die hard

In the middle of Die Hard, hero John McClane (Bruce Willis) meets terrorist thief leader Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), posing as a hostage. McClane suspects something is off and gets away. In the film, it could be McClane’s police instinct or Gruber’s European choice of cigarettes. Screenwriter Steven E. de Souza had a more specific intention, but only scant remnant are left in the film.

Speaking at a 30th-anniversary screening of his other movie, The Running Man, de Souza said there used to be a bigger plot point about the 12 “terrorists” all wearing the same watches.

“Originally, they get off the truck, the camera craned up, you saw them in a circle and Alan Rickman says, ‘Synchronize your watches,’” de Souza said. “They all put their arms out in a circle with the camera moving down and they all had the same Tag Heuer watch. If you notice, the first guy Bruce kills almost by accident going down the steps, he searches the body, looks at the IDs.”

die hard terrorist

In a longer cut of the scene – before McClane dresses the dead terrorist in a Santa hat and writes “Now I have a machine gun, Ho Ho Ho” – McClane began to notice the terrorists’ watches.

“He steals the cigarettes which is a laugh,” de Souza said. “He looks at the watch which gets another laugh because you’re thinking he might steal the watch. As he kills each guy, he notices they all had the same watch. When he talks to Dwayne Robinson, he says, ‘I think these guys are professionals. Their IDs are too good. There’s no labels on their clothes and they all have the same watch.’”

So why was “synchronize your watches” cut? Well, a late addition to the ending of the movie made that shot problematic. In the last week of shooting, de Souza came up with the idea that Gruber’s crew planned to escape in an ambulance, and wrote the scene where Argyle (De’voreaux White) the limo driver crashed into the escape ambulance. De Souza got the idea from his own TV pilot for The Spirit, in which a killer plans to blow up a children’s hospital and escape in an ambulance. But there was no ambulance in the entrance scene while they’re saying, “Synchronize watches.”

“[Director] John [McTiernan] says to the editor, ‘Get the scissors in there. Cut as soon as you can when they get off the truck so we don’t see there’s no ambulance.’ Now without ‘Synchronize your watches’ all of these moments where Bruce looks at these guys’ watches makes no sense.”

Now that you know, pay attention to the scene between McClane and Gruber again.

“When Bruce offers the cigarette to Alan Rickman, Bruce sees the watch,” de Souza said. “You see his eyes look at the watch. That’s how he knows that he is one of the terrorists.”

Unfortunately, that shot is a reverse on Hans, but you can see his watch poke out of his sleeve when he takes the cigarette from McClane.

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