37 Things We Learned from Steven E. de Souza’s ‘Die Hard’ Commentary


Die Hard
By  · Published on April fifth, 2024

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, the place we sit and hearken to filmmakers discuss their work, then share probably the most attention-grabbing components. In this version, Rob Hunter revisits Die Hard, this time to pay attention as author Steven E. de Souza shares his commentary.

We began this Commentary Commentary column method again in 2009, and with over 4 hundred entries to date it stays one in every of my favourite options right here at Film School Rejects. Not all commentaries are created equal, and there are nice ones, dangerous ones, and loads of completely good ones. Having finished a pair myself now, it’s not so simple as merely speaking for the size of a film — it is advisable to be partaking and informative alongside the way in which.

That’s why the most effective commentary tracks sometimes come from the filmmakers themselves, whether or not the director, author, actor, producer, and so forth. We listened to John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988) observe again in 2011, and whereas we virtually by no means repeat movies right here, I’m making an exception after stumbling throughout an superior new podcast referred to as Rogue Commentary. They welcome these very skills (or the occasional movie critics/historians) to come back present commentary tracks for movies, and one in every of their early episodes options author Steven E. de Souza speaking Die Hard.

Now maintain studying to see what I heard on the commentary for…

Die Hard (1988)

Commentator: Steven E. de Souza (author)

1. He can’t vouch for “the validity of fists with your toes.” It works for him, however he doesn’t know that it’s truly a factor.

2. “For any conspiracy theory people out there,” he says, the alternate between the passenger who says he’s been flying for 9 years and John McClane (Bruce Willis) who replies that he’s been a cop for eleven years… “uh oh, 9/11, I’m sure that will keep some of you up all night.”

3. The massive Teddy Bear that McClane is holding — the very same bear — additionally seems in McTiernan’s The Hunt for Red October (1990). “I heard a rumor that McTiernan was sleeping with that Teddy Bear. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but it would explain a lot.”

4. The foyer of the Nakatomi Building is definitely an enormous set constructed on the twentieth Century studio lot.

5. The movie relies on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, and the company is an American one. For the movie, although, they “seized upon a paranoia in America about foreign ownership of American companies.” They felt it performed higher in opposition to the blue collar hero that’s McClane.

6. Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) is McClane’s spouse within the movie, however within the novel she was his daughter and named Stephanie. She was additionally in a relationship with the white knight, Ellis, and complicit in a number of the firm’s company shenanigans.

7. The novel is definitely a sequel to 1960’s The Detective, additionally based mostly on a Thorp novel, which stars Frank Sinatra within the lead function. When Fox moved ahead on Die Hard they has to method Sinatra and provided him the function. “He said ‘I’m too old and too rich to do this, and the chases in the building would have to be on Rascal scooters.’” The character names had been all modified to sever that connection, and so they additionally took the chance to age down the retired cop character to a youthful, energetic police officer.

8. Sinatra was truly the primary of many actors to say no the function. “You have to view this movie in the context of the time it was made. In the 1980s there had been all these action movies with these muscular, steroid, pumped up, roid rage heroes.” He provides that he performed a job in that, “mea culpa,” as a reference to movies like Commando (1985) and The Running Man (1987). The just one he mentions by title, although, is 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) — which he didn’t write. The level being that McClane spends an enormous chunk of the time attempting to cover and name the cops, one thing motion stars of the last decade weren’t too eager on. “So in that context, this guy is a coward, he’s a pussy.”

9. Co-writer Jeb Stuart was initially employed to adapt the novel, and he was struggling for a method into the story. He bought into an enormous battle together with his spouse and went for a drive to clear his head, but it surely bought harmful when a carton fell from an enormous truck and virtually collided together with his automotive. The gentle bulb went off as he thought “imagine if you wanted to make up with your wife, but you got killed” earlier than having that probability. That gave him the emotional arc which de Souza ran with.

10. For those that get pleasure from errors in motion pictures, “you’ll notice that Holly Gennaro’s name is spelled a couple different ways in this movie.”

11. Whenever there’s an inventory of names or charts within the movie, it’s the movie’s crew members including in their very own little cameos.

12. After Sinatra stated no, Fox took the script to different stars, however they had been turned down by “Arnold, then Sly, then Clint Eastwood, then Mel Gibson, then Richard Gere, then Don Johnson, then Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Kurt Russell, James Caan, and Burt Reynolds who was a Hail Mary call from our producer.” In desperation, the studio made the supply to Willis whose administration was effectively conscious of the movie’s laborious launch date — and negotiated a killer deal in consequence.

