Release Date: June 19, 2007.
Collection Rating: /
Starring: Bruce Willis (John McClane), Reginald Veljohnson (Sgt. Al Powell), Bonnie Bedelia (Holly Gennero McClane), Alan Rickman (Hans Gruber), William Sadler (Col. Stuart), Samuel L. Jackson (Zeus Carver), Jeremy Irons (Simon Gruber)
Directed by: John McTiernan (Die Hard, Die Hard: With A Vengeance) & Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2)
The Die Hard collection can be found in almost every action movie fan’s DVD collection. Die Hard became an immediate hit in 1988, threw Bruce Willis into stardom, and became the unofficial Christmas movie on cable TV. It spun two successful sequels that were equally as exciting and colourful. The stories are simple but there is a lot going on in them. Most of you are familiar with these films so I’ll be brief with the synopsis to get to the disc details faster.
All John McClane wanted was some family time over the holidays. Die Hard has this New York cop visiting his wife in L.A. finding himself in over his head outsmarting terrorists who have taken over a 40-story building on Christmas Eve. In the second film, he again finds himself in the middle of terrorists taking over a Washington airport and he takes them out with his own style. The last instalment (until now) has John as the target of a terrorist and is sent on a comedic wild goose chase in New York city and struggling to keep up with the deadly game before citizens die.
These are great action films in the sense of their believability even though they are full of silly moments. Nothing is too far fetched yet we are willing to believe the unbelievable, probably because John McClane is no hero – he’s just an ordinary guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and had enough wit to do something about it. Never seen these films? You are missing out on some great action with warm characters.
Rather than repackaging the previous Die Hard: Ultimate Collection released in 2001 (these films have been repackaged so many times the fourth film should be John McClane in a Star Wars film), Fox put these three films in slimcases with new cover art and included a fourth disc with promotional features for the fourth film (another box set in the future, do you think??) The box set also includes are discount coupon to see the fourth film in theatres as well as an informational insert.
VIDEO QUALITY: DIE HARD: 3/5
VIDEO QUALITY: DIE HARD 2: 4/5
VIDEO QUALITY: DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE: 1.5/5
Despite having being approved by THX as high quality transfers, these 2.35:1 films could look much better on DVD. It is no secret that these discs look bad; these films have looked exactly the same since their days on laserdisc and every DVD release beyond that. These transfers need to be worked on again before any re-release. More homes are viewing with larger screens than ever before because of an influx of low cost high resolution video displays. People are seeing the dirt, the flaws, and the nitty gritty artefacts of old technology. In fact, I was a bit surprised that Fox didn’t do a new transfer for this box set given that they could have been excellent titles for a high definition release upon the release of the fourth film in theatres. Having some new HD transfers ready to go for a high-def release and using them for this DVD release would have been my choice, but ultimately I don’t work at Fox.
Rather than writing about each transfer individually, I’d rather point out their strengths and weaknesses in a single writing. The reality is that there aren’t many strengths to the video quality except for Die Hard 2’s image. It is the most pleasing and acceptable, and looks much like new transfers that are released today. If it suffers from anything at all, it would be that contrast is slightly low and it’s a bit soft by today’s standards. Occurring image artefacts are low and that’s a relief when contrasting it to the other two films. Colours are naturally pleasing and only a slight amount of edge outlining is present.
As the opening of Die Hard occurred, I was frustrated with how soft the image was. On a big screen it’s a blur and is unacceptable to me. For such a great movie, it’s a tough watch. I like the cinematography in this film but its effectiveness is reduced by a very dirty, unpolished print. Artificial edge enhancement is noticed, but in small amounts. Colours have a slightly muted look and matches relatively close to the second film, accentuating the dim lighting and the grey interiors. Shadow detail is fair and dark areas of the picture are grainy. This film desperately needs a new transfer from the best available elements.
