“Yippie Kay Yay….” Those are the signature words uttered by Bruce Willis’ heroic John McClane that the Die Hard series that have defined the film for the last twenty-five years. Those single words have defined a generation of action-fans that have flocked in droves to see Willis’ antics of how can you top this from one film to the next. While the films have pretty much outtopped one another, save the recent one and there’s no doubt that DIe Hard no. 6 is in the works, there has always remained one constant thing about the series, the music itself which has always had a fascinating and fun history to them.
When Michael Kamen was originally hired to do the music for Die Hard, he already enjoyed a successful collaboration with legendary action producer Joel Silver (Predator, Commando, 48 Hours, etc.) on the hit, Lethal Weapon, writing some of his best action music for that film with guitarist Eric Clapton and jazz saxophonist David Sanborn and was the composer chosen by Silver to work the same magic on Die Hard. Kamen upon seeing thought the film was a “rampid piece of crap” at first, but did find the inspiration to use both “Ode To Joy from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony” as the signature theme for Alan Rickman’s memorable classy and well-spoken villain, Hans Gruber and incorporated “Singing In The Rain”, as an ode to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange suggested by Director John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt For Red October”. Much to Kamen’s surprise as well as the studio, Twentieth Century-Fox and its filmmakers, the film based on the novel by Roderick Thorpe, was an instant hit in the Summer of 1988 and not only did the film transcend on both the social conscience, but also become one of the more memorable action thrillers of all time. Kamen’s score also became very popular and for years soon after, directors and producers would hire him to recreate that sound for their action pictures soon after such as Road House, Renegades, Dead-Bang, James Bond’s Licence To Kill and the sequel to Lethal Weapon. The music was a brilliant showcase for Kamen to flex his action muscles and everyone took notice and it shows with the two sellout releases of the Varese Sarabande Club and the definitive, La-La Land Records albums which shows what a strong and enjoyable score this really is.
By the time, Die Hard 2: Die Harder rolled around, Kamen had a new director to work with in Renny Harlin, but with Silver and most of the original filmmakers of the first film still on board. The film was an even bigger hit when it was released on July 4, 1990 grossing over 119 million at the box office and I can still remember Siskel & Ebert’s glowing “Two Thumbs Way Up!” review for this film. Thanks to an even better storyline based on Walter Wager’s novel “58 Minutes” and taking Bruce Willis’ rather constrained claustrophobic confines of sneaking around inside a building and setting it at an airport where he battles mercinaries, rogue military soldiers and a major military drug dictator to save his wife, who’s plane is flying overhead desperate to land. Kamen had a completely fresh slate and used Jean Sibelius’ tone poem, “Finlandia” to the suggestion of Harlin, the Finnish director, as the basis to build his bigger, badder and very dramatic action score which really has its fair share of rousing moments such as the Runway sequence and the film’s major set piece, the fight on the wing of the airplane and its’ fiery conclusion. Kamen’s score really propelled the story and brought more drama into the film with a wonderful musical palette that the original film didn’t do as much. The score, for some isn’t as memorable as the original, but for me I still think it’s good, if not better than its’ predecessor in so many ways.
Four years, would then pass before the next Die Hard film go into production and with original director, John McTiernan returning to the series, Die Hard With A Vengeance went back to New York City for its’ roots with an original script by Jonathan Hensleigh (reportedly based on an aborted Lethal Weapon screenplay). With Willis’ character back to the city where he worked as we learned in the first film, out of shape and down spirited John McClane, when a mad bomber comes calling playing a game of “Simon Says” with him just to make matters worse. The twist is that the villain played by Jeremy Irons, was the brother of Alan Rickman’s character in the original film, Simon Gruber and now teamed up with a bad ass, Samuel L. Jackson to try and stop him. Kamen had written some completely new material for the film, that unfortunately was never used, was severely trauncated or reworked for the final cut of the film using material from the first two films. The film’s original ending, which was very dark had to be re-shot and re-scored to even more satisfactory conclusion to the film. The score’s signature theme this time was the inspired use of “Johnny Comes Marching Home”, which McTiernan wanted more of to be featured in the score. Kamen also used the city as we see Willis and Jackson running all over town to flex his musical muscles using some contemporary urban material mixed in with his traditional style fleshing out the musical material to the beat of a different drum this time around. While the music, isn’t quite as strong or memorable as the first two films and more than holds its own in terms of suspense, bombast and rousing material as evidenced by La-La Land Records’ exhaustive two-disc release which features a great wealth of material recorded for the film.
By the time 2007, rolled around twelve years would pass before Live Free Or Die Hard under the helm of Director Len Wiseman (Underworld) would be released that summer. By this time, John McClane was an older character still a New York Detective and one that was still ticking to analog world that the series’ fans were used to. With McClane dealing with a cyber terrorist mastermind in Timothy Olyphant (Justifed), he still managed to outwit even the greatest of criminals in every way possible showing that this analog ways are still in vogue while saving his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and his computer hacker partner (Justin Long). With the untimely passing of Kamen four years prior to the release of this film, fans wondered who would take up the slack that Kamen left off on proudly in the mid 90’s and the choice was Wiseman’s collaborator, Marco Beltrami. Beltrami was riding high after his breakthrough horror score for Scream with a career that was just about to explode with a well earned Oscar nomination for the brilliant, Spaghetti-Western homage for the remake of 3:10 To Yuma. For this film, he does honor Kamen in using his own musical voice to bring out the musical excitement of the original Die Hard films. While the score, isn’t quite as memorable as the others for lack of uses of Kamen’s original Die Hard themes, Beltrami was just getting started making this next trilogy of films, his own.
Now, “A Good Day To Die” which was recently released, Beltrami really unleashes the material that the previous film didn’t have and that is more Kamen’s influence which really makes this latest score for the film, the most entertaining since the original and that is really saying alot. Beltrami really went for it here and nailed it beautifully using that Kamen signature sound when the movie required it and it was a great ode to the late composer who was lost so soon ten years ago because of his long time battle with Multiple Sclorosis, which was an inspiration to those to know him and has left a great legacy. It can also be really thought of as a tribute in alot of ways in celebrating the series and the original film’s 25th Anniversary which really does it justice. It is also great to know that, the next film or how many more there could be are in store for fans of the series, are in the right musical hands to continue the great legacy of films that don’t die harder with each decade that passes.
Die Hard With A Vengeance is available from La-La Land Records http://lalalandrecords.com/DHWAV.html
A Good Day To Die Hard is available from Sony Classical
Live Free Or Die Hard is available from Varese Sarabande
Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Blu-Ray Collection is available from Fox Home Entertainment http://www.amazon.com/Die-Hard-Anniversary-Collection-Vengeance/dp/B00ANGID14/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1362639855&sr=1-1&keywords=die+hard+25th+anniversary+collection