Ever since Die Hard exploded in 1988 it’s been lauded as both the greatest action movie and the greatest Christmas movie ever made. While there’s a strong argument to be made either way, it’s also possibly the greatest example of the law of diminishing returns ever made, with a pair of decent sequels leading to a lacklustre fourth and execrable fifth instalment.
The Ultimate Visual History charts the rise and fall of the series in gloriously microscopic detail, tracing its origins as pulpy 1970s novel Roderick Thorp novel Nothing Lasts Forever (itself a sequel to The Detective, filmed in 1968 with Frank Sinatra, making Die Hard a semi-sequel), to its ‘80s and ‘90s glory days, through to the series’ nadir.
Quite wisely, the book focuses on the first and best movie, with the first half of the book (devoted to John McClane’s debut appearance) containing a wealth of trivia that will satisfy even the most ardent fan. Die Hard didn't exactly have the most conventional shoot, with an untested TV star exhausting himself by shooting the movie at the same time as Moonlighting; shooting in a real, under-construction, partly-occupied skyscraper (LA’s Fox Plaza), and an insane production schedule. It’s all chronicled here in minute detail, drawing on extensive new and archive interviews with the likes of Willis, director John McTiernan (who also supplies an introduction), screenwriter Steven de Souza and producer Joel Silver.
Alongside the already legendary stories regarding the action classic, the authors uncover a wealth of new ones. For example, Alan Rickman ended up on the casting director’s radar after unsuccessfully auditioning for Schwarzenegger’s Red Heat. They also debunk - courtesy of writer de Souza - the popular myth that the project started life as a sequel to Commando, and discuss the origins of McClane’s iconic “yippee-ki-yay” (short version, everyone involved claims credit for the line).
Being a visual history, there’s plenty of photography and artwork on display, much of it previously unseen, varying from storyboards to McClane family photographs. These are great fun, ranging from the informative - such as storyboards for unfilmed scenes - through to Reginald VelJohnson mugging it up at the premiere.
The four sequels are given similar treatment, with Die Hard 2 and With A Vengeance wisely afforded more space than the less popular 4.0 and Live Free, although fans of those movies (which we’re assured exist) won’t feel short-changed, with pages devoted to exploding helicopters and Jai Courtney’s expressionless face.
The final section looks at other media, from the fondly remembered ‘90s video game, to comics, to the spoof Die Hard Christmas which retells the movie as an illustrated kids book.
The Ultimate Visual History is just that. As comprehensive a look at the action classic as you’re likely to find, with great stories, trivia, behind-the-scenes photos, and production art. It’s the perfect present to accompany the perfect Christmas movie. Yippee-ki-yay indeed.
DIE HARD: THE ULTIMATE VISUAL HISTORY / AUTHOR: JAMES MOTTRAM & DAVID S. COHEN / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW