I’ve been impressed how these anniversary coffee table books have provided new information about some of the movies I’ve studied most in my life. There are no movies I know more about than Back to the Future and Labyrinth but those visual histories found new stuff. So too Die Hard: The Ultimate Visual History from Insight Editions gave me new stories about my favorite action film while celebrating what makes it famous.
The opening chapter paints a vivid picture of what brought screenwriter Jeb Stuart and later Steven De Souza to Die Hard, detailing each of their contributions. Interestingly, it glosses over the part where they developed it as a Frank Sinatra sequel and focused on adapting the book as a new standalone. Only when it comes to casting do they tell the Sinatra story as a matter of course, but according to this it was never developed as a sequel to The Detective.
Stuart’s original script pages show you some of the subtle differences. Joel Silver is responsible for the title Die Hard in an explanation so simple I’m surprised I’d never heard it before. It involves Shane Black and turns out Roderick Thorpe had some words about it too.
Some mishaps we never got to see are revealed including a disastrous first pass on the Nakatomi logo. I like John McTiernan’s Shakespearian take on the material which he speaks about in many new quotes.
Michael Showalter would be happy to see how many people say the building is another character in the film. After reading details about the lighting and design, I’m convinced too. Marilyn Vance gets a section on designing the iconic wife beater T-shirt look.
I took it for granted because I lived through the premiere of Die Hard and the movies it inspired, but The Ultimate Visual History highlights what a revolutionary style McTiernan invented. Keeping the camera moving betrayed conventional wisdom (just like McClane does) and its probably why I can watch the movie over and over and still feel excited because I’m moving with it.
Some of Willis’s diva behavior is revealed, and continues in each sequel. As well, his acts of generosity are credited and id say the latter outweigh the former. There are some old school inventive effects just because they couldn’t CGI it. The late Alan Rickman is represented through citing previous appearances. Alexander Gudonov must not have given many interviews before his untimely passing.
The book sometimes contradicts other Die Hard interviews I’ve seen. The book credits Stuart for creating the name Hans Gruber but De Souza claims it came from Our Man Flint. With 30 year old memories some details will always be ambiguous. There is a Hans Gruber in the second Flint movie but whether De Souza took the name directly from there may forever be a Rashomon type of thing.
Of course, I love that The Ultimate Visual HIstory gives the Die Hard sequels equal depth. There was some politicking on Die Hard 2 I never knew. There are some contentious memory conflicts between players too. We may never know the whole truth but it’s exciting to read these accounts.
My favorite Rene Russo was considered for the role of Samantha Coleman, but this would’ve kept her from Mr. Destiny so I’m ok with Sheila McCarthy getting the role. And there’s a great story of Willis’s generosity in casting her too.
Seeing the NRG test cards for Die Hard 2 are some gold. I’m surprised they tested a sequel to a huge hit.
The Die Hard with a Vengeance chapter has more details about the Die Hard on a boat plans before Under Siege kiboshed it. It writes off Joel Silver’s departure as he moved on to his WB deal but I would think there’s more to it than that. Producers don’t just give up their stake in a franchise. I never knew Brandon Lee would’ve had a role had he not died filming The Crow or that Zeus was initially a woman who could’ve been played by Angela Bassett!
The beginning of the Live Free or Die Hard chapter addresses all the aborted attempts to do a Die Hard 4. Since the PG-13 rating was controversial, critics should note it was a studio decision that blindsided Len Wiseman. I’ve never heard him throw them under the bus for it though which makes him a standup professional. This is also where we start to hear a lot more about action sequences that were proposed and either nixed or changed. I love what’s in the movie but these would’ve been cool too.
The Ultimate Visual History remains positive about A Good Day to Die Hard despite being the least popular. It also seems confused about what was in the theatrical cut and what was only on the extended home video cut.
The final chapter discusses some of the Die Hard video games, but begins with the NES version and skips the clunky PC game entirely. Oh well, those are well documented by video game critics and I don’t think I had the NES game, so now I’ll have to find it.
Aesthetically the layout is nice with large text blocks and large picture layouts. Inserts are unobtrusive, something Insight Editions must’ve learned through trial and error.
Since Die Hard is totally a Christmas movie, The Ultimate Visual History would make a great Christmas gift for the cowboy in your life. Yippie Ki-yay, motherfuckers!