Christmas Classics: Die Hard vs. Nothing Lasts Forever
Let me start by saying that I won't get involved in a debate about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie, because there is no debate. It's absolutely a Christmas movie. And if you haven't seen it yet, close this article and go watch it now.
Seriously, I can wait.
Did you watch it yet? Awesome.
Die Hard is a 1988 film that is considered to be the quintessential action movie. Not because Bruce Willis plays the biggest and baddest hero, but because he plays the most relatable one. People love a hero they can connect with, and Willis's John McClane is a character who isn't setting out to save the world. He's just an average guy who gets caught in extraordinary circumstances, but he still does everything in his power to save the day.
The iconic action scenes, witty dialogue, and scene-stealing villain Hans Gruber make Die Hard a movie that will be talked about for decades to come. But did you know it was based on a novel?
Nothing Lasts Forever is a 1979 novel by Roderick Thorp. It centers around grizzled detective Joseph Leland and is the sequel to The Detective, a novel that was adapted into a 1968 movie starring Frank Sinatra. Yep, Ol' Blue Eyes himself.
I want to shift my focus to the novel, because there's not much more I can say about the movie that hasn't already been said.
Is it any good?
I'd give it four out of five stars. The action scenes are well-written, I enjoy the voice that Thorpe provides for Leland's character, and the concept of the story is straightforward but original. There aren't any major gripes I have with it. though there are times where exposition and info-dumps take me away from the main story and the action.
For example, in the very first chapter, we get pages and pages of history about Leland’s history as a pilot and what is essentially a full summary of the events of The Detective. While getting to know the main character’s history is important, it seemed a little excessive. Another example is the introduction of antagonist Little Tony. As soon as Leland recognizes him, it triggers roughly eight pages of backstory and exposition through a monologue at a conference Leland had attended. In Die Hard, when we first meet Hans Gruber and his guys, we immediately get a sense of who they are and what they want. Sometimes, less is more.
But overall, the novel was entertaining and innovative for its time. The idea of a man picking off terrorists one-by-one to save a family member was well-executed due to the main character's wit and resourcefulness.
How does it compare with Die Hard?
There are many similarities between the book and the movie, particularly with each iconic action sequence (climbing through elevator shafts and vents, clinging onto a hose outside a window as explosions ring out, etc.) and story beat. Even some of the dialogue is similar, though Leland goes with "Geronimo, motherf***er" instead of "Yippee-ki-yay, motherf***er."
The main difference is the tone. Die Hard is lighter in tone than Nothing Lasts Forever, providing more humor, one-liners, and a wisecracking main character. The opening scenes of each story are a great indicator of just how different Joe Leland and John McClane are. In the first chapter of the book, Leland shoves a Browning handgun in the face of a man he'd been in a fender bender with. In the movie, McClane carries a giant, stuffed teddy bear through an airport.
Perhaps that's why people enjoy the movie more. I can't really say if the movie or the book is better, because they are two different mediums and two vastly different characters.
John McClane cracks jokes after killing the bad guys, but Joe Leland has a lot of past demons and burdens to bear. Reading Leland’s thoughts allows us to see just how hard the story’s events are on him. This is something that’s conveyed more in a book than it would be in a movie.
The movie also has a happy and triumphant ending, while the book’s ending is quite tragic and dark. That’s why, despite the plot and action scenes being the same, it’s tough to compare the movie with the book because they are so different.
If you’re looking for a story with a complex main character, morally ambiguous characters all around, and gritty, realistic violence, then I’d recommend the book. If you want a fun story where the good guy wins the day over evil, and you want to go out to the coast and have a few laughs, then I recommend the movie.
No matter what book or movie you choose this Christmas, I hope it’s a good one. Merry Christmas to all and thanks for reading!