Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Greatness of "Die Hard"

I'm still working on the blog post I'd hoped to write this week.  In the meantime, here is some pop-culture thoughts.

I saw "Die Hard" for probably the 10th time.  It's still awesome.  It succeeds at what it sets out to do -- tell a thrilling story well -- better than most movies, including most prestige pictures that end up vying for Oscars.  Having seen "the King's Speech" recently, I'd say they're about on par -- neither is life-changing or philosophical or whatever, but they're well done movies.

Here's some random thoughts about what makes Die Hard so great.

On a pretentious note it adheres to the 3 classical unities of drama:

1) Unity of Action - On watching it again it was impressive how organically the movie flows.  Every action sequence make sense in the context of Alan Rickman's takeover of the office tower -- many of them are Rickman's thugs chasing Bruce Willis around, others are the result of Willis and Rickman matching wits (about the detonators in the 3rd quarter of the movie, for instance).  Action sequences have not been added willy-nilly and some classic sequences (notably car chases) are absent entirely because they wouldn't fit.  The result is that the movie builds extremely well.

2) Unity of Place - the office tower is a great setting.  Rather than leaving it we're taken over the same ground multiple times to give us an idea of how frantic Willis is and how claustrophobic and crazy the situation is.  This restricts the kinds of scenes that can take place, but they give each scene a very strong sense of context -- you feel like you could map out the office tower, from the lobby to the maintenance area with the pin-up to the roof.

3) Unity of Time - the movie almost unfolds in real time.  As near as I can tell it takes place over 4-5 hours, so very little time is compressed.  This lets the events unfold in detail and seem more real.

Beyond the unnecessary shout-out to Aristotle's Poetics, the above points get at the movie's core strength -- it is tight.  Everything about it is tight.  That is to say, nothing is extraneous, every piece fulfills some part of it's central purpose.  The characters are fleshed out enough for us to care about them, which is aided by the solid acting by the whole cast.  The writing is often funny, sometimes touching, and always pulls you in -- there's no backstory or subplots patronizingly thrown in to appeal to demographic x or y to take away screen time that would be better spent blowing shit up.

At the risk of being curmudgeonly, action movies would do well to stick closer to the Die Hard formula rather than spastic crap like the original Fast and Furious movie or plodding nonsense from Michael Bay.  Action movies are about action -- things that get audiences blood pumping, make them cackle a tad sadistically, etc. These are simple things.  Adding on other stuff, Michael Bay style - an extended romance or a complicated mythos -- doesn't turn your action movie into an epic, it just makes it boring.  For myself, I can always watch Die Hard an 11th time next time I want to turn my brain off and enjoy myself.  Yippe ki yay.

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