When I started this series I set out to try and find films that most people wouldn’t have realized were based on novels. It would be easy to grab books that are famously based on literature and then see how they stack up against each other, but I like to think I typically pick movies that you never would have guessed were based on books. And let me tell you, Die Hard is a movie that I’m sure fits into that category very nicely. Most people that I mentioned the idea to were stunned that Die Hard was a book, and that’s exactly the type of reaction that I’m shooting for. So, without further ado, let’s get into one of the greatest Christmas classics of all time.
I mean, do I even need to tell you about Die Hard? It’s one of the most famous and popular films of all time, becoming one of the high-water marks of action genre and one of the most imitable films of all time. It’s become increasingly trite for people to say that it’s their favorite Christmas film, and while that used to be a joke people could tell, it’s honestly pretty true now. It’s become a legitimate yule time classic, and something that countless people will pop on today and enjoy with their families. Which is kind of hilarious, but at the same time, this movie fucking rules. It had been a couple years since I last saw Die Hard before I refreshed my memory for this article, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s still delightful. The fashion, technology, and some of the attitudes continue to become more and more ridiculous as time goes on, but for the most part it’s a fairly timeless little adventure that’s just as fun and kicks just as much ass as it always has. But in case you’re some sort of alien I guess it’s time for me to tell you what Die Hard is about.
The film opens up with New York police detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) flying to Los Angeles in the hope of patching things up with his estranged wife. Apparently his wife, who is going by her maiden name of Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia), left John and brought their kids to Los Angeles to pursue a career with the Nakatomi corporation in LA. So McClane packs up and heads to Los Angeles to crash the Nakatomi Christmas party and try to win back his wife. She’s a little shocked to see McClane, but also seems open to trying to fix things, which makes it look like everything is going to work out great for the McClanes. And that’s when the terrorists show up.
A gang of international terrorists led by the erudite Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) show up at the Nakatomi building on Christmas Eve during the party, and announce that they’re going to hold everyone hostage and punish them for the economic crimes the Nakatomi corporation have committed. But there’s one thing the terrorists didn’t count on. John fucking McClane. They weren’t expecting him to be in Holly’s office, so he manages to sneak away from them and begins running around the otherwise empty office building, plotting and getting ready to defeat this band of terrorists single-handily. And he does a pretty great job. He initially tries to bring in some police to help him, but they largely assume that he’s just a crank call, especially because the terrorists have begun pretending to work there and convince that the police that there’s nothing to worry about. But pretty quickly, after one flamboyant kill, McClane announces his presence to the terrorists and gets to work thinning the herd.
So the terrorists now know that John McClane exists, and that he’s willing to kill them, so they begin coming at him full-force, trying do stop him. Oh, and we also get some insight into their goals. Because it turns out they aren’t actually doing any of this for political or ideological reasons. They’re actually just there to rob the company of the money they just got for a massive deal. And the one thing that could spoil this whole plan is one pissed off cop who doesn’t give a crap about them, and doesn’t fear them. And right around now McClane does get some unexpected help, because after a beat cop named Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) stops by the building to see if McClane’s call were fake or not, McClane throws the body of another terrorist out of the window, catching his attention. So now Powell is aware of the terrorists, and brings in the LAPD, the media, and eventually even the FBI, creating a whole circus of people ready to watch the Nakatomi building and deal with the terrorists inside.
But that still leave John McClane in a building full of terrorists and hostages, so he just keeps working, taking down each and every one of them. Sometimes they come to him, and sometimes he goes to them, but slowly but surely he starts weeding the terrorists out. To great personal pains. Because the terrorists aren’t playing nice, and once McClane has an accidental run-in with Gruber, and Gruber notices that McClane is shoe-less, he of course creates a scenario where McClane’s feet are absolutely destroyed by shattered glass. But massive foot trauma isn’t going to slow down John McClane! He just keeps fighting until he finally gets down to just him and Hans, atop the Nakatomi building, with Holly as a hostage. But Hans wasn’t anticipating McClane having a gun duct-taped to his back, and McClane is able to get the draw on him, shooting Gruber off the building and saving the day. And after a brief moment to kill the last henchman, Karl, who is basically a slasher movie villain, McClane and Holly agree to give things another shot and everything works out for the best.
What do you want me to say? It’s Die Hard. It’s the best! It’s the pinnacle of action movies that all others aspire to be. It takes a beautifully simple concept, hero is stuck in building with bad guys and fights them, and makes it into a masterpiece of action cinema that’s an almost perfectly crafted film. The action is thrilling and vicious, the acting is essentially all-around wonderful, especially for launching the action career of Bruce Willis and the villainous career of Alan Rickman, it’s funny, it’s brutal, it’s just an all around great time. There’s a reason that this movie is so beloved. It’s just a great time. Plus, even though it doesn’t have much to do with Christmas in a thematic sense, it’s full of a weird sense of the holidays that’s just so indelibly linked to it. The Christmas party setting and the use of carols just keeps reminding you that this is an insane action movie set at Christmas. Which is something of a trope by now, but at the time this was a novel and wonderful idea, juxtaposing the brutal violence with the saccharine purity of the holiday. But I don’t have to sit here and tell you how great Die Hard is, if you’ve seen it you know how wonderful it is, and if you haven’t there’s only one cure.
