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Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 11/20/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/15/2007

Let's start with a brief time-line. When Moonlighting premiered in 1985, I was instantly hooked and really like star Bruce Willis. (I even went to see Blind Date in the theater!) The trailer for Die Hard made the film look good and I was interested in seeing Willis in an action role. To put it mildly, I was blown away by Die Hard and it quickly became one of my favorite films. Although my interest in Willis' work waned over the years, I was still first in line for Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Die Hard with a Vengeance. When Live Free or Die Hard was announced, I was wary, as it had been 12 years since the last film. Now having seen the film, I'm glad to say this very cliched line: John McClane is back!

Live Free or Die Hard opens with cyber-terrorists Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) and Mai Lihn (Maggie Q) hacking into the FBI Cyber-Security Division. Division Director Miguel Bowman (Cliff Curtis) orders that several "usual suspects" hackers be picked up for questioning. NYPD officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) is at Rutgers checking in on his estranged daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). McClane is ordered to take hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) into custody. He arrives at Farrell's apartment and the two are immediately attacked by a group of heavily armed assailants. The two escape and head for Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Gabriel's group hack into the D.C. traffic control and the security systems of the government buildings and throw the city into chaos. When McClane and Farrell arrive, they are able to find their way to Bowman, but the man is too busy to see them. They attempt to find a refuge for Farrell, but they are again by Gabriel's men. So, McClane decides to go on the offensive, find this man, and stop him.

For some reason, fans are really divided on the movies Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, both of which were directed by Len Wiseman. I found both of these films to be entertaining and the action scenes were quite well done. However, when Wiseman was named as director of Live Free or Die Hard, I wasn't sure if he could follow in the footsteps of John McTiernan or Renny Harlin. The movie reveals that Wiseman was more than up to the task, as he's delivered a fast-paced and exciting movie.

When we come to a Die Hard movie, first and foremost we expect action, and Live Free or Die Hard delivers. This may be the most action-packed entry into the series, as it rarely lets up. The movie contains car chases, gunfights, fist fights, and pretty amazing battles of people vs. vehicles. These scenes are very well-choreographed and are much bigger than anything which we've seen since the finale of Die Hard 2: Die Harder. While the action is admittedly over-the-top (more on that in a moment), the action sequences have a pretty natural flow to them and only one really feels forced (again, more on that in a moment). We came to see John McClane doing things that only he can do and the movie doesn't disappoint.

But, Live Free or Die Hard is more than just a mindless action film. Screenwriter Mark Bomback has not only assembled a great script with plenty of twists and turns (based on a story by Bomback and David Marconi, based on an article by John Carlin), it also has some nice character development...for an action film. When we first started watching the film, my wife said, "Bruce Willis looks bad." He's supposed to. John McClane is a world-weary man who has been through a lot, both personally and physically. In the film, he explains to Matthew that he's been a hero in the past and has nothing to show for it. This is a guy who only knows how to be a cop, but he's very, very tired. Thus, this warrior is the perfect character to go against a technological terrorist. Gabriel plans on committing his crime from a computer, where he won't get his hands dirty. But, McClane is a "hands on" crime-fighter and he only knows how to handle things physically. However, this lone warrior works well with his new side-kick Matthew, despite the fact that they are total opposites. The film contains a not-so-subtle message about thanking heroes, as Gabriel is also someone who wasn't compensated for his work.

Live Free or Die Hard has satisfying action and a notable amount of character development, but be sure to check your sense of reality at the door. The Die Hard of the title obviously refers to McClane's toughness. But, this movie should have been called "Indestructible" as McClane gets beaten up more than even before and just keeps coming back. There are many points in the film where you'll think, "OK, someone broke something shooting that!", but McClane simply keeps going. It goes from being exciting to preposterous at times. And then we have the scene in the third act where McClane goes up against a certain type of vehicle. In case you haven't seen the film, I won't give too much away, but lets just say that it's really far-fetched and it actually slows the film. My only other complaint is that there aren't as many good one-liners from McClane in this film. But, then again, this is an older, more bitter McClane. We do get some comic relief from Kevin Smith, who plays a computer nerd.

