I begrudgingly have to admit that, while it is widely considered the finest film in the action genre, Die Hard is not perfect. The 1988 box office smash, which had explosive results for Bruce Willis’ career (literally and figuratively), has the slick cinematography, first rate special effects, top-notch casting, and heart-racing excitement that every thriller since has been aspiring to replicate, but, if you dig deep enough, you will find a good handful of flaws that aspiring filmmakers should take note of.
To be fair, the production of Die Hard, inspired by Roderick Thorp’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever, was plagued by a demanding shooting schedule, a near-death accident or two, and a script that was being rewritten as it was being filmed and it still ended up becoming a bonafide masterpiece. However, while its strengths greatly outweigh its weaknesses, they are there and once you notice them, even the blast of a block of C4 tied to a computer monitor thrown down an elevator shaft is just barely a worthy distraction.
I know it is a little early for Christmas, but I cannot resist the chance to talk about Die Hard any time of the year, even if that means pointing out the little things in this otherwise tightly constructed story that do not make that much sense. These are seven that had me scratching my head most furiously.
What Company Hosts Its Office Holiday Party On Christmas Eve?
Die Hard takes place on the night of the Nakatomi Corporation’s holiday party, held inside the Nakatomi Plaza, which entices John McClane (Bruce Willis) to visit his estranged wife Holly Gennaro (Bonnie Bedelia) in L.A. and is seen as the perfect time for Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his goons to take over the building in hopes to rob its high-security vault. The plot device cleverly assembles all the necessary players of the drama together in one place, but with one glaring problem: the party itself is on Christmas Eve.
Call me old fashioned, but I have never heard of a company that holds its office holiday get-together on a night not usually meant to be shared among coworkers. There are even two lines of dialogue that call out the fallacy: when Holly cites Christmas Eve as a time for family when Ellis (Hart Bochner) asks her out and when the ground floor security guard tells John the party guests are the only ones left in the building, probably because the rest are with their loved ones as they should be. The Christmas season is a holly-jolly backdrop for Die Hard, but it's a bit hard to understand why all of these coworkers would rather spend the night before Christmas with each other and not with their loved ones.
Hans Gruber Knows Everything About Takagi Except What He Looks Like
After Hans Gruber and his goons crash the Nakatomi Christmas party, he rounds up the hostages, and asks for company president Joseph Takagi (James Shigeta) to step forward. Then, he walks among the crowd, seemingly struggling to identify his target among the guests whilst listing off a series of facts about him that he has clearly committed to memory before Takagi finally reveals himself.
The anticipation of Takagi’s inevitable surrender makes for one of the earliest moments of intense dread in Die Hard, yet, in retrospect, you have to wonder why Gruber had to ask for the man by name. He presents a detailed biographical summary of everything from his college career to his number of kids and, in all his research, he not once saw a picture of the guy? Unless the thief’s intention was to lure Takagi right into the palm of his hand, it seems out of character for Gruber would be more responsible to complete his homework.
The Fire Department Is Too Quick To Abandon A Cancelled Fire Alarm
Having avoided being taken hostage, John McClane hides out in one of the unfinished floors of Nakatomi Plaza and turns to a nearby fire alarm to attract attention. Of course, Hans Gruber’s crew takes note of the alarm, cancels the signal, and much to McClane’s dismay, the first responders immediately turn the fire truck around while still en route to the building.
I must say, I would feel pretty alarmed if my local fire department fled the scene of a cancelled distress signal so quickly without even bothering to inspect the situation. If there is any sign of an emergency, especially in a freaking skyscraper, you don’t just turn your truck around and say, “Ah, they cancelled the alarm. Good. There’s still time to be in bed by the time Santa arrives!” The only silver lining to this frustrating Die Hard flaw is that it paved the way for Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) to join the party. Plus, the firefighters would've been walking into a nightmare had they tried to enter the building, so maybe it's for the best.
The Uneven English/German Ratio Of The Villains’ Dialogue
Most of Hans Gruber’s crew of heavily armed robbers are German, which is why their dialogue in Die Hard is in the European country’s native language. Well, that is not actually entirely true.
In some scenes, the thieves speak to each other in pure German while in others they speak English, and in a few, a goon will speak to Gruber in “German” and he will reply in English. The logical explanation for this is that none of the actors in the villainous roles were from Germany (for instance, Alan Rickman was English and Alexander Godunov as Karl was Russian) and the language they were speaking was actually a similar-sounding gibberish they created to mask that (hence the lack of subtitles). However, within the context of the film, the constant flip between languages is a little confusing and one would assume an international criminal would prefer to speak in their native language as often as possible to confuse the American hostages and law enforcement.
John McClane’s Amazing Color-Changing Undershirt
John McClane is so underprepared when Hans Gruber shows up to Nakatomi Plaza, he does not even have enough time to put on a pair of shoes before making a run for it. However, it appears that he was able to pack an extra tank top.
Roughly an hour into Die Hard, when McClane is climbing through the air ducts to elude the goons, as he exits the ducts, it appears that his undershirt, which is now on display at the Smithsonian, has changed color from white to a dark green. One could assume that any dust and grime inside the cramped ducts rubbed off onto the shirt, but not enough to completely change its appearance. How McClane was able to change his shirt like Clark Kent in a phone booth might just have to remain one of Die Hard’s unsolved mysteries, which brings me to my next topic.
Hans Gruber’s Inconsistent Escape Plan
Hans Gruber is a self-described “exceptional thief” who plans his crimes meticulously right down to the escape. If not for Argyle’s (De’voreaux White) interference in the parking garage, the crew might have gotten away with their plan to elude capture by driving out of the Nakatomi Plaza in an ambulance they smuggled in by hiding it inside a truck... the same truck that they all rode into the building with, which is where the flaw in Hans’ plan lies.
When the thieves first exit the truck to enter the building, you can see behind them, as clear as day, that the truck is empty, yet their ambulance (which fits like a glove inside that truck, by the way) happens to appear inside just when it is about time for thieves to pack up and go. According to an episode of the Netflix docuseries The Movies That Made Us that specifically shines a light on the making of Die Hard, the ambulance escape plan was added late into the production and it was not until after the first cut was completed that the filmmakers noticed the flaw, prompting director John McTiernan to simply chalk it up as an inconsequential blunder. I guess we’ll just assume that the secret Gruber’s expert villainy is magic.
How Is John McClane Not Dead?
If there is any evidence that people still need to prove that Die Hard is a cinematic holiday classic it is John McClane’s single-handed rescuing of the hostages at Nakatomi Plaza is nothing short of a miracle. If that is not enough, consider the fact that he did not die that fateful Christmas Eve.
From his tussle with Karl’s brother Tony down a flight of stairs to leaping from the top of the Nakatomi Plaza just as the roof explodes with a fire hose as his tether and so many moments in between, McClane cheats death more than a compulsive gambler in Vegas. Bruce Willis has cited the main appeal of Die Hard to be the everyman quality that helped his character stand out among the common superhuman action star caricature of the time, but someone who survives an ordeal that pits them against even a modest fleet of heavily armed criminals while losing large amounts of blood in the process (and five times for that matter), you cannot call yourself an “everyman.”
Are these things going to stop me from enjoying Die Hard every time I watch it? Nah. But if you have a suitable explanation to any of these nonsensical oddities from this otherwise masterful classic, be my guest and please enlighten me. If not, at least come back for additional news and updates about Die Hard, future films in the franchise, and more here on CinemaBlend.