Shiny Shelf

Die Hard 4.0

By Stephen Lavington on 28 October 2007

In the US the fourth installment in this bombs and bullets franchise is known as ‘Live Free or Die Hard’, a title which much more aptly sums up the gung-ho bombast and over-the-top exuberance of the film than the much tamer UK variant. While this is the joint-weakest episode in the franchise it still cheerfully blasts all of 2007’s competing blockbuster sequels (with their namby-pamby titles) out of the water. Moreover it’s perhaps the first ‘Die Hard’ movie to have a sub-text, albeit one that comments not on gender or class relations but rather the state of special effects in Hollywood film today.

As with the previous ‘Die Hard’ this is not an original John McClane adventure, being a spec script drafted off the back of an article on the dangers of cyber-terrorism. Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) is a former cyber-security consultant who is snubbed by his bosses on warning of the risks posed by computer hackers. In response he orchestrates a comprehensive attack on the infrastructure of the United States. Part of this plan involves the co-option (then assassination) of a number of unwitting hackers, one of whom finds himself in the care of John McClane. Which pretty much spells disaster for Gabriel and his team of – inexplicably French – mercenaries.

The set-up is skilfully done (even if the conceit borrows from the Sandra Bullock no-mark thriller ‘The Net’) and the first three acts build the plot steadily and effectively. There is a real sense of descent into chaos and one brilliant sequence involving an attack via misdirected traffic. However, this is not a sermon on computer terrorism but an unashamed action flick, and director Len ‘Underworld’ Wiseman unashamedly brings the action. From about ten minutes in there’s very little let up (aside from a couple of obligatory exposition sequences) until the end.

Indeed, the very unashamedness of its core intent gives the movie a message of sorts. The pre-release publicity has boasted that this is a movie built on real stunt-work – CGI is evident only in the film’s climactic sequence. The villains are computers not only as used by Gabriel but also by those other filmmakers who take the cheap route to on-screen spectacle. Perhaps the best joke comes when a hacked TV broadcast claims to show the US Capitol exploding. Characters in Washington rush out of cafes and bars to see the building fully intact. In fact the footage is comprised of the sort of special effect that is now commonplace in big-budget cinema. Computer-generated cheating is restricted to the audience within the film, the cinema audience gets the good stuff in all its brutal, bruising intensity. The match-up is not just analogue versus digital in the sense of McClane versus internet terrorists but of stunt-men versus CG programmers.

‘Casino Royale’ also relied heavily on stunt-work, but the difference is that ‘Die Hard 4.0′ positively boasts about its old-school approach. This is also a claim made with relation to the forthcoming ‘Indiana Jones’ four-quel. Though CG still rules the roost at Summer (and still produces staggering results) there is a conscious attraction for the real deal. Snobbery is also involved. CGI is available on a broad cost scale – there’s a surfeit of dirt-cheap straight-to-DVD sci-fi out there for anyone who cares to look. However, proper large-scale stunt-work has become ostentatiously expensive (and makes for the sort of DVD extra that’s always going to trump footage of a man in a jumpsuit standing in front of a green screen).

This is not classic ‘Die Hard’. The villains are sketchy and Olyphant is not a patch on either Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons, while the plot lacks even the semblance of depth seen in previous installments. However, its noisy simplicity is fun in itself, and this simplicity works with the old-school approach to set-pieces to distinguish ‘Die Hard 4.0′ from its overly-complex companion sequels. And if you try hard enough, it’s just possible to convince yourself that there’s some deeper meaning to it all.

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By Stephen Lavington

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