Following Die Hard with a Vengeance, I wasn't sure if I'd even see another Die Hard film, let alone a satisfying one. Yet, Live Free or Die Hard was much better than I ever imagined. It has a clever script, an intriguing villain, good characters, and amazing action. Even if you don't get into the story (or find it woefully confusing), the fact that the movie never lets up should keep most viewers interested. I can't help but wonder if the quality of this film (and it's financial success) will jump-start the series. If so, I'll be along for the ride.

Live Free or Die Hard refuses to go down on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film is being released in three separate releases, two of them widescreen, the other full-frame. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. For the record, I have to disclose that I was watching a preview DVD, but the image here didn't look very good. The picture was sharp, but there was also a great deal of pixellation and video noise. This is a fast-paced action film and every camera movie resulted in a distortion of the image. There isn't any notable grain or defects from the source material, but this is just a small blessing when compared to the other problems. The picture was also slightly washed-out. Again, let's hope that these issues won't be on the official release version. The good news is that the audio is a different story. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which rocks. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This track offers an abundance of surround sound and subwoofer effects. Next to Ratatouille , this is one of the best tracks that I've heard in a while. In a film like this, we want to "feel" the action and the amount of bass here makes the action very palpable and the surround sound puts us in the middle of the chaos.

As noted above, Live Free or Die Hard is available in different version. Along with the full-frame release, there is a PG-13 rated widescreen release and a two-disc release which contains both the PG-13 cut and an unrated cut. The running time for the PG-13 cut is 2:08:32 and the time on the unrated cut is 2:08:26. The differences seem to come down to some colorful language and the number of times which see someone get shot.

The extras discussed here are contained on the two-disc version of Live Free or Die Hard. Disc 1 contains an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Bruce Willis, Director Len Wiseman, and Editor Nicolas De Toth. This is an interesting chat as the three talk about the production of the film, playing close attention to the various locations (the film appears to have been shot all over the country), the ad-libs, and most importantly the stunts. Willis and Wiseman are very frank and funny when talking about the challenges found in this movie.

The rest of the extras are found on Disc 2. "Analog Hero in a Digital World: Making of Live Free or Die Hard" (97 minutes) opens with an overview of the first film (and only the first film), and then goes into the creation of Live Free or Die Hard. This feature-length featurette is full behind-the-scenes footage and comments from the cast and filmmakers. There is a brief discussion of the development of the film and then a look at the cast and characters. It then goes on to examine the look of the film and the production design (including an explanation of the digital intermediate process), special effects and sound. This is a lot of material to get through, but the tone is light and it's very informative.  "Yippee Ki Yay Motherf*****!" (23 minutes) is a discussion between Bruce Willis and Kevin Smith. (Seriously, Smith needs to quit wearing those capri pants for men.) Essentially, Smith interviews Willis, and asks him about the Die Hard films. It's interesting, but Willis seems sluggish. Music Video "Die Hard" by Guyz Nite. Somewhere the members of Nerf Herder are shaking their heads in astonishment. Behind the Scenes with Guyz Nite (6 minutes) is a intimate look at this novelty act. Fox Movie Channel presents Fox Legacy (6 minutes) has host Tom Rothman discussing the Die Hard films, giving an overview of the John McClane and the movies. Finally, we have the Theatrical Trailer, which is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and is 16 x 9.

Fox has also brought the PG-13 cut of Live Free or Die Hard to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is an AVC 1080p HD averaging 30 Mbps. The image here looks fantastic, as it's very sharp and clear. Only those looking for grain will find a very small amount here and there are no defects from the source material. The image shows no distortion or artifacting and the picture has a very nice amount of depth. The colors look fine and flesh tones are realistic. In short, the video looks very good. The disc houses a DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track which sounds great. The dialogue is clear and audible. The stereo effects show an amazing amount of detail, most notably during action or crowd scenes. The surround sound effects are nearly constant here and they place the viewer in the action. The bass effects are very smooth and punctuate the action. Overall, the A/V presentation here is top-notch. The extras on the Blu-ray mirror those of the 2-disc DVD, plus it includes a set-top game called "Black Hat Intercept!" which is a low-rent version of Metal Gear Solid and contains video intros by Kevin Smith. If you're going for the Blu-ray, you may as well have it all, as Fox has also released a set which contains all four Die Hard films on Blu-ray. I highly recommend this package.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long