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Galactic wars of the near-future are fought by soldiers trained as merciless, obedient warriors. But times change. New bioengineered combatants make veterans like Sgt. Todd obsolete. But donít expect to toss Todd on the scrap heap without a fight.
For more about Soldier and the Soldier Blu-ray release, see Soldier Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 27, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Connie Nielsen, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee, Gary Busey
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
» See full cast & crew
Soldier Blu-ray Review
"Soldiers deserve soldiers, sir."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 27, 2011
Paul W.S. Anderson, not to be confused with There Will Be Blood auteur Paul Thomas Anderson, hasn't had an easy time with critics or moviegoers. Mortal Kombat was already a guilty pleasure in 1995; today it's little more than a nostalgic reminder of how low the bar for videogame adaptations was once set. Event Horizon, released in 1997, remains Anderson's best film to date (and a personal favorite), despite its own share of issues. Resident Evil is a fun little diversion, so long as you're willing to overlook its casting mistakes, missed opportunities and departures from the videogame series that spawned it. Aliens vs. Predator doesn't do justice to either beastie, and only serves to put a bullet in the heads of two already ailing franchises. Death Race is a blast of adrenaline and motor oil, but won't exactly convince naysayers that studios should continue tossing millions into Anderson's lap. And Resident Evil: Afterlife? Whew. Don't even get me started. And those are just the films Anderson directed. As a producer, he's also been responsible for Resident Evil: Apocalypse, The Dark, DOA: Dead or Alive, Resident Evil: Extinction, Pandorum and Death Race 2, none of which have united the masses.
But I'm not interested in dousing the Anderson effigy with more fuel. Each of his films have their fans and, to some extent, almost every one is a success on its own terms. Anderson has a particular penchant for pandering to an enthusiastic subset of eager genre junkies with every project he touches. Even Soldier -- an almost universally reviled and critically panned flop -- has assembled a small but stalwart legion of followers; a diligent, if not apologetic pack of Big Dumb Fun connoisseurs who, even now, are anxiously awaiting the moment they get to see Kurt Russell gouge out Jason Scott Lee's eye in high definition.
If it weren't for the fact that Kurt Russell's super-future-soldier, Todd 3465, was merely a highly skilled, rigorously trained death-dealer -- if he were a robot from the future or, say, a genetically altered, previously deceased soldier prone to overheating -- it would be easy to cast aside Soldier as a shambling Terminator 2 clone or a thinly veiled Universal Soldier knockoff. But Todd 3465 is just a man; albeit a man raised from birth to become an emotionless killing machine; a silent, stoic man who, after decades of faithful service, is replaced by... wait for it... genetically engineered warriors created at the behest of a smarmy colonel named Mekum (Jason Isaacs). Discarded after being bested and left for dead by Mekum's finest soldier, Caine 607 (Jason Scott Lee), Todd 3465 is summarily dumped on Arcadia 234, a volatile planet inhabited by a small band of stranded colonists. Before you can say "surrogate family," Todd is taken in by a colonist named Mace (Sean Pertwee) and takes a liking (of sorts) to his wife Sandra (Connie Nielsen) and his son Nathan (Jared Thorne). Todd may be quiet, but no one seems to mind, at least not until he starts staring lustfully at Sandra, sharing long walks on the beach with guns and teaching Nathan how to pummel poisonous snakes with a boot. Like his commanders, the colonists cast him out, brief as his second exile turns out to be. Soon enough, Caine and his hopped-up brothers-in-arms come calling and Todd has to take a stand, save the colonists and give his replacements a proper lesson in soldiering.
As you probably already gathered, Soldier's biggest problem is that it's been soldered together using scenes from so many different films. (So many better films, I should say.) Todd, and really Russell, may as well be a leather-jacketed robot from the future. Stalking from scene to scene with the same solemn face and wounded-dog confusion, Russell says all of a hundred words (literally), regards his hosts with redundant restraint, and dusts off a whopping three expressions, none of which make the TODD tattoo on his left cheek any less ridiculous. He stamps out his rigorous loyalties, pounded into his brain-washed brain-pan since he was a baby, in a matter of minutes; apparently, all he needs to turn on his makers is the allure of community, the proximity of a beautiful woman and the possibility of affection from a little boy. Even then, his rage is so mechanical, his vengeance so automated, that the random tear or twitch of his upper lip fails to convey the sort of development that might make dear Todd a more captivating blank slate. He doesn't so much become a human being as he is left with no other choice. Not that Russell has much to work with. David Webb Peoples' paint-by-numbers sci-fi script is a far cry from the character-driven, Oscar-winning work he delivered on films like Unforgiven and 12 Monkeys, and is more akin to the kind of unoriginal, haphazard drivel that drives many a direct-to-video genre pic into the ground.
