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It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...Star Wars

The air outside is crisp. You can see your breath and the end of your nose is red and cold. The houses that you pass have Christmas trees in the windows. There are lights arranged all over the front lawns. The stores are all lit up and twinkling. The bell ringers are sitting in front of the shops collecting your spare change for charity.

But it’s not a Christmas party that we’re going to tonight.

I’m sitting in a restaurant with my wife and my daughter. It’s not a fancy place. “It’s not the Shangri-La,” as I’ve been known to say in description of any place that doesn’t require a jacket and tie. No, this is just a hamburger joint.

We’re sitting in a booth enjoying big, fat cheeseburgers, shoestring fries, and ice cream sundaes. There is electricity in the air. There is a smile on my face. This is a special day.

At the table next to us there are two men about my age. They’re having a casual conversation about their work and if you just listened to the words you’d think they were in bus…

40 Movies For 40 Years: 1988

So I fell a little behind.

I promised two installments a week until my birthday and now I’m way behind the 8-ball. What can I say? Life happened. It’s been a busy and stressful year for yours truly and those around me. I moved out of that old trailer that was too small for us 15 years ago and now we’re living in a house in Leeds. I even have my own space in the house. A game room/family movie room/office that I like to call the Geek Cave.

I finally finished up all the work that I needed to do for last semester and I’m getting ready to start taking another class over the summer.

Wasn’t there something I was supposed to be doing?

Holy crap! I’ve still got 30 years worth of films to get through in my blog project before July 4! Well, two installments a week isn’t going to cut it now. This blog is going to just about have to be daily for the next few weeks in order to catch up. Oh well…I think I’m up for a challenge.

The summer of 1988 was a milestone of a year for me. I finished elementary school when I graduated out of Ms. Bouchet’s homeroom class. The following fall I would be a big kid and I’d start taking classes across town at the middle school. That’s right, in the south we don’t usually call it Jr. High…we call it “middle school”.

And my love of movies was just beginning to kick into full gear. I wasn’t just obsessed with the movies themselves anymore. I was quickly becoming enthralled in the production aspects as well. I know that year brought us the classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit. For a long time…that was it. I didn’t need anything else. A movie filled with live action AND cartoons? Yes! Please, yes!

I devoured magazine articles that told how all of the special effects were done. I was amazed at the lengths they went to in order to make a cartoon rabbit drink out of a real whiskey glass. It was amazing!

As I have grown I still have a fond appreciation for that film. I watch it every now and again to scratch that nostalgic itch. But there were several other films that came out in 1988 that I consider to be among my favorites as well. Tom Hanks was getting Big…Michael Keaton was grossing us out in Beetlejuice…and Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman had the classic Rain Man.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I started to grow an appetite for action movies. By the time that I was 15 or 16 I was hooked on films that had heart thumping  shootouts, car chases, people hanging from buildings, explosions and everything else you’d associate with brainless popcorn films. And one thing that I’ve noticed is that many of the action flicks that I loved as a teenager seem to be cut from a template. There is a pattern that most of them follow that lead to them becoming successful. It’s a quality that has only been done perfectly one time; in the film that created the cloth that all of the others are cut from.

Die Hard.

Die Hard stars Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Alan Rickman, and Reginald VelJohnson. It was directed by John McTierman who was mostly known for the film he’d directed the year before… Predator.

Bruce Willis was a fairly well known person in 1988. He was in a pretty popular comedy/drama called Moolighting at the time. But, in my opinion, this movie solidified him a leading man in film.

Willis plays John McClane, a cop from New York who flies out to LA to spend Christmas with his family. His marriage has been on the rocks lately and he’s hoping to get back into his wife’s good graces. His wife is Holly McClane (Bedelia). She has recently taken a job as an executive for the Nakatomi Corporation. They are having their Christmas party when John arrives. He gets there and goes to the bathroom just in time for some terrorists, led by Hans Gruber (Rickman), who want to steal the bearer bonds that the company has in their vault. They take the party goers hostage except for John. Now it is up to him to stop the terrorists from killing any innocent victims and save his wife.

Before I get into telling you what I think of the movie (love it), I want to give you a little bit of background info that I’ve always found interesting.

Die Hard was based on a novel by the name of Nothing Lasts Forever that was written by Roderick Thorpe in 1979. In the book the main character’s name is Joe Leland. He is a retired New York City cop. He flies out to visit his daughter who works for a big corporation and their having their Christmas party. The rest of it is pretty much the same. He even swings through the window just like Willis does in the film.

This is where it gets a little interesting. Nothing Lasts Forever was the sequel to another novel that Thorpe wrote in 1966 called The Detective. That book was made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra as Joe Leland. He had in his contract that if they ever decided to make a sequel to that film that he would get the first opportunity to reprise his role. So, honoring the contract, Fox offered the lead role in Die Hard to Frank Sinatra. Can you imagine ol’ Blue Eyes, in his late sixties, crawling through the duct work in his undershirt and with his bleeding feet? It would have been something altogether different.

Luckily, Sinatra turned the role down and it was retooled into what we have now. Bruce Willis was chosen mainly because as a newbie to the movies he was a lot cheaper than some of the big stars that were eyeing the role.

The rest is history. Die Hard is the perfect action movie. It has the gunfire, explosions, and fight scenes that you’d expect. But this was one of the first times that I remember seeing humor so perfectly woven into a film in which the stakes were life and death. Willis had so many one-liners that it’s impossible to remember them all. And those little jokes did not detract from the tension. They actually made it feel more real. It made John McClane seem more like a real person. And that made the movie that much more intense.

And what can I say about Alan Rickman? He was one of my favorite actors. So many movies that I love he was a part of and just made them so much better just by doing what he does best. The slow, methodical way that he delivered his lines with just enough of an accent to make it seem more menacing was incredible. And this was the first movie that I ever remember seeing him in. If he had not been there I don’t think this film would be the classic that I think of it as being today.

I really can’t do anything but gush over this movie. I watch it at least once a year. It was so well received that they made another one a couple of years later that was very good as well. It wasn’t AS good as sequels usually aren’t. But it was strong and stood on its own.

The third one though…wow! We’ll have to see in a week or so but I think that one has a chance of making it on this list as well.

Then we get the stories of movies that were written to be Die Hard sequels and ended up becoming their own thing. You can see the origins coming from that original film. Under Siege (Die Hard on a ship). Speed (Die Hard on a bus). The list goes on.

And then there are the movies that were supposed to be other things and eventually were rewritten to put John McClane in them. Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard both suffer because of that.

But there was an a teenager that just happened to be in the room one night when his dad turned on the TV and started watching Die Hard…and that kid was hooked on stupid blow-em-up flicks ever since. 


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