“Bruce who?” Penny asked me from across the office last Friday, as she was proofing that week’s Throwback about Bruce Springsteen. She had a point. I could have just as easily been talking about “Bruce” as in Bruce Willis. So you’ve got her to thank for this week’s selected item, the movie listings from the Sept. 17, 1988, Journal Gazette, featuring the premiere screening of “Die Hard”.
Before our feature presentation, why don’t we take a quick spin through what else was showing that week.
The Will Rogers had the double feature of “License to Drive” and the wonderfully titled “A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master”. If there’s a better one-two punch of trash films for your punk teenagers to see on a Friday night in 1988 than I can’t name one. Both “Coreys” (Feldman and Haim) in the same movie? You get the drift; just a guy, a girl, some cars, a buddy, some dopey parents, and lots of misunderstandings.
As for “The Dream Master,” if it seems odd to me now just how much those movies were marketed to kids, then it didn’t to me back in 1988 when I would have gladly donated my weekly allowance to see one but couldn’t because I didn’t have HBO. Regardless, this is the one where the blonde girl obsessed with working out turns into a giant cockroach.
Let’s mosey on over to the Time Theatre for a Mark Harmon double feature, a snapshot of the brief window when folks thought he was going to be the next handsomely sensitive actor. He almost was until Kevin Costner came along. I don’t know much about either movie except “The Presidio” was one of those movies TBS used to play a lot of when a Braves game got rained out, and Jodie Foster sure looks pretty on the movie poster for “Stealing Home.”
Across Broadway Avenue at the Cinema 3 there’s “Young Guns”, one of those movies that passed me by totally, and “Cocktail,” a movie I’m positive only got made because a producer got a panicky message from the studio saying, “We need Tom Cruise in a movie where he looks cool throwing drinks around. We’ll have the soundtrack out by the summer,” and that was that. Look, if you were a parent of the late ‘80s, I guarantee you and the spouse drove around in your van trying to rock out to “The Hippie Hippie Shake” and (ugh) “Kokomo” while your kid in the back seat tried and failed not to be scarred for life.
But on to our Feature Presentation, “Die Hard”; needless to say, the night my father brought it home from the video store, we both realized we were witnessing a classic. "Die Hard" truly had everything a kid of the era wanted in a movie, at least a movie that didn’t star Jennifer Connelly, I guess; explosions, gratuitous harsh language, smart-alecky quips from the a lone-gun wildcard facing overwhelming odds, the idiot police chief who didn’t know what to do, helicopter gunships, and of course, perhaps the greatest action movie villain of all time in the form of the late Alan Rickman as terrorist leader Hans Gruber. Pause for genuflection please.
It’s not like I hadn’t already seen a lot of “Hard-R” action movies by that point. Again, this was the ‘80s; I remember one sleepover when we watched “Commando” back to freaking back. But "Die Hard" was the first action film I had seen that was actually, you know, well made just beyond being violent. That moment where the Christmas music swells triumphantly as the vault door finally opens for the bad guys was, next to the Keith Hernandez episode of "Seinfeld," one of the most subversive things I had ever seen.
Plus, I was always taken with the idea that the film’s hero was stuck alone in what that was essentially an empty building except for the one floor where the terrorists were. The ‘80s sure had a lot of movies where people were locked in or hanging out in retails spaces overnight even though the only examples I can think of right now are “Chopping Mall,” “Mannequin” and “Career Opportunities,” and that last one I only remember of because of, once again, Jennifer Connelly featured on a movie poster that I’m surprised I don’t own, framed.
You’d better believe my whole family made the trip to the Cinema 3 just two years later for “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” which was, unbelievably, just about as good as the original, although to paraphrase “Wayne’s World 2” I left thinking it was a trifle unnecessary that we had to see the main villain’s buttocks. We made the journey again for 1994’s “Die Hard With a Vengeance,” a movie that was really pushing it in terms of quality but has now been grandfathered into greatness with the rest of them, and may very well have been the last movie I ever saw at the Cinema 3 before it shut down. Either that or “Apollo 13.”
Meanwhile movie studios who want to make buck off our memories have tried to bring "Die Hard" “back” with two more films, “Live Free or Die Hard,” where a hero who was clearly scared to death while trying to descend down a ventilation shaft in the first film using only the strap of his machine gun suddenly knows how to confidently fight a jump-jet with a semi-truck; and “A Good Day to Die Hard,” which found him running around shooting things in Russia. I’ve never watched it.
Believe it or not, the late great Roger Ebert gave the original "Die Hard" two stars, claiming it was undone by the fact that nearly every authority figure in the film, besides John McClain and good ol’ Sergeant Al Powell back down at ground level, was a total idiot. He had a point; but still, from one Central Illinoisan to another, Roger, wherever you are out there in time and space, you really blew it on that one.