Monday, February 18, 2019


For the last 25 years of my life, film has been an integral part of who I am.  Watching films, talking about films, reading about films...anything I could do to broaden my horizon and expand my knowledge, I was up for.  So when I heard about this new book that covered the history of one of the greatest action films of all time, I knew I had to check it out.  And thanks to the amazing folks over at Insight Editions, I was lucky enough to get that chance.

My first experience with the Die Hard franchise wasn’t what most people would assume.  In fact, I hadn’t seen the original Die Hard until 2006.  Instead, the film I fell in love with was the third installment in the series, Die Hard With A Vengeance.  The first time I saw it was on VHS about a year after it first came out.  This movie was a perfect entry point for me, even if I was probably too young to be watching it (I was around 12 at the time).  This film, along with others like Jurassic Park, Pulp Fiction, and Mallrats, began to shape me into the cinephile I am today.  But it wasn’t until 10 years later that I finally sat down and watched the film that launched this franchise.

My experience watching Die Hard was an experience unlike most.  This was a piece of cinematic history.  A piece of art that unequivocally changed the course of filmmaking, and deservedly so.  What John McTiernan did here was create something special that would permeate the pop culture zeitgeist for the next three decades, spawning four sequels and a myriad of films inspired by its greatness.  I was in total awe of what I was watching.  I was afraid that the movie couldn't possibly live up to the insane amount of hype surrounding it - but I was dead wrong.

Die Hard: The Ultimate Visual History dives deep into that greatness, and breaks down everything you’ve ever wanted to know about this film.  This must-have, 240-page, hardcover tome of knowledge was released into the world last year during the film’s 30th anniversary.  Authors James Mottram and David S. Cohen do an incredible job covering all five movies in great detail.  They also included some amazing extras like loose script pages and storyboards, building blueprints and prop photos, and even an entire deleted scene in a storyboard booklet.  It’s not only an amazing book to read, but it’s an amazing art book as well.

The very first thing you notice about this book, even before you pick it up, is the beautifully vibrant cover that simple pops off the page. And that’s just the beginning.  You open it up to a plethora of wonderful photographs from the films, beautiful concept art, and snippets from the script printed in the margins of several pages.

The book starts off with an incredible forward by the film’s director, John McTiernan.  He tells the story of how he launched this film, and it's a fascinating tale.  He also confirms that the original film is in fact a Christmas movie.  It goes on to spend half the book telling the story of how Die Hard came to be, including the original book it was based on and just how similar, yet different, it really was.  I learned that there was a bevy of actors offered the role of John McClane, from Frank Sinatra, who had first refusal rights due to his role in The Detective (which was based on the first book in the series), to Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman.  It was even rumored that actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, and more were offered the role, yet they all turned it down.

It breaks down all the side characters like Holly, Sgt. Powell, Harry Ellis, Agents Johnson and Johnson, Argyle, Karl, and, course, Hans Gruber, played by the amazingly talented Alan Rickman.  The book talks about everything from the lighting and camera work, to costuming and special effects.  There’s even a great section that details some of the fight scenes and shows some great behind-the-scenes photos.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the story of Hans Gruber’s death scene.  Apparently, Alan Rickman was told that they’d drop him on a count of three, but stunt coordinator Charlie Picerni told the rig operator to drop him on one, resulting in a very authentically terrified shot of Rickman.  McTiernan talked Rickman into doing a second take to put him at ease, but the one they used, the one that wound up on screen, was that first, terrified take.  And it’s things like this that make Die Hard such a special film.

This book is a must-have for any film lover, and especially for fans of Die Hard.  So do yourself a favor and go pick this one up right now, you won’t regret it!  Yippee Ki-yay, Movie Lovers!

The Merc's Score: 10/10


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