TROUBLE CITY

LATE TO THE PARTY #4: DIE HARD

Movie NewsIan ArbuckleComment

Late to the PartyIt's another Late to the Party, right on time. I've spent the last couple editions of my cinematic catch-up saga going over my history as a film geek, and my introduction to the worlds beyond the PG-rated and the popcorn. It's high time I returned to the present, to expose the shame that lingers with me in the form of the long list of stuff I haven't yet seen.

As always, epithets can be hurled at me via e-mail: iandonnell@gmail.com. I respond politely to abuse.

Die Hard

I was five years old when Die Hard made its theatrical debut. That doesn't necessarily preclude my having caught in the theaters; I had a friend who, by the age of seven, had been subjected to Alien, Aliens, Die Hard, Dirty Harry, and any number of other violent, awesome flicks. This was at a time when Jurassic Park was the most intense movie I dared to watch.

As a child, I was a pussy. (Now that I am a man, I know how to exploit words like "sensitive" and "artistic temperament" to justify my entertainment preferences, but the fact is all that has really changed is my vocabulary.) That was something of an intentional decision on the parts of my parents, withdrawing things of questionable moral value from my life until I had arms long enough to pull them down for myself. In fourth grade, when Die Hard came out, I had shrimpy arms.

Not so with my friend Aaron, whose father practically insisted on Basic Instinct during family night. Aaron was a school friend; we would hang out during recess and choose each other as partners during group activities, but I rarely saw him outside of the classroom. The first time I got to visit his house was an education. I learned about how the bypass most of Super Mario Bros. 3; I learned how a silencer works; and I heard the word "motherfucker" for the very first time.

A child's introduction to profanity isn't something to be taken lightly. Curse words are a glorious tool, in the mouths of babes, for nonviolent rebellion. Imagine having grown up on what you believed was a complete mode of expression, and then someone introduces you to a few new emotions you hadn't yet been able to encapsulate in words within the confines of your own brain.

Yeah, "Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker" was something of a turning point in my life, long before I even watched the movie from which it originated. Consequently, I regarded Die Hard fondly all through my childhood, despite having watched it for the first time just a few days ago. Because of its immense popularity in my generation — and in the generation just preceding mine, whose opinions I have occasionally been known to ape — the entire movie was spoiled for me, going in. There wasn't a plot point or action sequence that hadn't been explained to me, in passing and in great detail.

I think it's worth my spending a little time to discuss my position on spoilers, seeing as how being late to the party on so many films nigh guarantees that you'll encounter some — in my case, several that I wish I hadn't heard. Bits of films enter popular culture, and no amount of careful browsing can protect you from 'ironic' posts containing such beauties as: "Bruce Willis is a ghost!" There are a few movie experiences for which I wish the mystery had been preserved, but generally I don’t give a rat's about plot revelations. Plot is only one of a number of tethered components in good filmmaking, and knowing some tidbits from the story has never ruined the quality of a film for me. The impact, maybe, but not the quality.

That's all good for me, of course, given that I've got a list a mile long of films to catch up on; I already know the plots for roughly two-thirds of those. So, what concerns me — especially in this column — is how fresh the experience of a film can be, despite having been a small facet of my life and linguistics since childhood.

At least in Die Hard's case, that concern hasn't got a leg to stand on. I've seen (and enjoyed) other John McTiernan films, but after a single viewing I don't think he's even come close to topping the adventures of John McClane. I'm going to list off the things that I loved, just so you readers can have the chance to nod sagely and prepare to welcome me into the fold. The kinesis in the action sequences was perfect, with a believable momentum thanks largely, I suspect, to the editing of John F. Link and Frank J. Urioste. The quips and one-liners scored each and every times. The occasionally outrageous dialogue gets sold entirely by the cast. Alan Rickman is very much like god.

I love watching reference point movies, the ones that crystallize whatever has preceded them and stand as pinnacle for all those that follow. Chinatown did it for the noir genre; Alien for the sci-fi. Now that I've seen Die Hard, I'm becoming aware of all the debts owed it by other weightless, tense American action since 1988. It kinda feels like going to grandpa and learning what WWII was like, straight from the mouth of someone who was there. Now I can contribute authentically to discourse! God, that makes me happy.

It's always fascinating to me to see which bits of cinema survive in the public mind. In the case of retooled noir, why does Chinatown enjoy so much more of the glow of public perception than The Conversation? Using public sentiment as an endorsement for artistry never works well; but, from time to time, the populace and the pretentious (I mean me, in this case) come into alignment. Die Hard is going to survive a good, long time, for so many more reasons than its plot.

Fuck, yeah.