Yet Soldier isn't as bad as it might first seem and isn't, as some have too casually labeled it, one of the worst movies of all time. Russell does a decent job, all things considered, and there's enough decidedly-90s, 'splosion-heavy action to give decade-devotees a cheap guns-n-grimaces thrill or two. It all amounts to a splashy, fire-branded comicbook that allows Anderson to do what Anderson does best: crank up the volume, light up the skies and pit a ludicrously armed one-man-army against overwhelming (and yet somehow equally underwhelming) odds. Yes, the dialogue either falls flat on its battered face or takes a leap overtop of over-the-top, but there's a cheesy, almost cheeky charm to how awful it sometimes is. Yes, plot holes are strewn across Peoples' futurescape, but look on the bright side: the plot is so minimal there aren't as many as there could be. And yes, the $75 million film doesn't look as if it should have cost a dime over $35 million, but once again, the mishmash production design and visual effects (which already seemed dated in 1997) is so chintzy it almost feels intentional. But let's not go crazy. Soldier was Anderson's third feature film and the telltale signs of his growing pains as a filmmaker are everywhere: in his style, taste, casting, pacing, camerawork, tone, editing and FX. Soldier is a mess, but it's a mess with a hint of promise. In many ways, I suppose that makes the end result even more disheartening. Ah well. As much as I rolled my eyes, as much as I laughed at its mishaps, as much as I shook my head, Soldier fans shouldn't feel any shame. After all, one man's train wreck is another man's roller coaster ride. Who am I to say your guilty pleasures are any less entertaining than mine?
Soldier Blu-ray, Video Quality
If nothing else, Soldier looks the part. Warner's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer isn't without its flaws -- some digital manipulation and smearing is apparent from time to time -- but the film has never looked better. (Frankly, I doubt it will ever look much better either.) David Tattersall's colorful dystopian palette is rich and vibrant, not to mention the highpoint of the presentation, and skintones are warm, lifelike and naturally saturated throughout (barring a few overcooked closeups). Contrast is strong and stable as well, and black levels are deep and inky (a bit too inky in fact). Moreover, detail is noticeably, at-times startlingly improved from previous releases. Fine textures are more refined and rewarding, edge definition is sharper and more precisely rendered, delineation is more revealing, and ringing, though still apparent on occasion, isn't nearly as severe or distracting. Soft shots abound and clarity takes a hit whenever visual effects come into play, sure. But the film's source and photography are almost always the cause. As to the aforementioned noise reduction, several scenes exhibit an undeniable degree of waxiness, although how pervasive or serious the DNR may be is never quite clear. Thankfully, artifacting, banding, aliasing, compression anomalies and aberrant noise aren't an issue. Fans of the film won't have much to complain about.
Soldier Blu-ray, Audio Quality
It's Warner's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that takes point, though. While certainly big, dumb and fun, it's also bold, aggressive and commanding; a deliberately unruly action mix that revels in bullets, rockets and, above all, 'splosions heaped on glorious 'splosions. Low-end output isn't exactly nuanced, but it is bombastic, sinking its teeth into every crumbling building, throaty war machine, weapon discharge, howling planetary storm, shuttle engine and snarling fireball. Not to be outdone, the rear speakers give the LFE channel a run for its money. Directionality isn't as convincing as it could be, but throwing knives, ricochets, bursts of flame and scattering debris litter the already immersive soundfield; pans aren't subtle, but they are smooth; dynamics aren't breathtaking, but they are impressive. Make no mistake, Soldier has two modes: loud and louder. Yes, dialogue suffers on occasion and Joel McNeely's score is sometimes buried in the chaos. However, voices are generally intelligible and reasonably well-prioritized, effects are clean and clear, and McNeely's music holds its own, even when the film's sound design pays it little mind. All things considered, Soldier makes the most of its first lossless mission.
Soldier Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The only significant special feature that accompanies Soldier is a dry but comprehensive audio commentary with director Paul W.S. Anderson, co-producer Jeremy Bolt and actor Jason Isaacs. For the most part, Anderson and Bolt dominate the conversation, doling out plenty of production details and stories from the shoot, although they rarely address the film's chilly reception. A theatrical trailer is included as well, and it shouldn't be missed. It's the funniest thing I've watched in weeks.
Soldier Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Soldier isn't Paul W.S. Anderson's finest hour. Derivative, shallow and overblown, it's a functional genre pic at best, a subpar sci-fi schlock-fest at worst. I'm sure it has its fans -- every film does, after all -- but it doesn't give them much to go on. Warner's Blu-ray edition is at least more respectable. The film's vivid video transfer rarely falters (even though some minor DNR sullies several shots), its DTS-HD Master Audio track hits the ground guns blazing (and never relents), and its slim supplemental package is the only real disappointment to be had. If you have any love for Soldier, adding this one to your cart is a no-brainer.
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