Die Hard Collection Blu-ray Review
All four of the Die Hard movies come blasting to Blu-ray complete with High Definition 1080p video renditions in their original theatrical widescreen aspect ratios of 2.4:1. Over the last nineteen years, it would seem that time has been kinder on Willis than on his movies, and the original Die Hard certainly shows its age. Detail is generally decent, clarity good throughout, with little softness and some acceptable edge enhancement. The colour scheme is quite well represented, the colours authentic and exhibiting little bleeding but blacks coming across as marginally grainy and not quite as solid as you would have hoped for with this kind of blockbuster release. 6/10.
Die Hard 2, which was made just two years after the first instalment, does look a little better but also has many of the same problems, once again disappointingly apparent on this supposedly superior Blu-ray release. Directly comparing to the relatively recent box set DVD versions, the image is clearly an improvement, but perhaps not quite as much as you would have expected from a prominent Blu-ray release. The opening airport shots look quite good, but softness does slowly eek in, and the palette is far too pinky for my liking, making skin tones unrealistic - particularly in such a purportedly cold environment, but overall it is an improvement. I don't think I've ever seen all the stunt doubles as clearly as this before (not necessarily a good thing) so the detail is better, most people would have just expected more from this high-profile title on Blu-ray. 7/10.
The third Die Hard movie was made just three years later, yet it clearly looks significantly better. Detail manages to be superior throughout, with few signs of edge enhancement and limited softness and digital artefacting. The colour scheme and contrast mark the biggest differences with this presentation, compared to the previous two, with a much more realistic, natural palette (including skin tones) and good clarity for the most part. It's not a perfect picture, with some fine grain apparent from time to time, but picture depth and clarity show a marked improvement upon both the predecessors and the DVD release. 8/10.
The fourth Die Hard movie is easily the best of the bunch in terms of video (and no doubt audio), detail is excellent throughout, the movie having a nice clean look - desaturated at times for effect, and largely very modern whilst at the same time not eschewing that Die Hard look (whilst not as classically designed as McTiernan's visions, Wiseman pays a nice, up-to-date homage to the style and cinematography of them). There is absolutely no noticeable edge enhancement, nor any unintentional grain or softness, and it is a near-perfect visual rendition of such a recent production. The particular filming styles utilised in some of the key sequences give it a fabulous, fresh edge and the whole result is almost flawless. The colour scheme is, as I've stated, often biased towards desaturated greeny-blues, and this can impact the natural look of some of the surroundings, but it is quite a pleasant style, with explosions looking bright and real, the CGI only obvious due to the impossibility of the scenes and never because of a betrayal on the part of the video presentation. 9/10.
All four Die Hard movies come complete with exactly what the fans want: DTS-HD 5.1 Lossless Master Audio tracks that parallel the video representations in their improvement over the years. Thus, Die Hard is the most limited - again disappointingly as it will be many fans' favourite of the bunch. At least the dialogue is generally coherent, from the shouts and yells to Willis' mumbling monologues, predominantly coming from across the frontal array. The effects are given some dynamics across the surrounds, but perhaps not as much as you would have liked, and bass seems quite limited overall. The end result is still probably the best aural presentation we would have heard for this classic but not quite as atmospheric and engaging as hoped for. 6/10.
Die Hard 2 feels at least as limited as the first movie, again breaking out to the surrounds disjointedly, and giving some bass but nothing that really shakes you up. The shootout in the skywalk is quite a good example of surround dynamics, but it marks one of the few moments when things come to life, and the end result simply isn't as all-encompassing as you would have hoped for on Blu-ray - and particularly when it's supposed to be DTS-HD. 6/10.
The third movie is generally much more accessible than the first two, with a less processed sound to the mix, dialogue totally clear and coherent and effects given a more natural and dynamic presentation across the surrounds. Finally the track appears to bring the action alive, with bustling New York giving a warm buzz over the rears and some of the big explosions actually getting some punchy representation by the LFE channel. 8/10.
