Retro Review | Soldier (1998)

Retro Review | Soldier (1998)


Kurt Russell stars in 1998’s Soldier. An expensive action film that certainly doesn’t look like one!

Background

In my opinion, director Paul Anderson got off to a cracking start. His directorial debut was the independent film Shopping, released in 1994. This obviously caught the attention of several people as his next gig was the film adaptation of the hugely popular video game series Mortal Kombat.

Released in 1995, I thought Mortal Kombat was a lot of fun and one of the best films adapted from a video game that we’d had so far. You must remember that previously we’d only had the likes of the Super Mario Bros, Double Dragon and Street Fighter.

Paul’s next film was the science fiction horror, Even Horizon. A film that I enjoy a lot and it has become a bit of a cult classic after a poor reception at the box office.

Then in 1998, Paul’s fourth film was released, Soldier, starring Kurt Russell.


soldier

The cover art is quite catchy!


If I recall, I’d only seen this film three times. First at the cinema upon its release. Then twice again on DVD (one watching was for the commentary) from a friend who imported it from the US.

I have a strange memory that likes to throw random little snippets of things from my past into my mind. Recently one of those images was from the film Soldier.

I hadn’t watched this film for over seventeen years and so I decided to watch it again to see how it holds up today.


Synopsis

Taken from IMDb

A soldier is dumped on a waste disposal planet and lives among a community of crash survivors on the planet and takes it upon himself to defend his new home when genetic engineered soldiers are ordered to eliminate the crash survivors.


My Thoughts

In 1996, several newborn infants are chosen to take part in a new military program. These children will be brought up knowing nothing but the military life. They will be constantly tested and trained to perfection.

Those who don’t make the grade are killed.

Fast forward to 2036 and Sgt. Todd, now forty years old, is a seasoned military officer with many decorations and wars to his name.

Despite their recognised success, the man behind this program, Colonel Mekum, was already working on a follow-up program. He introduces a new squadron of soldiers that are not only trained from birth but were also genetically modified to be even better.

Sgt Todd’s unit leader, Captain Church, wants to see a demonstration of the new and improved soldiers and asks for a demonstration in the way of a fight to take place on a set of hanging chains.

Captain Church volunteers Todd. Colonel Mekum says a one on one fight with his new men would be unfair and so Church sends in two more men.


Jason Scott Lee, is that you?


The genetically modified soldier Caine 607 is chosen to fight the three men. He wins the fight apparently killing all three soldiers including Sgt Todd.

Mekum wants the fight written off as a training exercise and orders the bodies to be disposed of.

Todd wasn’t dead (did no one check!?) and awakes to find himself amongst a cargo hold of scrap metal and debris. Before he can realise what is going on, he finds himself falling with the rubbish to a planet’s surface.

Todd discovers this planet has a small population of people and he follows them to their small compound.

He is welcomed into the group and is looked after by Mace, his wife Sandra and their young son Nathan.

However, Todd finds it difficult to adjust to life from the military. Matters are only going to become worse when the planet is picked for a training mission for the new genetically enhanced soldiers.

Any inhabitant of the planet, which is dubbed Arcadia 234, the waste disposal planet, are officially classed as hostile and will be wiped out.

Can one soldier, Sgt Todd, make a difference to the outcome?

I remember having high hopes for this film and being rather disappointed.


Impressive imagery but you’d think they’d recycle in the future!


Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator, Kurt Russel says barely anything in this film as the soldiers have been trained to answer only when spoken to. However, even when he’s free of the military regime he doesn’t really talk. He conveys all is emotions, usually confusion, through facial expressions.

The middle of the film becomes rather creepy as Todd seemingly develops a little crush on Sandra. This is probably because as a soldier he’s never been in the company of women before.

However, the montage sequence of him stealing glances and almost peeking down her top (I kid you not!) just come across as a bit creepy and stalker like.

In Kurt’s favour is his impressive physique. Director Paul Anderson wanted to shoot this film straight after Mortal Kombat. They had to wait a year or so for Kurt to train and get into shape and the results are certainly impressive.

Anderson bought two actors on from Event Horizon in the form of Sean Pertwee and Jason Issacs.

Sean, as Mace, I always like to see and I am currently enjoying his performance as Alfred in the television show Gotham.

Jason Issacs plays the part of a Colonel Mekum with ease and it’s very easy to boo for the slimy man and his sneaky ways of avoiding any official comeuppance.

I’d forgotten that the lead genetically enhanced soldier, Caine 607, is played by Jason Scott Lee. Jason is most commonly remembered for his portrayal of Bruce Lee from the film Dragon.

Much like Kurt Russell, Jason has beefed up considerably for this role and shaved his head completely. Unfortunately, just like Kurt, Jason barely has anything to say in this film or do as he’s confined to driving one of the armoured vehicles. At least he gets to fight Kurt in a final showdown at the end of the film.

Gary Busey makes an appearance as Captain Church but his performance is quite tame to what I’m used to. For me, his benchmark will be his slightly over the top FBI agent from Predator 2.

Whilst watching the film I can’t believe that it cost $60 million to put onto film. Soldier looks like it went straight to video and in my research, I was surprised to find out that this was the case in some countries.This was due to very poor box office numbers for Soldier’s US release, a paltry $14 million.

Anderson blames the look of the film on the decision to shoot the entire film on soundstages and I must agree with him. Although the budget says otherwise, the film does look cheap at times.

Apparently, external locations were due to be used but because of a storm warning, it was decided to take the safer option.


Even the futuristic hardware isn’t that exciting.


Soldier was written by David Peoples, who co-wrote the script for Blade Runner.

Peoples considers Soldier to be a “spinoff sidequel”, a spiritual successor to Blade Runner with both films existing in the same fictional universe.

Apart from a generous helping of Blade Runner references scattered throughout the film, I can’t really see the two as having a proper connection.

In fact, I would be a little insulted that they try and connect this film to Blade Runner which I hold in much higher regards than Soldier.

I think the only real highlight for me was spotting a connection to Paul Anderson’s previous film Event Horizon.

That random memory from Soldier that I mentioned at the start was on the DVD’s commentary track. When we see Todd as a twelve-year-old boy, the young boy is, in fact, Kurt Russell’s real-life son.


Soldier was as disappointing today as it was in 1998.



John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves the movies and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990's. Whilst the web page idea became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. Now he's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.