It depends whether the film’s setting or its values are more important
‘TIS THE SEASON to discuss “Die Hard”. John McTiernan’s skyscraper-set explosion-fest is lodged firmly in the canon of classic action movies. The question which animates social media at this time of year is whether it should be included in the canon of Christmas films, too.
Some contend that it is in fact the greatest Christmas film of all (take that, “It’s A Wonderful Life”). Others object that just because a film is set at Christmas does not mean it is about Christmas. The debate has grown so heated that the “Die Hard” Wikipedia page now has a section entitled “Status as a Christmas film”. It notes that last year’s 30th-anniversary DVD included a tongue-in-cheek trailer which sold the film as a heartwarming holiday comedy. But it also notes the lead actor’s similarly tongue-in-cheek pronouncement on the matter: “‘Die Hard’ is not a Christmas movie! It is a goddamn Bruce Willis movie!”
Rewatched in the light of this debate, “Die Hard” does appear to be the cinematic equivalent of a jug of eggnog. It opens with a New York police detective, John McClane (Mr Willis), arriving at Los Angeles International Airport on December 24th. He plans to visit his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and his young children, and he is carrying a gargantuan teddy bear with a ribbon around its neck. His wife, it should be observed, is named Holly.
She is at her office Christmas party on the 30th floor of the Nakatomi Plaza building, where she fends off a colleague’s advances by reminding him what day it is: “It’s Christmas Eve. Families, stockings, chestnuts? Rudolph and Frosty? Any of these things ring a bell?” Run DMC’s “Christmas In Hollis” blasts on the soundtrack, decorations twinkle in every corner and the plot hinges on whether John and Holly can reconcile in time to open their presents together. What more could you want from a Hollywood Christmas film?
True, the main bearded character is not Santa Claus, but Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), a suave German criminal mastermind who takes the party-goers hostage while his gang breaks into the company vault. Yet when the first of the bad guys is killed, John plops a Santa hat on the corpse’s head, and scrawls a seasonal greeting on its grey sweatshirt: “Now I have a machine-gun. Ho-ho-ho.” (You can, of course, now buy sweatshirts printed with that message.) A limousine driver gets to deliver a closing line to rival Tiny Tim’s: “If this is their idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year’s!” All of this explains the popularity of the internet meme and slogan (spoiler alert): “It’s not Christmas until Hans Gruber falls from the Nakatomi Tower.”
On the other hand, is Christmas really integral to the screenplay, which was adapted by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza from “Nothing Lasts Forever”, a novel by Roderick Thorp? Wouldn’t the siege have been just as exciting if John had visited Holly for Thanksgiving? Besides, he doesn’t defeat Hans by being generous, or Christian, or family-minded. He does it by being tough, resourceful and capable of swinging through a plate-glass window with a fire-hose knotted around his waist. Judging by its themes and its narrative thrust, declare the naysayers, “Die Hard” is a Christmassy film, but not a Christmas one.
You can see why critics have found it so difficult to reach a consensus. The anti-Christmas faction points out that the film’s original release date was July 1988, and so it is fundamentally a summer blockbuster. The pro-Christmas faction counters that “Miracle On 34th Street” came out in June 1947. The anti-Christmasites protest that no film relating to peace on earth and goodwill to men should depict quite so many people being shot in the chest. The pro-Christmasites’ answer: well, there was nothing jolly about the Massacre of the Innocents, either.
Your correspondent refuses to take sides, and would rather make a case for George Lazenby’s Bond movie, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, being a Christmas film, what with the Alpine setting, Blofeld’s prezzie-dependent world-domination scheme and 007’s seasonal one-liners (“Maybe you should have been gift-wrapped!”). But if you mention the “Die Hard” debate to your loved ones on December 25th, it should keep you arguing for hours. When it comes down to it, that is really what Christmas is all about.
Source: The Economist