Every time a bell rings,
another terrorist gets his wings...
John McClane Vs George Bailey Grudge Match
So... I got into a disagreement on Twitter last month. Not an argument as such but a slight difference of opinion with a lady I much admire, who I follow on Twitter. One of the many strings to this talented lady’s bow is that she does a podcast about movies with her equally talented husband (I’ve written a review of one of their amazing books here in the past... they’re really great) and on that podcast they were having a debate about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie. She takes the stance that it’s not and I take the stance that, it most certainly is but... well, I hate disagreements so I stated my case and left the conversation hastily because, frankly, she gave me an idea about something I could write on the subject and which I could use for Christmas blogging... which is this lonely little article here. ;-)
I got to thinking because, it seems a lot of people take the tack that just because a movie is set during the Christmas season, that doesn’t make it a Christmas movie. Many people will not accept the first two Die Hard movies as traditional Christmas fodder at all. Well, I can sort of see the point if you’re talking about ‘Winter’ movies but... not if the Christmas setting and sentiment of the season suffuses the film with its spirit. For instance, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (which I review here) is not a Christmas movie because it’s set in a snowy locale for much of its running time during the winter... it’s a Christmas movie because parts of it are set around Christmas and include Blofeld giving out deadly Christmas gifts, hope of a future beyond what James Bond has been doing with his life up to now (basically killing people) and, frankly, the most kick ass Bond song ever written by John Barry. No, not that one, I’m talking about the other song which is Christmas themed and shows up in a number of places on the soundtrack in varying forms, Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown? This song, which talks about the magic of Christmas, is sung by Nina with lyrics by Hal David and, yeah, easily the greatest James Bond song ever written. I get it out every Christmas for many spins.
Anyway, I thought to myself, how can I prove to people that Die Hard is a genuine Christmas movie and then I thought... by taking a traditionally loved and accepted Christmas film and showing how, if you compare the two, Die Hard has way more Christmassy elements to it than said example. So George Bailey and his guardian angel Clarence came to my rescue because, frankly, my number one all time favourite Christmas movie is... and I suspect always shall be... It’s A Wonderful Life. There’s no two ways about it... it’s a Christmas movie which blows away all other seasonal films and leaves them standing in the snow. It’s a film I love and could watch over and over again, every December (and I do need to find a decent Blu Ray of it to upgrade to so I can review it for this blog next year).
However, if you’re talking Christmas movies then, in terms of the ornaments and decorations which make a Christmas movie, not to mention the underlying spirit of the film, then Die Hard appears to blow it away like Bruce Willis throwing James Stewart off the roof of the Bailey Building And Loan and yelling out “Yippee Ki-Yay Frosty Lover”. I’m going to labour now, in a very quick to make point, why Die Hard is more a bona fide Christmas movie than my beloved It’s A Wonderful Life in the possibly misguided hope that this will end the immortal argument of McClane’s Christmas credentials once and for all.
Okay, so it’s an easy thing to do. Just list the Christmassy elements of the two films and let you decide...
So... in the Red Corner, we have Die Hard (reviewed by me here). It’s a film which takes place at Christmas and, get this, the action takes place in a building where a huge office Christmas party is taking place. That party gets brutally gatecrashed by thieves posing as terrorists but, woohoo, the husband of one of the party goers, a cop called John McClane, wants to preserve those Christmassy family values by putting his own life on the line and saving his wife and fellow party goers from Alan Rickman and his gang of thugs. So there are your family values right there but, woah, this film is absolutely littered with Christmas propoganda. I should mention, perhaps, Mr. McClane’s message on the corpse he dresses with a Christmas hat and with the message written on his jumper which says... “Now I have a machine gun. Ho - Ho - Ho!” Heck, he even uses Christmas tape to fasten a gun to his back in one scene. Then there’s the chauffer in the car park playing Christmas rap tunes in his car. And let us not forget the late, great Michael Kamen’s wonderful score which actually takes some traditional song melodies such as Winter Wonderland and writes them into the action and stealth cues as John McClane brings his message of Christmas spirit and death to his enemies. All this, for me, gives the whole film a flavour of Christmas and, while I’m not nuts about this film and don’t hold it in as high regard as a couple of the sequels... if I’m ever going to watch this film on any given year then it has to be between the 1st and 30th December for me, otherwise... it’s just ‘out of season’.
Okay, so... in the gloriously monochromatic corner we have... It’s A Wonderful Life, the greatest Christmas movie of all time. So let’s take a look at the Christmas elements. Okay, so strong family values for sure as George Bailey sacrifices his entire life and stays in Bedford Falls in the pursuit of everybody else’s happiness. Technically not a Christmas thing in and of itself but I’ll let that slide. Okay, so the film starts off, for the first couple of minutes, at Christmas Eve in Bedford Falls and returns to that setting for the last, what... 30 to 40 minutes of the movie? This film is 2 hours and 10 minutes long and the part which just happens to be taking place at Christmas is not even a third of the total running time of the thing. And even then there’s no real interaction with the Christmas festivities in this part... it’s pretty much just one of the Bailey kids practicing a Christmas song in the background of a scene for maybe a minute. And as for music... I think there’s a snatch of Oh Come All Ye Faithful mixed into the opening of the film to point out that it’s December but, well that’s it as far as the score goes into festive territory I think (I have the wonderful CD put out by Kritzerland a few years ago on in the background as I write this). The song they all sing in front of the Christmas tree after the suicidal father decides not to kill himself after all is... the traditional version of Robbie Burns’ Auld Lang Syne, which is pretty much a New Year's song, not a Christmas thing. And then there’s... oh wait, that’s it. There’s hardly any specific symbols of Christmas in this thing other than the warm feeling you get in your heart when all is well (despite a loose end or two)... just like you get a warm feeling in your heart when John McClane’s family unit is safe and he pushes Hans Gruber off the Nakatomi Plaza building. And, for your information, angels are not specifically a Christmas thing, especially not Guardian Angels. This just makes It’s A Wonderful Life a Christian movie, not necessarily a Christmas one.
And there you have it. I personally think they’re both Christmas movies but if you’re going to stand up and attack the festive feel good yuletide slammer that is the yearly Die Hard tradition for, I’m sure, a lot of people then... yeah, well there’s a heck of a lot more of the Christmas trimmings in the Bruce Willis flick than the Jimmy Stewart one (and, like I said, I’m not the biggest fan of the first Die Hard but I recognise it as a well made movie, as you’ll know if you’ve read my review of it). If it comes down to it personally, It’s A Wonderful Life is always going to be getting a good seasonal showing throughout my life, truth be told but, yeah, Die Hard once in a while for the odd December or two, for sure.
So there you go, two Christmas crackers that movie fans will mostly love, I should think but, both equally valid of being termed a Christmas movie, at the absolute least. I’m sure this debate will run and run between people for many years to come but, if you just want the facts, point the naysayers towards this little article... it’ll hopefully save you some time. ;-)