Jumping the Shark, or, ‘Pointless Milestone’

by TheLitCritGuy



Firstly, let me get a little bit of shameless bit of self-congratulation out-of-the-way. I started this blog after a slightly drunken chat on New Year’s Eve 2011. A friend challenged me to start writing more regularly and, as with most people who start something for their New Year resolution I never thought it would last longer than a month or so. I thought that, like millions of blogs out there in cyber-space it would splutter along for a little while then fall silent and dormant – just, sitting there occupying a domain name. Thankfully, there were people who seemed interested in this idea of talking about books, films and how the two interact and it was that interest that encouraged me to keep writing.  Along the way I like to think that my writing might have gotten a little better and the ideas talked about became more interesting. So, yes – this might well be a little noticed blog on the critiquing films and books part of the online world, but this is the 50th post, and if there is anything the internet is good at, it’s celebrating possibly pointless milestones. If you’ve ever dropped by this little digital house of mine – thanks a bunch, and here’s to the next 50.

I’ve thought long and hard about what would be the best way to mark the 50th post and after putting in some effort in I realised I couldn’t do any better than one of my favourite films – a Christmas classic too. That’s right people, today; we’re talking about ‘DIE HARD!’


Yeah. Of course.

Some news for you friends – Die Hard is based on a book.

Ready? Well, let’s begin…

For those of who you don’t know, (possibly you’ve only just awoken from a prolonged coma) Die Hard is a 1988 action movie starring Bruce Willis. The plot centres around the world-weary NYPD cop John McClane (played by Willis in a star making role) who goes out to California on Christmas Eve to try to reconcile with his estranged wife Holly. Holly works in the Nakatomi tower and that night the Tower is taken over by a group of German terrorists led by the charismatic Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman. Yes, really played by Alan Rickman and, if you haven’t seen it, believe me, it is glorious to watch the man chew scenery and put on a MAGNIFICENT fake accent. McClane then dedicates himself to thwarting the bad guys plans and the action and dialogue is just top notch.

As for the rest of the plot, there really isn’t one. We get the good guy, we get the bad guy and we get the conflict. In a sense that’s all the film needs to do, and then the plot (in terms of exposition at least) takes a back seat and we get action. Great action too – for anyone fed up of dour, overly serious action films from today Die Hard shows how to do action properly. John McClane is a fantastic action hero – not a superman, just a regular guy trying to do what he thinks is right. Looking back from the slurry of grey mush like the new Total Recall and the contemptible Expendables movies this film’s approach to action is old-fashioned but so refreshing and FUN to watch.

The film is generally really well made – the setting, exposition and characterisation all work in perfect synch ensuring the film is slick, entertaining and focused on what needs to happen. Again, comparing this film to the flabby, obnoxious action movies generally produced today it is just great to see an action film that synthesises action with story and good character. Now that I’m thinking about it the only other film in my memory that does that even partly successfully lately has been the Avengers.

And yes, believe it or not – this is based on a book.

This is where the story gets interesting though, because the background to the book is slightly more complicated than other adaptations. So, allow me to explain…

In 1966 the thriller writer Roderick Thorp wrote a novel called ‘The Detectives,’ detailing the life of the hard-boiled PI Joe Leland who gets drawn into a noir style investigation. The book is the literary successor to the old Sam Spade books and films and was adapted into a 1968 film of the same name. The film was designed as a vehicle for one of the most famous men in the world at the time, with the part of Detective Joe Leland being played by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself – Frank Sinatra. As opposed to some of the films Sinatra starred in, the film went on to be a huge success and is widely considered to be one of the strongest performances of his film career. Emboldened by his success Thorp wrote a sequel. Inspiration came in 1975 when he went to see The Towering Inferno at the cinema and that night had a dream about a man being chased around a skyscraper by men with machine guns. From this dream Thorp wrote Nothing Lasts Forever, a direct sequel to his first Joe Leland novel and it is Nothing Lasts Forever that was turned into Die Hard.

Yes, that’s right – Bruce Willis plays a character originally played by the legendary Frank Sinatra.

You will never watch Die Hard the same way again…

Thus, we come to the main question – is this a good adaptation? Somewhat surprisingly the film is really faithful to the source material. Altered by the screen writers to be a standalone story all of the main plot elements are kept the same. True, a few names are changed – the book stages the action in the American Klaxon Oil Company and the gang led by Gruber are Cold War Era terrorists. The amazing action scenes of the film are in many cases lifted directly from the novel. Willis crawling through elevator shafts? Done in the book. Willis dropping a C4 bomb down the shaft? Done in the book.

Really I have to say that by most of my criteria this is just a great adaptation. So it looks like I have yet another reason to love this film. With that then I’m going to dig out my DVD and enjoy Bruce Willis blowing stuff up, and if anyone dare complain I can, with my integrity intact, claim to be appreciating culture.

Thanks guys