Dear John McTiernan,
You weren’t the director that made me obsessed with cinema, that was Kurosawa. You weren’t one of the guys who made me notice a film’s connection to its auteur, that was Tarantino, Smith and Raimi. That said, it was you (and to a lesser extent, Woo) that changed the way I thought about action films and gave me an early sense of what my preferences would be. Oddly enough, that may be what has influenced me the most over the years.
There is one day I specifically remember as being influential. I was doing homework with the TV on in the background while it was playing the first two Die Hard films. I admit, I was watching little more then small portions at a time but after the conclusion of Die Hard 2 I found myself wondering how it could be so much worse then the original. I guess it could have been an uninspired script or maybe the cast was phoning it in or even the uninspired use of elements taken from the first film, but could it have been something else? It was that day that I started to realize that it might be the camera that was effecting me, the way it laid out the environments clearly, the way it effortlessly conveyed movement and momentum and the absolute clarity of vision it had. I was a young teenager who didn’t fully understand these ideas, but damnit did I start holding other films accountable to this invisible set of rules.
Interestingly enough, some of your interests started showing up in other mediums I loved. In particular, the focus of a singular force navigating and disrupting the forces around it. The video game Metal Gear Solid is a stealth action series generally involving a highly trained soldier named Solid Snake infiltrating a dangerous terrorist cell and stopping whatever plan that had hatched. The series deals with ideas of free will, the dangers of technology, and political responsibility among other things but when you separate the physical game element from the themes and narrative ideas it becomes quite a bit more simple. It becomes about the simple pleasures of moving within protected spaces undetected, the variety of choices you can make to accomplish that goal and the visual clarity and memory to accomplish all of this. It’s sort of like deciding how John McClane handles himself in Die Hard. Do you want to sneak by everyone and fix everything without firing a single shot? Maybe you want to do it without harming a single person? Or maybe you’d rather go the Predator route, slap on some invisible camo, and go about your horrifying, murderous rampage. They remind me of your films not just because of the obvious elements but because of how incredibly moral they are, just like your works.
I feel like the letters being written to you are primarily meant to help you in these dark times, to have the thankful voice of your supporters lift your spirits and give you a kick in the ass anytime you submit to self-pity. I realized mine is a bit different though, mine might be just as much about me as it is about you. I was never much of a writer, instead of making an effort to hone my skills I would generally take the easy route of making excuses or only writing small blurbs. Never anything challenging. Writing this made me realize this must be the time I make that effort or else I might let it slip away completely. It sort of felt like when McClane or Ahmed or any number of your protagonists face the hand they’ve been dealt instead of cowering. It’s things like that that in your films that helped imbued me with certain ideas about truth and honesty from a young age, and it is those things I am thankful for now. I apologize for my selfishness John, but I figured if anyone would understand and be grateful for such candid thoughts, it would be you.
P.S. – I’ll admit, one of my dreams is of you making a Metal Gear Solid film. Definitely one of the reasons I brought it up.