Soldier (1998)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Kurt Russell, Jason Isaacs, Gary Busey, Jason Scott Lee
Extras: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailer

Paul W.S. Anderson is the director behind films such as "Event Horizon, " "Resident Evil, " "Death Race" and as such knows a thing or two about action films. In this film, "Soldier," he is teaming up with Kurt Russell for a fiery science fiction action spectacle. Being a blend somewhere between "Escape From New York" and "Rambo", "Soldier" contains some cool imagery that is now available on Blu-Ray Disc from Warner Home Video.

"Soldier" sets up a great premise by introducing us to a hospital nursery where a number of babies, crying to be cradled, are taken away by unmoved, stiff, uniformed military personnel. It creates a strong contrast between these different generations of human beings, and immediately gets you interested in what's about to happen. The children are then raised, deprived of all warmth and human emotion in military surroundings, perpetually brainwashed and conditioned to be emotionless and unwavering. Brutal physical training finally trims their physique into shape, until in their early twenties, these children have become the ultimate war machines.

Todd (Kurt Russell) is one of them and, having fought countless battles, he has seen all facets of war and death under the hard command of Captain Church (Gary Busey). One day, a new, supposedly better breed of "Soldiers" is ready to enter the arena, lead by their preposterous officer, Colonel Mekum (Jason Isaacs), who is challenging Church's men to fight his new ultimate warriors. Both officers pit their best men against each other, and after an exhausting contest and a fierce confrontation, Caine607 (Jason Scott Lee) claims victory over the presumed dead Todd. Todd is unceremoniously becoming part of society's trash and dumped on a remote planet that is used as a giant junkyard.

In this environment Todd tries to survive and encounters a peaceful community of people who manage to survive in the hostile environment of this planet. All of a sudden completely stripped of everything that made his life worth while, and stripped of all superior direction, Todd has to face a life that is completely new to him. He has to deal with people that have emotions he doesn't understand. While this scenario would lend itself to a great study of human character and nature, director Paul Anderson sadly decides to simplify the film confronts Todd with his own past straight-forwardly. Instead of portraying Todd's change and attempts to adapt to his new surrounding, he treats us to a few minutes of compassion, a few overly sentimental moments, until within the next minute, he opens the throttle to the action once again. The squad of new-breed soldiers is ordered to the exact same planet Todd is on, for a strategic training. With the instruction to simply kill everything in sight, in order to avoid paperwork, the men start attacking the innocent and defenseless civilians. To save their lives, Todd becomes a one-man army and ultimately faces off against Caine607 once again.

"Soldier" contains a number of cool visual images, especially for its time. From the harsh and cold interiors in the military camp, to the deserted plains of the junkyard planet, the film is sure to please the eyes. The post-apocalyptic production design is working very effectively and especially the trash warrens suggest a scale of friendly homeliness amidst the steel junkyard and the hostile geographic surroundings. Unfortunately, the script could have used some clean-up to rid the production of its dialectic in the middle part, and clichés that sometimes break the illusion.

Stoic and without much dialogue, Ken Russell portrays the emotionless Todd quite well. It is a part somewhat reminiscent of his well-known Snake Plissken character in John Carpenter's "Escape From New York", essentially showing us a survivalist against all odds, who is not a friend of many words, and doesn't give away any of his feelings. He is once again the hero and anti-hero at the same time, coming from a dark background with the ultimate anticipation to save the day. Not really an innovative approach, but with Russell in the lead, it is nevertheless a formula that still works pretty well.

All in all, "Soldier" is pure adrenaline action cinema. It doesn't answer questions, it raises them and leaves them dangling. It doesn't really solve conflicts, it eradicates them. It doesn't establish dimensional characters, but much rather cuts them out and pastes them in the film. "Soldier" is what we have come to expect from Hollywood action movies. Shallow in the narrative, easy on the intellect, and straight-forward in its approach, it is a film that dazzles the mind and numbs the senses.

Warner Home Video have released "Soldier" on this disc in a clean 1080p high definition transfer that is absolutely clean and without blemishes. The image revels in detail and despite many of the atmospherically lit interior shots and the murky underworldly scenes on the trash-planet, the transfer always maintains all the shadow detail you could ask for, giving you an image with plenty of definition. The picture is sharp and well defined with strong colors and well saturated hues. The color reproduction on this release is absolutely faithful and nicely reproduces the harsh cold tones in the film's beginning, as well as the more sandy color schemes used later perfectly.

"Soldier" contains a very well produced DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio soundtrack. As you would expect from an action movie of this time and age, the soundtrack has very good spatial integration, making good and aggressive use of the split surrounds. It also has very good bass extension below 25Hz and especially during the heated battle scenes, this should give your subwoofer quite a bit of work to handle. The disc also contains an interesting audio commentary track with director Paul W.S. Anderson, co-producer Jeremy Bolt and co-star Jason Isaacs.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson has a knack for atmospheric imagery, but regrettably, always seems to struggle with his stories, dishing out films that look great but are flat, overly formulaic and predictable from beginning to end. His films never seem to live up to the intense thrills he tries to create, and rather scratches the material's surface, only to make way for more visceral effects and a large number of clichés.

I am saying this not to turn you off the film, but to get your expectations right for this film. "Soldier" is a self-glorifying hero-saves-the-day movie with big explosions and beautiful images, but no depth at all. As a popcorn movie for its visceral sakes and action elements, it clearly delivers the goods well paced, well staged and with some impressive visuals.