Yippee-ki-yay, Cineworlders. The perennial action masterpiece Die Hard returns to Cineworld screens this December, once again promising to engulf fans in a blizzard of violent action and razor-sharp humour.
The story (as if it needs raking over again) involves Bruce Willis' tough New York cop John McClane on a festive visit to Los Angeles. He's in town to attend his estranged wife's Christmas party, but he finds it rudely interrupted by the arrival of ruthless German terrorists. Their leader, the charismatic and commanding Hans Gruber (the late Alan Rickman), has devised a diabolical plan to hack the building's vault and abscond with the ultimate festive gift.
Plenty has been written about the brilliance of Die Hard. From director John McTiernan's taut staging to the intriguing contrast between McClane's testosterone and Gruber's sharp-suited, intelligent menace, it remains one of the greatest action films of all time. However, there's a raging controversy as to whether it's a Christmas movie. Remarkably, the star of the show, Bruce Willis, says the movie isn't. Well, we're on hand to prove him wrong (apologies, Bruce...)
1. McClane arrives at the party
And not just any party: his wife Holly's (Bonnie Bedelia) Los Angeles Christmas party. Let's read that again: a *Christmas* party. The festive backdrop of Die Hard is key to its sardonically funny impact, as the movie off-sets festive schmaltz with rip-roaring amounts of gunplay. One of the great pleasures of the movie is seeing how the typical Yuletide office set-up at the Nakatomi Plaza becomes systematically trashed by the ongoing battle between Gruber and McClane, all the while as the underlying festive spirit endures.
2. "Now, I have a machine gun..."
An oft-quoted scene highlights Rickman's acting abilities at their most distinctive. His silky vocal tones infuse life into an otherwise throwaway line: "Now, I have a machine gun... Ho, ho, ho." His amusingly deadpan reading of Santa's signature catchphrase comes as McClane parcels down the lifeless body of terrorist Tony (Andreas Wisniewski), whom McClane has morbidly adorned with a Christmas hat. The use of Christmas iconography signals an escalation in the conflict between McClane and the villains.
3. Gruber invokes the spirit of Christmas
Die Hard is a brilliantly written movie, right down to the side characters who would ordinarily be two-dimensional and throw away in a movie such as this. Gruber's ongoing banter with his ace safe-cracking henchman Theo (Clarence Gilyard) makes for some of the film's most amusing moments. At one point, Gruber explicitly invokes the festive spirit when Theo says he'll need a miracle to break the final lock on the Nakatomi safe. Gruber's response: "It's Christmas, Theo, it's the time of miracles."
4. Gruber and his team get the ultimate Christmas pressie
Composer Michael Kamen quotes Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' to ironically jubilant effect as Gruber and his team achieve their aim of cracking open the Nakatomi vault. Theo's sole phrase, "Merry Christmas", both encapsulates and inverts the Christmas spirit as the tenacious and quick-witted villains appear to have landed on Santa's good list. In a further neat twist, Gruber's team are, at the very least honest, in their intentions and oddly likeable, unlike the scheming FBI agents who are willing to sacrifice the Nakatomi hostages in the process of taking out the terrorists.
5. Gruber dies hard
The unforgettable spectacle of Hans Gruber plummeting to his death from the 35th storey of the Nakatomi building doesn't exactly scream Christmas. But as with everything in Die Hard, there are multiple subtle background details reinforcing the Yuletide sentiment. In this dynamically staged and atmospheric scene, replete with sweat, blood-red lighting, fire, broken glass and sheets of paper blowing around, it's Michael Kamen's pulsating use of sleigh bells that reinforces the sense of a Christmas season gone to absolute hell. Fortunately, we have Frank Sinatra's 'Let It Snow' on hand during the end credits to restore a sense of celebratory tradition. Let's hear it one more time: Die Hard IS a Christmas movie.