Minutia Madness: Die Hard Edition
By Bret Dorman
(As always, SPOILERS! may apply to the movie in discussion.)Everyone knows what makes a movie good. Blurbs like “compelling”, “powerful”, and “explosive non stop thrill ride that will leave you on the edge of your seat!” are common place on movie posters. In reviews (including my own) people point out how the direction is “great”, how the writing is “awesome”, and how the acting is “wonderful”. Every once in a while you can find a really great essay from a smart film critic (a real one) or film maker that actually explains why a movie is good and helps you as a viewer become a better film watcher.
But what about those small moments that fall in between the cracks? I understand the need to talk about a movie in the broad sense, its the easiest most SPOILER! free way of saying if you liked or didn’t like a movie. I prefer people to talk in specifics, to actually know why something is good or bad. But this goes beyond all that. This is blowing the tiniest detail way out of proportion. This is what makes me a film nerd. This is Minutia Madness!!!
Written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza; Directed by John McTiernan
John McClane is a man’s man. He’s from New York and doesn’t like the care free and glamourous life style of Californians. He doesn’t ride in the back of limos. He walks over glass when needed. He even threatens to kill, cook, then eat a bad guy. Presumably with barbecue sauce and a beer. He has relationship problems because he’s stubborn and he’s miserable because he’s always getting shot at.
The moment of the day though, occurs about 40 minutes into the movie. After one of the biggest “Fuck You’s” in action movie history (Ho-Ho-Ho Now I Have A Machine Gun), McClane is stealthily doing some reconnaissance atop the elevator. As it rises, there is a sense of more manly coolness as McClane doesn’t seem out of place on top of the elevator surrounded by all the guts and wires of Nakatomi Plaza. He works his way through the building, adjusting to its every twist, turn, and duct. Later, during a shootout, he sees something familiar and for a moment, knows where he is. Here are the two segments back to back:
McClane, in the midst of being in a tense situation (with his own loved one’s life on the line) that deserves his completely undivided attention, still takes a moment out to appreciate some naked pictures of ladies. Man’s man? or Manliest man? Moments later, while being shot at directly, McClane acknowledges the girls, giving them a tap, while he tries to find his bearings. In this predicament, any little advantage he can get helps. Using various parts of the unfamiliar territory as landmarks can help him identify and maneuver his way around faster. Of course McClane chooses one of his landmarks to be some nude cutouts. Nakatomi Plaza is a building that is under construction. Meaning people are going in and out of the various parts of the building all day. And presumably everyone has a specialty. Electricians, plumbers, carpenters, machine workers, and so on. What’s fun to imagine about this small detail in Die Hard, is that some dude, who works on the inner workings of buildings, took time out of his day to paste those pictures there, so that in the midst of being yelled at by his foreman and before having to go home to his own troubled marriage, he had a place to go to that was secluded and he could take a moment to be at peace. I’m sure that construction worker passed through that part of the building numerous times a day… and every single time I’m sure those pictures brightened up his day just a little tiny bit. For John McClane, they serve the same purpose.
Movies cost a lot of money to make and like to make that money back. Most people think that the best way to make their money back is to appeal to as many people as possible, usually using the most bland methods. But the way to relate to people isn’t through generality, its through specifics. The more general you are, the less people have something to latch on to. The more specific you are, the more people can identify with what your movie is showing, even if it’s not exactly 100% the same as their own experiences. Nothing is more bland and uninviting than the stairwells and catwalks of a building under construction. Hell, even fully finished buildings are boring once you go behind those doors that aren’t meant for the general public. For someone to put this tiny detail of some naked women into a movie already packed with excitement and violence, and to have its main character acknowledge it, only strengthens the idea that more is better. More specifics, more details, and more nudity. Always more nudity.
Die Hard is full of the big moments. We all know and love those moments. But Die Hard is also filled with many tiny moments as well. So much so that it deserves more than just one entry in the Minutia Madness Hall of Fame. No movie has made more of an impact on the modern action movie than Die Hard and no movie does machismo action better. There’s a reason why it’s known by action fans and non action fans alike as the Greatest Action Movie of All Time. Those reasons are numerous. But this minute moment is one of them.
So what do you think? Are these naked ladies cause for so much celebration? Or am I just crazy for focusing on this minute detail?