I hope you have all enjoyed Die Hard as a traditional staple of your Yuletide festivities. Every time I see it I am in awe of, among other things, the composition by DP Jan de Bont, ASC and camera operators Michael Ferris, Michael Scott and M. Todd Henry. Let’s have a look at some of the beautifully framed images and see what some of the hallmarks are.
“From up here it doesn’t look like you’re in charge of jack shit.”
So many low angles in Die Hard, some motivated by the blocking but many simply to make the characters seem larger than life.
No Rule of Thirds
“There are rules for policemen.” / “Yeah. That’s what my captain keeps telling me.”
De Bont uses the full width of the 2.39:1 anamorphic frame to creatively place his subjects, rarely obeying the Rule of Thirds and often squeezing characters right into one side of the frame.
“Now I know what a TV dinner feels like.”
Short-siding means placing a character close to the side of the frame which they’re looking towards, and this happens quite often in the film as well.
Deep Raking Shots
“Welcome to the party, pal.”
The filmmakers love to have a row of characters ranging from near to far. Even in over-the-shoulder shots, de Bont frequently adds an extra element in the background, continuing the depth procession begun by the foreground shoulder and mid-ground actor.
“You oughta be on fucking TV with that accent.”
Jan de Bont is from the Netherlands, so every shot… But I’m talking specifically about the canted shots which underscore the deception of the scene where Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber pretends to be a hostage (with a highly convincing English-German-American accent) and the subsequent shoot-out in the computer room.
There are also a lot of great camera moves in Die Hard, but that’s a post for another Christmas. Happy new year and yippie-ki-yay, motherfuckers!