Pop Culture Intervention

I Watched 'Die Hard' For The First Time And Learned Not To Judge A Film By Its Genre

Old habits "die hard."

At A Plus, we're addicted to pop culture, and Pop Culture Intervention brings that obsession to the soapbox. Through this series, we'll recommend what you should be watching, reading or listening to; explore how arts and entertainment affect us; and interpret the important messages contained within various works.

This month marks 30 years since Die Hard first hit theaters. To commemorate this milestone, I recently chose to put my genre biases aside and watch the quintessential '80s action movie for the first time. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience and learned to be a little more open-minded about pop culture.

I'll admit that I can be a bit of a movie snob, although I like to think I've loosened up a bit since my college days, when my Film Studies major inspired me to turn up my nose at films I deemed "lowbrow" and gush about a lot of artsy titles I'll probably never watch again.

These days, I try my best to choose movies based on what I genuinely think will entertain or enrich me, without being influenced by what has the most Oscar buzz or the most pretentious reviews. I can also appreciate the occasional guilty pleasure flick, preferably when viewed with a friend. However, I can still be pretty judgmental when looking at the latest cineplex offerings. I frequently complain about how many sequels and remakes Hollywood puts out, and roll my eyes when I see three superhero trailers in a row. 

One genre I can be particularly snobbish about is action movies, which I've long thought were mostly self-important showcases of hypermasculinity and gratuitous violence, with one movie stealing from the other until they all blend together into one big fiery explosion. I admittedly haven't seen many, as I truly believed if you've seen one, you've seen them all. 

These preconceived notions, combined with the movie's milestone anniversary, inspired me to bite the bullet and finally watch Die Hard for the first time. And lo and behold, I actually enjoyed it.

It probably didn't hurt that the film is the originator (or at least the prime example) of many of the tropes which countless later movies went on to imitate, often to lesser effect. The film's status as a "classic" definitely eased my mind going into it, because as hard as I may resist it, there's still a little stuck-up film student inside me. However, the film also went on to defy some of my expectations of the action genre, and I ended up having a lot of fun.

Its age certainly added to its charm — from the 75-cent gasoline, to the permed hair, to the convenient absence of cellphones on which to call 911. But the movie was amusing for more than its nostalgia, particularly because it didn't take itself too seriously — from John McClane's foul-mouthed one-liners to the juxtaposition of extreme violence with jolly Christmas decorations.

As critic Rob Gonsalves wrote in his retrospective review of the film, "it's as though the filmmakers approached each scene ... by asking themselves how entertaining they could make it." And I appreciate that. I love a fun, over-the-top set piece, as long as it's done with an implied wink from the filmmakers — and the actors.

For example, if I'm going to watch a shirtless, barefoot man with a machine gun strapped to his chest tie a fire hose around his waist and leap off the top of a skyscraper before shooting out a window to swing through it, I expect at least an ounce of incredulity from said man as he does it. And that's what's great about Bruce Willis in the role — even he can't seem to believe the increasing ridiculousness of his situation.

Plus, you simply can't go wrong with Alan Rickman as a villain, and that's all I need to say about that.

Does this mean I'm planning to run out and see a new action movie every weekend? That's unlikely. However, I might dip my toes into a few of the Die Hard sequels, and maybe some other classics I've resisted for similar reasons.

I may not have been completely transformed (old habits die hard, after all), but I'm glad I kept an open mind, and I suggest you try it as well. Watch that beloved movie you've avoided for years, or let your friend show you their favorite title that you've always been skeptical about. If you don't like it, then you can feel superior for the rest of the day. But you might end up being proven wrong, and that's not a bad thing. After all, life is too short to miss out on great movies.

Oh, and one more, very important thing about Die Hard — it's totally a Christmas movie.

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