Codec: VC-1 (19.01 Mbps) Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit) Note: The English DD 5.1 track ...
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit) (less) Note: The English DD 5.1 track previously listed contains sound effects to accompany the trivia subtitles. It is not a genuine movie audio track.
Universal Soldier Blu-ray delivers great video and solid audio in this fan-pleasing Blu-ray release
Luc Devreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Sgt. Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) are two
soldiers who kill each other in Vietnam and are brought back to life 25 years later for a secret
government program. Known as "Unisols," they are genetically enhanced, unstoppable killing
machines without memory, feelings or free will. But when Devreaux's memory starts to return
and he escapes the program, a superhuman chase across the country begins.
For more about Universal Soldier and the Universal Soldier Blu-ray release, see Universal Soldier Blu-ray Review published by Sir Terrence on November 2, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Anyone who grew up in the eighties and nineties will easily recognize action film icon's Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. They were easily two of the hottest action actors of that time period with Van Damme doing 9 movies in the eighties; mostly "B" type stuff. The nineties is when he made his most popular films which included action flicks "Hard Target"," Street Fighter", "Time cop", "Sudden Death", and "Maximum Risk". Lundgren came on the scene a bit earlier, doing the bulk of his most popular films in the eighties which include "A View to Kill", "Rocky IV", "Masters of the Universe, and "Red Scorpion". Both of these actors continue to make films even today, though they are not nearly as popular as they used to be.
Oddly enough Universal Soldiers was only a moderate hit in the states raking in thirty six million dollars but taking a much larger prize of sixty five million over seas. The film was panned as a Terminator 2 clone, but also had close association with Robocop as well. It however was popular enough to spawn two television sequels "Brothers in Arms" and "Unfinished Business", and a 1999 theatrical sequel titled "Universal Soldier: The Return" with only Van Damme returning in his role. This film was directed by Roland Emmerich, produced by Mario Kassar, with Emmerich's partner Dean Devlin taking a partial writing credit. There are several points of trivia worth mentioning here. First Universal Soldiers was one of the last movies to use the first theatrical digital sound system Cinema Digital Sound, which in my humble opinion is a far better sounding system than the current SDDS, Dolby Digital and Dts. The second one involved both Van Damme and Lundgren getting into a shouting and pushing altercation at the 1992 Cannes film festival, which was later revealed as a publicity stunt. The things Hollywood does can sometimes leave you scratching your head!
The picture opens in the middle of a war, and specifically the Vietnam war. Orders are given to secure a village, and keep it out of opposing forces hands. Private Luc Devereaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) finds the members of his squad and the villagers lying dead with the pinna of their ears missing. He also finds Sergeant Andrew Scott there, alive, and responsible for the deaths. It is apparent that Scott has gone mad, as he is holding a necklace of pinna's and a young woman and man hostage as well. When Devereaux attempts to reason with him, an altercation breaks out, and ends in death for both of them as they kill each other in a hail of bullets.
Fast forward to present day; terrorist have taken over the Hoover Dam and are holding hostages. The police are order to stand down and Unisols (Universal Soldiers) are called in to handle the crises. They enter the dam and begin taking control of the situation. Devereaux (now GR44) and Scott (now GR13) now Unisol are among those called in, and just as it happened in Vietnam Devereaux is efficient and calculated, and Scott is heavy handed and brutal. As the command center monitors the action, it is suggested that Scott is actually enjoying the brutality. The unisols handily secure the area, but Devereaux supposedly devoid of his previous memories begins having flashbacks after seeing a couple that resembled the same couple in Vietnam, the couple that died at the murderous hand of Scott. This causes him to ignore radio commands from the command center.
