The Unofficial Science of Die Hard review – hands down the daftest programme of Christmas 2023

Hello and welcome to the daftest bit of programming for Christmas 2023. And I mean that in a good way. The Unofficial Science of Die Hard is presented by deadpan standup comedian Paul Chowdhry and less deadpan standup Chris Ramsey, who together have most daft presenting bases covered. Their festive mission is to investigate the feats performed by everyone’s favourite everyman, John McClane, in the 1988 blockbuster (set during an unfortunate Christmas party in Nakatomi Plaza) that has become a yuletide staple. Their aim is to see if they can re-enact the stunts without dying. Think of it as a movie-specific MythBusters with a dash of Taskmaster thrown in. It is ideal for children and the lightly drunk, which by this time should be most of us. Slainte!

First up is a re-enactment of the jump by McClane off the Nakatomi tower with nothing but a firehose tied around his waist to save him from the unforgiving forces of gravity, and a gun with which to shoot out the windows that represent the next imminent threat to his existence.

Engineer Zoe Laughlin is on hand to demonstrate what would happen if non-Hollywood physics were applied to such a manoeuvre. Turns out that if you wrap a hose around the ersatz waist of a humanoid bag of jellified blood and guts and let it drop 10 metres through the air, the resulting 78 kilonewtons of force applied cut the thing into three large pieces and – if it had a head – would have created a whiplash effect so strong that the grand finale would have been decapitation. Although, as Chowdhry says, the greater question remains – why is the Nakatomi corporation holding its Christmas party on Christmas Eve? It should have been about 20 December, he reckons. Laughlin is too busy explaining how the gears in a harness could slow the descent to reply, but surely concurs.

  Chris' Corner

A single drop of nitroglycerin, an anvil and half a kilo of explosives in a shed are used to demonstrate the likely effects of the multiple blocks of C4 tied to an office chair and sent down an elevator shaft by our hero later in the film. “You’ve been a good shed, a loyal shed,” says Chowdhry to the resultant scattered shards and splinters. “I hope you find comfort in the Homebase in the sky.” Picking a larger shard out of a protective screen, Ramsey notes in delighted wonder: “It would have gone straight through my face.” I can’t explain it, but it’s all very Christmassy.

A pair of fake feet, ballistic gel veined with tubes of blood, help answer the question of what to do if an exceptional thief orders his henchmen to shoot out the glass partitions around your bare feet (wrap them in surprisingly few sheets of office paper to form effective shoes). But the pièce de résistance is when they send another of Laughlin’s humanoid bags off a 100m-high crane to simulate the Hans Gruber death fall. This time the blood is not jellified and the ensuing splatter is spectacular.

This chaotic fun – I feel as if I’m learning and losing knowledge at the same time – is interspersed with interviews by Alex Brooker with actors from the film and its stunt coordinator, Charlie Picerni, who told Alan Rickman that Gruber would be falling after a count of “Three, two, one, go!” but arranged with the riggers to let him go a beat before so that the look of terror on his face would be genuine.

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This being the season and all, neither of our two presenters is killed during the re-enactment of the stunts. And, like MythBusters and Taskmaster, they seem to be having genuine fun throughout. This is rare whatever the season.

Speaking of which – one last question endures: is Die Hard truly a Christmas movie? Chowdhry says no, Ramsey says yes. Director John McTiernan is on record as saying he reckons so, Bruce Willis reckons not. But of course it is. Who doesn’t get to some point in the festivities and not want to blow the whole thing sky high, walking away free and clear, silhouetted against the flames? Yippee ki yay, everyone.

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