Universal Soldier 4K UHD Combo Pack
1992's Universal Soldier hits 4K Ultra HD! Here's our review!
After two soldiers (Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren) are killed in Vietnam, their bodies are put on ice and revived decades later as part of a government program. Also stars Ally Walker, Ed O’Ross, and Jerry Orbach. Directed by Roland Emmerich.
Let’s be honest here: most Jean-Claude Van Damme movies aren’t very good. 1992’s Universal Soldier, however, is easily his best film from his heyday in the 1990s. It’s not a great film, but with director Roland Emmerich in charge, Van Damme leads an entertaining (albeit cheesy) actioner that is seeing new life thanks to a 4K release from Lionsgate.
Van Damme plays Luc Deveraux, a Louisiana Cajun (nice cover for the accent) who is serving in Vietnam. His sergeant, Andrew Scott (Lundgren) loses his mind and begins killing civilians, leading to a confrontation with Deveraux. The two end up killing each other within the first five minutes of the movie, but obviously, that’s hardly the end of the story.
The two soldiers are placed in some sort of cold storage (the science behind all of this is only slightly touched on, so don’t dwell on the improbability), and revived decades later. Apparently, the military has a program using dead soldiers to create genetic and cybernetic-enhanced fighting machines, and the duo have been recruited.
Deveraux and Scott have their memories wiped (supposedly) and are now robotic shells of their former selves. Please, no jokes about how this suits their acting.
Flash-forward to the 1990s, and the Universal Soldiers (or UniSols for short) are carrying out special missions in the United States. The government isn’t telling the public about the dead soldiers carrying out the missions, leading reporter Veronica Roberts (Ally Walker) to start poking around their mobile headquarters.
Of course, things go wrong. Secrets are uncovered, and Deveraux begins to remember who he was. Scott also begins to regress, and goes on a rogue killing spree. Deveraux and Roberts go on the run with Scott chasing them down.
There’s a series of major action set pieces, and you can see how Emmerich’s approach would pave the way for his future collaborations with Devlin, including Stargate, Independence Day, and Godzilla.
While some may dismiss Universal Soldier as the sort of mindless action film that dominated the 1990s - and the careers of Van Damme and Lundgren - it’s more than the sum of its action scenes. The pairing of Lundgren and Van Damme works really well, and their charisma elevates the film above the standard action flick.
Critics may mock the acting abilities of the two leads, and while they are hardly master thespians, they do a fine job here. Lundgren in particular infuses Sgt. Scott with a definite Taxi Driver vibe, and while it is often over-the-top, his performance is nonetheless entertaining.
Even Van Damme, whose acting abilities were hampered by his thick accent, gives an otherwise emotionless character some life with a humorous deadpan delivery. The cafe scene, in which Van Damme fights a group of men while continuing to eat, is hilarious, intentional or not. When he delivers one of those cheesy 90s action film one-liners, you can’t help but smile.
Like most 90s action films - or Roland Emmerich films for that matter - Universal Soldier has its share of cheesiness, illogical plot points, and strikingly unnecessary violence. I’m still wondering why the movie was rated R - the few scenes of graphic violence and profanity could have easily been toned down to PG-13 without losing much impact. Emmerich and Devlin would learn that lesson for their later blockbusters, but at least here, we do get the visual of someone being diced to chunks by farm equipment.
Keep an eye out for Tommy “Tiny” Lister, who you might remember from movies like Friday (and as the wrestler Zeus), as one of the Universal Soldiers. Eric Norris, son of Chuck, also plays one of the soldiers. In a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” moment, Michael Jai White (Spawn, The Dark Knight Rises) appears as an American soldier in the first scene.
If you don’t set your expectations too high, you’ll enjoy Universal Soldier. It’s an entertaining slice of 90s action nostalgia, with Van Damme and Lundgren at their peak.
At one point during the audio commentary, both Emmerich and Devlin mention that they hadn’t sat down to watch the film in about 10 years. They both are surprised at how well the film holds up, and say that at the time, they saw it as just another action film. They mention that they forgot just how much fun the movie is, even after all these years.
They are right.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
The video transfer is solid, although it has some shortcomings. There is an obvious upgrade in detail and color depth throughout most of the film, thanks to the use of Dolby Vision. Night scenes look particularly good, with inky blacks and nice contrast. Skin tones are natural and consistent.
With most of the film taking place in the desert, the browns and yellows stand out from the intermittent greens.
There is a thin sheen of grain evident in the video, which for the most part, doesn’t overpower the presentation. Some scenes, however, seem to have a softer focus.
The audio is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, and the clarity is excellent. There’s a good balance between the Christopher Franke score and the dialogue, which is crisp and clear. While there is some surround effect to the mix, the individual channels aren’t as active as some modern film mixes.
Unfortunately, the 4K disc doesn’t offer any new bonus features. All of the extras come from previous home video releases, so they aren’t in 4K and the overall video quality varies.
The featurettes included do provide a nice look behind the scenes, and the commentaries are worth a listen.
The bonus features included on the disc are:
“A Tale of Two Titans” featurette. In this 2004 made-for-video featurette, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren both discuss their lives and careers. Perhaps most interesting is Van Damme telling his life story, complete with pictures of himself as a kid.
Lundgren also discusses his life, and how he took up competitive martial arts as a young man and won several championships. He talks about how he earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering and won a Fulbright scholarship to MIT. His recounting of his audition for the role of Drago in Rocky IV is of particular interest. Running Time: 14:12
“Guns, Genes, and Fighting Machines” featurette. This 2004 making-of “mini documentary” features Van Damme, Lundgren, Devlin, and Emmerich all discussing how the film was made. Running Time: 18:53
Alternate Ending. In the “making-of” featurette, Van Damme and Lundgren mention that they went back and shot more scenes to extend the final battle. This alternate ending reflects the original shorter - and much darker - version. I won’t spoil it for you, but you’ll likely prefer the happier ending the movie eventually received. Running Time: 13:08
“Behind the Scenes” footage. This bonus feature is essentially B-roll taken on the set as various scenes were filmed. It is shown without interviews or commentary, and you get some semblance of what things we like on the set. The quality of the video is, sadly, only slightly above VHS quality, as it was obviously taken with a video camera. It is, however, still an interesting watch. Running Time: 15:28
Trailer. The film’s original theatrical trailer is included in standard definition. Fun fact: the trailer used (quite effectively) the music from Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Running Time: 2:19
Audio Commentaries. There are two audio commentaries included with the film. One includes Roland Emmerich, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Dean Devlin. It’s a fairly entertaining commentary, although sadly, the four recorded their commentaries separately and had them edited together. It would have been fun to hear them all interact.
The second includes Emmerich and Devlin alone, and their comments are different from the first commentary. They don’t talk much, until the final act of the film, almost as if that’s when the coffee kicked in.
Digital Copy. A code for a digital copy of the film, redeemable though services including VUDU and FandangoNow, is included. Codes are not compatible with Movies Anywhere. According to 4KSheet.com, the code will redeem a 4K version of the film at both VUDU, iTunes, and Fandango. However, we suggest verifying with your preferred service before redeeming the code.
4K DISC SPECS
- Release Date: November 5, 2019
- Running Time: 103 minutes
- Rating: R
- Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
- Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
- Subtitles: English, Spanish
- Audio Commentaries: Two audio commentaries included: one with Roland Emmerich, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Dean Devlin, and a second with only Emmerich and Devlin.
- Label: Lionsgate