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Add Robocop to The Terminator, divide by Van Damme, multiply by Dolph Lundgren, subtract one studio on the road to bankruptcy, add the square root of Platoon, and divide again by a young German director on his way to superstardom, and you get Universal Soldier, probably the closest thing to a 'good' movie on Jean-Claude Van Damme's IMDb.com page.

Universal Soldier: Special Edition
Before he was making half good movies (usually the first half, where cities are being destroyed) Roland Emmerick was expertly filming JC's naked butt in loving close-up. Universal Soldier shares quite a bit in common with Paul Verhoven's RoboCop, beyond the whole 'recycled soldier' plot. Both films represent the Hollywood débuts of their European directors, and both directors would go onto Sci-Fi/Action super-stardom. Both films were made as studies of American action cinema, and both films were relatively popular. The difference is that one film ( RoboCop) was an ironic comedy in disguise and was a true screen original, where the other film, ( Universal Soldier), was a retread, not very good, and wears its sense of humour on its blazing red sleeve.

I coulda sworn I'd seen the movie before, but I must've only caught it in bits and pieces on TV because I know I'd remember seeing Dolph Lundgren chopped to shreds in a hay bailer (and the next person that tells me my favourite Italian horror film is sick better not have this in his or her collection). The film is perfectly entertaining, if not entirely (purposefully?) stupid. It contains plenty of violence, but not enough nudity (at least not of the feminine persuasion, though that may be Emmerich's point). I'm impressed with its vulgarity, but not amazed. Besides spectacular action set pieces (which the movie has plenty of), late '80s/early '90s vulgarity is really the only reason to watch such a film.

My favourite thing about Universal Soldier, though, is Dolph Lundgren. I made fun of Dolph with the rest of them back in the day, but when I re-watched The Punisher and saw I Come in Peace for the first time in a row I had a change of heart. You know what? For an action guy with precious few lines Dolphy is pretty damn good in my book. He's defiantly better than Van Damme, and probably deserved Van Damme's career more than Van Damme did. Not to mention the fact that he's got a Masters in Molecular Biology, had a Fullbright scholarship to M.I.T., he's a real life Karate champion, and he speaks Swedish, English, German, Japanese and some French. And he gets hay bailed to death in this movie! What else could you want?

Universal Soldier: Special Edition

Video


At the top of the public’s introduction to high definition Lionsgate quickly aligned themselves with Blu-ray, and whipped out a few of their Carolco catalogue favourites, only to muck it all up by not putting any effort into the hi-def video. Following the studio’s surprisingly clean First Blood release, and their relatively colourful Doors release, I assumed the studio had gotten a hold on their video problems. For all intents and purposes Universal Soldier looks good, losing the heavy grain and less than impressive blacks of the DVD release. The print is not without issue, but it’s nothing compared to the studio’s crap Total Recall disc. The biggest issues are with varying detail levels, some noise in warmer colours, and a general flatness compared to the best hi-def discs.

Audio


There’s pretty much zero comparison between the old DVD’s Dolby Digital 5.1 track and this new, improved, and super goddamned loud DTS-HD Master Audio track. Most of the new improvements occur in the rear and LFE channels, which have been officially worked to their nth degree, especially the LFE track, with throbs with a rather ridiculous abandon. The spatial representation of the track is impressive during the more immersive moments. Considering the film’s age (even though it was made around the time of 5.1’s inception) the illusion of audio movement is effective. Problems with the track begin and end in the centre channel, which suffers some bleeding (mostly in the music track) into the back channels, a little bit of overdone sound reduction during some of the dialogue, and is generally short on volume compared to the rest of the track. I’m also a little disappointed in the music track, which has been mixed a little too far into the rear channels.

Universal Soldier: Special Edition

Extras


Universal Soldier comes retrofitted with all the same extras as the original special edition DVD, with the exception of a very noisy Blu-ray trivia track. The trivia mirrors the commentary track pretty directly, but doesn’t act as the best alternative simply because of the volume of the sound effects that accompany the pop-ups. The commentary track features director Roland Emmerich, co-writer Dean Devlin, Dolph, and JC himself all edited together. Only Emmerich and Devlin share a microphone, and they pretty much rule the track, Dolph and JC interject every once and a while. The track is entertaining, as the filmmakers seem to kind of think the film is crap and take the piss out of it over and over, but even with three tracks edited together there's still a lot of empty space.

The making-of featurette, ‘Guns, Genes and Fighting Machines’ is a nice companion piece to the commentary, but again covers much of the same ground. Those that don't want to sit through an entire commentary track (or the new trivia track) will end up almost exactly as knowledgeable about the making of the film just watching the brief (less than twenty minutes) mini-doc. A second featurette is called ‘Tale of Two Titans’, gives us a brief history of stars Van Damme and Lundgren. It's really a lot more entertaining than it has any right to be.

The disc is finished with an alternate ending and trailers. The alternate ending is pretty much the same as the used ending, but slightly less spectacular, and much bleaker. The alternate ending is the only extra not presented in hi-def.

Universal Soldier: Special Edition

Overall


I can’t imagine spending money on a hi-def release of Universal Soldier myself, considering my opinion of the film’s quality, and the fact that it seems to be on cable every weekend, but if you’re a die-hard JCVD fan (or better yet, a die-hard Dolph fan), you’ll probably be in severed ear, zombie soldier heaven. Actually, this review is belated enough that you die-hards probably already own the disc. Sorry I wasn’t able to help out.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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