Soldier Of Orange (1977)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Jeroen Krabbe
Extras: Commentary Track, Still Gallery, Trailer
Director Paul Verhoeven is an undeniable force in Hollywood. With films like "Robocop, " "Total Recall," and "Basic Instinct" under his belt, it became clear that this was a guy who could churn out the hits. And then came "Showgirls." After that it was "Starship Troopers," and last year’s "Hollow Man," both of which fell in the middle of the previous powerhouses and the notorious flop. Regardless of success, all of these movies share common threads that are entirely Verhoeven. Along with the sex, violence, and shock that are always in your face, Verhoeven’s films often make a social comment just underneath the surface. It hasn’t always been Hollywood blockbusters for this director, however, and in fact he didn’t make his first English film until the early ‘80’s. Straight outta Holland, Anchor Bay brings one of his biggest Dutch successes "Soldier of Orange," to DVD as part of their "Paul Verhoeven Collection."
"Soldier of Orange" is based on the memoirs of Dutch war hero Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, retracing his escape from Nazi occupied Holland to England where he would eventually become an aide to his native and exiled Queen. Starring Rutger Hauer as Erik Lanshoff, the film opens in the fraternity rituals welcoming freshman to the club at the local University. In the process of being humiliated and having his head split open, Erik makes friends with two other freshman and even soon finds himself in the acquaintance of the Fraternity President (and head splitter) Gus (Jeroen Krabbe). Throughout college, Erik, Gus, and a group of four others become inseparable friends. At the prospect of an oncoming European conflict, one of them naively comments that "a spot of war might be exciting." The German front presses their way and Gus and Erik decide it is time to join buddy Alex and enlist, only to be told they have to wait ten days before they can do so.
In the day following, Holland surrenders to the Germans and occupies the nation. If Gus and Erik wish to fight, they must now do so as members of an underground resistance, or again follow the plight of friend Alex who is now in service of the Dutch SS. Other friends have already joined the resistance, while others struggle with the harsh reality of being a Jew in this environment. Erik openly wants to flee to England and join the fight against the Germans. His initial plan to do so changes when Jewish friend John becomes a marked man. Erik gives up his plane ticket to John, only to watch as the whole operation is botched in an obvious betrayal by someone who tipped of the Germans. Erik is lucky to escape with his life, but cannot save John from being arrested. Gus is a bit more discrete with his plans, but when SS soldiers raid a tennis party, he and Erik both find themselves in custody. Ever a true friend, Erik creates a distraction that allows Gus to escape prison. In prison, Erik learns the name of the traitor and is surprisingly set free. Soon after and with the help of the resistance, Erik is aboard a boat on his way to England. The rest of the movie is filled with little plot twists that I certainly don’t wish to give away. The war almost is a background in this movie, with the betrayal and loyalty of young friends taking the center stage. Each of these men have different motivations and beliefs, that even if they don’t agree with each other, they can’t help but try their best to understand and not condemn. But, as we all know, war changes everything. Even if you don’t fight.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about Paul Verhoeven. Certain films of his have made me question if the only reason they were made in the first place is because Verhoeven just wanted to have something cool or shocking, consequently paying zero regard to story. With "Soldier of Orange," I haven’t completely changed my mind about the guy, but I now have much more respect for his journey to Hollywood in the first place. This film is far more character driven and complex than many of his States side ventures. The acting is top notch and the scenery and production design are very impressive considering the small Dutch budget he was working with. Having seen this film, I can understand and whole-heartedly support why he was given a chance to make something like "Robocop" in the first place. It’s a good film and in obviously capable hands. There were a few problems I had with it, however, namely the introduction to these characters in regards to the passage of time. In one scene we see Erik getting soup poured on his head by Gus and two minutes later they’re best friends. We aren’t given much time to get to know these characters individually, which created some confusion for me initially. I knew there were six guys who were friends, but aside from Erik and Gus it was hard to keep track of who was who. It didn’t take me too long to figure this out, mind you, but by the time I did it made it that much harder to be concerned for these guys. I think this sacrifice in character is mainly due to the script which despite being almost two and a half hours long, almost tries to cover too much ground, especially in that first act where it is so crucial to set up the movie. The passage of time is just odd. Furthermore, none and I mean none of these actors look like college students whatsoever. Perhaps they start school at a much later age in Holland, but these guys don’t look young at all. Don’t take my nit-picks too seriously though, because I did like this film and avidly recommend it to Verhoeven fans (and yes, there is some nudity and bloodshed). I would also like to add that it very refreshing to see a film that deals with the subject of a major war without so much as mentioning the United States.
Anchor Bay Entertainment typically does a very good job with the video transfers of these lesser-known films, though I must say I was a bit surprised by the transfer quality of "Soldier of Orange." Presented in 1.66:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, the overall image is rather dull and flat. Quite noticeable, the picture is grainy and the sharpest things on screen are the subtitles. Colors are okay without much bleed, but the palette of the film doesn’t lend itself to prettiness anyway. The print is in fairly decent shape and has been cleaned up, and I guess considering the age of the film and the limitations of the production’s budget itself, there is only so much you can get out of the original materials. This transfer was approved by director Paul Verhoeven and it is my understanding that Anchor Bay even struck a new print for this DVD, so this is as good as "Soldier Of Orange" will ever look.
The audio here is comparable to the video. Presented in <$DD,Dolby Digital> mono 2.0 (Dutch only), there is little to make your ears perk up. Dialogue is crisp and easily understood, however, and the combat sound effects are distortion free. If there is one highlight in the audio department, it is the score. The main theme (which also plays on the DVD menu) is awesome. I’ve been whistling it ever since I put the disc in my player. It’s perfect war film music, and I can’t help but imagine blasting it through the stereo in dynamic 5.1 surround. Alas, that’s not happening here.
In the special features department, the disc comes through with what we all want and expect from any Verhoeven DVD, that being a commentary with the director. Though not as excited as he is in some of his other tracks, Verhoeven still makes for an interesting listen. I wish he would’ve told more stories about his love-hate relationship with Rutger Hauer, but due to the nature of the film, the track is decidedly more serious. Verhoeven grew up in the post-occupation Holland, and spends much of the time explaining the historical realities of the film based upon his own personal experiences. The disc also boasts a decent still gallery, a teaser trailer for the film, and perhaps the longest talent bios I have ever read. Though, only for Verhoeven and two of the actors, you’ll nonetheless be reading for about fifteen minutes if you take it all in.
A good movie and an okay DVD, "Soldier of Orange" is an interesting departure from director Paul Verhoeven’s American films. Focusing more on character and story than trying to shock people, it may also be his best.