Brooklyn Nine-Nine recently went full Nakatomi Plaza in a ripping trailer for its upcoming sixth season (fast-tracked on SBS Demand from January 11).
The trailer - fulfilling all of Detective Jake Peralta’s (Andy Samberg) Die Hard fantasies, even if it was a just a fantasy itself - landed just in time to dovetail with the annual, fiercely spirited debate on whether the action-classic is in fact a Christmas movie.
Sure it’s been written about ad nauseam, so as the debate rages 30 years on since Die Hard’s release, we’re going to give our two cents too. Welcome to the party, pal.
There’s some very compelling evidence for the “yes” camp
The Bruce Willis actioner is a Christmas movie staple with many references to the holiday, even though the movie was released in June.
So let’s look at the hard evidence:
It’s set on Christmas Eve. That’s a biggie, with the framing narrative that that the bloody-singlet clad, smart-mouth New York cop is on his way to reunite with his estranged family for Christmas in Los Angeles when a terrorist attack gets in the way.
His wife is named Holly (played by Bonnie Bedelia). McClane’s gun is taped on his back with “Seasons Greetings tape. The soundtrack features three Christmas songs: “Winter Wonderland”, Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” and “Let it Snow.” And it does (improbably) in LA just in time for a white Christmas.
Keeping with the Christmas music theme, the name of one of cinema’s best ever villains, Hans Gruber (the late, great Alan Rickman), would seem to be an ironic nod to the Austrian composer of Stille Nacht (Silent Night), Franz Xaver Gruber. And the German-accented Hans Gruber hums the Christmas classic, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
Then there’s the blatant Christmas quips in the screenplay. McClane plants a corpse in an elevator replete with Santa hat and the announcement hand-written on a jumper: “NOW I HAVE A MACHINE GUN. HO-HO-HO.”
Among our action hero’s large arsenal of smart-arsery is the line “Got invited to the Christmas party by mistake,” in reference to the celebrations terrorised by Gruber and his thugs.
Then there’s terrorist hacker Theo’s (Clarence Gilyard Jr.) take on The Night Before Christmas: “'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except... the four a**holes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation.”
And Gruber’s line to Theo: “It's Christmas, Theo. It's the time of miracles. So be of good cheer...”
There’s been much made of the so-called Christmas themes: redemption, victory of good over evil, the father foiled from getting home to his family, the Hans Grubery Grinch who tries to ruin Christmas. Historian Greg Jenner has even argued that Die Hard is “pure Dickens. But with machine guns.”
To that, he added the “underdog” theme. “John McClane is a classic Christmas underdog triumphing over selfish venality.”
Fan Hellfireswrath was more blatant.
And if anything could turn the naysayers, it’s that Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. de Souza is adamant it’s a Christmas movie, telling The Washington Post that producer Joel Silver predicted the movie would become a Christmas viewing staple.
Or the big Kahuna of confirmation, with 20th Century Fox just releasing a recut trailer calling the action classic the “Greatest Christmas Story Ever Told."
But that won’t stop debate from raging for the indefinite future.
It’s a classic action movie, not a Christmas one too
You can’t have it both ways, as the man who famously played McClane, Bruce Willis, said himself earlier this year during his Comedy Central roast.
“Now please listen very carefully,” he said. “Die Hard is not a Christmas movie!” he said. “It’s a goddamn Bruce Willis movie.”
And judging by a recent poll taken by market research company Morning Consult and The Hollywood Reporter, 62% of Americans agree.
I was (pitifully) a latecomer to Die Hard, and the Christmas references barely registered for me. Or if they did, they seemed pitched at peak irony, more Christmas pillory than reverent nod.
Christmas isn’t a central character in the movie. It’s a peripheral plot device in what is simply a classic action flick that happens to be set at Christmas, just as movies like Lethal Weapon, Gremlins, Batman Returns, and Rocky IV are.
At best, it’s a hard-edged antidote to the Christmas twizz that saturates our screens and streams at this time of year. I don’t reckon John McClane would be a fan of Christmas twizz.
And why does a redemption theme necessarily have to be a Christmassy one? Or that of friendship (between McClane and Reginald VelJohnson’s Sgt. Al Powell), or the “underdog” trope for that matter?
Can we not look at it as a (largely) unsentimental, epic shoot-em-up?
[Tweet embed: Elvis Buñuelo: The fundamental lesson of Die Hard is that shooting people is extremely liberating and I’m just not sure that’s a Christmas message.
Add to that, some of the arguments for the affirmative are frankly ridiculous. They’re a stab at adding tendrils of evidence in the obligatory online bonanza of Die Hard-as-Christmas-movie commentary this time of year.
John McClane climbing down an elevator shaft and through an air vent has been equated to Santa climbing down a chimney. By that logic, Speed and Mission Impossible are Christmas movies too.
Or that John McClane is Santa gifting the Christmas party hostages their freedom!
And a reading of Die Hard as a nod to the Nativity story? I can just imagine the expletive-laced repost from John McClane at the suggestion he’s a “weary traveller” like Joseph and Mary, as he’d travelled across the US to see his family for Christmas. Or the derisive sarcasm directed at the idea that the pregnant partygoer is symbolic of Mary.
Let’s consider too the very tongue-in-cheek nature of Fox’s Christmas-cut trailer. It almost seems to be taking the mickey out of the Christmas argument, reframing Die Hard (in part) as more revenge caper like Home Alone, or misadventure like Trains, Plains & Automobiles.
So are you going to side with a behemoth movie studio (itself now owned by Disney), the screenwriter, and an army of acolytes to deign Die Hard a Christmas flick? Or John McClane himself? I’m going with the latter. “Yippee Ki-Yay……
Brooklyn Nine Nine returns to SBS VICELAND at 8:30pm on Friday 11 January and streaming at SBS On Demand!