When it comes to the modern action movie there are very few really good ones that standout in people’s mind. In the 1980s movie fans were spoiled with a large cache of films to choose from.
There are some well-known iconoclasts of that generation, with more familiar names like Stallone, Rothrock, Van Damme and Schwarzenegger. Their movies defined cinema for that time and set a new standard of what is an action movie.
Which brings me to Die Hard and how a movie that takes place in Christmas became one of the best movies of its time and one of the best action movies ever. In the thorough and what turns out to be a love letter to the franchise, authors James Mottram and David Cohen give fans and cinephiles what they wish for and more in Die Hard: The Ultimate Visual History.
In “The Foreword,” fans get a real treat, as the director of the first movie, John McTiernan, gives up the details on how the first movie got made in the first place. “Part 1: Die Hard” finds the inspiration behind the movie, Roderick Thorp’s original novel Nothing Lasts Forever and the evolution from novel to script, McTiernan’s unorthodox inspiration from Midsummer Night’s Dream, and how much influence the franchise’s producer Joel Silver was in getting the film made. The most interesting sections of this chapter revolves around the casting of Bruce Willis as John McClane and Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber and the different synergies both actors brought to the film and to each other as they both proved to be more interesting than the characters they portrayed. In “Part 2 Die Hard 2: Die Harder,” we find out that this movie was also based on a book but by a different author Walter Wager and his book 58 Minutes. It gave a great premise but needed to be fleshed out to fit the Die Hard world. We get a peek into all the behind the scenes drama that took place before they started filming. In “Part 3: Die Hard With A Vengeance,” we find McTiernan teaming back up with Willis and finding then upcoming actors Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Irons ultimately making both actors worldwide stars. “Part 4: Live Free Or Die Hard” gets into how this movie tried to get John McClane to fit into the new digital future landscape and what the world considers an action hero now. “Part 5: A Good Day To Die Hard” sees the challenges of dealing with a new director, mostly foreign actors, and shooting overseas which gave fans a movie with mixed results. In “Part 6: Beyond The Screen,” the authors take us through the many iterations of the franchise including video games, a storybook which treats the original movie as it has always been seen in action movie fans eyes, a Christmas action movie, and comics which delve into both the character’s early years as a rookie cop and twilight years as a retired detective. In “Conclusion,” the authors give fans a short interview with Willis himself as he discusses the impact of the character and the franchise and how its ultimate charm lies in how it dials into the hardworking everyman tick.
Overall, it’s an excellent book which is more than a treasure for fans of the franchise but also is the ultimate behind the scenes tour of one of the world’s greatest film franchises. The narrative as written by Mottram and Cohen is fluid, epic and quite a page turner. The book also contains replications of scene sketches, publicity shoots and notes by the various directors, making this world as visceral as a fan can be. Altogether, one of the best books written and illustrated about this movie franchise.
Story: James Mottram, David S. Cohen, and John McTiernan
Story: 10 Art: 9.6 Overall: 9.8 Recommendation: Buy