Thursday, January 31, 2008

The week of Dying Hardly

We just finished watching all 4 'Die Hard' movies this week. We never saw them when they came out, and I'm not a big action movie fan anyway, but my sister said they were good, so we rented them and watched them. Very enjoyable, though not the sort of movie I'd watch more than once.

In order of preference, I'd rank them #1, #3, #2 and #4. The first one really was the best - Alan Rickman, was a terrific villain, and who cares if his German accent migrated around a bit? I also liked the way the whole story was forced into a small space; it all took place inside or just outside one office building, from which no one, hero or villain, could easily escape. It was like one of those Agatha Christie mysteries where everyone is trapped together in a country house. None of the subsequent movies used that premise, and I think they suffered from it. #2 probably came the closest, with most of the action focussed on the airport, but then it burst out into chases through the countryside on snowmobiles, and a relocation to the mastermind's headquarters at a church, and I found it lost intensity the more it got scattered around. The other two went even further, sprawling all over the place in a sort of treasure hunt-style chase. In fact, I couldn't even really follow where everyone was in #4 - Woodlawn? In a transport truck? Virginia? Baltimore? Who knows.

It was interesting to see how the movies changed over the 20 years since the first one was made. In the first two, the "authority figures" were ignorant, obstructive fools. In the last two, they were serious, well-meaning types who wanted to help, but just couldn't keep up with John McClane in savvy and toughness. I noticed the movies seemed to get "whiter" with the years, especially as regards the villains. In the first one, the criminals were a sort of interracial "dream team" - Europeans, an Asian, a black American - and most of them were quite individual. Movie #2, also had some ethnic diversity in the bad guys - a very Aryan-looking mastermind, but there was a Castro-style strongman and a black American military guy to keep things diverse.

By movie #3, there was only one black character, supporting the hero, and the villains were starting to look extremely Teutonic, despite a few thuggish Russians. And in movie #4, the blacks have all but vanished. The villain is a baby-faced preppie, and McClane is supported by a pasty computer geek. Heck, #4 takes place is Washington, D.C., and you barely notice the blacks, even in the crowd scenes.

It's not something I normally obsess about, it's just that it struck me as odd. The first movie was made in pre-politically correct 1987, and had a lot of ethnic diversity. As time went on, the roles for blacks dwindled, when I'd have expected them to stay the same or increase. Why? And the villains became whiter and whiter, to the point where in movie #3, we're seeing some sort of secret army of East Germans, poised to take over a country somewhere. Talk about far-fetched! I wonder if the pressures of political correctness left movie-makers so afraid of saying something BAD about ethnic minorities, they responded by simply airbrushing them out of the fictional worlds being portrayed. Safer that way. And of course, the fictional dangers became more and more remote from the dangers people are facing in the real world. Countries ARE being taken over by secret armies, funded by criminal activities; they're just not armies of blond Europeans.

The one thing that turned me off the last movie was the excessive use of CGI. I know that dvd sales are a big factor in movie profits now - so why do the filmmakers insist on using so much CGI that looks crappy on a small TV? The jet chase became ludicrous after a while. The pilot is so skilled he can dart in and out of freeway structures, but he somehow can't manage to hit the cab of a giant transport truck? Come on. And it would just look DIFFERENT if a real human body fell on the wing of a jet - there's something wrong with the way computers do that. The old-fashioned way of doing stunts with real explosions and stuntmen just LOOKED better, which I why I prefer the first movie. Even with greenscreen effects, there's something about real bodies that can convince you in a way a computer effect can't.


Blogger Dr. Alice said...

You watched all four?! I admire your stamina. I only saw the first one, and I liked it, but I don't see all that many movies.

Your comments regarding villains immediately made me think of the "Casino Royale" remake with Daniel Craig that came out about a year ago; you might find it interesting (though it's violent). The heads of the operation are white Europeans, but one of the bad guys who was suckered into investing his money with them is the head of some thuggish African military dictatorship. I found this refreshingly realistic.

8:06 pm  
Anonymous Christopher Johnson said...

ABSOLUTE favorite part of #1 is that part at the end where Bruce Willis is walking in, his hands on his head, Bonnie Bedelia whispers, "Jesus!" and Bruce replies, "Hi, honey." LOVED #2 and haven't seen #3 or #4.

10:36 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Well, they're good entertainment, and really, a movie doesn't HAVE to be anything more than that. I think my favourite part of #1 was when Hans was reciting his "terrorist" demands to the police, listing all the groups they wanted freed, including some far-out organization like the Tamil People's Singhalese Army. One of his henchmen just stares at him in amazement, and he says in an aside "I heard about them on '60 Minutes'."

10:08 am  
Anonymous Sibyl said...

What is CGI?

8:42 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

CGI = Computer Generated Image. I don't know that much about HOW they make them, but this is a special effect done on a computer, the way computer games are made. So you can have things in a movie that are physically impossible to do (Spiderman swinging through the streets), or else, very expensive and very dangerous to do with real live people and props.

They used CGI a lot on the Lord of the Rings films, and in the right place, they work well, you can't even tell it's not "live". The battle scenes, for example - instead of using thousands of extras, the way they used to in movies like "The Ten Commandments", a computer can create an image of thousands of men fighting or riding horses. At a distance, and going by very fast, it looks real, but if you rely on it too much, and closeup, it just doesn't look right.

9:47 am  

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