After viewing the first film’s DVD, I wasn’t surprised to see no changes for Die Hard: With a Vengeance. This is the film that goes down on record as forever having the worst transfer ever. We’ve all seen bad film elements and we sometimes must be forgiving for their age or unintentional damage over the years. Die Hard: With A Vengeance is only a little over ten years old yet it’s the biggest atrocity on DVD ever. It all started with the THX-approved transfer with its debut on laserdisc released in 1996. It had a harsh digital look to it that was somewhat subdued by laserdisc’s resolution limit. When it was released on a non-anamorphic DVD in 1999 and as an anamorphic special edition in 2001, both discs had the same ugly look. It’s now 2007 and still nothing different has been done to this film. It’s absolutely awful on a big screen and it’s not an overstatement. The overly-processed look with excessive edge enhancement kills any real fine detail – and resolution is severely lacking. Background images are unclear, and halos plague every object especially when contrasted with bright background. Film grain has a processed look giving it the most unnatural appearance ever. Even the colours look off in this film – it’s a bit too warm at times even though it seems intentional. The problem is that it just doesn’t work all of the time. Image contrast is about the only decent aspect of the picture. Black levels look solid enough and white levels are just at the point before looking clipped. It’s no wonder why THX-approval means nothing to me. They can’t guarantee anything more than a studio’s hard work done right. …and when it’s done wrong, well, they get paid anyway. Meh…
AUDIO QUALITY: DIE HARD: DD/DTS 3.5/5
AUDIO QUALITY: DIE HARD 2: DD 3.5/5 DTS 4/5
AUDIO QUALITY: DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE: DD/DTS 4/5
All three soundtracks have a lively presence in the sound. The soundtrack is designed to have good ambience most of the time. Music and effects all bleed into the surrounds for the first two films. The first two films don’t benefit from any directional effects even though they are encoded in 5.1. The mono surround information has been encoded in two discrete channels with the information slightly out of phase so it’s given a sense of space to the sides rather than pinpoint phantom positioned between the two surrounds. The LFE channel is used sparingly for the first film; I could count with my fingers the number of times it was used, and when it was used, it was at a low volume. There is much more bass information in the front channels. The second film’s LFE is more frequent and powerful and the third was originally mixed with a dedicated .1 LFE channel so its use is even more effective.
What’s great about all three films is the music score. It’s awesome and it’s well recorded in the mix with good depth that extends deep into the front soundstage. I thought the sound effects were layered with it quite effectively and were rarely out of place with the rest of the mix. Background hiss can be a problem in all three films, especially around dialogue in the centre channel, but even appearing in the main channels in some scenes. Dialogue is a bit forward but improves progressively with each film.
I could really tell the differences between the DTS and Dolby Digital encodes on these releases. Ensuring they were level matched, many sounds in the Dolby Digital encode are actually lower in volume than the DTS encode. For example, listening to the sound of a car’s horn honking away were the same volume on both encodes (using a sound level meter to verify) but the rest of the street sounds were lower in volume and not as active sounding as in the DTS encode. Both are lossy codecs and are missing a lot of information from an uncompressed PCM soundtrack, but the DTS soundtrack is the preferred option here. This is especially true with Die Hard 2: Die Harder because the surround channels on the Dolby Digital encode are -3dB below the surround levels in the DTS encode (the latter sounding more coherent with the main channels).
TACTILE FUN!! /
TACTILE TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: ON
The LFE has limited use and is more prevalent on the third film enhancing the film’s most engaging action moments.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 3.5/5
These discs have little of the special features offered in the Ultimate Collection released in 2001. Knowing that this is repetitive info for most readers, I’ll be brief with most of it. All three films include the audio commentaries. Die Hard has director John McTiernan and production designer Jackson DeGovia and a second scene specific commentary by special effects supervisor Richard Edlund. A special subtitle commentary by various cast and crew members provide addition material not covered in the audio commentaries.
This disc also includes the alternate version of Die Hard with the “unfinished” scenes for the extended power shutdown sequence (some shots are black and white). This branching feature is only available in the special features menu so make sure you access that point before playing the film (as an aside, this release also includes a few more short additional shots/dialogue moments not on the non-anamorphic DVD and laserdisc). A DVD-ROM script-to-screen comparison is also included.
The second and third film has director commentaries from Renny Harlin and John McTiernan respectfully.
The fourth disc, Yippee Ki Yay Bonus Disc includes approximately 61-minutes of promotional material and featurettes. There are two trailers for Live Free or Die Hard (Die Hard 4.0, MSN Roadblock Trailer, 4:3lbx). Two new featurettes are based on the previous films: Wrong Guys, Wrong Place, Wrong Time: A Look Back at Die Hard (16:9, 39.58). It features actors and crew discussing the tone, humour, and structure of the films. The Continuing Adventures of John McClane (16:9, 15.27) is the second featurette with Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin. Again, some insight to the film is provided – they are both nice to watch and that’s about it.
IN THE END...
My immediate recommendation for anyone considering this box set who already owns the previous DVDs is to stay away from it. Honestly, it’s even tough to recommend this set to someone who doesn’t own any of these films because they don’t measure up to the quality that we see today. But (and there’s always a "but") if you can put aside the raunchy quality of the video, these are very enjoyable films that I’ll keep watching to my very end. If you want to check them out, just rent the copies at your local video store since they will most likely be the 2001 special editions.
June 24, 2007.
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