The story of the first time I watched Die Hard is not a spectacular one. I was a literal baby when the film first hit theaters, so instead of the cineplex I had the living room of a neighbors' house during a babysitting gig. It was a December night, I had put the kid to bed, and I just happened to stumble on to the film as it began on some premium cable channel. I was all by myself; there was no ceremony to it; and the television I watched it on was actually fairly crappy. It was a completely unmemorable, unexceptional experience... with the exception of the fact that it was my first time watching Die Hard.
I remember that night distinctly, as I have a special reserved section in my memory for first screenings of my favorite films. With recognition of the adjective's full weight, John McTiernan's Die Hard is perfection through and through, with the ultimate blend of humor, action, drama, and suspense coalescing with some of the most iconic moments and one-liners in blockbuster history. It's as simple and high-concept as they come -- one man versus armed terrorists in a high-rise -- and all three elements in their own way have left an indelible mark on pop culture: the wise-cracking hero John McClane; the hyper-intelligent über-thief Hans Gruber; and the majestic, wonderfully-labyrinthine Nakatomi Plaza.
But while plenty know about Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, fewer know the history of the legendary building. In real life, Nakatomi Plaza is actually Fox Plaza, and it's located directly next to the 20th Century Fox studio lot in Los Angeles, California. The kismet history is that it was in construction the same year that Die Hard was in production, and as a result the movie was given freedom to go hog wild inside and around it. Today it's a functioning complex with 35 occupied floors, and under normal circumstances it's closed off from the public. This past weekend, however, offered up some very abnormal circumstances, and I was insanely lucky to be able to take full advantage.
By abnormal circumstances, I am referring to the fact that July 2018 marks Die Hard's 30th anniversary -- a milestone deserving recognition. A big celebration plan was put in place by the studio, including a public screening on the rooftop of an adjacent parking lot in the shadow of Fox Plaza... but as a member of the press I was invited to do something a bit extra. Specifically, over the course of an hour on Saturday I took a guided tour exploring the spectacular skyscraper, and visited the various legendary shooting locations of many of the most movie's most popular scenes.
The expedition traversed the entirety of Nakatomi Plaza, from the deep basement to the rooftop, but it started outside the building with a fun bit of Die Hard trivia. In the stitched images you see below, you'll notice four railings on the staircase that leads to the entrance -- but prior the movie production it actually had five, with an extra positioned right in the middle of those pictured. That railing, however, got totally obliterated by an armored truck (the one operated by the LAPD that the terrorists hit with a grenade launcher), and it was never restored after filming was completed.
This detail very much speaks to the special relationship that existed between the Die Hard production and the in-construction skyscraper. One could make a strong argument that it's the largest practical prop in cinematic history, as, within reason, the film was able to utilize the entirety of it. With some exceptions, such as the Nakatomi Corporation Christmas Party, all of the scenes set in the building were shot in and around it. Because of the movie's presence there are facilities that are completely unnecessary -- from its ridiculously oversized loading dock, to its large assortment of industrial water chillers -- but it lends a sense of the fantastical to the place. In many respects it's an unrealistic, Hollywood-esque blockbuster depiction of what a high-rise should be... but all the same it just sits there every day on Avenue Of The Stars between Pico and Olympic Boulevards.
Even after 30 years much of Fox Plaza still very much looks like Nakatomi Plaza, from the design in the elevators to the helipad on the roof, but the tour was accented with some giggle-inducing references and Easter Eggs throughout -- including the opportunity to see my name listed right next to famous slimeball Harry Ellis on the digital welcome service (upgraded quite a bit since 1988):
We were hit with references left and right -- not being able to leave the lobby without noticing the Crunch Bar where the snack counter was depicted (a nod to the candy break taken by Al Leong's Uli during the first police standoff), and a security guard on duty even rolled out a hockey puck similar to the device used by one of Hans' men during the initial break-in. Some things were simple, like a table covered in bearer bonds in the building manager's office, but other set ups were a bit more complex - like a recreation of the area where Karl (Alexander Godunov) cuts the phone lines with a chainsaw:
The experience was also heightened with the awareness that we weren't entirely alone as we made our way through the innards of Nakatomi. It wasn't exactly an extreme challenge to recognize the presence of John McClane -- and not only because of his frequent broadcasts that would come through on our guide's radio. Because the man just can't seem to keep his shoes on, we regularly came across bloody foot prints next to piles of broken "glass," and he even left us a present in the elevator, complete with a Christmas-themed note accentuating his acquirement of armaments. Thankfully, he didn't pair it with the upside down computer monitor we found strapped to an office chair when we rode the service elevator to the top floor.
We said hello to Argyle waiting for us in the loading dock, saw the area where John McClane strung Karl up with chains, and peered down the steep stairs one of the terrorists boldly slid down -- but it was on the roof where the real mindblowers were kept for Die Hard fans. We walked through the location where Hans and his men planted the C4 in hopes of blowing up the roof, and I could peer down and see a cop car parked right where Al (Reginald VelJohnson) stopped when he first approached the building. Nothing, however, compared to what they did with the fire hose, which was positioned to look like John had just swung over the edge:
It was an exhilarating day, and as I stepped outside to find the site of Argyle's limo, Al's Twinkie-filled patrol car, and a Christmas tree, I thought I had reached the end of my Die Hard surprises for the day -- with the anniversary screening scheduled to start after a two hour break. Suffice it to say, I was incorrect. As I walked back to my car, excited to escape the Los Angeles summer heat in some air conditioning, my phone buzzed with a text message delivering yet another treat: both Bonnie Bedelia a.k.a. Holly McClane, and Reginald VelJohnson a.k.a. Sgt. Al Powell, were on site as special guests for the screening, and I was asked if I wanted to interview them.
A little over an hour later I found myself back inside Fox Plaza sitting down with Bonnie Bedelia and Reginald VelJohnson, culminating in one of the most surreal circumstances of my professional career (which has included hiking up Mount Doom and visiting Ahch-To). The opportunity didn't exactly offer the chance for an in-depth chat about the entire experience making the film -- with my time clocking in just under eight minutes -- but still I made the most of it -- discussing their own personal first experiences seeing the movie, the notorious Christmas connection, the constant love for Die Hard exhibited on the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and more.
Floating out of the room, I made my way over to the parking structure to watch the movie, where I found many of my colleagues and friends gathered for the unique experience along with the other Die Hard die-hards. Much like the Nakatomi Corporation Christmas Party, the screening didn't exactly go off without a hitch. It first started playing with the Spanish audio track turned on, eliciting a wide-spread laugh from the crowd, and after the fix and restart there was a mix up as the event's atmosphere Christmas music played in place of the actual soundtrack. Eventually everything started to work properly ("You don't like flying, do you?" has never received a bigger applause), and quickly we were all in cinema heaven.
As the sun continued to set, not only did the quality of the screening get better, but so did the pronounced lights being shined against Fox Plaza -- emblazoning the building with the Nakatomi Plaza logo as searchlights rotated around the sky. As I looked back and forth between the building and the movie I recognized it was the perfect way to conclude my Die Hard-themed day -- all-together an epic, exciting, astounding tribute to a phenomenal, legendary blockbuster. One can only imagine the stops they will pull out when the film turns 40.
Die Hard 30th Anniversary Edition is out now on 4K, Blu-ray, and Digital