• Universal Soldier



    Released by: Lionsgate
    Released on: 11/04/2008
    Director: Roland Emmerich
    Cast: Jean Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Ally Walker
    Year: 1992
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    The Movie:

    What do you get when you team action stars Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV) and Jean Claude Van Damme (Bloodsport)with big explosion movie director extraordinaire Roland Emmerich? Universal Soldier, that's what! One of the biggest, dumbest, and most enjoyable blow'em up real good science fiction/action movie hybrids of the early nineties.

    Our two lunkhead leads are a pair of soldiers named Scott (Dolph) and Luc (Van Damme) who were killed will serving in active duty back in the Vietnam war. The American government keeps them in some sort of suspended state so that when the timing is right they can bring these two fine specimens of manhood back to live as the ultimate super soldiers that will in turn be used to fight terrorism.

    A reporter named Victoria (Ally Walker) gets wind of who these guys really are and after following them around for a while and keeping tabs on them, she figures out their past. Her camera man ends up dead at the hands of Dolph Lundgren and it's up to Van Damme to overcome his 'programming' and set things right by taking him down and saving the girl and the world from the psychopath that Dolph has become.

    Dolph Lundgren shines in the way that only he can shine as the ear collecting psychopathic soldier gone wrong. He chews his way through the scenery with reckless abandon, blowing away everyone else on screen. Though he lacks charisma and doesn't really have a whole lot of true acting talent, he makes the most out of the clichéd script and suits the role and tone of the movie perfectly. Van Damme, likewise, is good in his role. He's a little bit noble and a little bit arrogant as usual, but at the end when he starts to kick people in the head, all is forgiven. In short, the action comes first. The acting is fine for what this movie is (a bigger budget B-movie with lots of shoot outs and explosions) but it really isn't the point of the film. Anyone renting or buying this movie is doing so because they want to see these two titans of bad action films go head to head and wreck lots of stuff in the process and on that level alone, Universal Soldier really delivers.

    While at times it does border on self parody in a couple of scenes, the movie starts off at a breakneck pace and doesn't let up until the end, when the inevitable show down between the two leads finally happens. Along the way, as Van Damme uncovers more about the world he's living in, he's shot at, chased down, and hunted like a dog. This allows Emmerich to build up the anticipation for the showdown as we find out more about their respective situations and as we see Lundgren fall deeper and deeper into the abyss of insanity. While from a technical perspective this probably sounds corny (and it is), on a purely 'action movie' level, it works fine. It sets the characters up for what the audience wants and it entertains along the way. So while it may be hard to forgive Emmerich for what he did to Godzilla, it's easy to remember him for Universal Soldier because despite its very obvious shortcomings, logic gaps, and goofy script it provides a great movie to escape into for ninety minutes and in the end, that's really what matters most to me in a film. Universal Soldier is the very definition of big dumb macho fun.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Universal Soldier looks decent enough in this AVC encoded 2.35.1 1080p high definition transfer. The source used for the transfer was obviously in very good shape as there isn’t much in the way of dirt, debris or print damage at all worth noting. Color reproduction is also pretty solid and there are no problems with over saturation or bleeding, even in scenes dominated by reds and oranges. Compression artifacts are non-existent and black levels are strong and stable throughout. There has, however, been some digital noise reduction applied so much of the grain structure is gone and sometimes (though not always) this can result in some waxy looking skin tones. Detail is definitely better than what was available previously on standard definition and the improvement over the previous Lionsgate DVD is an obvious one, but this definitely could have looked more like film than it does here.

    The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix provided for this disc is pretty strong, offering an instantly noticeable improvement over the standard definition offerings by way of more distinct channel separation and more lifelike sounding audio in general. The levels are well balanced and there are no problems with hiss or distortion worth complaining about. While it does sound like a product of the early nineties and as such, can’t quite compete with more modern action films in that department, the lossless boost is a welcome one that results in better bass and just a stronger mix overall. Obviously the action scenes are where the mix really struts its stuff but the quieter moments also show off some nice subtle ambient noise and background effects to make for a fuller listening experience.

    Lionsgate have carried over the extras from their previous special edition DVD release, starting with a full length running commentary track from director Roland Emmerich, writer Dean Devlin and stars Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme. Emmerich dominates the track and does most of the talking though despite the involvement of four people there are still a few too many instances of dead air. When there is activity though, it ranges from interesting and useful information on such things as casting and original concepts for the film, to bland comments like 'this part is really funny.' It's not a bad track, when it is on it's a lot of fun and quite informative, but unfortunately roughly twenty-five percent of it is kind of dull. This is complimented by an trivia track that, when enabled, will alert you to different facts and points as they relate to the movie while it plays out in front of you. It’s the only new extra on this Blu-ray release.

    An all new documentary entitled Guns, Genes And Fighting Machines – The Making of Universal Soldier clocks in at just over nineteen minutes. Presented in anamorphic widescreen this piece, through interview footage with Emmerich, Van Damme and Lundgren explores the genesis of the film and covers a wide range of subjects from pre-production and financing to some of the effects and stunt work that was done on the set. It's a reasonably entertaining look back on how the film was made and what went into getting it finished and if you're a fan of the movie you're going to want to check this one out, not just because it's interesting but also because of the wealth of behind the scenes footage.

    A second feature entitled A Tale Of Two Titans is a fourteen minute Biography style segment that gives us some interesting background information on Van Damme and Lundgren. Though they come from different parts of Europe, they followed a similar path on their respective trips to Hollywood stardom. The mini documentary follows them from their early days in Europe through to their current careers in America and uses lots of personal archive photos and footage to tell its tale. This feature is also presented in anamorphic widescreen.

    A thirteen minute alternate ending is also supplied, which provides a much darker (and in my opinion, far more appropriate) ending for Van Damme's character. This isn't a sappy or happy ending at all and while it ends the movie on a down note, it seemed like a more appropriate conclusion to the story when contrasted against the ending that the filmmakers went with. This segment is presented in its original aspect ratio but isn't enhanced for anamorphic sets.

    Rounding out the extra features are trailers for other Lionsgate releases (but oddly enough there is no trailer for the feature itself), animated menus and chapter stops. All of the extras are in standard definition.

    The Final Word:

    While the extras don’t benefit from the move to Blu-ray, the audio and video both do and despite the absence of the film’s grain structure, the movie does look better than it has in the past, and so too does it sound better. Considering the entertainment value this movie provides and the fact that it can be found four about ten bucks, it’s pretty easy to recommend this release, even if it isn’t perfect.

    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps!
















    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      I think it's awesome there are three Dolph screenshots and only one of Van Damme.
    1. Scott's Avatar
      Scott -
      This movie is so much fun, and really encapsulates the first stage of Van Damme's career. The knowing comedy and fun winks. That it was eventually re-staged in REGENERATION and DAY OF RECKONING is amazing, especially after all the really weak middle sequels. And those two films perfectly capture Van Damme's second stage of his career. I have a hard time trying to come up with a franchise that followed a similar path. An entertaining initial movie that spawned a bunch of cookie cutter follow ups, then years later completely switching gears and growing stronger (IMO). The first one still remains a classic early 90's action flick.
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      The last half hour of the first Universal Soldier is pretty damn fantastic. I like how they attempted to do something most JCVD films don't do and that's have some reasoning for his accent. Okay, great, he has French parents. Only problem... they don't have accents! Seriously though, I find watching he and Dolph fight endlessly entertaining.