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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Arthouse Misery For 'Die Hard' Director




NEW YORK -- "I don't like stories about people who fail," action director John McTiernan said.


His view is: If you want to see people fail, stick to real life.


"It's important to me, emotionally, the idea that struggle might be rewarded by success," said the 48-year-old filmmaker, whose credits include "Predator," "Die Hard," "The Hunt for Red October," "Last Action Hero" and now the updated "The Thomas Crown Affair" - all films in which people typically succeeded. McTiernan points to a 1972 Werner Herzog movie, "Aguirre, the Wrath of God," as the antithesis of what he's talking about.


The movie tells the story of a 16th century conquistador who is so driven that he leads his men to certain death as they navigate down the Amazon on rickety rafts; they get picked off by hostile tribes and sink into the miasma of a swamp. Aguirre himself sees his teenage daughter killed and winds up alone, a muttering madman bound to die in a swamp.


"The whole point was: Struggle will be rewarded by dying alone in a swamp," said McTiernan, on whom the movie's themes about imperialism and religious zeal surely were not lost.


"But you know what happened to the real guy? I looked it up!" McTiernan continued excitedly.


Most of them survived, and the protagonist himself lived to tell about it, he said.


"He dies a very wealthy old man back in Spain surrounded by his grandchildren," McTiernan said. "Struggle got him a lot further than the film version did."


All of this is by way of explaining why the outcome for the couple in his "The Thomas Crown Affair," starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, is a lot happier and much less ambiguous than the 1968 Norman Jewison version, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.


The original had to have a bittersweet ending, said McTiernan, who rightly points out that the first one "was intensely of its time."


Back then, McTiernan said, "we all loved adolescent tragedies" and we had to have a "'G?tterdammerung' somehow" - a turbulent ending.


"I wanted to change it because the idea that two narcissistic people wouldn't manage to get it together to sustain a love affair is not news to us anymore," he said. "It's what we expect."


His version admittedly is a fairy tale. "In real life, probably they don't make it. That's the real life we're all living; we all know that story too damn well."


McTiernan's next movie is yet another remake of a Jewison movie, the 1975 film "Rollerball," starring James Caan. But he jokes that at least he's not remaking 1960s TV shows - an insipid lode that never seems to get fully mined. The high cost of moviemaking, he says, induces Hollywood executives to green light safe projects already familiar to the audience.


Still, he adds, as the art of filmmaking grows older and a strong body of work accumulates, it will become like the stage - where no one thinks twice if two of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" are produced in a 30-year period.


"There's a whole raft of things that are a part of our theatrical literature, and it's expected that they'll be redone, and in fact that's part of the joy of it."


Like so many people in filmmaking, McTiernan went to the movies a lot as a kid, and the experience influenced his career as an action filmmaker. "Somewhere, I'm still actually the 11-year-old kid in the theater on Saturday ... and I wind up often doing movies that appeal to that, so I can carry that 11-year-old around as a critic with me."


McTiernan attended the Juilliard School, studied under John Houseman and learned film at the American Film Institute and the State University of New York.


"I cut my teeth on European art movies," he said, which is how he can invoke such movies as "Aguirre" while making a point - and how he settled on a career.


He decided he wanted to become a film director when he watched Truffaut's "Day for Night" for four days straight, about eight or nine hours a day. "I emerged from the theater after four days - I didn't sleep there - saying, 'OK, this is what I want to do with my life' and I set about doing it."


McTiernan's latest films, "The Thomas Crown Affair" and "The 13th Warrior," are currently showing in Moscow cinemas. See movie guide listings for details.