Universal Soldier should have been a comedy. It’s one of the few things the film does right, intermixed with attempted science and action that’s likely going to draw laughs anyway. It’s a brain dead, stupid, laughable piece of mildly amusing cinematic junk food.
An obvious attempt to capture some of the magic from The Terminator, this little project (one of Roland Emmerich’s first) is an obvious knock-off. The small budget didn’t prevent them from capturing some impressive sequences. The opening modern day scene on the Hoover Dam is enough to create some epic scale in a film that has little. Action scenes are extended and completely overboard, adding a sense of camp along with comedy.
The absurd plotting has a secret underground experiment reanimating soldiers who have died in combat. Despite killing each other in Vietnam, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are brought back to life in incredible condition given how long they were dead. These zombies are now killing machines, but still have some memory of who they are, causing a war between them.
Casting couldn’t have been better for two guys playing genetically engineered re-animated zombie soldiers. Dolph Lundgren can’t act at all, but he throws an incredible punch. Jean-Claude Van Damme was just gaining some momentum in 1992, and most of his lines were cut short for the better. Ally Walker plays a similar role to Ed Furlong in The Terminator, and even looks like Linda Hamilton. She provides a small emotional pull and expected comedy.
It’s not that anyone actually cares about deep, involving performances from Universal Soldier. Everything here is beyond stupid, and Lundgren’s one solid piece of acting ends up being too ridiculous to care (in a grocery). The film is one that tosses in everything, and quickly becomes entertaining in the process, at least long enough to lead the audience into the next brawl. If you don’t expect much from it, you’ll have a fun time.
Dear LionsGate: Please don’t destroy your films in the same vein as Universal Soldier. Thank you.
What starts off as an impressive transfer, in the rain soaked jungles of Vietnam, quickly turns into a smoothed, DNR-riddled mess. A few sporadic scenes do contain light grain, but the majority of the film is unnaturally smooth and devoid of detail. Flesh tones are sickly, although a fine level of contrast is maintained. Black levels are strong to create depth.
Sharpness is nice and consistent, yet detail comes and goes. There are some superb close-ups of the actor’s faces that give the impression of a hi-def presentation. Sadly, the grain reduction eliminates it all in mid or long shots. The source itself is in fine shape and it should appear so given the amount of digital filtering here.
Universal Soldier was recorded using CDS, an early form of digital audio which was replaced by DTS. Ironically, the disc includes a DTS-HD Master mix, sort of a slap in the face to the now outdated format.
There are some impressive moments to discuss. The opening Vietnam segment is loaded with bombs exploding for a LFE punch, active gunfire in the surrounds, and plants being pushed aside as the characters move forward. Likewise, the other action scenes are done well, with bullets crashing into each channel, making the hotel shoot-out a fun piece of audio design. The age is the likely culprit for the lower fidelity, straining the highs and causing a lack of crispness. Also, non-action sequences are entirely front-loaded.
A commentary from Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Dolph Lundgren is the first extra on a thin set of bonus features. A pop-up trivia track is straightforward, although a making-of titled Guns, Genes, and Fighting Machines is better than expected at close to 19 minutes.
A Tale of 2 Titans has Lundgren and Van Damme telling brief versions of their life stories. An alternate ending has a small amount of emotional pull, and is mostly comprised of footage from the finished film.