Universal Soldier (4K Blu-ray) (1992)

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Released 11-Mar-2020

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Audio Commentary-with Roland Emmerich, Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren
Audio Commentary-with Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin
Featurette-Making Of-'Guns, Genes and Fighting Machines'
Featurette-'A Tale of Two Titans'
Alternate Ending
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Trailer
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1992
Running Time 103:20
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Roland Emmerich
Studio
Distributor

Universal Sony
Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme
Dolph Lundgren
Ally Walker
Ed O'Ross
Jerry Orbach
Leon Rippy
Tico Wells
Ralf Moeller
Robert Trebor
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $29.95 Music Christopher Franke


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
French DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
German DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Audio Commentary dts 2.0
English Audio Commentary dts 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 2160p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French
German
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    A masculine action staple from 1992, Universal Soldier represents the perfect recipe for a big, dumb action spectacle. After all, it features genre titans Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren in their prime, it is R-rated, it's vehemently old-fashioned, and it was overseen by action filmmaker extraordinaire Roland Emmerich (Stargate). Although it might be difficult to defend Universal Soldier from a serious critical standpoint, it's a near-masterpiece on its own terms; a kick-ass red-meat action film with ample explosions and bloodletting, all played with tongue firmly planted in cheek. The film delivers in this sense, and it does so effectively, with competent production values, memorable one-liners, and entertaining set-pieces.

    In 1969, while fighting in the Vietnam War, Pvt. Luc Devereux (Van Damme) and the insane Sgt. Andrew Scott (Lundgren) kill each other during a confrontation over the murder of innocent civilians. In the early 1990s, the preserved corpses of the two men are reanimated and placed in the top-secret "Universal Soldier" program, which aims to create a counterterrorism unit comprised of elite, super-powered, emotionless warriors. However, Devereux begins recalling his traumatic Vietnam experiences, which snaps him out of his medical trance. When curious news reporter Veronica (Ally Walker) trespasses on a military base and stumbles upon evidence of the UniSol program, the soldiers violently intervene, and Devereux escapes with the young journalist. Meanwhile, Scott likewise regains consciousness, and returns to his war zone insanity as he hunts Devereux through the American Southwest.

    The premise of Universal Soldier is patently ridiculous, supported by flimsy, high-school-level science. Yet, this should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Emmerich's filmography, as blockbusters like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 likewise laugh in the face of believable science. Fortunately, Emmerich and the three credited writers embrace the ridiculousness, and Universal Soldier is therefore exceedingly tongue-in-cheek and goofy, never taking itself too seriously or pretending to be a serious science fiction production. Unsurprisingly, the film adheres to a standard narrative template, as well, with little in the way of intriguing twists or turns, and there's even a trace of romance that is incredibly forced. This flat romantic subplot, coupled with a few patches of poor pacing, denote the movie's only genuine flaws (beyond its stupidity and cheesiness).

    More than anything else, Universal Soldier is an excuse for Van Damme and Lundgren to beat the snot out of one another, and, heavens me, it succeeds in this respect. The two behemoths are trained martial artists, and the resulting fights are exhilarating to watch. Additionally, outside of the fisticuffs, Universal Soldier contains various shootouts and car chases, all of which feature real stuntmen and practical effects, which makes this a refreshing movie to revisit in the 21st Century. Indeed, stuntmen actually repelled down Hoover Dam, while the pyrotechnics crew set off real explosions and destroyed real vehicles. All of this material is delivered with R-rated action sensibilities, allowing for plenty of brutal violence. And, of course, as with any action film from this period, Universal Soldier has some terrific one-liners. Altogether, it's a lot of fun. Say what you will about the slipshod scripting, but Emmerich proves to be a competent craftsman capable of orchestrating exciting action scenes. This was Emmerich's first big movie, following up the low-budget sci-fi thriller Moon 44 with this $20 million production, which also marked his first collaboration with producing partner Dean Devlin. Afterwards, Emmerich and Devlin collaborated on Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla and The Patriot, with mixed results.

