Many fans of DIE HARD may not realize that it was based on a novel and is actually a sequel. NOTHING LASTS FOREVER was written by Roderick Thorp as a sequel for his novel THE DETECTIVE. THE DETECTIVE was turned into a film and starred Frank Sinatra. It was released in 1968.
This post will cover similarities to the novel and changes made during the adaptation process. It will contain SPOILERS for both the novel and film.
1. Joseph ("Joe") Leland is the name of the protagonist of the novels. John McClane, of course, is the DIE HARD hero.
2. Both the film and novel are set during Christmas Eve/Christmas and in one primary location - a high rise office building. Wikipedia mentions that Thorp was inspired by the success of THE TOWERING INFERNO. Notes in the latest edition of the novel indicate Thorp's family felt he was inspired by a tall building on Wilshire Boulevard that he could look out his window and see.
3. Leland is traveling in the novel to see his daughter who works for an oil company which owns the high rise. He's presented as older (mid-40s) and his daughter mid-20s.
4. There's both a cab driver and later limo driver Leland befriends in the novel. They both disappear though, unlike the film, and don't play a role further in the novel.
5. The POV for the novel is through Leland's eyes. No parallel narratives or changes in the POV. In this respect, the film is superior. Seeing the villains' at work, McClane, the hostages, the police, and the media is more entertaining and increases the stakes.
6. The Villains. Anton Gruber is the name of the antagonist of the novel, but he has a henchman named Hans. Anton is a young Communist fighter from Central America and the entire group of antagonists are leftists in their 20s, including three females.
The film is superior again here with Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman) one of the most compelling villains in film history. Calculating, erudite, charming, and deadly, Hans has a brilliant plan and he's a great 'fun to hate' bad guy.
Hans takes hostages in the film and asks for political prisoners and terrorists to be released, but this was done to bring in the F.B.I. They cut the power to the tower, which was part of Hans' plan. Hans' team is actually after the bearer bonds worth hundreds of millions.
Leland kills several female villains in the novel. Easy to see why film producers changed this. Bad guys are a dime a dozen and we feel nothing when they are killed off. Likely alienating to audiences to see young women killed, even if they are part of a terrorist group.
In the novel, the goal of the antagonists never changes. It is to expose the oil company as selling arms under the guise of a bridge building construction deal to a central American dictatorship. There's also six million in cash in the company safe along with evidence of the deal. The group say they plan to return the money 'to the people.'
By making the goal a pure heist, the film removes any sympathy or notion of a 'noble goal gone wrong' from the mind of viewers. Greed is the only motive for Hans Gruber. The supporting group for Hans is more uniquely drawn and diverse.
7. The Action. NOTHING LASTS is a page-turning novel and much of the action in the film DIE HARD is already present in the book. Detailed action beats are there already. Examples are the use of the gun and strap to swing inside air vents; riding elevators from above and use of the shafts (and getting dirty from the grease and grime); protagonist leaving his shoes off as the assault starts and having his feet cut later because of it; using the elevator to deliver a C4 explosive "present" to the villains taking out a floor of the building; and the gun taped to his back in the final protag/antag confrontation.
Both the film and novel have the protagonist befriending a police officer and not liking that officer's superiors.
8. The Ending (SPOILERS). Both have a confrontation with Gruber in the finish. In the novel, Anton has Leland's daughter. In the film, Gruber has McClane's wife.
The ending of the novel has Leland killing Anton Gruber after taping a pistol to his upper back prior to their confrontation. However, in falling off the building Anton Gruber grabs Leland's daughter and drags her down with him forty stories to her death. Perhaps Thorp believed readers would feel the daughter was 'in on it' with the oil company's fraudulent bridge deal, or she had been corrupted by the quest for wealth. Honestly, it lost me as a reader and I felt Leland failed at his only real goal.
The novel adds an element not in the film. A crowd gathers to watch the spectacle. Leland places the six million cash at the top of the tower with wind blowing. Authorities can't prove if he did it, or the kidnappers. This allows the six million to be blown out into the crowd and surrounding area. A nice touch.
The film, of course, ends with McClane saving his wife and that story arc (they had been separated) completing happily. Hans Gruber is dispatched with a great final shot as he tumbles into the abyss.
Overall, DIE HARD is the rare film superior to the novel on which it is based. It became a template for an entire series of films. I'll explore that in my next post.
NOTE: Amazon Kindle has a version of NOTHING LASTS FOREVER which includes Thorp's outline for the book as well as a copy of his original handwritten notes.
NOTE 2: "Bearer bonds" were such a great McGuffin, they were used in the film PANIC ROOM. PANIC ROOM has a fun end where the bonds blow away in a TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE-style finish.