Holiday Gift Alert! Book Review: Die Hard: The Ultimate Visual History by James Mottram and David S. Cohen

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Yippee-ki-yay! Too obvious an opening for a review of Die Hard: The Ultimate Visual History? Oh well, too late now—already done. Hopefully yet another rehash of that famous exclamation will help convey my enthusiasm for the new Insight Editions coffee table book that's a celebration of all things Die Hard. Over the course of 240 pages, authors James Mottram and David S. Cohen chronicle each of the five feature films, with the lion's share (quite understandably) dedicated to the original 1988 blockbuster that catapulted star Bruce Willis into the superstar stratosphere.

Holiday shoppers hoping to make Die Hard buffs happy this festive season would do well to proceed directly here. "Visual" history, yes indeed. This hardcover guide to the world of John McClane is generously stuffed cover to cover with photos—on-set, promo shots, candids of cast members, storyboards, concept art, and more. It's also uniquely sprinkled with inserts that make the book something of an interactive experience—a mini-folder of removable Hans Gruber "surveillance images," deleted "Atrium Scene" storyboard pages, samples of screenplay pages, a fold-out of promotional Bruce Willis images, and a host of other little trinkets.
Die Hard book 1.jpg Insight Editions has a long history of this sort of thing—Iron Man Manual, The Godfather - The Official Motion Pictures Archives, The Dark Knight Manual, to name a few reviewed here—and this Die Hard tome doesn't quite have as many little "easter eggs" tucked throughout. Still, it's a fun added dimension to the otherwise straightforward volume. Just know that if the book's pages don't look like they're laying quite as perfectly flat as they might, that's the reason why. Not for nothing are books like this one shrink-wrapped by Insight Editions. It wouldn't take too many lookie-loos in a bookstore, flipping through it and manhandling all the little inserts, to damage the "extras." 

Die Hard book 2.jpg A key point to understand—this book is not just "visual." Far more than a mere picture book, co-authors Mottram and Cohen have written a fascinating history of the film saga, dealing with the source novels for each film (all but the disappointing A Good Day to Die Hard were based on existing books), including the fact that the original film's source, Nothing Lasts Forever, was a sequel to The Detective, by Roderick Thorp. The latter was adapted for the big screen in 1968 with Frank Sinatra in the lead role Det. Sgt. Joe Leland. Sinatra had "first right of refusal" for any sequels, so yes, 20 years later, Die Hard's production team was contractually bound to offer Ol' Blue Eyes the role. 
Die Hard book 3.jpg Of course, the aging music legend declined and the search for the perfect McClane began in earnest—with 20th Century Fox rolling the dice the star of a rom-com TV show. Want the whole story? Get Die Hard: The Ultimate Visual History. Even if you're not especially fond of all four sequels, the stories told here are endlessly interesting. You might even find yourself longing to revisit some of the more maligned entries (I, for one, did end up revisiting A Good Day, though I found that it's still depressingly ill-conceived and ill-executed).

The small sampling of images here doesn't really do justice to the quality of this (and other) Insight Editions guides. If you have any of their earlier books of a similar nature, you can expect the same high-quality photos and incisive writing. If you've never own an Insight Editions edition, hopefully the sampling of images give you an idea of the sheer amount of visual information presented.

Die Hard book 4.jpg

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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