As you might have guessed following the pattern of things, the recent fourth Die Hard film has the best audio presentation of all of them, as perhaps you would only expect from a 2007 blockbuster release of this magnitude. It is one of the best Blu-ray audio tracks that I have come across since the format's inception, fully utilising the capabilities of the DTS track, complete with perfect dialogue, superior surround dynamics and some superb bass, giving the LFE plenty to do. It is finally what fans were waiting for, a truly encompassing, engaging mix that could surely only improve your enjoyment of this action-packed adventure. It's a shame this is still the PG-13 cut we're looking at, because fans are going to be hard pushed to decide between the clearly superior audio (and video) on Blu-ray or the clearly superior 'hard' cut on DVD. 10/10.
It should be noted that all of the Extras for the first three movies can be found on the DVD special edition release (with even a few missing here) and it is only the fourth movie that actually offers anything new.
First up there's an Audio commentary by Director John McTiernan and Production Designer Jackson DeGovia, although they sound like they were recorded separately (or at least edited in places) so it seems a bit disjointed. There's plenty of background into how the film came about, the worries they had about the terrorist storyline, the way they shot the movie and the ideas they had during the production / filming. It's a little dry and - as I've stated - disjointed, but there is still plenty for Die Hard fans to pick up on here. The Audio Commentary by Special Effects Supervisor Richard Edlund is no better, if not worse, but it is the Subtitle Fact Track and Text Commentary by Various Cast and Crew that is the most disappointing in that it is basically an entire Audio Commentary which you have to read, and is thus quite hard to follow. There appears to be plenty of background into the novel the movie was based on, the production designs and stunts done and so forth, but it is just not very accessible. Also ported from the DVD release we get the Extended Newscasts (although no sign of the Deleted 'lights out' sequence), an Interactive Stills Gallery and several Trailers and TV Spots for the main event.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder
Here we get an Audio Commentary from the Director Renny Harlin, who talks about how he was supposed to be working on Alien 3 but did not get the job and ended up being drafted in for this movie, how he was quite young when he directed this, the shooting schedules, the fake snow, where and when scenes were shot and how they did some of the stunts. It's a little dry, with very little input on the cast, the characters, the story or the franchise as a whole, but fans will probably still want to sit through it to pick up any of the few titbits that are on offer.
The four Deleted Scenes are a little disappointing, totalling 8 minutes of extra footage which is largely watch-once stuff. The only small gem is probably the scene where McClane has to tightrope walk across a deep fire shaft, which could have been left in. We also get 8 Featurettes: an HBO First Look, a Making-Of Featurette, Featurettes on: The Bad Guys, Breaking the Ice and Chaos on the Conveyor Belt, an Interview with the Director Renny Harlin, some Visual Effects Breakdowns and Side-by-side Storyboard Comparisons. Finally we get several Trailers and TV Spots for the main Feature, as well as Trailers for the other movies and Alien VS. Predator.
Die Hard with a Vengeance
Again we have an Audio commentary by the Director John McTiernan, returning from the first instalment, and this time partnered up with Writer Jonathan Hensleigh and Film Executive Tom Sherak. The Writer is actually much more interesting than McTiernan, and we get plenty of background into the various drafts of his script, the changes made, the ideas they had and what they think of the end result. It's great to hear about how they fought to keep the Harlem sequence in, how most of the Simon Says phone conversations were kept from the book, how they rate the movie alongside the others, where the original ending was supposed to be and the alternate ending that was shot. This Commentary is probably the best so far (second only to the Bruce Willis Commentary on the fourth film).
The Writer also contributes a companion Audio Commentary to what is essentially the best extra on this disc - the Alternate Ending - which completely reimagines the final act of the movie and has a much more satisfying close to the battle between Willis' McClane and Jeremy Irons' villain, Simon. Ok, so it may not quite have fit in place, but it is still so much more like what fans would have wanted from the final fight, rather than the helicopter-based 'shoot the power lines' scene we got. Recommended viewing.
There are several Featurettes, from the HBO First Look to CBS: A Night to Die For, as well as the Behind the Scenes Making of Die Hard with a Vengeance, a Villains with a Vengeance Featurette, Storyboard Sequences, Visual Effects Breakdowns, Side-by-side Effects Comparisons and an Interview with Bruce Willis himself. Most of it is pretty promotional (even the Interview) as with the Features found accompanying the previous two instalments, although many fans will sit through it all just to catch the glimpses of Willis and Sam Jackson chatting or commenting on-set.