    Emmerich and Devlin were acutely aware of their leads' strengths and weakness, designing the film to use Van Damme and Lundgren in the most effective way. Thus, Van Damme's dialogue is kept to a minimum, and his lines were even reportedly further shortened during filming. Plus, with the Mussels from Brussels playing an emotionless warrior, he fits the role like a glove, and his martial arts expertise compensates for any perceived lack of acting talent. Alongside him, Lundgren steals the show as the psychotic antagonist, relishing the opportunity to ham it up and generally taunt everybody while wearing a necklace of severed ears. Meanwhile, Walker is merely adequate as the token female/love interest, showing some welcome spunk but making no lasting impression.

    Some may find it hard to forgive Emmerich for certain movies (1998's Godzilla being the most controversial), but Universal Soldier is one of the filmmaker's best. Sure, it's a goofy, illogical action blockbuster, but it's also entertaining escapism, and its ridiculousness is all part of the charm. This movie is the very definition of big dumb macho fun, and it is the perfect choice for viewers who enjoy this brand of entertainment. Unsurprisingly, the movie spawned numerous sequels, including two cheap TV movies, an awful theatrical sequel, as well as two surprisingly robust straight-to-video follow-ups in 2009 and 2012.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    As already stated, Universal Soldier's remastered 1080p Blu-ray looks excellent. However, Studio Canal's 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray confidently to up the ante in terms of textures, colours and resolution. In keeping with the likes of the recent John Carpenter 4K releases, Universal Soldier received a brand new 4K remaster from the original camera negative, and the results are revelatory. Placed on a triple-layered BD-100 (since the disc also houses several extras), and maintaining a superb average bitrate that frequently sits around the 60 Mbps mark, this HEVC/H.265-encoded 2160p transfer is flawless from start to finish in terms of the encoding and the underlying remaster itself. It's an expected improvement over the remastered 1080p Blu-ray, and it's a huge upgrade over the original Australian Blu-ray from 2011, to boot. I'm grateful that Studio Canal picked a masculine cult classic like Universal Soldier for such an extensive remaster, and I'm even more grateful that they didn't muck it up. Aside from some minor gate weave (and thick grain) on the opening Caralco logo (which is understandable, since it's not first-generation material), there is scarcely any film artefacts throughout - a handful of moments feature minor specks that most people probably won't even notice, but there is no major print damage or degradation.

    My word, this transfer looks freaking lush. Even the opening titles show bolder colours that truly leap off the screen, while the Vietnam War sequence is sharper and more vivid, with the 2160p encode doing justice to the dark, rainy photography. As the helicopter flies in at the 6:50 mark, the 2160p presentation ably handles the fog more proficiently than its 1080p counterpart, and there's a noticeable uptick in shadow detail across the board. In general, the image appears tighter, with gorgeously-refined grain and sublime object delineation from start to finish, no matter the environment or lighting conditions. As stated in my review of the 1080p Blu-ray, the grain does appear suspiciously fine at times, especially in daylight, but it's never lacking in textures, nor does it ever appear smeary or smooth - rather, the movie looks organic, sharp, and richly-detailed. Indeed, it's clear that the film was shot on fine-grained stock for the daylight scenes, which translates to an eye-poppingly detailed and astonishingly clear image which never shows evidence of unnecessary digital noise reduction. Additionally, optical shots are scarce throughout the movie, which again should please the "grain haters." Luckily, the optical shots (primarily shots with the stylised location titles) look more refined here compared to the Blu-ray, with thick grain that appears as finely-resolved as possible. It's also worth pointing out that the opening credits which appear over live-action footage look astonishingly crisp and sharp, while the live-action footage shows no loss of detail or sharpness. Therefore, I don't believe that these are optical shots - it appears that Studio Canal went back to the original camera negative for such material, and recreated the credits during the remastering process.

