Culture

Yippie-Kay-25th-Birthday Die Hard

diehard-cookies
When I was single and needed some yang around the house to balance the yin, I’d stick on my Die Hard DVD as a kind of testosterone air freshener.

I’ve been married for a bunch of years now — no, I actually don’t have my anniversary date memorized — but I would still happily screen Die Hard on an endless loop in my home, and not just at Christmas.

(PS: One secret to a happy marriage? Two TVs. Just sayin’…)

This week marked the 25th anniversary of the instant classic action film, prompting some surprisingly thoughtful thoughts by some folks around the web.

At RogerEbert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz serves up a must-read appreciation with the perfect title — “Die Hard in a Building: An Action Classic Turns 25″:

Incredible as it might sound twenty-five years later, neither this film nor its smirking star were considered a slam-dunk in the summer of 1988. If you were the sort of viewer who looked for art in unexpected places, “Die Hard” was a godsend—the kind of moviegoing experience that colonized a part of your imagination and turned you into a bit of a zealot. I saw the film on opening day, fell instantly in love with it, and ran out to the theater lobby afterward to phone my younger brother.

“Put your shoes on,” I said. “I’ll be out front in ten minutes. I’m going to see ‘Die Hard’ again immediately, and you’re coming with me.” I saw it 15 times that summer. When I admitted this to art house-minded friends who assumed it was just Rambo in a building, they looked at me like I was crazy. But the ones I managed to drag to the theater understood instantly that this was no mere time-waster, that there was indeed something special about it: a joyous quality and an astonishing sense of craft.

Siskel and Ebert didn’t agree on the merits of Die Hard back in 1988, with Ebert harshly criticizing the film’s depiction of the (pre-O.J. Simpson) LAPD acting so, well, stupidly.

Audiences didn’t care.

They fell in love with Bruce Willis’ reluctant, resourceful, rule-smashing hero with the receding hairline, whose iconic undershirt is now in the Smithsonian.

Reginald VelJohnson turned what could have been a thankless, forgettable role into a brand new action flick character archetype:

“The Lovable, Chubby Black Beat Cop Buddy Dude Guy.”

This was Alan Rickman’s first movie, believe it or not. His Hans Gruber consistently tops “greatest movie villain of all timelists:

And the great thing about Die Hard is that the movie gives Gruber a plan that matches Rickman’s suave yet chilling theatrics. Knocking over the Nakatomi Plaza vault and getting to the $640 million in bearer bonds under false pretenses of global terrorism and political protest is an ingenious setup that echoes throughout the entire series. The joy is not just in Rickman playing Gruber, but in Rickman playing Gruber playing a terrorist while he’s really just a super-inventive thief.

And it all started with a dream. Literally:

The story goes that, in 1975, author Roderick Thorp took a night off from writing to catch a movie. His flick of choice, ‘The Towering Inferno’, is the fictional account of a hulking 138-story structure named The Glass Tower and an electrical fire that traps a gathering of revelers celebrating the building’s opening. (…)

The film had a profound effect on Thorp’s subconscious. That night, an iteration of the movie appeared to him in his sleep. In the dream, Thorp envisioned a man chased through a massive structure, chased not by engulfing flames, but by heavily armed men. This dream prompted Thorp to write Nothing Lasts Forever, a follow-up to his successful novel The Detective.

Of course, this is Hollywood, so it took years for Die Hard to make it to theaters, after big name stars like Harrison Ford passed on the chance to play McClane.

The entire franchise has grossed about a half-billion dollars so far, and spawned countless pale imitations.

Yeah, the sequels haven’t lived up to the original.

The only thing that makes them watchable is Bruce Willis, who, back when I was a teenager, was considered a charming but limited performer — fine for TV, sure, but he could never carry a film…

(Audiences who only knew Willis from his smart but, well, kinda girly television series Moonlighting actually booed the first Die Hard trailers.)

Now quick:

Which movie won the Oscar for best picture for 1988?

I don’t know either.

A quarter century later, Die Hard is the movie we remember.

“Yippei-ki-yay, Mister Falcon.”