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December 21, 2020

Quarantine Cafe: Die Hard Edition

A couple of years ago, I saw an outstanding mini-documentary on YouTube. It relayed some trivia/behind the scenes stuff I already knew, but a lot of new stuf I'd never heard before.

I've searched for the doc but can't find it now. It had interviews with screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza as well as with director John McTiernan, so it was well-sourced.

Below, a list of ten cool things about Die Hard, many of which come from this documentary I cannot link for you.

1. Die Hard is a sequel, in a way, to the Frank Sinatra movie The Detective.

The Detective was based on the novel by Roderick Thorp (a name you might recognize). In that movie, Frank Sinatra played Joe Leland, a NYC detective.

Roderick Thorp went on to write a sequel called Nothing Lasts Forever, again featuring Joe Leland. That sequel involved terrorists taking over an office building, with Leland caught in the crossfire.

2. The lead role in Die Hard was initially offered to Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra was 70 years old in 1985, when Die Hard was being put together as a concept. The producers didn't really want Sinatra to star in the action movie -- but it was legally required that they do so, because Sinatra had some kind of legal option on the sequel.

They offered him the role, hoping he'd pass. He did. He decided he was too old to play the role again.

And thus, "John Leland" became "John McClane," so as not to confuse people into thinking this was in fact a direct sequel to 1968's The Detective.

3. The John McClane role was offered to just about every warm body in Hollywood.

After Sinatra passed, the producers offered the lead role to all the people you'd guess they'd offer an action movie lead in the mid-80s to: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, James Caan, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, and others.

Pretty much the role was offered to anyone not named "Bruce Willis."

They were all either uninterested or unavailable. I think they tried to sell Schwarzenegger on the idea that the story would make a good sequel for his "John Matrix" character in Commando.

Getting desperate, they offered it to television actor Bruce Willis, who played a detective on Moonlighting, but as a glib comedic figure, not as a badass.

The studio was very skeptical that Bruce Willis, hot off the non-success of the romantic comedy Blind Date, could carry a movie at all, let alone an action movie.

The studio eventually put out a marketing blitz to sell people on the idea that Bruce Willis could even be an action star.

They did a Hard Sell on Die Hard's star.

I'm only 29 (well, almost 29), so I don't remember this era, but older uncles all tell me that one of the biggest pre-release complaints about Die Hard was that there was no way this skinny-necked TV clown could convince anyone that he was an action-hero toughguy.

My uncles tell me that even when they went to the theater, they were still expecting a disaster (despite the excellent tv commercials).

Bruce Willis was paid $5 million to star at the movie -- which was a salary almost unheard-of back then, especially because Willis was not any kind of proven box office draw.

I don't know if I heard this, heard someone speculating this, or just made it up myself: But I have it in my head somewhere that the studio offered Willis $5 million partly just to generate buzz and convince people he really was an action star. I mean, if a studio is paying him five million dollars to play an action hero, then he must be really good at playing an action hero, right?

Again, I don't know where I'm getting that. It sounds pretty stupid, now that I think about it.

By the way, Bruce Willis also turned down the role when it was first offered to him, because he was committed to shooting Moonlighting and was unavailable during Die Hard's planned shooting schedule.

But Cybil Shephard got pregnant, and the show went on haitus for some months to give her some time to deliver, and that gave Willis the time to shoot Die Hard.

4. They offered the director's chair to John McTiernan, hot off his success on Predator. He also repeatedly turned it down.

McTiernan's biggest complaint was that the script was about terrorists. In previous interviews, he's said that he considered terrorists too depressing for a big fun summer blockbuster.

They kept trying to convince McTiernan. He ultimately tell them: Fine, but I want the script rewritten so that they're not terrorists.

And so the screenwriter came up with the great twist that Hans Gruber is pretending to be terrorists, but in fact is just a "common thief."

I'm sorry -- I mean he's an extraordinary thief. My bad.

The terrorists in the novel Nothing Lasts Forever were German, too.

John McTiernan made another important demand: He wanted the script to be lighter, particularly in scenes involving the terrorists (well, thieves pretending to be terrorists).

I think his idea was that if the terrorists/thieves were just completely unpleasant, any time they're on the screen talking would be equally unpleasant for the audience. The audience wouldn't mind spending time with the terrorists if they were somewhat likable.

This was a very important choice.

McTiernan kicked off the whole "Bad Guy Is So Likeable You Secretly Want Him to Become Friends With the Good Guy" trope that would dominate 80s and 90s movies.

5. "Nakatomi Plaza Tower" was played by the Twentieth Century Fox Plaza Tower in Century City.

