Friday, February 23, 2007

The most important movie of the 80s

I just watched Die Hard on HBO, uncut and uncensored, for the first time since it was in the theatre, and I had a revalation.

There were lots of important movies in the 70s: The Godfather, Jaws, American Grafiti, Star Wars, Network, Taxi Driver, it's a really long list. The 80s, not so much. But Die Hard is there, sitting on top of them all.

Why do I say that? Not just because it was fun or introduced most of us to Alan Rickman. It's because it was the perfect Big Idea picture. I'm reading Lynda Obst's book Hello, He Lied right now. It's about producing in the studio system. She says Die Hard is the perfect Big Idea pisture becuase it's so easy to explain: terrorists take over a skyscraper. She then notes that it made it easy to make Speed, because you could look the studio boss in the eye and say "It's die hard on a bus."

But watching Die Hard tonight I got to thinking that it is probably the most influential movie since The Godfather. I mean look at how many Die Hards there have been:

Die Hard in a skyscraper (Die Hard)
Die Hard at an airport (Die Hard II)
Die Hard in New York (Die Hard III)
Die Hard on a bus (Speed)
Die Hard on a battleship (Under Siege)
Die Hard on a cruise ship (Speed II)
Die Hard on a train (Under Siege II)
Die Hard on a plane (Executive Decision)
Die Hard on another plane (Air Force One)
Die Hard on and off a plane (Passenger 57)
Die Hard on a mountain (Cliffhanger)

And on and on. All of these movies have the same plot: terrorists come in and take over some place, usually someplace confined in some way, and one guy has to stop them and drive them out. Oh, yeah, and the terrorists are usually not *really* terrorists but are just out for money. Not true in all the movies above, but certainly true in Under Siege and Cliffhanger. Have there been movies like this before? Sure. Usually they were Westerns, when bandits came in and took over a town and only one guy could kill them all and save the day. And Die Hard pays tribute to that all throught the movie, but especially when Hans calls McClain a cowbow. "Yipee kiyay, mother fucker." Yes, there were terrorist movies before. Nighthawks had german terrorists (in the early day it was always German terrorists patterened after the Bader Meinhoff Gang. Rarely was it palestinians, and never islamic fundamentalists). But Nighthawks still wasnt as claustrophobic as the others. Die Hard set the formula. There were even real terrorists. You probably couldnt' have made Die Hard, and certainly not Die Hard II, without the raid on Entebe airport (made into amovie with Charles Bronson). But the combination of the claustrophobic (or agoraphobic in the case of Cliffhanger) setting and terrorists as the new badguys makes Die Hard a seminal work of American cinema.

No, really. I'm serious. Later we'll talk about Conan.



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