Release Date(s)1988 (May 15, 2018)
Studio(s)Gordon Company/Silver Pictures (20th Century Fox)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C+
[Editor’s Note: Portions of the film component of this review were originally written by Todd Doogan, though they’ve been updated and edited for 4K.]
It’s easy to forget now that, until he popped up on movie screens in Blind Date (1987), people knew Bruce Willis exclusively as David Addison from the TV series Moonlighting. At the time, Willis was charming, funny, and only just starting to go bald. It was easy then for critics to dismiss him as a one-note actor, but he soon proved himself a talented performer. Take a look at Willis in Twelve Monkeys, Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, In Country, and yes... Die Hard. You’ll see an actor who can grab your attention and run with it.
On the surface, Die Hard’s plot is that of a heist flick, featuring a group of supposed terrorists who take over a high-rise office tower in Los Angeles with the intent of robbing it of $600 million worth of U.S. bonds. If the film had focused on them alone (Who are these guys, what’s their agenda really, and will they get out?), it would be just like any other heist film of the 60s and 70s. But director John McTiernan took that fairly straightforward formula and turned it on end, making it just as much about the cops trying to foil the plan. And that’s where John McClane (Bruce Willis) comes in.
McClane is a tired man. He’s separated from his wife and kids, he’s sarcastic and stubborn... really, he’s the perfect New York City cop. Fresh off the plane in Los Angeles, he’s on his way to reunite with his wife at her office Christmas office party at the Nakatomi Corporation, where maybe they’ll try one more time to make their marriage work. But this reunion is less than sweet, and turns out to be pretty damn short, because – at that exact moment – the building is taken over by the aforementioned terrorists, led by the nefarious Hans Gruber (played with sublime charm by Alan Rickman). So McClane (clad only in a wife-beater tee) takes matters into his own hands, trying to stop these criminals from killing his wife and her coworkers.
Die Hard is expert in its writing and direction, with quality that extends right on down to each and every performance. Willis is great, Rickman is wonderful, and newcomers De’voreaux White and Reginald VelJohnson steal the show in their respective roles as Argyle and LAPD Sergeant Al Powell. This is just a great movie.
Die Hard was shot on 35 mm film using Panavision cameras and anamorphic lenses, save for limited effects shots which were done in 65 mm. The original camera negative has been scanned in native 4K, graded for high dynamic range (in HDR10) and it’s presented on Ultra HD at the proper 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. It’s safe to say that this image has never looked better. Fine detail and texturing are excellent, though with the usual amount of anamorphic softness around the edges of the frame. There’s a steady wash of light-moderate grain remaining that gives the image a pleasingly cinematic appearance. The HDR grade is restrained, but deepens the shadows nicely while giving highlights, police lights, gunfire, and explosions a nice bright gleam. Colors are natural but slightly restrained, consistent with this film’s unique character and overall look, yet they pop when necessary and show much more nuance than ever before. This is a dark film by nature, so the transfer doesn’t quite have the showiness of the best 4K presentations on this format, but it’s certainly reference quality for this particular film. Fans should be quite pleased with the image here.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is included in what sounds to be the same DTS-HD Master Audio mix that appeared on the previous Blu-ray edition. While it certainly doesn’t compare to modern action film surround mixes, the track is good for this film, especially when you consider that it originally played theatrically with just Dolby Stereo Surround (save for a few limited 6-track 70mm presentations). But the soundstage feels sufficiently large and airy, with excellent clarity. Dialogue is clean and audible, while the score and atmospheric cues filter in lightly from all around. The mix has a highly directional quality, though, with the dialogue very much front and center, and surround effects are specific to their individual channels. The mix is mostly quiet until gunfire and explosions kick in, at which point the sound has nice bombast. Additional audio options include English 2.0 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish and Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Czech 2.0 Dolby Digital, and French, Castilian, German, and Italian 5.1 DTS, with subtitles available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish, French, Castilian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Czech, two different forms of Chinese, and Polish (note that there are also subtitles for the audio commentaries listed below in a few languages).
The 4K disc itself contains the following special features, all carried over from the previous Blu-ray and DVD release:
- Audio Commentary with director John McTiernan and production designer Jackson DeGovia
- Scene Specific Audio Commentary by visual effects producer Richard Edlund
- Subtitle Text Commentary by Cast and Crew
The package also includes the previous Blu-ray edition (not remastered from the new scan), which offers the film in 1080p HD along with the same three commentary options and the following additional special features (all in the original SD):
- Newscast Footage (7:59 – with bloopers and outtakes)
- Interactive Still Gallery (9:27 – with Easter egg content)
- Trailer Gallery (3 trailers and 7 TV spots – 4:42 in all)
- D-Box Motion Code (for use with D-Box motion control systems)
The commentary is pretty good, but the rest of this material doesn’t amount to much. And some of the content from the previous Five Star DVD edition is missing (so you may wish to keep it), including an extended scene, the scene editing workshop, the multi-camera demonstration, the audio mixing lab, and the like. The package does claim that the interactive screenplay and magazine articles from the DVD are included here, but if so it’s either as Easter eggs or BD-ROM content. Of course, the package also includes a Movies Anywhere Digital Copy code on a paper insert.
Die Hard set a new standard in cinema action and still ranks as one of the best examples of its genre. Bruce Willis showed the world he was a bankable box-office star, Alan Rickman gave us one of the most dashing villains ever to grace the screen, and John McTiernan proved he was more than just a one-hit wonder after the success of Predator. This film is still very much the product of its time, but that product has never looked better than it does here on Fox’s new 4K Ultra HD.
- Todd Doogan and Bill Hunt