Die Hard writer clears up intriguing plot hole

Ryan Leston
UK Movies Writer
How did he do it? Credit: 20th Century Fox

How did John McClane know that Hans Gruber is a terrorist?

It’s not something I’ve spent much time thinking about. After all, like many ‘Die Hard’ fans, I assumed McClane had simply worked it out… somehow. But apparently, there’s a detailed reason why he was able to work it out so easily.

And it’s all because of Gruber’s watch.

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Appearing at a Q&A to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of ‘The Running Man’, screenwriter Steven E. de Souza revealed John McClane’s secret. It turns out, he’s really into watches.

But it all pins on a scene which was later cut…

“Originally, [the terrorists] get off the truck, the camera craned up, you saw them in a circle and Alan Rickman says, ‘Synchronize your watches’,” he explained. “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.”

John McClane spots a weird terrorist trend – Credit: 20th Century Fox

And that’s when McClane apparently makes a mental note of the terrorist’s watch.

“He steals the cigarettes which is a laugh,” said de Souza. “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’.”

Obviously, McClane has impeccable observation skills… and after noticing that all of the terrorists wear the same watch, it’s easy to see how he pins down Hans Gruber’s identity quite so easily.

And that scene is still in the movie.

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

Nice watch – Credit: 20th Century Fox

Unfortunately, the significance of these moments is lost after the original ‘synchronize your watches’ scene was cut. And while they don’t look out of place, you definitely don’t get the significance of Alan Rickman’s Tag Heuer timepiece.

Why did that scene end up on the cutting room floor?

Well, a late addition to the movie turned those early scenes into a bit of a problem. During the last week of shooting the movie, de Souza had the idea that Gruber’s team would escape in an ambulance… but there was no ambulance seen in those early scenes.

“[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’,” he explained. “Now without ‘Synchronize your watches’ all of these moments where Bruce looks at these guys’ watches makes no sense.”

Sadly, this little hint at McClane’s eagle eye is lost in the final film… even if those later scenes are still there. Still, the movie is a little tighter as a result. And it just goes to show how a film can change over the course of its production.

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