The Fox Building had just opened weeks before filming, and was also still under construction during filming -- just like Nakatomi Plaza. Scenes of under-construction floors of the building were in fact real.

In the videos below the fold, there's a good behind-the-scenes video about the use of miniatures in the film.

6. The scene in which McCain meets Hans Gruber was added during filming, because Alan Rickman's American accent was funny.

In the script, McCain did not face down Gruber until the end of the movie.

The scene of Gruber pretending to be an American hostage -- "Bill Clay" -- was written during the shoot. Rickman was doing an American accent to make people laugh, and they thought it was so funny they should include it in the movie.

Thus, in just a few days, one of the greatest scenes in the movie was hastily thrown together.

7. The villains' escape plan of driving away from the Nakatomi massacre in an ambulance was also a very late addition, added only as shooting was wrapping up.

Gruber's plan to escape is to blow up the top of the Nakatomi Tower and all of the hostages there to make it appear as though he and his men killed themselves in a terrorist statement.

But there was no actual explanation about how they actually intended to physically escape the Nakatomi Plaza area.

John McTiernan was bothered by this plot hole and asked the screenwriter (I think it was Steven E. de Souza who was on-set, doing rewrites; Jeb Stuart had been let go earlier) to come up with an explanation as to how the criminals intended to escape.

De Souza came up with the idea of the ambulance hidden inside the tractor-trailer that was seen earlier in the movie.

One problem: Earlier shots of that trailer did not show any ambulance inside -- because, of course, the whole concept of the hidden ambulance didn't exist when they shot those early scenes.

They decided to not worry about it, figuring that no one would notice that the ambulance only appears later.

They were right. No one did notice, except I guess years later, and only because Die Hard was so frequently rewatched, and rewatched on high-quality digital.

A lot of decisions were made late in the production, and almost all of them paid off well.

8. The look of surprise on Hans Gruber's face as he plummets from the top of Nakatomi Tower is real.

Alan Rickman volunteered to take this fall himself.

They suspended him by a harness about forty feet above air-mats. (I'm guessing the air-mats were in chroma-key blue or green so they could replace them later with an image of the street below).

They set the camera above Rickman, looking down at him.

The plan, supposedly, was that McTiernan would count down from 3 -- 3, 2, 1, fire -- and the harness would be released and then Rickman would stop falling.

But the story goes that McTiernan wanted Rickman's face to show genuine terror and surprise, so he skipped the countdown and just ordered the harness released immediately.

Alan Rickman seems to dispute this, saying he doesn't remember any business involving the countdown to release.

9. Die Hard started a chain of imitators, all with pitch-lines that read, "It's like Die Hard in a [X]."

Die Hard was the first in a series of what have come to be called "Siege movies," where a group of well-armed mercenaries, terrorists, or other criminals take over location and one or a couple of outgunned heroes have to do battle with them.

"Die Hard in an [X] movies" made soon after Die Hard included:

Speed 2: Cruise Control: Die Hard on a cruise liner!

Under Siege: Die Hard on a battleship!

Sudden Death: Die Hard in a hockey game!

Masterminds: Die Hard in a boys' boarding school!

Air Force One: Die Hard in an Air Force One!

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory: Die Hard on a train!

Cliffhanger: Die Hard on some cliffs!

White House Down: Die Hard in a White House!

Philadelphia: Die Hard in a t-cell!

Just kidding about that, of course.

Die Hard's sequels of course did this as well. Die Hard 2: Die Harder was Die Hard in an airport, and Die Hard with a Vengeance was Die Hard in All of New York City.

There was an amusing thing I remember happening. If you remember this: Anna Niccole Smith was at one point a celebrity people knew. Her tits were so big they thought, we should put those tits in some movies.

She appeared in a Die Hard rip-off called Skyscraper.

If memory serves me -- and maybe it's actually telling me lies here -- Skyscraper was advertised as Die Hard in a skyscraper!

If you can imagine such a thing!

What a great idea. I wonder what took them so long to think of that.

10. In 2018, thirty years after Die Hard's release, Twentieth Century Fox released a recut commercial for the film, confirming that it is in fact a Christmas movie.

The "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" debate was kind of funny back in 2005 or whenever it got started. It really began to annoy me when Jonah Goldberg, Sonny Bunch, David French and the rest of the Is Hotdog Sandwich? gang endlessly repeated it as a rote part of their Twitter cyberflirtation rituals.

Still, it was funny for a while.

And the recut commercial was amusing. See the video of it below. Plus a few other interesting videos about Die Hard.



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posted by Ace at 07:20 PM

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