A Critical Analysis of a Christmas Classic


What better way to reward my loyal readership during this, the Christmas season, than to take a critical look at Die Hard, a Christmas classic, and expose the real secrets behind the success of this phenomenal film. So pull up a chair and have that plate of cookies within arms reach, 'cause you're in for a treat.

Die Hard.
 

Best Christmas movie ever.

What more is there to say?


Oh right. I am the guru, so you clearly expect more than the simple truth. You want to know the inner workings - the hows and whys - the essence of what makes the script not just work, but blow all other scripts off the map. And more importantly, you want to know how you can take that essence and apply it to your own pathetic attempts works in progress.

What exactly did Stuart and deSouza do to elevate this script from just run-of-the-mill good to absolute greatness? Was it the flawless structure, the brilliant characters, the tight, action packed plot and the theme that simply oozed off the pages? Well yes, these all had minor parts to play in the film's ultimate success, but the real magic is so simple that it is hidden in plain sight.

Lets take a look at a page from the script, shall we?


WITH THE LIMO - DUSK 8

TILT UP from the Lincoln emblem on the car.

Both Argyle and McClane are in the front seat.

ARGYLE
Just kick back and relax, man. We
got everything you need: CD, CB,
TV, VHS, telephone, full bar.


He looks in the back seat, which is occupied by the bear.

ARGYLE
If your friend is hot to trot...I
know a couple of mama bears.
(turning to McClane)
...Or is he married?

MCCLANE
Married.


McClane tries to get comfortable, scowls as a RUSTLING NOISE
reveals wrappers and styrofoam from Taco Bell. He scowls at
Argyle.

ARGYLE
The girl was off today. Hey, I
didn't expect you to sit up front.
(back to the topic)
So, your lady live out here?

MCCLANE
The past six months.

ARGYLE
(thinking about that)
Meanwhile, you still live in
New York?

MCCLANE
You're nosey, you know that, Argyle?

ARGYLE
Hey, I'm sorry. When I was a
cabdriver, see, people expected a little
chit chat, a little eccentricity and
comaraderie, I forgot how stuck up you
limo guys were, so excuse me.

MCCLANE
(amused)
It's okay, it's okay.

ARGYLE
(instantly)
So, you divorced of what?


McClane gives up.

MCCLANE
She had a good job, it turned into
a great career.

ARGYLE
But meant her moving here.

MCCLANE
Closer to Japan. You're fast.

ARGYLE
So, why didn't you come?

MCCLANE
'Cause I'm a New York cop who used
to be a New York kid, and I got six
months backlog of New York scumbags
I'm still trying to put behind bars.
I don't just get up and move.

ARGYLE
(to the point)
You mean you thought she wouldn't
make it out here and she'd come
crawling on back, so why bother to
pack?


McClane grins, he like Argyle even if he is direct.

MCCLANE
Like I said, Argyle...you're fast.

ARGYLE
(popping in a cassette)
Mind if I play some tunes?


A hard RAP SONG blasts from the speakers.

MCCLANE
How 'bout some Christmas music?

ARGYLE
That is Christmas music.


And damned it if isn't, the Fat Boys of Run DMC doing a
revisionist number on WHITE CHRISTMAS or something. McClane
gives up, looks out the window.

********************************************


Did you see it? The sheer genius leaping off the page and smacking you in the face? No? Look closer.

What you have here is a scene between McClane and Argyle, a secondary character, which effectively reveals McClane's motivation while still moving the story forward, provides entertainment enough so that people choose to hold their large sized coke filled bladders, and offers up some nice foreshadowing. But that's not the genius. Those things have to be in any good script.

The genius is that they named a character after a type of socks.

Socks. SOCKS! How friggin' brilliant is that?!? Wow. Any producer getting his hands on this baby and seeing a character named after socks would soil his shorts with excitement. (Okay, technically argyle refers to a pattern that is not restricted to socks and is often seen on sweater vests, but in this case the writers are clearly going with the sock thing - and it's genius.)

Try it with your scripts. You'll be amazed at how much better received they are!

And don't limit yourself to sock patterns and types. Kitchen appliances are hot right now too! Cuisinart or Kenmore make for rockin' character names. Or the generic brand No Name. A producer would bend over backwards to get his hands on a script with a lead called Noname! I kid you not.

But don't get too excited just yet with this new shiny nugget of knowledge. It's not as easy as glancing around your messy apartment and grabbing onto any object that strikes your fancy. No, in order to create script selling character names, the pros know they need a personal connection to the object under consideration.

I'll go back to Die Hard to demonstrate.

Just before Argyle is introduced, McClane has a lovely scene on the plane where a friendly salesman offers him advice:


SALESMAN
(smiling)
Ya wanna know the secret of successful
air travel? After you get where you're
going, ya take off your shoes and socks.
Then ya walk around on the rug barefoot
and make fists with your toes.

MCCLANE
Fists with your toes.

SALESMAN
Maybe it's not a fist when it's your
toes...I mean like this...work out
that time zone tension.
(demonstrating)
Better'n a cup of coffee and a hot
shower for the old jet lag. I know
it sounds crazy. Trust me. I've
been doing it for nine years.


I'm not sure who it is, but clearly either Stuart or deSouza has a serious foot fetish. (Or maybe both. Maybe that's what initially brought them together, but that's just pure speculation on my part - but does make for an interesting visual... but I digress.)


Where was I? Foot fetish. Yes. The script positively reeks of it. Think about it - The scene where the audience gets a close up of McClane actually indulging this toe-to-carpet fetish. And later, when the stakes are high and McClane slices his foot open. What they've done is set feet up so that the audience truly cares for them and then they brutally slice them open. Classic. A dysfunctional love of feet is clearly one of the lesser talked about major themes of the whole work.

Yep, one of those two scribes is clearly a very sick puppy. He wove his own personal fetish so brilliantly into the entire script that one can almost picture a scene with McClane and Holly in a marital therapy session where she talks about McClane's strange insistence on rubbing Rogaine into her toe knuckles.

But what does this have to do with you, especially if feet just don't do anything for you? Well, young scribe, abnormal foot fetishes are not the only dysfunction in town. In fact, the DSM-V is practically a who is who list of Hollywood writers, so just pick your mental illness and go from there. And don't tell me you don't have a neurosis of your own. If you are truly a writer, you've got some strange, bizarre, or downright sick pathology. Work it into your script by way of character names, and your pages will have blockbuster written all over them. What better way to cash in on something that has most certainly caused you years of embarrassment?

Afraid of cats? Name your characters after famous Chinese Restaurants.



Have a thing for nose warts? Oh baby, the character name possibilities are endless with that one!


So go ahead and embrace your neuroses. It will elevate your character names to blockbuster status. (Hey, it worked for Die Hard, didn't it?!)



Holiday Bonus: This is good advice for dating too. Don't hide your pathological issues. Flaunt them! Crazy is sexy hot.

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