13. The Pacific Courier truck was made up for the movie, however cinematographer Jan de Bont added it into his movie Speed (1994) as effectively, which means that each one 5 Die Hard movies and each Speed motion pictures happen in a shared universe. Additionally, the newscaster Gail Wallens (Mary Ellen Trainor) additionally seems in Ricochet (1991) making that movie a part of the identical universe too. But wait, there’s extra. Die Hard 2 (1990) encompasses a character who’s the previous dictator of the fictional South American nation of Val Verde, and that’s the place a lot of the movie Commando takes place. Marvel, eat your coronary heart out.

14. The terrorists/robbers exit the truck at 18:44, and it’s clear there is no such thing as a ambulance in there with them. “We had, in fact, not come up with their getaway play at this point.” It was talked about, however as they had been assembling the movie they realized a shot of it was crucial. This scene initially concluded with Gruber telling everybody to synchronize their watches, however McTiernan had it lower as a result of it made the dearth of an ambulance too apparent.

15. This was Alan Rickman‘s first feature film, and it was offered to him after being in Hollywood for just a single week. He wasn’t positive if an motion film was proper for him, however his reps instructed him it was too good of a possibility — and one that almost all actors might solely dream about after such a short while in Los Angeles.

16. The baddies had been written to be clad in military-like outfits, however Rickman “balked” on the picture saying that he would look ridiculous subsequent to all these massive, buff dudes. He added that he was meant to be administration in spite of everything. Costume designer Marilyn Vance took the thought and landed on dressing them in well-tailored outfits as an alternative. That, in flip, led them to shift McClane increasingly more blue collar as a distinction.

17. Willis was nonetheless engaged on his tv present, Moonlighting. throughout the first two weeks of filming. He would do the TV present throughout the day then movie for the film at evening. McTiernan finally got here to de Souza and requested if there was extra they might be doing with facet characters with a view to give Willis a lighter schedule throughout these two weeks, and “this gave me a license to develop more scenes for Holly, to keep Argyle (De’voreaux White) alive in the movie much longer, and to develop the annoying newscaster further.”

18. The topless girl was added on the request of Joel Silver who stated “we’re going to get an R-rating for violence, so we mine as well have some nudity.”

19. John Phillips is a fictional tailor, so don’t go in search of his fits in London.

20. He and Silver see lots of their collaborations (48 Hrs., 1982; Commando; Ricochet) as “hate stories” between a superb man and a villain, and so they see the 2 meet, face-off, meet once more, and so forth till the ending. Here, although, McClane was so outnumbered that they couldn’t see a method to convey him and Hans Gruber (Rickman) collectively earlier than the tip. The drawback discovered its decision when de Souza overheard Rickman doing a California accent throughout a dialog by the craft desk. He introduced the actor to Silver, had him repeat it, after which all of them realized the chance earlier than them.

21. Silver had one other massive motion film hit set at Christmas with Lethal Weapon (1987), and de Souza requested him if the vacation was his go-to factor now. The producer replied that he does it, partly, as a result of it elevated the percentages that one of many three networks — this was the 80s, don’t neglect — would play the movie round Christmas which might result in greater residual checks.

22. Years later, Ronald Reagan rented the constructing’s prime ground as his workplace after retiring from politics — “well officially, mentally he retired I think a little before he was out of office” — and when the Secret Service swept the place beforehand they had been alarmed to search out bullet casings. They suspected foul play earlier than somebody realized they had been leftover from this movie shoot.

23. McClane slipping and falling within the elevator shaft was truly an accident with the stunt man who wasn’t presupposed to fall. They favored it, although, so saved the shot and simply reworked the beats round it.

24. The air shafts that McClane crawls by are precise dimension, however they had been meant to be enlarged as seen in most movies. Silver was livid and referred to as de Souza to complain that they wanted extra dialogue as a result of it was taking Willis ceaselessly to crawl by the shaft. The author stood beneath the shaft with a walkie talkie feeding Willis quite a few ad-libs.

25. Regarding the dumb annual debate as as to whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas film, de Souza factors out that Gruber’s plan solely works at Christmas. From the social gathering gathering with high-ranking executives to the in any other case empty (and due to this fact extra manageable) constructing, that is the one time the movie can unfold. Plus there are a number of Christmas songs, the finale sees “snow” within the type of paper falling from the sky, and so forth. So yeah, it’s a fucking Christmas film.