    Close-ups show an insane amount of fine detail, while wide shots also retain incredible texturing and immaculate sharpness. Universal Soldier is on the same level as a Sony 4K catalogue title, and I don't think anybody who grew up with this cult classic on VHS and DVD ever thought it could look this good. Darker scenes show improved shadow detail and superior sharpness, which is fortunate since Universal Soldider does have its fair share of darker scenes. Plus, much to the delight of videophiles around the world, Studio Canal has encoded the disc in Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range, though it plays in regular old HDR10 on non-DV equipment. I viewed the movie in Dolby Vision for the purposes of this review, and this review/score is therefore reflective of the DV presentation. The Dolby Vision HDR is actually a full enhancement layer, and I struggled to find a single flaw throughout the movie in terms of compression or colours. The HDR really makes this presentation sing, as it reveals bolder colours, inkier blacks, improved contrast and better colour depth. Again, the remastered Blu-ray is certainly no slouch, but it's also no match for this 4K transfer. In addition to more accurate colours all-round, the HDR restores specular highlights to harsh light sources, such as the headlights on the UniSol truck, muzzle flashes, explosions, sparks, and more. Moreover, the increased luminance gives more impact to explosions and other lights, which stand out all the more in darkness. There's not much more which can be said about the HDR grading - it's solid, without any overcooked colours or compression issues.

    Studio Canal can be hit-and-miss in terms of encoding, but there's nothing to complain about with Universal Soldier's 4K transfer. The level of fine detail and refinement is staggering - you can even read name tags clearly in wide shots, and object delineation is immaculate. Furthermore, the presentation never shows any video artefacts - no aliasing, banding, macroblocking, or anything else to spoil the gorgeous remaster. (Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Red Heat on 4K Blu-ray, which was released at the same time, and features several compression artefacts.) All things considered, this is a truly remarkable effort from Studio Canal; it's one of the best and most satisfying catalogue 4K discs in recent memory, even topping some of Sony's work. It also looks better than numerous new release movies on the format, thanks to the native 4K transfer and the 35mm photography. I have zero complaints. I love this flick and I love this 4K presentation, fans will be over the moon.

    Subtitles are included in English, French and German.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Studio Canal is awful when it comes to catalogue title remixes since they basically...don't do them. Whereas the likes of Sony and Warner Bros. remix catalogue titles in Dolby Atmos for 4K, Studio Canal just stick with the existing archival mixes (hell, even SC's 4K release of Don't Look Now comes with a 2.0 mix). Universal Soldier is no different, with this 4K UHD Blu-ray containing lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio tracks in English, German and French. Naturally, I concentrated on the English 5.1 track for the purposes of this review. Just like the video, it's clear that the audio has been appropriately tidied up and remastered, as I could not detect even the slightest artefacts or issues - no popping, hissing, clicking, sync issues or drop-outs. Plus, thanks to the lossless encoding, the track is crystal clear throughout, with the audio never sounding tinny or compressed. I cannot be sure if this is the same track that was prepared for the original Blu-ray since I no longer have the disc on hand to compare, but whatever the case, this is a terrific track which delivers at every opportunity.

    In the opening shots, the audio immediately engages the rear channels, with sounds of explosions, birds, screaming, rainfall and gunfire isolated to certain speakers, instantly announcing this as a dynamic 5.1 mix. Sounds of thunder during the opening are deep, too, with the subwoofer giving the thunder sufficient impact. When Devereux and Scott gun each other down, the gunshots are deafening and impactful. Inside the UniSol truck, frequent beeping and other computer noises fill the surround speakers, and panning effects are evident when helicopters fly across the screen. When Scott and his team attack the hotel, the soundscape comes to life with sounds of gunfire, bullet hits and ricocheting. These qualities carry over to the remainder of the movie, sounding aggressive and clear, with deafening gunfire and explosions. The rear channels are frequently engaged to deliver atmospherics (crickets chirping at night) as well as Christopher Franke's satisfying, gung-ho original score. Dialogue is well-prioritised, as it's always comprehensible, but the dialogue is not as pristine as a more recent production - indeed, it's clear the recordings are limited by the recording equipment of the era. Nevertheless, you can still understand what's being said. Some of the sound effects are dated, too, as some stock sounds were used, but there is not much else to complain about.

    I'm sure that audiophiles will bemoan the lack of an object-based remix, but Universal Soldier still sounds truly remarkable, and the mix beautifully complements the remastered 4K video presentation.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The 4K disc contains the same extras available on the 1080p Blu-ray. Please note that these are encoded in high definition on the disc, but still come from rough SD sources.

