Soundtrack Review: ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’

Die Hard 3 soundtrack

Anyone remember the RCA Victor release of the “Die Hard with a Vengeance” soundtrack back in 1995? That release was a joke and an unforgivable one as well. It did have some of Michael Kamen’s music score on it as well as a couple of rap songs which I’m not sure were in the movie, and some symphony pieces by Beethoven and Brahms which are not in this movie at all. It was as if RCA just wanted to throw any kind of soundtrack together so they could cash in on this sequel’s expected success, and what resulted was a travesty which any true soundtrack fan would be right to despise.

Well, it took over a decade, but La La Land Records has finally given “Die Hard with a Vengeance” not only the proper soundtrack release it deserves but an expanded one which contains two discs of music. In addition, it also comes with an informative booklet written by Jeff Bond who discusses how this “Die Hard” movie differs from the two which came before it, and it looks at how Kamen came to develop this particular score. But the great thing about this soundtrack release is it forces you to listen to Kamen’s music more closely in a way we didn’t previously.

When I first saw this sequel, I wondered if Kamen had actually bothered to create a new score for this “Die Hard” adventure. Many of the music cues sounded like they came from “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 2,” and it was hard to spot any new musical themes throughout. Listening to the La La Land Records release, however, makes you realize Kamen did not just simply throw something together. Much thought went into this particular score as it presents a somewhat darker John McClane (played by Bruce Willis) than what we have seen previously, and it also captures the joyful qualities of the heist movie that “Die Hard with a Vengeance” is meant to be.

Among the pieces of music I was thrilled to hear on this soundtrack is “Taxi Chase” which has McClane and Zeus Carver (played by Samuel L. Jackson) driving through a populated park in New York in an effort to catch a train before it explodes. “Taxi Chase” sounds unlike any music Kamen has previously composed for a movie with all its urban percussion. In the booklet, Bond quotes Kamen on this cue as it is one of the composer’s favorites which found its inspiration from his living in Manhattan.

“A lot of it (the movie) takes place on the streets I inhabited,” Kamen said. “I was trying to figure out what music to put there and I remembered that Needle Park is just up the street, and all you ever hear is bongo players and people driving past, and that’s why that cue is all native percussion. We’re using drums and drum loops and the normal accouterment of a modern recording studio – even a live drummer from time to time.”

This soundtrack not only contains music which was not on the original release, but also the music which was written for the movie but not included in it. Bond writes how director John McTiernan removed a number of Kamen’s cues from the movie, but Kamen wasn’t bothered by this too much because he was very collaborative and agreed with many of the changes McTiernan wanted to make.

And yes, The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” which opens the movie is on this soundtrack as well, and it has never sounded better.

When it comes to these expanded soundtracks, I usually say how they have never looked or sounded better. With La La Land Records’ release of “Die Hard with a Vengeance” though, that’s a given as the original release was put together before Michael Kamen even had a chance to finish his score. While it may not have the same exhilarating or emotional sweep as his score for “Die Hard 2,” what Kamen has put together here is great and highly enjoyable to listen to. This release also forces you to realize Kamen was never out to just recycle his own work in the way the late James Horner was often accused of doing.

Sadly, this proved to be the last “Die Hard” movie Kamen scored before his death. Marco Beltrami later took over composing duties for “Live Free or Die Hard” and “A Good Day to Die Hard,” but the music Kamen created for these films will live on forever.

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT HOW YOU CAN PURCHASE THE “DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE” EXPANDED SOUNDTRACK.

‘Incredibles 2’ Was Well Worth the Wait

Incredibles 2 movie poster

I was beginning to think Pixar had made one too many sequels to their biggest hits, but now we have “Incredibles 2” which brings writer and director Brad Bird back into the Pixar fold as he continues the fantastic adventures of Bob and Helen Parr who try to balance out their crime-fighting ways with raising three kids, each who has their own unique super powers they are ever so eager to use. It is no surprise how this sequel is not as fresh or as inventive as its predecessor, but I am thrilled to say “Incredibles 2” proves to be just as much fun as the original, and it is a blast from start to finish.

It has been 14 years since “The Incredibles” was unleashed on us, but “Incredibles 2” begins just mere seconds after it ended with the Parr family doing battle with the Underminer who lays waste to their town while robbing the Metroville bank. They manage to thwart the Underminer’s dastardly plans, but in the process they leave a tremendous amount of damage in their path. Despite their goodwill in preventing many citizens from getting hurt, the police do not even try to contain their fury at these supers to where they flat out tell them it would have been better to let the bad guy get away as the bank are insured. Hmm, it kind of makes you think how the story might just reflect the state of our society today…

While attempting to do the right thing, the Parrs forgot that, in spite of their victories, supers are still illegal and have long since been forced to adhere to their secret identities. With this latest incident, the family has been forced to say at a motel as their home was destroyed, and they are informed by government agent and friend Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks) that the “Super Relocation” program is being shut down permanently. Bob and Helen now have two weeks to figure out what they can do to support their family before they find themselves homeless and out on the street.