A television field reporter Veronica Roberts is on the scene reporting on the incident, and is fired after going on air. Seeing an opportunity to get her job back, she attempts to get a lead on the Unisol project, but is rebuffed by those working on it. She later sneaks onto the projects base with a camera and discovers a body of a damaged Unisol that appears dead. He is not, and comes alive forcing Veronica to attempt to escape. The Unisols led by Devereaux and Scott are ordered to return them to base. The reporter and cameraman are eventually captured, and Scott mercilessly shoots the camera man. Once again (like in Vietnam) Devereaux intervenes and rescues Roberts and the escape in an abandon car. Once Devereaux and Roberts escape, they attempt to find out more about the Unisol project while evading every attempt at being captured by Scott. Their new goal is to get Devereaux home, and expose the Unisol project to the world without being captured and killed by Scott.
Lionsgate marches Universal Soldier onto Bluray disc with an ultra clean 1080p/VC-1 encode framed in a 2:35:1 aspect ratio that is of excellent quality, but not without some minor (personal) issues. Let's start with the good part. The print master is clean and completely devoid of pops, scratches, and any other film related defects. Images are always sharp, highly detailed, with very good image depth and pop. Colors are always vivid without chroma noise, bleeding, and most importantly without being oversaturated. Contrast is excellent, black levels are inky black and very stable. Overall the picture had excellent dynamic range, exhibiting both excellent quality day and night images, with excellent shadow detail. Now to the bad, and it may not be all that bad to some. Universal Soldiers was filmed in 35mm using Panavision cameras and lenses. As such there should be some presence of film grain. On this release there is none, as if it was either DNR'd, or digitally scrubbed clean. Detail and fine detail are not lost in the process, but it does make the picture look more like video and less like film. Some might not find that to be objectionable, but as a lover of film, the effect of seeing film treated this way is unsettling. However, it didn't appear to effect detail on any level, so this is just a pet peeve, and probably nothing more. A film that is 16 years old and looks this good deserves a lot of praise, so rather than focusing on the negative, I am giving Lionsgate major props
Universal Soldiers sound is a mixed bag for these ears. Presented in 5.1 Dts-HD Master Audio with a variable bit rate averaging around 4mbps, it uses the sound field very effectively. In spite of its digital pedigree (mixed in Dolby SR analog, encoded to 16/44.1khz digital audio) it sounds dated next to today's amped up powerhouse soundtracks. While there is tons of bass going to the LFE, it is mushy, indistinct, and on occasion boomy and lacks detail. Sound effects have plenty of pop and snap, but did not really cut through the air and into the room. Explosions did not have the low frequency room filling halo around them, so they did not have the same kind of impact we would normally get from such an sound effect.
At first I thought the surround channels were mixed too hot, but after closer inspection it is more the way we calibrate our surround channels more than the mix itself. We calibrate all of our channels equally, so when a mono signal is presented to the surround channels, they end up 3db's too loud when the output is combined. In the theater the surround channels are mixed 3db lower than the fronts, so when mono information is present, the combination of the two channels ends up correct. When stereo signals are present this is not a problem. The surrounds are mostly mono early in this soundtrack, so the surrounds are too loud, and pulls the mix backward instead of keeping us focused up front where the action is. I didn't notice this effect through the entire movie, so either my ears got used to it, or the surrounds utilized more stereo effects than mono in the rest of the movie. It's a distraction others might not notice as much as I did. No matter, this is the best I have heard the audio sound on this film, and Lionsgate needs to be commended for their dedication in releasing lossless audio on Bluray.
Extras are a little thin on this release, and in my opinion not all that notable. First we get Out of the Blue trivia track which is followed by a Making of Featurette entitled Gun's Genes, and Fighting Machines which had a hard time keeping my attention. This is followed by Tale of Two Titans which covers the careers of both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Lastly we get an alternate ending that seems a little bizarre to me, and I completely understand why it ended up on the cutting room floor.
There were a lot of big budget action movies produced in the eighties and nineties, and out of those movies, this is not up to par with the best of them. That can also be said about the stars of this movie as well. However this Lionsgate catalog title is by far the best I have seen and heard from this film on any format, and it really deserves a more comprehensive treatment from Lionsgate. I have the 2004 special edition DVD, and while the extras on that disc are far more abundant than on this Bluray disc, it is worth it to purchase the Bluray if you are a true fan of Lundgren and Van Damme action movies.
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