Spelling it out: A message for those on the Naughty List

A Christmas office party goes with way more than a swing when it’s gatecrashed by a German gang of pseudo-terrorists


A plane touches down and over the tannoy, a female voice announces: ‘The Captain and the crew would like to welcome you to Los Angeles.’ A supposedly tough cop (he’s been doing the job 11 years yet still happens to be a nervous flyer) pulls a huge soft teddy bear out of the overhead locker. As he and others struggle down the aisle towards the plane’s exit, the voice over the tannoy declares: ‘Have a very Merry Christmas.’

There are jingly sleighbells on the soundtrack as the New York cop, bear under arm (Bruce Willis in a career-defining role) lights up before he’s even beyond the baggage carousel. And then introducing himself as John McClane to a waiting limo driver there to whisk him to the high-end office block of the Nakatomi Corporation to meet his estranged wide, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia, equally career-defining) can only wonder from the passenger seat: ‘Don’t you got any Christmas music?‘ To which chauffeur, Argyle (De’voreux White) fires back, ‘This is Christmas music!’ cranking up Run DMC’s ; ‘Christmas In Hollis’’.

Christmas Strokes For Different Folks

Meanwhile the Nakotomi office party is underway, but still in work mode Holly is having to fend off an oily co-workers’ dubious charms. ‘Hey, Holly, what about dinner tonight?’ ‘’Harry, it’s Christmas Eve,’ she parries back, ‘Families. Stocking., Chestnuts?’ Rudolph and Frosty? Any of those things ring a bell?’ She has a very clear and traditional idea of what Christmas means to her. ‘Actually, I was thinking more of mulled wine, a nice aged Brie, and a roaring fireplace, you know what I’m saying?’ slimes Harry. But Holly’s mind is on other people. On entering her office, she dismisses her P.A: ‘Jenny, it’s 5.40. Ho hoin the party. Have some champagne. You’re making me feel like Eneneezer Scrooge.’

Both John and Holly might be devoted to their careers – it is what’s set them living in separate cities – yet they’ve each warm and humane sides to them. Holly then calls home to speak to her small children and find out from Paulina, her maid whether John has been in touch. He hasn’t. But then John turns up unannounced at the office and things subtly change. There are certainly differences to be ironed out – not least Holly reverting to her maiden name, Gennaro for business purposes – but they are still married, and they have both missed each other.

Santa Down So It’s McClanetime Instead

John is getting himself into a cleaner, more grounded gear in the office bathroom when a gang of .German crooks led by henchman Hans Gruber (a sneering stand-out Alan Rickman in his movie debut), burst into the celebrations and a shoot-out and mass kidnap ensues. Cop to the last, a hidden McClane takes it upon himself to fight back. While trying on the shoes of a terrorist he’s just killed, he sees the company Santa shot dead, and ruefully smiles: ‘This is Mcclanetime.’ (Yet it will take more than one man. Interestingly, Argyle’s sole job is to ‘also serve who sits in the car and waits in an underground car park’ the entire film until he is latterly called to act and help save the day,)

Loosely based on Roderick Thorp’s novel, ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, Die Hard (1988) plays like a blockbuster version of a J.G Ballard nightmare novel with the gleaming glass skyscraper (Fox’s newly built Plaza Building) as much a character as the Christmas setting, and indeed, the winter snow happens to be in Die Hard 2. But what raises the first of what, to date is a quintet above other actioners full of shoot-outs, helicopter smash-ups, lift shaft and heating duct gymnastics, and full-scale vehicle and building explosions is that Die Hard has wit and heart.

Cinematic Ode To Joy And Entertainment

The tone of Die Hard was very important for director, John McTiernan: ‘Putting joy within the story was my principal concern going into it,’ he explains on the dvd commentary. ‘finding ways you could get some humour that wasn’t forced, at least lightness; finding ways in which you could just simply enjoy what was going on.’ The seemingly strange choice of having the bad guys as ‘mere’ thieves as opposed to actual terrorists reflected this decision. That Gruber and co. are seemingly addicted to humming or whistling Beethoven’s 9th Symohony aka the Ode to Joy underscored McTiernan’s choice.

If nothing else, the series of Die Hard films has proved to be the tale of a working class Catholic guy’s attempts to be a good husband to Holly and father to Lucy and John – and more often than not, failing abysmally. In the context of the Christmas season, McClane has attempted to return to his family as so many others cross country to do at that time of year. (In the context of Christmas, Hollywood tends to feel more comfortable defining the religious as Catholics as in While You Were Sleeping and Untamed Heart.)

McClane has to face death and realise that ‘Holly’s the best thing to ever happen to a bum like me’ and see a building explode before, covered in blood he is reunited with his wife, embracing her. Shredded paper falls from above like snow (an image tainted post 9/11),‘Let It Snow’ is on the soundtrack, and Christmas Day is here.

A review of A Good Day To Die Hard can be found in the Recent Posts section of the sidebar.

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