After the release of his sorely underrated chiller Event Horizon and before he'd take on the Resident Evil universe, Paul W. S. Anderson directed the Kurt Russell vehicle Soldier. While the movie was a pretty substantial failure at the box office, the Russell factor alone will be enough to pique the interest of a certain viewing segment, and on top of that, well, Gary Busey is in it. That counts for something.
Russell plays a soldier (no surprise there) named Todd 3465 (the word TODD tattooed on his face helps us remember this) who has spent his entire life, from birth, training and practicing to be the ultimate human weapon, a veritable death machine and a true force to be reckoned with. As he is human, however, he is starting to age and he and his kind are essentially being phased out. You see, a higher up named Colonel Mekum (Jason Isaacs) is keen to usher in a new breed of super soldier, a gang of genetically enhanced test tube baby sorts who have been augmented with all sorts of radical alterations to make them even more unstoppable than their now out of date human counterparts.
When Todd 3465 is handily beaten but mistakenly left for dead after a run in with one of the newbies, Caine 607 (Jason Scott Lee), his body is unceremoniously dumped on a small remote planet called Arcadia 234 which is inhabited only by a small but tight knitted group of space colonists intent on making it their home. Lead by Mace (Sean Pertwee), Todd 3465 is taken in and nursed back to health, after which he grows a little too close to Mace's sexy blonde wife, Sandra (Connie Nielsen). When it starts to become obvious that Todd 3465 has feelings for Sandra he's given the boot - but when Caine 607 and his fellow super soldiers show up on Arcadia 234 with a mean look in their eyes, the colonists realize that Todd 3465 just might be their only hope for survival.
While Soldier is undeniably a mish mash of science fiction and action films made before it, and while Soldier is, to be kind, a pretty dumb movie there's no denying the fun that it offers those who don't mind a good, brainless action film. Kurt Russell doesn't have much to say here, his character is a man of few words and even fewer emotions. He grunts and scowls his way through the film, a dopey TODD tattoo on his face the entire time, but he does what he does here well and looks every bit the grizzled war veteran he's supposed to be playing. Jason Scott Lee, as his upgraded counterpart, is basically a Unisol unit (if you don't catch the reference see Universal Soldier, as it's a much more interesting take on similar material) but he too is fine in the role though, again, it doesn't really stretch his abilities as an actor. Busey is Busey in his supporting role here - it's fun to see him pop up and he's amusing when he's on screen but he isn't given as much to do in this film as he has been in some of his more memorable performances, while Connie Nielson looks beautiful but has even less to do.
Solder, as you may have gathered by now, is not a thinking person's sci-fi film. Rather, it's a big, dumb action movie with a sci-fi setting, the kind that Anderson has been churning out for some time now. Dated effects might take away from some viewers' enjoyment of the movie but take this one for what it is and take in the reckless sound mix, the wanton explosions, the gratuitous violence, the cliché ridden tough guy dialogue and macho posturing it offers up in spades. While it might be short on brains and originality, it's not short on entertainment value and is the right kind of movie to enjoy with a pizza and a case of beer. Stuff blows up, dudes get shot, Connie Nielson sexes it up and Kurt Russell grunts a lot. What more do you want?
Soldier arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 2.40.1 1080p high definition transfer that is generally a pretty solid effort on the part of Warner Brothers despite some mild noise reduction evident in a few scenes. Thankfully this is an occasional annoyance rather than a constant problem as overall the picture quality is definitely better than what DVD has offered in the past. Detail is improved, close up shots show this off the best, while color reproduction has a bit more polish to it - you'll notice this right away in the reds and oranges of the explosions and firefights. Black levels aren't always as inky as you might want but they're generally strong and deep, which can sometimes swallow up a bit of shadow detail in darker scenes. There are no problems with compression artifacts or contrast boosting though some mild ringing is noticeable if you're susceptible to picking out things like that. Overall though, this is a good looking picture and fans should be pleased with this transfer.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix on this disc is also quite strong. Surround activity isn't quite constant but it's close to it, and it's generally handled very well with some great directional placement. There's plenty of left to right action in the front of the mix but good use also made of the rear surround channels and the subwoofer, which provides a rock solid low end and plenty of boom for the action set pieces. Dialogue is generally plenty clear, though there are a few scenes where the sound effects bury things just slightly - this is a loud and aggressive mix that suits the movie rather well. An optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is provided in Portuguese while optional subtitles are provided in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.
Extras are pretty slim here, limited to the (ridiculously awesome!) original theatrical trailer and a commentary from director Paul W. S. Anderson, whose got some interesting insight to offer into the making of this picture but approaches it with such a dry delivery that it can be a bit of a chore to sit through. He's joined by the film's co-producer Jerry Bolt and actor Jason Isaacs, the latter of whom doesn't have too much to offer though Bolt's input helps things along. All in all, if you're bound and determined to learn all there is to learn about this movie, this track will help you out as it's got information on casting, effects, budget, cinematography and the like - it just doesn't sound like those involved are having very much fun relaying the information. Menus and chapter stops are also included.
Soldier is a guilty pleasure for lots of folks and they're definitely going to appreciate the upgrade in audio and video quality offered by Warner's Blu-ray release even if they'll probably lament the fact that Kurt Russell is nowhere to be seen in the extra features. The movie itself is a pretty hokey affair, but Russell makes it completely watchable. Don't take it too seriously and you can have a lot of fun with this one. Recommended for fans, a good rainy day rental for the masses.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.