Universal Soldier

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Details At A Glance

Category Action Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1992 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 99:17  Other Extras Cast & Crew Biographies
Featurette - Behind The Scenes (6:47)
Music Video - Body Count's In The House
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Roland Emmerich

Columbia Tristar
Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme
Dolph Lundgren
Ally Walker
RRP $34.95 Music Christopher Franke
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 2.0 
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 )
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 )
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 )
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English 
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Before I begin my review, I would like to ask that you all spare a thought for Ally Walker, who was unfortunate enough to be stuck with playing the reporter in this film. However, at least she wound up in interesting television roles. The phrase "it just gets worse" seems to apply to the careers of the rest of the cast. It also seems to apply to the career of director Roland Emmerich, who has since directed such shockers as Stargate, Independence Day, and the abysmal Godzilla. This leads me to wonder if Emmerich's name really isn't an Alan Smithee-style alias (for those who don't understand that, there is a school of thought that believe the name Alan Smithee is a pseudonym used by retaliation-fearing directors when extremely bad films such as Plan 9 From Outer Space are made). In any case, for those who want a plot, here it is: at some point during the Vietnam war, a young private named Luc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his Sergeant, Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) kill one another in the sort of half-baked argument that only Hollywood could attribute to the insane and retain a vaguely straight face. Fast-forward to the year 199x and they have both been reanimated to become UniSols, which are basically the kind of soldiers you call in when you want to get the implausible done and John Rambo is too busy.

    After ending a hostage situation on a hydro power station, Luc is plagued by memories of the life he once had. He suddenly remembers that he simply wants to walk away from the whole combat situation, while Andrew remembers a possessed dedication to destroying all the people he sees as traitors to his cause. Which includes just about everyone he happens to meet while chasing Luc. Having just been fired from her position as a reporter, Veronica (Ally Walker) is desperate for some kind of story that will make her wanted by the network once more. She soon finds and photographs the Universal Soldier program's mobile base, a move that has the unscrupulous Colonel Perry (Ed O'Ross) howling for her blood. As a team of UniSols capture her and her cameraman, who is killed by Scott, Luc's troubling memories get to be too much and he rescues the hapless Veronica. There's not much more to it than that, except that Law And Order (now there's a TV program that I really wish someone would bring out on DVD) star Jerry Orbach makes a guest appearance as Dr. Gregor, who supervised the medical process of reanimating the UniSols. All I can say is that Jerry must have owed Roland one hell of a favour, because there's no other explanation for his appearance in this film.

    However, when all is said and done, this is definitely one of the better Van Damme films out on the market. Although that isn't saying much, it is enjoyable when you switch the brain off for a hundred minutes and just enjoy the violence, which there's enough of to keep any action fan amused. Dolph Lundgren is what makes this film so enjoyable, however. He's a fairly bright fellow with at least some understanding of the basic elements of acting, although he'll never quite get to be an Al Pacino. However, if you have any doubts about what he brings to this film, I suggest you take a look at this original and compare it with the sequel. At least both of the main stars know not to take themselves too seriously on this outing.

Transfer Quality


    In keeping with my theory that the quality of a video transfer is often inversely proportional to the quality of the film itself, this is a well-rendered DVD. It is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, with 16x9 enhancement. While clarity is a little lacking during fast-paced scenes, the sharpness of the overall picture is wonderful, and the shadow detail is remarkable. The colours are very strongly rendered, especially in scenes with unusual lighting schemes, such as inside Colonel Perry's mobile base. There was some mild aliasing from the usual culprits, but this could easily escape your attention when you're not going over the picture with a hypersensitive eye. The film artefacts were standard fare for most pre-1998 films, with a few spots in the odd frame here and there. Although subtitles do not default to on with my trusty Grundig, there have been reports of this happening with other players. A minor annoyance which I will let slide.

    Surprisingly, the photography in this film is quite astounding, especially during the bus-versus-truck chase sequence in the last third of the film. However, it is let down somewhat by the loss of clarity in a couple of backgrounds, especially the moment where the bus at the terminal pulls away to reveal a horde of policemen behind Veronica. While these losses are minor, they are annoying. I cannot remember if they occurred in the VCR and theatrical versions, but perhaps RSDL formatting would have been preferable in terms of preserving background definition. Thankfully, these slips in quality are few and far between.


