When you think about the greatest action films of all time what comes to mind? Maybe Terminator or Lethal Weapon; maybe perhaps Raiders of the Lost Ark, or even Enter the Dragon. Whatever it may be, one of greatest action films that has to be considered is the 1988 blockbuster Die Hard. I mean that movie alone in the late 1980’s spawned a franchise of action movies just like the Lethal Weapon franchise, and had so many good lines in it that they are still used in casual conversation today. Just this morning I said, “Yippie Kai-yay…” you know the rest. The film was nominated for four Oscars that year, but lost all of them, three of them were lost to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which was a ground breaking film for live action mixed with animation. But where did Die Hard come from?
It turns out that the film Die Hard was adapted from a Frederick Thorp novel called Nothing Lasts Forever that was published in 1979. Being the Die Hard junkie that I am, it is my favorite Christmas film that doesn’t have a cameo by Santa Claus, I just had to read the thing. So off to Amazon I went to down load the book, if it were available, and yes sir there it was. So I bought it and immediately dove into a novel that was going to rock.
The first thing I noticed that John McLean wasn’t John McLean, instead he was Joe Leland a late 50’s Vietnam veteran and police consultant on his way to Los Angeles. Well that’s okay. Books often change the names of characters. I can live with both. There were some other minor changes, like the fact that Joe was going to L.A. to visit his daughter and here kids for Christmas instead of his wife, who he was long divorced from and she long dead from something else in the book. Again no problems. It is when I got into the action of the book that some of the gritty writing of Thorp’s characters really started to come out.
Joe Leland isn’t some wise cracking, shoot-em up cowboy like Bruce Willis comes off in the film. No he is an ultra-serious crack shot son of a bitch who has a penchant for violence. He kills easily, without compunction which isn’t hard to do with terrorists in his line of work, but a couple of the terrorists are young women, whom he doesn’t even bother blinking over once he’s done the deed. The terrorists in this case are of course your idealistic monsters instead of uncommon criminals like the likable Alan Rickman and company in the movie. Even the cop on the outside Al Powell isn’t nearly the same as in the movie.
The novel turns out to be a dirty, gritty ride through the landscape of your mind, where morals are shoved into gray areas as the people spend the majority of the novel, killing, trying to kill, or rationalizing killing each other. The book is beautifully done and well worth the read just to see how the movie that really helped kick-start the cop action drama genre was adapted for film. I just have to say that this ultimately ended up being one instance where the movie was better than the book overall.