Live Free or Die Hard
First up we get a full-length Audio commentary with Bruce Willis, Director Len Wiseman and Editor Nicolas De Toth. They talk quite extensively about the PG-13 cut, how it limited them, and what they could and could not get away with. Willis is actually a great source of Die Hard lore, and we hear plenty about the various drafts (how the daughter was not originally involved, how the computer programmer character was supposed to be Willis' son, how Willis was supposed to have been shot in the first action scene and so acts most of the movie as if he has been and even the original scripted ending) and so forth. There's plenty of background into the set designs, the effects, the stunts and how they filmed certain scenes. They talk about a couple of improvisations, some of the things that fit into place during the production, and it is probably the best Commentary of all of the four available, in no small part thanks to the fact that Bruce Willis himself finally contributes.
The 10-Part Documentary: " Analog Hero in a Digital World: Making of Live Free or Die Hard" is a mammoth, comprehensive affair, split into: Prelude, Attack of the Franchise, Cast and Characters, Texture and Tone, Unimaginable Feats, The Cutting Room, Eye Candy, The World of D.I., Sound and Fury, and Symphonic Boom. Most of these segments speak for themselves, with contributions from the Director, Editor, Composer and other crew members, alongside the main Cast members - including Willis himself, taking apart the production from pre- all the way through till post, with detailed visual dissections on the effects, the stunts etc. as well as talk about the characters and the various draft ideas they had.
Yippee-Ki-Yay Motherfu****! is a twenty-two minute chat between Kevin Smith and Bruce Willis. Smith, as you would expect, is quite frank and honest about things, and so he garners some nice responses from Willis, who talks about how he was never very happy about the two other sequels and how that made him sceptical about returning to the franchise. He discusses his confidence in the Director, dissects the value of the individual chapters (rating them Die Hard 1, 4, 3 and 2), talking about how he was more cocky in his youth and how he had more wisdom to bring to this production. They go back to the whole inception, discussing how he got the original role of John McClane, and I find it quite ironic that there's much more swearing in this Featurette than in the main (PG-13) feature - almost as much as in the uncut version so you wonder why they didn't include it! Still, it's easily the best extra and fans will simply lap up this extra time with Willis and Kevin Smith. And for those who want to know, they do talk briefly about Die Hard 5, even drawing comparisons to 24 as being its TV equivalent. Fingers crossed.
We get the Music video: "Die Hard" by Guyz Nite as well as a 5 minute companion Featurette going behind the scenes with the group about their production of the music video. It's quite a funny and enjoyable song and well worth checking out, basically comically summing up the four movies with a verse each. Considering how many awful music videos are normally included on home entertainment movie releases, it was nice to have one that it actually quite relevant and quite a decent extra.
The TV Special: "Fox Movie Channel Presents Fox Legacy", hosted by Tom Rothman, is basically an extended promotional offering advertising the franchise, and we also get trailers for all four Die Hard films and The Siege, also starring Willis.
Finally the Black Hat Intercept game is, whilst being both exclusive to Blu-ray and also a marked use of BD-Java, basically a very limited and poorly orchestrated alternative to Pac-man. It's an extremely limited, outdated game, introduced by Kevin Smith (in character) and is likely only to engage you for a few minutes if at all. Still, at least they are trying to use the new BD-Java technology, and it certainly does not detract from a very decent set of extras to round off this extras-laden Die Hard collection
The Die Hard collection has to one of the best four-movie action-film collections out there, with the first being an all-time top-ten action movie, and the rest actually managing to be - for the most part - fresh and engaging and at least comparable to their predecessor. I personally love the originality of the third instalment, and the banter between Willis and Jackson, and cheers at the return-to-form for Willis in the fourth outing, which - whilst others may disagree - is probably my second-favourite of the bunch. On Blu-ray the result is not quite as good as many fans would have hoped for, with the video and audio of the first two movies being slightly disappointing, improving for the third and excelling for the fourth. The extras almost match that of the relatively recent DVD special editions, and we get some nice new extras to adorn the fourth instalment and, overall, this is one of the must-have film box sets currently available on Blu-ray, and despite the fact that many fans will be annoyed that they will have to splash out on the uncut DVD edition of the fourth film for the superior cut and thus completeness, this set comes highly recommended.
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