26. Reginald VelJohnson truly drove the automotive backwards off that ledge himself.

27. De Souza offers screenwriting seminars typically, and greater than as soon as he’s gotten disgruntled grumbles when he tells them that within the first dialog between McClane and Gruber, McClane is the antagonist and Gruber is the protagonist. He explains that the terrorists arriving kicks issues off, and so they’re hit by counter strikes from McClane who’s actually antagonizing them.

28. He references each William Atherton and Paul Gleason as the blokes you get “when you want an asshole in your movie.”

29. The scene the place Holly first confronts Gruber was the primary that de Souza wrote after coming aboard the movie. They had been eager to solid these two characters so he prioritized it to offer the actors pages.

30. The nice Al Leong improvised his character’s spontaneous want for a sweet bar, “which Michael Kamen decided to give a music cue.”

31. The late 80s had been a extra harmless time earlier than police departments turned so militarized, so Los Angeles didn’t even have an armored tank-like automobile. The manufacturing supplied it as an alternative.

32. McClane seems continuously on the suitable facet of the display within the first half signifying a extra passive character, however a shift happens across the time of the tank being rocketed that sees him change into extra aggressive, extra take-charge, and transfer to the “more powerful” left facet of the display.

33. Remember the deleted scene of the terrorists synchronizing their watches that confirmed how all of them have equivalent watches? People typically ask de Souza how McClane is aware of that Gruber, whereas pretending to be an American worker named Clay, is definitely a foul man. The reply is that he sees the identical watch on Gruber’s wrist. Unfortunately, all references to that had been snipped out after the lack of the aforementioned scene, which means viewers are left to imagine that McClane is just a really intuitive cop.

34. The manufacturing promised Los Angeles officers that the 2 helicopters could be flying no decrease than 4 to 5 tales excessive. Oops. “We heard about it the next day from the city council, angry neighbors.”

35. He begged the editors to snip the shot at 1:55:26 as a result of it reveals Karl (Alexander Godunov) nonetheless hanging there within the chains. “It reminds you that he’s dead, and reminds you that he’s been strangled for, like, fifteen minutes,” and that makes his reappearance alive on the finish a bit foolish.

36. Dennis Hayden performs the second-to-last terrorist standing, Eddie, and the character initially died a lot earlier within the movie. Hayden was apparently interviewing with publicists within the lead as much as Die Hard, and one in every of them was named de Souza. He requested if she was associated to Steven de Souza, and it seems she was his sister-in-law, so Hayden stated he’d signal together with her instantly if she might get Steven to let his character stay lots longer.

37. The piece of rating taking part in as Karl is shot is an unused aspect from James Horner’s rating from Aliens (1986).

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“For some of my younger viewers, let me explain that 20th Century Fox was a motion picture studio that started in 1935 and lasted around eighty-three years making motion pictures on film — it’s a mechanical chemical process long forgotten — and the motion picture studio has now disappeared somewhere, I forget exactly where, it’s been absorbed, swallowed by a giant mouse.”

“Ah, smoking in an airport, we all remember those days.”

“I’m going to pause in awe at my own credit here.”

“Unlike a lot of screenwriters, I’m always welcome on sets because I know how to behave on set.”

“A lot of what makes this movie work is the practical effects, the practical locations.”

“The neighbors in Century City were not happy with this production.”

“If you pay close attention, you can see that Bruce has fake feet on top of his feet.”

“Al’s monologue about he shot a child was, sort of, fictional at the time this was written, but has happened way too many times in real life.”

“This is where we hate the FBI.”

“‘We’re gonna need more FBI guys’ is an ad-lib from Paul Gleason, which I hate.”

“This has been Die Hard in a Rogue Commentary.”

Final Thoughts on the Die Hard Commentary

There could also be a handful of gaps throughout this commentary, however the anecdotes and particulars that Steven E. de Souza shares from his time on Die Hard greater than make up for it. It’s a enjoyable, informative observe that advantages from being recorded greater than thirty years after the movie was made, and it’s arguably a greater pay attention than McTiernan’s official commentary on the bodily discs. Do your self a favor and take a look at Rogue Commentary for extra commentary tracks from filmmakers and critics for a few of your favourite motion pictures.

Read extra Commentary Commentary from the archives.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since earlier than you had been born, which is bizarre seeing as he is so rattling younger. He’s our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists ‘Broadcast News’ as his favourite movie of all time. Feel free to say hello for those who see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.