|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 02 March 1999|
If ‘Soldier’ doesn’t quite live up to the potential of its premise, it’s a lot better than its clunky theatrical trailer might suggest. Screenwriter David Webb Peoples (‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Unforgiven’) has come up with an interesting science-fiction/action framework that’s given a lively, technically adept workout by director Paul Anderson (of ‘Event Horizon,’ not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson of ‘Boogie Nights’). Even if the automatic weapons and explosions take over from the plot entirely for long stretches, this movie is engaging
Kurt Russell plays Todd, raised from his birth in 1996 as part of a secret military program to create perfect soldiers. Forty years later, Todd is a veteran who knows nothing but training and combat. However, the military has by now bio-engineered a whole new breed of soldiers, apparently rendering Todd and his ilk obsolete. After a brutal battle on command, Todd is left for dead and literally tossed on a scrap heap. This being science-fiction, the scrap heap is on another planet--one that is populated by survivors of a crash 12 years earlier. The peaceful civilians don’t know what to make of the warrior in their midst, just as Todd has a hard time adapting to their ways. Then Todd’s old company comes calling, bent on wiping out the "hostiles."
Peoples has demonstrated a strong fascination with themes of violence, guilt and redemption in his earlier work. Chapters 1 and 2 get ‘Soldier’ off to a powerfully disturbing beginning, as we see the indoctrination of five and twelve year-olds into the vicious mindset desired of them. However, the tale takes a turn for the conventional once Todd’s adult adventures begin.
Still, director Anderson has a good sense of pacing and a zippy visual style, favoring dark sandy yellow for the planetary exteriors and brilliant jewel-tones for interiors decorated with bits of stained glass. There is shrewd use of sound throughout, with a great mixture of sandstorm and ratcheting machinery in Chapter 10 and a fine, if unlikely, Celtic fiddle tune broken up at ragged intervals by troubling noises from Todd’s subconscious in Chapter 12. Chapters 19 and 23 contain especially vivid explosions, crashes and pyrotechnics.
In one way, this is a bit of a problem--there is so much opportunity for warfare that Chapters 17-26 are one nearly continuous stream of combat imagery. It’s all well-staged and good-looking (except for some outer-space backgrounds that look a little two-dimensional, though the spacecraft model work is fine), but narratively, we seem to be running in place, marking time until Todd has his final few showdowns with old enemies.
Even so, ‘Soldier’ is never dull. The commentary track by the amiable Anderson and his partner/co-producer Jeremy Bolt is worth a listen, with some amusing anecdotes and good insights into how to get a rise out of an audience.