Like I said up top, if there’s one movie that people are shocked to find that’s based on a novel, Die Hard is high up on that list. But there’s kind of a shocking amount of action movies that are based on novels, and trust me, I’ve got several downloaded to my Kindle to get to eventually. Because it just seems weird doesn’t it? To have an action movie be based on a novel. I can tell you, when I first picked up this book I was curious to see what this book could possibly be. Like, would it just be page after page describing John McClane machine-gunning people? Well, kind of. But before we get to the actual plot of the novel, I figured that I would let you in on some of the backstory of this book. Because believe it or not, this novel is actually a sequel. Like it says on that cover, it’s the sequel to a novel called The Detective, which was actually also made into a movie. I’ve never read or seen the detective, but it starred Frank Sinatra, which meant that when they made this movie they had to legally see if Sinatra wanted to star in Die Hard. He obviously passed, but could you imagine an elderly Frank Sinatra running around the Nakatomi building shooting terrorists? Because now that’s all I can think about. Anyway, let’s get into it.
Now, right up top I’ll say that there are plenty of differences between Nothing Lasts Forever and Die Hard. The central premise is the same, but there’s still plenty of things that they changed when the story was brought to the big screen. Because this isn’t the story of John McClane, young policeman from New York. No, this is the story of Joe Leland, a retired NYPD detective who now works as a consultant for police departments to prepare them for the trials and tribulations of international terrorism. He’s heading from New York to Los Angeles to hang out with his daughter, Stephanie Gennaro, and her children at Stephanie’s company Christmas party in the Klaxon Oil office building. Leland gets to the office building, meets Stephanie’s coworkers and disprove of their lifestyles, before going to wash up in her office. Which is when a group of German terrorists, both men and women, led by a man named Anton “Little Tony” Gruber shows up to hold them hostage.
And from there the story is basically the same as Die Hard. At least for a long time. Leland manages to escape from the terrorists without them knowing, and he begins traveling around the building, setting up traps and bases of operation to begin fighting the terrorists. He gets to the roof and tries to contact the police, ends up fighting a bunch of terrorists, gets some machine guns, gets help from officer Al Powell down on the ground, and just generally does everything he can to become a thorn in Little Tony Gruber’s side. he gets filthy, crawls around in air ducts, gets his feet slashed up, and does a whole lot of complaining about the fact that he’s a goddamn grandfather running around in a building on Christmas Eve snapping the necks of terrorists. But then, near the end of the novel, things start to veer off course again. Because we learn that these terrorists aren’t really here to a bank robbery. They actually are here to punish the Klaxon Oil Company for helping destabilize the Chilean government for their own profit. And they plan to take the $6 million they got from the deal and throw it out into the Los Angeles sky as some sort of Robin Hood-esque plot. Oh, and kill lots of Klaxon employees. But Leland manages to kill them all before that can be done, until it’s just him and Gruber. The two have a show-down on the rooftops, with Stephanie held prisoner, just like in Die Hard, but then the unexpected happened. When Gruber is shot, he pulls Stephanie with him, causing her to plummet off the building to her death as well. At which point, after enduring the night from hell and the sudden death of his daughter, Leland decides he’s done with everything, and throws the money down onto the crowds himself before coming down and relinquishing himself to police custody.
Yikes. That took a turn. But other than the sudden dark ending, and the general change in names, it was still Die Hard. Which means that it was still a good time. The novel was well written and had a really enjoyable and fun pace to it, creating a really action-packed story that was unlike any other novel that I’d really read before. Just like the movie it eventually inspired, this movie was basically all climax, which I hadn’t really experienced in novel form before, and I’m kind of surprised it worked. Even though I was a little surprised at how much of an old grump Leland was. I wasn’t expecting lines like this in the story:
The old technology got people out into the world and into contact with others. This stuff was for consumers locked in subdivided little warrens, people who lived like cattle being raised for the slaughter.
Like, that’s the type of out of touch griping that you’d expect from some Baby Boomer writing an article about how Millennials are destroying the world, not the inner monologue of a badass killing as many terrorists as possible. But despite some of those flaws, and a generally conservative idealogy that the book was espousing, I had a good time with this novel.
Yeah, so when I first picked this book/film combination to tackle there were two primary reasons. First was the fact that I expected most people wouldn’t have been familiar with Nothing Lasts Forever, and that it would inform people about this new novel to check out. But the second was because I kind of assumed it was going to be pretty radically different from Die Hard. The last few adaptions that I’ve examined on this series haven’t really had that man differences between each other. They’ve been straight-forward adaptations without a lot of variation, and I figured I would try to find something a little different. And everything I’d heard about Nothing Lasts Forever made me assume that this would fit the bill. I’d heard about the fact that this was Joe Leland, that it was a sequel, and that there were plenty of surface level differences, so I thought it would be perfect. But, actually, besides the changing of character names and attributes the story itself was virtually the same. Several plot-beats play out exactly the same, and there’s even directly lifted bits of dialogue. That ending is pretty different and bleak, but for the most part the plot was the same. The fact that the terrorists were actually terrorists and not just robbing the bulding was different, and the whole interaction between Leland and Gruber was very different that that of McClane and Gruber. But, at the end of the day, I would still recommend Die Hard over Nothing Lasts Forever. Mainly because the film takes a great concept, a lone policeman trapped in a skyscraper with a group of terrorists, and works out some of the weird kinks. The idea that Joe Leland was an expert on terrorists, and was probably the most competent person in the country to be thrown into this scenario wasn’t that interesting. Hell, he even know who Gruber was when he saw him, familiar with his work. But making the protagonist just a resourceful person who has no goddamn idea what to do, and is just flying by the seat of his pants works so much better to me. Die Hard took a good idea and wrinkled out the issues to make it a great idea. So, this Christmas, settle down and pop in one of the greatest action films of all time, and maybe, if you’re interested, check out the novel that it’s based on sometime in the future.
Die Hard was written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E de Souza, directed by John McTiernan, and released by 20th Century Fox, 1988.
Nothing Lasts Forever was written by Roderick Thorp, 1979.
Categories: Film Library