FOR THOSE ABOUT 2 TALK:
LISTENING TO COMMENTARY TRACKS
SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO!
DIE HARD (1988)
Ready for a Christmas film that’ll punch you in the face and blow the roof off of a building? Answer: Always. DIE HARD is an action classic from legendary director John McTiernan who made this film just after PREDATOR and just before THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. The dude knows his way around an action scene… at least he did. LAST ACTION HERO and DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE are firm cases against McTiernan.
At some point in the commentary McTiernan talks about being a terrible interviewer. He doesn’t have patience for questions and is pretty gruff. I would add that he sucks ass at recording commentary as well. Ol’John seems to deliver his opinions between yawns and bouts of “I could give a fuck.” Joining him on the track though is production designer Jackson De Govia who has an obvious fondness for the film and provides most of the relevant points. This commentary track was exhausting in its dryness but still had some good nuggets of geekery.
You bastards ready? Punch it!
The airplane in the opening shot was towed around for hours on the tarmac while they recorded the intro with Willis.
Early section of the film with Holly and Mr. Takagi is about geography. Letting the audience see where things like the elevator are located.
The city skyline visible in Holly’s office is a matte painting.
Conrad Bane once beat Jim “The Dragon” Kelly in a game of PIG. It was shortly after that game that The Dragon decided to retire from films and become a tennis instructor.
John McTiernan story boards effects shots but stopped story boarding entire films just before DIE HARD.
McTiernan turned down the project several times but the scene that ultimately sold him on the film was the scene of McClane and Argyle talking in the limo. McTiernan liked the fact that McClane didn’t want to be chauffeured around, he thought it was a nice way to show that McClane was a decent guy.
McTiernan tweaked the script that he finally accepted to make McClane more of an average Joe instead of a strong jawed Dirty Harry type. He also thought that turning this into more of a caper film rather than a terrorist film would allow the viewer to like both the villains and the hero.
The casting of Bonnie Beddelia was Willis’ idea.
Ernest Borgnine hates meatloaf.
McTiernan loved the movement of the camera in ROBOCOP and tried to use that same style on DIE HARD. He’s a big of Paul Verhoven, particularly THE FOURTH MAN.
McTiernan wrote the scene where Hanz Gruber is first looking for Mr. Takagi and quoting his resume.
The model of the bridge in Takagi’s office is an actual model from the Frank Lloyd Wright estate.
Jim Kelly built a bridge made of tennis rackets in Sioux City, Iowa.
There was a lot of negotiation about how much red paint to use for Takagi’s brain splatter.
McTiernan was nearly fired from PREDATOR for using certain camera shots that would have been difficult to edit. He was able to use those in DIE HARD.
The secret to action movies is that everything has to make sense. This does not apply to Bill Cosby:
The scene of Bruce Willis riding the Elevator shaft is real up to the point of the elevator coming to a stop at which point it cuts to a set.
McTiernan really uses only one camera. He thinks if you’re using multiple cameras and hoping for one good shot then you don’t know what the shot is. He uses multiple cameras on a stunt or hard to reproduce a shot like the helicopter flight around Nakatomi Tower but otherwise he’s a one camera guy.
John McTiernan is frequently a pompous asshole on this commentary.
The scene where McClane is in the elevator shaft (which is a set) is largely improvised.
A stuntman fell on the set of the elevator shaft while rehearsing (he was not hurt) and they decided to write that into the script.
The scene where McClane falls in the shaft and quickly grabs a vent was another accident but they kept the shot anyway.
“Come out to the coast, get together, have a few laughs” was phoned in at the last minute by the writer Steve de Sousa in an effort to punch up the dialogue.
The total shoot for DIE HARD was just over 80 days. McTiernan thinks anything over that makes the movie worse, not better. Case in point: LAST ACTION HEREO, 85 days. Those last five days must have been a bitch.
Despite Fox owning the building, the negotiations were incredibly bureaucratic. The scene when the S.W.A.T. vehicle goes up the front steps and took out the railings took nearly a month to negotiate.
TENNIS RACKET TERROR, BITCH!
Flash bulbs and flash powder were used for exploding the bottom of the building after McClane tosses down the C4 strapped to the chair.
Alexander Godunov was a Russian dancer who only had a small role in WITNESS and THE MONEY PIT prior to DIE HARD.
De Souza pushed hard for the chance to have McClane and Gruber to have a scene in a room verbally dueling with each other.
McTiernan was never quite happy with Rickman’s American accent.
I, on the other hand, am very happy with this:
The scene where the glass is shot out after Gruber sees that McClane is barefoot was concocted after Joel Silver and John McTiernan had a quick discussion about how to use the glass.
The helicopters made a total of 9 runs with 6 camera crews shooting the action. This is a moment when the one camera technique isn’t appropriate.
A camera was set up 5 miles from the building to shoot the rooftop explosion.
Alan Rickman was dropped 7 floors from a soundstage. The shot in the film was the first take.
FTATT will be back later this week with GREMLINS. Dante is sure to drop some better talk than these bastards did.
SEE YOU ON FORTY DEUCE,
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