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Why Die Hard deserves recognition as a Christmas classic

John McClane’s true victory comes in the form of getting back his family — a theme recurrent if most, if not all, classic Christmas tales, says one expert.

It's not just about Nakatomi Plaza — Die Hard is about family, like all Christmas classics.

Screenshot / YouTube

It's not just about Nakatomi Plaza — Die Hard is about family, like all Christmas classics.

Yippee-ki-yay Calgary, it’s Christmas and that means another screening of the holiday classic, Die Hard.

Whether it’s big venues like Cineplex or local fan-driven events from Fifth Reel, December 2017 has already seen multiple screenings of the 1988 Bruce Willis classic.

It’s hard to believe naysayers still exist that won’t acknowledge John McClane’s solitary mission as the Christmas tour-de-force of cinema that it is, but they’re out there, plotting to keep the most commercial of holidays strictly G-rated.

Fortunately, a couple of cinema-loving Calgarians are here to set the record straight.

When he’s not drumming the yuks on Kim’s Convenience, local actor Andrew Phung frequents Loose Moose to present his show Kill Hard – inspired by classic action movies.

It takes much more than a movie simply being set at Christmas time to qualify as a Christmas classic (otherwise we’d have to include flicks like Iron Man 3), but Phung argues that Die Hard has all the elements of a classic Christmas movie.

“We have a man looking for redemption – he’s Scrooge in a certain way,” Phung explains.

“He needs an attitude adjustment and he goes through this whole experience that, at the end of the day, makes him revaluate life and revaluate what’s important.”

Erin Craig, President of the University of Calgary Film Society, said Die Hard was actually a family tradition every Christmas. The whole basis of the plot is about a man who's estranged from his family.

“The film is interesting because it challenges a lot of patriarchal expectations, which were going on near the end of second-wave feminism,” Craig explained.

“Holly’s understanding of what she knows to be a family does not align with John’s expectations. So there’s a problem there. The basis of how it all comes together, how it becomes a Christmas movie, is reconciliation in time for Christmas – in order for John to see his kids and get back together with his family.”

Yes there’s a legendary villain, great one-liners and at one point McClane gets a machine gun (ho, ho, ho), but McClane’s true victory comes in the form of getting back his family – a theme recurrent of most, if not all, classic Christmas tales.

The big issue is the violence

Megan Garber at the Atlantic called Home Alone “sadistically violent.” Home Alone is ostensibly a holiday classic.

It’s an important point to make, because while Die Hard shows actual blood and bullets, it’s done with a serious tone.

An eight-year-old named Kevin McCallister, on the other hand, gleefully takes part in: burning Harry with a blowtorch, knocking out Harry’s tooth with a paint can, pushing a hot iron into Marv’s face and so much more.

Heck, Die Hard and Home Alone both feature characters stepping barefoot over sharp objects (glass and ornaments, respectively).

“You want to talk about violence?” Phung said.

“We’re talking about a cop that goes into building to fight terrorists, to save people who have been held hostage. On the flip side, an eight-year-old boy is left home alone (so, child abandonment) and now he’s using the most ridiculous and painful torture techniques to torture two prisoners who have escaped jail. That’s more violent. That’s so over-the-top.

“The thing is, kids are watching Home Alone. I think with Die Hard, you would know not to show a child this movie, but Home Alone is a beloved movie for children, and that’s scary.”

It’s important to note Phung is a proud parent, so child-safe content is not unfamiliar territory.

Craig points out that you’re likely not going to show a young child Die Hard, but just because it’s not geared toward children doesn’t mean that it’s not a holiday film.

In fact, it’s because Die Hard stands out with more mature elements that should make it part of the Christmas rotation, without constantly having to defend it.

“There should be a good variety – why not watch some violence, cursing and whatnot?” she said.

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