Audio Commentary with Roland Emmerich, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren

    This first commentary features all the key participants, and is comprised of three different sessions - Van Damme and Lundgren were recorded individually, while Emmerich and Devlin were recorded together. Emmerich dominates the track, doing his best to fill the commentary with minor and major pieces of information. It's a hit-and-miss track - there's some interesting trivia (including using a golf course in Arizona for the Vietnam War scenes, and building the motel from scratch), but there's also some self-congratulatory comments and other statements like "I love this shot!". It's also surprising that there is some dead air throughout, even despite the number of participants. Still, there are some fascinating discussions - they mention the hundreds of practical squibs, Emmerich points out that the movie was made before digital colour grading was possible, Lundgren's acting coach played Brenda the waitress, Van Damme's son briefly appearing in his first film role, the rating is mentioned, and more. Apparently, footage from the bus chase was even edited into an episode of JAG, plus Emmerich and Devlin point out which shots in that sequence were models.

Audio Commentary with Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin

    As far as I can tell, this is a new commentary with Emmerich and Devlin, as I cannot find another DVD or Blu-ray edition with the track prior to this release. There is some inevitable overlap with the other extras, as they initially go over shooting the Vietnam scenes on a golf course in Arizona, and there are some innocuous comments about the actors, etc. Plus, there are ample pauses, with the pair frequently struggling to figure out what to discuss. Nevertheless, nuggets of worthwhile information are present here, such as writing the Hoover Dam sequence which replaced a similar sequence in the original script aboard an airplane. They speak about budget issues, the stunts, the special effects, the locations, the actors, logistics of the shoot (including time constraints on certain days), and more. They also discuss the difficulties of lighting scenes in a car in the hot Arizona desert.

Guns, Genes and Fighting Machines (HD; 18:53)

    This brisk, entertaining (but noticeably chintzy) "making-of" documentary goes over the genesis of the project, bringing in Emmerich and Devlin for their first filmmaking collaboration, rewrites, recruiting Van Damme and Lundgren, doing the stunts, and more. Devlin even mentions shortening Van Damme's dialogue as much as possible. The various interviews are intercut with film clips and some fun behind-the-scenes footage, though I wish this was a longer and more comprehensive documentary.

A Tale of Two Titans (HD; 14:12)

    This is a fun, minor biographical piece which concentrates on Van Damme and Lundgren. In separate interviews that are intercut, the two actors talk about their upbringing, and first getting into fitness/exercising and martial arts. They talk about martial arts competitions, and Lundgren also goes over studying chemical engineering to follow in his father's footsteps (he spent a year at the University of Sydney). Of course, they eventually discuss getting started in the film industry and several films they worked on, though they don't actually cover Universal Soldier.

Alternate Ending (HD; 13:08)

    Universal Soldier underwent some reshoots after the first workprint. This is the original iteration of the climactic action sequence, presented in serviceable standard definition with some print damage and other video artefacts. One can certainly understand why this was reshot, as the final cut is better. This is nice as a historical curiosity, but it's not essential viewing.

Behind the Scenes (HD; 15:28)

    Here we have fifteen minutes of raw behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot. Several scenes are covered, including the climax (complete with rain machines) and other stunt sequences. Clips of this were incorporated into the previous featurettes, though there's still enough extra footage to make this extra worthwhile. Again, I just wish this was longer.

Trailer (HD; 2:19)

    An original trailer (complete with music from Terminator 2), which is in pretty poor condition.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This is a direct port of the U.K. disc, while the American Lionsgate disc just has different language options. Buy local.

Summary

    One of the most quintessential manly movies from the 1990s, Universal Soldier is a primo action movie from top to bottom. It's silly, incredibly entertaining, violent and goofy, and I always enjoy watching it.

    Universal Soldier looks amazing in 4K Ultra HD. The remastered video presentation is immaculate across the board: sharp, richly detailed, clear, and with a beautiful HDR grade. The 5.1 audio, too, is fantastic, and I never found myself yearning for an object-based remix. The disc also contains a nice collection of special features. Highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Tuesday, May 05, 2020
Review Equipment
DVDSony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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