Relive the danger, thrills with Willis in `Die Hard' set

Critics' Picks: New Dvds

June 17, 2007|By Chris Kaltenbach

DIE HARD COLLECTION -- 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment / $39.95

Baltimoreans eager to see their city on the big screen doubtless will be running to theaters June 27, when Live Free or Die Hard -- a good portion of which was shot along Calvert Street and other Charm City locations last September -- opens in theaters.

How nice that the folks at Fox Video are giving us a one-step chance to get caught up on all our Die Hard lore with this boxed set containing the first three films.

Die Hard, which introduced reluctant hero John McClane (Bruce Willis) to the world, remains the cream of the crop, if only because it featured the most memorable villain: German financial terrorist Hans Gruber, played with a sinister wink and an odd Anglo-German accent by the great Alan Rickman.

But unlike other franchises, Die Hard has (so far) kept its standards fairly high. There's little noticeable drop-off from 1988's Die Hard to 1990's Die Hard 2 to 1995's Die Hard: With a Vengeance. Yes, the formula has grown a little stale, as McClane constantly finds himself pulled into dire situations beyond his control (the first two films involved some degree of peril for his resilient wife, played by Bonnie Bedelia). But Willis, still one of Hollywood's most underrated actors, brings a weary verve to the proceedings (I know "weary" and "verve" don't always go together, but if you've seen any of the Die Hard films, you know what I mean).

Plus, as high-octane cinematic junk food, the Die Hard franchise is tough to beat. The villains are really nasty, danger surrounds our hero regardless of where he goes, lots of things get blown up real good and the good guys get all the best lines.

Best of all, in the third film, you get Willis teamed with Samuel L. Jackson. Now there's a pairing for the ages.

Special features

Not much. A "bonus" disc contains trailers for Live Free or Die Hard; a 36-minute look at the making of the first film, in which little genuine insight is offered; and a 16-minute featurette on Die Hard 2 and Die Hard: With a Vengeance, that jumps back and forth between interviews with Renny Harlin (who directed the second film) and John McTiernan (who directed the third). Oh yeah, and there's a coupon for up to $8.50 off a ticket to Live Free or Die Hard.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA --Walt Disney Video / $29.95

Largely -- and undeservedly -- ignored when it was released in February, Bridge to Terabithia (based on the novel by Katherine Paterson) is a wondrous ode to the importance of friendship and the power of imagination. Josh Hutcherson stars as a lonely boy, ignored by his father and just about everybody else in his family, who befriends the new girl in school, a free spirit played with a beguiling mix of innocence and moxie by AnnaSophia Robb. Before its release, the Internet was abuzz with rumors the film changed the book's tragic twist, and that it overwhelmed the story with special effects. It does neither.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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