Their savior comes in the form of Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a telecommunications tycoon who has been a big fan of superheroes since he was a child. Winston is intent on changing the public’s perception of supers with the help of his tech savvy sister Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), and he chooses Helen to revive her superhero alter-ego of Elastigirl to make this happen. However, this leaves Bob, better known as Mr. Incredible, at a loss as he feels he should be the one to start things off, but Winston feels Elastigirl is a better choice as she does not leave the same path of destruction Mr. Incredible does on a regular basis. This ended up reminding me of what Al Powell told John McClane in “Die Hard 2” after McClane said he had a feeling about something:

“Ouch! When you get those feelings insurance companies start to go bankrupt!”

Seeing Helen/Elastigirl take center stage as the main superhero in “Incredibles 2” is a wonderful twist on the original when Bob/Mr. Incredible did his superhero thing while Helen stayed at home to look after the kids. With “Wonder Woman” having been a critical and commercial smash hit, lord knows we have been long overdue for female superheroes to take charge as this genre can no longer be considered a male dominated club. Holly Hunter returns to her role with great relish as she makes Helen/Elastigirl into a wonderfully realized human being who runs the gamut of emotions throughout, and the action sequences she is featured in puts those in so many live action movies rendered in this past year to utter shame.

It’s also great to have Craig T. Nelson back voicing Bob/Mr. Incredible, and hearing him here reminded me of the welcome presence he gave us in movies like “Poltergeist,” “All the Right Moves” and on the television series “Parenthood.” He does great work in making Bob’s heroic efforts in caring for his children by himself all the more palpable as he experiences sleep exhaustion any parent can relate to. Whether its desperately trying to understand how Dash’s teachers want him to do math in a completely different way from what he as taught or dealing with Violet’s descent into adolescence, Bob has more to deal with than any parent could ever expect, and having to handle so many real-life obstacles on your own has to be admired more than criticized.

This is Brad Bird’s first movie since “Tomorrowland” which proved to be a critical and commercial disappointment. After his phenomenal success with “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” and “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” “Tomorrowland” was greeted with a lot of criticism to where it seemed like Bird lost his mojo, but every director has their failures, and we are always eager to see them make a comeback. With “Incredibles 2,” Bird shows us how quickly a filmmaker can recover from a cinematic failure as he raises the bar for the other movies to be released in the summer of 2018. When “The Incredibles” was released, the superhero genre was not at the same level of popularity it is at now, and this created challenges for any sequel destined to follow it. But Bird more than rose to the occasion as he has given us a sequel which is gloriously entertaining and full of heart.

I also have to say Jack Jack steals every scene he’s in here. Whereas we saw some of what Jack Jack was capable of in the first movie, his parents are only now discovering he has many superpowers. This makes Bob’s role as a parent more challenging as Jack Jack won’t stay still, refuses to fall asleep, and turns himself into an angry beast at the most inconvenient of moments. Even Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) cannot maintain his cool self once he sees how this baby boy can make himself invisible and not easily detectable.

And yes, Bird reprises his brilliant character of Edna Mode, fashion designer to the supers who, in her first appearance, reveals herself to be infinitely perturbed to learn Elastigirl is wearing a suit not designed by her. Still, she becomes Bob’s savior when upon agreeing to babysit Jack Jack so he can for once get a decent night’s sleep. The bond she forms with this baby boy is a hilarious sight to take in as he is quick to mimic Edna’s every move, and it makes her appearance all the more delightful to take in.

I got to see “Incredibles 2” with a nearly sold out audience, and it reminded me of how much fun it is to watch a movie with so many enthusiastic people. You could complain at length about how this sequel doesn’t have the freshness of the original, but it would just take away from the fun it contains. I had a great deal of fun watching this long-awaited motion picture, and the rest of the audience clearly felt the same all the way through the end credits. Pixar still succeeds in making movies for audiences young and old, and I eagerly await an “Incredibles 3.” Of course, it would be nice to see it come out in less than 14 years.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘Die Hard 2’

I so wish I saw this particular movie trailer in a theater when it first came out. Instead, I first watched it on the Movietime Channel which would later become E, Entertainment Television. One of my dad’s friends, however, told me of when he saw the “Die Hard 2” teaser trailer on the silver screen and of the reaction it generated. At first, it looked to him and the rest of the audience like just another action movie as the narrator went about describing Dulles International Airport even as there were title cards showing us exactly what he was saying. In my mind, I could see the audience repeating what they saw onscreen in a lifeless way as they waited impatiently for this trailer to end and for the movie they came to see begin.

But then Bruce Willis appeared as John McClane, and the audience burst into spontaneous applause as “Die Hard” quickly became an all-time action movie classic upon its release, and to see the former “Moonlighting” actor bringing this character back to the big screen made them super excited. With John McClane, Willis gave us a new kind of action hero which was so different from the superhuman ones Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone among others gave us time and time again. As a result, McClane proved to be more human than any other action hero many of us had seen previously.

