which featured a collection of deleted scenes, bloopers and alternate takes), magazine articles, the Branching “Power Shutdown” sequence, the Scene Editing Workshop (wherein you could re-edit three scenes from the film using alternate takes), an Audio Mixing Suite (wherein you could mix elements of audio from the film), the film’s script, the Why Letterbox? featurette, an editing glossary and the DVD-ROM features (which included mostly just game demos). Now that’s a hefty amount of material to be left behind. I can sort of understand leaving the Scene Editing Workshop, the Audio Mixing Suite, the Glossary and DVD-ROM material behind, but the rest of it should have been carried over quite easily. If they could include the audio commentaries and Interactive Slide Show, then this could have easily made the cut as well. There’s just no reason not to include it in this instance. Also missing, from the Die Hard Collection DVD boxed set, is the material from the Bonus Disc, which included alternate trailers for Live Free or Die Hard and two featurettes: Wrong Guy, Wrong Place, Wrong Time: A Look Back at Die Hard and The Continuing Adventures of John McClane. And finally, the most upsetting thing about this set for the majority of you out there. This is common knowledge by now I think, but Live Free or Die Hard is presented in its PG-13 theatrical version only in this set and not in the Unrated version that most people are inclined to watch instead. That version not only contains more vulgarity, but also additional footage sprinkled throughout, and it’s just shameful that it wasn’t included.
All in all, this is by no means the final word on Die Hard on home video. With rumors circulating of a sixth film in the franchise, plus all of the disappointing transfers and missing extras, I’m certain we’ll see a better release of this on Blu-ray in boxed set form at some point in the near future. When is hard to say, but soon I would guess. 20th Century Fox hasn’t gotten a release of this series right since the original Ultimate Collection on DVD, and that’s been some time ago. This set just has “rush job” written all over it, but to be fair, it is a nice gathering together of the previous Blu-ray releases if you didn’t have them already. Unfortunately, it could have been much better. But for now, if you don’t already own these films in high definition, then I’d say picking this up certainly won’t be a mistake on your part. It’s fairly cheap compared to other big franchise boxed sets, plus owning these films isn’t a bad thing at all, so I’d say go for it.
- Tim Salmons