WHAT, really, is a Christmas movie?
My colleagues greeted my choice of festive film with a chorus of disapproval. It’s not Christmassy, they said. It’s too violent. It isn’t heartwarming.
But take any ‘Christmas’ film, strip away the snow and sleigh-bells, and what are you left with? It’s a Wonderful Life – a life-affirming drama. Elf – a fish-out-of-water comedy. Jingle All the Way – an unforgivable crime against not just cinema but the senses themselves. Tempting though it is, you can’t spend all of Christmas Day gorging on sweet, rich, sickly fare. At some point, you’ve gotta have some MEAT.
So where does this leave Die Hard? Tense, funny, iconic; it’s one of the greatest action films ever made. It’s set at Christmas. Vaughn Monroe croons Let It Snow over the end credits. Some music cues even manage to use sleigh bells to create tension. Until its sequel, it was the world’s first and only Christmas action film.
You could argue the film provides more wish-fulfillment than even the most saccharine seasonal schmaltz. Fed up of the archetypal office Christmas party where the photocopier is used to distribute images of body parts, your boss ignores you, and the egotistical womanising lothario gets away with his usual shtick? Treat yourself to a Die Hard Christmas, where the photocopier is sellotaped to some explosives and used as a makeshift bomb, while both the boss and the egotistical womanising office lothario get shot in the head. Ding-dong merrily on high!
And so to The Plot – or what there is of one, for this is a movie that defines the term ‘high-concept’: hangdog New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis in his archetypal breakout role) flies to LA for his estranged wife’s office Christmas party, hoping to rekindle their relationship. Gatecrashers arrive in the form of a band of European terrorists (baddies were European in the blockbusters of 80s America), led by the peerless Hans (Alan Rickman giving arguably the greatest turn of camp villainy in screen history). Reduced to crawling barefoot around the air-vents of a glitzy skyscraper, will John ensure the American Way prevails by shooting some foreigners and saving his marriage? Have a guess.
If this all sounds like a prefab template for the modern action film, that’s because it is. It’s strange to think of, but the setup felt fresh in 1988; less so now, because it has been copied, aped and recycled countless times in the genre – not least by its own increasingly barren sequels. But despite this, the original remains tense, funny, shocking and hugely entertaining. Don’t fill up on snacks, sweets and sugary treats; save yourself for the main course.