When it comes to this particular teaser trailer, what I love is how it has all these sound effects going on even as the narrator narrates away, and it forces you to imagine what is going on at this airport during one of the busiest travel seasons ever. We have all been to the airport during the holidays and have experienced the craziness and insanity of getting checked in and of the flight delays which are usually inevitable, and this teaser pokes at those fears and anxieties we have while waiting to travel home to see our families.

Once we see the title card which says “but tonight on Christmas Eve,” I began to realize this might be the “Die Hard” sequel we had been waiting for. Then Bruce Willis enters and says, “How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?” It makes perfect sense that McClane would say this as, like I said previously, this is an action hero more human than the average one we had been exposed to for many years. Furthermore, I was happy to see Willis say this as many sequels strand characters like McClane in the same situation, and yet the filmmakers would treat it as though the previous movie never happened. But with this simple exchange which spells out how he spent Christmas this way last year, I became even more enthusiastic about this sequel as the filmmakers knew in advance that they had to deal with this inescapable fact.

Even after all these years, I still love watching this “Die Hard 2” trailer as it raises my excitement level to a very pleasurable degree, and it takes a lot for a movie trailer to do this for me these days.

WRITER’S NOTE: In addition to the teaser trailer above, I am also including the two trailers which came after it. Back then, this proved to be the first time when I realized movie studios were never content to release just one trailer for a summer blockbuster. Each of them was thrilling to watch, and this sequel was released back in a time when my expectations for a motion picture were much higher than they are now. These days, I am very guarded in my expectations as I usually expect them to not be met.

Renny Harlin and Steven E. de Souza Look Back at ‘Die Hard’ & ‘Die Hard 2’

Die Hard poster

Steven E. de Souza and Renny Harlin dropped by the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood back in 2009 to talk about the making of “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 2.” Both films introduced us to modern action hero John McClane, a man more real and human than the muscular superheroes played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. They also inspired a most popular concept in movies; the lone warrior fighting overwhelmingly bad odds. The audience at the Egyptian clearly had seen both these movies hundreds of times, but seeing them on the big screen made them seem more exciting than ever.

In talking about the genesis of “Die Hard,” de Souza said it was based on Roderick Thorp’s novel “Nothing Lasts Forever.” The filmmakers followed the book closely, but there were differences: John McClane was older and visiting his daughter, not his wife. Also, Al Powell (played by Reginald VelJohnson) was originally a cab driver, but the character was turned into a cop as the CB radio craze had long since ended. The writers also dropped the ticking time bomb as well. De Souza also explained in writing the screenplay how he made Hans Gruber the protagonist and John McClane the antagonist. Basically, while Gruber is dragging out time, McClane is busy trying to foil his plans.

In casting “Die Hard,” de Souza admitted Bruce Willis, best known back then for starring on the television series “Moonlighting,” was not the first choice. Frank Sinatra had first dibs as “Nothing Lasts Forever” was a sequel to his movie “The Detective,” but he felt he was too old to play the part. Offers were made to Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Caan and even Richard Gere, all of whom turned the role down as they found McClane to be too passive.

Die Hard 2 poster

The conversation moved on to “Die Hard 2” which de Souza said 20th Century Fox decided to move forward with a week after the original opened. Harlin said he had just finished making “A Nightmare On Elm Street 4,” one of that franchise’s biggest hits. This led to him getting many offers as the thinking is studios proclaim you a genius when you have a hit movie. Harlin said he still doesn’t understand the thinking behind this. 20th Century Fox had offered him “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” and gave Harlin total freedom in filming a movie which featured, as he put it, “girls in bikinis.” The studio bosses liked what they saw and gave him “Die Hard 2” to direct, and Harlin began shooting it two weeks after “Ford Fairlane” wrapped.

Harlin remembered “Die Hard 2” as being so hard to make and that even Joel Silver came to admit he put too much on his plate. As nervous and excited as he was about doing it, Harlin bemoaned his misfortune at shooting during what he called “least snowy winter ever.” He and the production team looked everywhere for snow and couldn’t even find any in Colorado or Montana. In Spokane, Washington, they finally lucked out with lots of snow and were set to start filming, but a sudden heat wave melted it all on the very next day.

Both Harlin and de Souza said they saw “Die Hard 2” as a comedy which makes sense when McClane says, “How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?” Bruce Willis, however, didn’t see it as a comedy and initially refused to say the “yippee kay yay” line again since he already did in the first film. Harlin said Silver eventually convinced Willis to do a take his way and then another take Harlin’s way. Indeed, it works well as a comedy as McClane’s bad luck is impossible to ignore. Harlin did however credit Willis for the “just the fax ma’am” line.

Thanks to de Souza and Harlin for dropping by. Seeing “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 2” on the silver screen was a great treat. After all these years, they remain exhilarating action movies to watch.