    Three languages are presented on this DVD, all in surround-encoded Dolby Digital 2.0 - English, French, and Spanish. I listened to both the English and Spanish soundtracks, although a lot gets lost in the translation from English to Spanish, especially in terms of the specifics of the actual UniSol project. The sound balance in this film is highly varied, however, with the dialogue sounding muffled (and not just in Van Damme's usual muffled way of speaking) while explosions sounded like, well, explosions. The dialogue is reasonably easy to understand, except in one chase sequence where it probably wouldn't make any difference, anyway. It does tend to have a rather artificial ring to it, but I think that would be par for the course in all Van Damme films. At least he doesn't use his trademark psychotic meowing at any point in this film.

    The music by Christopher Franke is so good that I didn't even know it was his work until I started doing this review. It's basically your average action movie fodder. On the positive side, at least it didn't contain any lyrics, or have any rap numbers (which I will get into later). Given how shallow and one-dimensional the characters are, I guess it would have been asking too much to have a Wagnerian letitmotif-based score. However, this is precisely what the film would have needed to suggest something vaguely resembling a third dimension.

    One thing I do not quite understand is the uneven and imbalanced encoding of the Dolby Digital surround. Given the relative youth of the film in question, I would have thought a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix would have at least been a reasonable request, but it is conspicuously absent. Total Recall, which is a couple of years older, supports this option. Terminator 2, which is another couple of years older, also supports this option. Why this film does not is rather beyond me, although given the relatively short life-span it has had in the film buff's consciousness, I guess we can live with it anyway. However, the manner in which the film switches to use of the surround channels during action sequences, and back again during dialogue sequences, gets on the nerves just a little. This is a good disc to test whether your subwoofer is giving all it has, however.


    The extras are average in quantity, and range from interesting to blah.


    A standard 4:3 menu with nothing particularly remarkable about it except to say that it is much more pleasant to look at than others of its kind.

Theatrical Trailer

    The theatrical trailer is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and it is not 16x9 enhanced. It has a Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix that, like most of its kind from its time, sounds like it is actually mono. Before the trailer starts, the menu gives you a choice of subtitles.

Cast And Crew Biographies

    This extra makes it worth having the disc by itself. Did you know, for instance, that Dolph Lundgren's real name is Hans? Or that he actually has a Master's Degree in chemical engineering? Or that he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship To MIT in 1983? Hardly what you'd expect from the man who came to prominence as Stallone's opponent in Rocky IV, right? Similar things can be said about Jean-Claude Van Damme (real surname: Van Varenberg), except that he doesn't have any degrees or fellowships - he's still just a really bad actor.

Featurette - Behind The Scenes (6:47)

    This is noticeably better than other featurettes of this kind. It is presented in the standard 4:3 aspect ratio, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound that also sounds like it is actually mono. Worth watching just to hear producers Allen Shapiro and Craig Baumgarten talk about the emotional range of Jean-Claude Van Damme's performance. I live about twenty minutes away from a special hospital for the retarded (it's on the same block as Westmead Hospital), a place where this kind of performance gets churned out every day. The acting there is still consistently better than JCVD's. Before this featurette starts, the menu also gives you a choice of subtitles.

Music Video - Body Count's In The House

    This is a music video for the song that begins the ending credits. Ice T's real name is Tracy Marrow (or so one source in the press says). He owns a prestige car company, and is about the only "gangsta" that doesn't have any criminal convictions recorded against him. In case you're wondering, I just went through all that to demonstrate something - the song itself has about as much substance to it as his "gangsta" posing. The video is also presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound which sounds like mono.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     While I would have preferred 5.1 audio, this is countered by the 16x9 enhancement. And while I'd gladly swap that masturbatory music video for the teaser trailer, the cast and crew bios are just too hilarious to go without. Stick with the Region 4 version for this film.


    Universal Soldier is a vaguely good idea executed on an average film that was ruined by some of the lamest sequels in living memory, presented on a very good DVD.

    The video quality borders on reference material.

    The audio quality is reasonable, but should have been much better.

    The extras range from interesting and hilarious to crappy.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Dean McIntosh
19th January, 2000
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D
Display Samsung CS-823AMF, 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite input
Audio Decoder Built In
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer