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Universal Soldier (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Studio Canal seems to be helping nudge and build up Lionsgate’s 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray catalog titles in the United States. Coming off the heels of the Rambo trilogy and Red Heat is the Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren team up in the the Roland Emmerich film Universal Soldier. These are getting first announced and released by Studio Canal in the UK and most have US rights with Lionsgate, so its a simple port over for them. People can complain about what they are picking to upgrade (Guilty), like when the Lincoln Lawyer or Snitch is chosen to make the jump over any of the Saw, Scream or wealth of catalog horror they aren’t paying attention to. But, with a title like Universal Soldier, its not really on them and honestly…I think this one and the Rambos have been pretty popular home video sellers in the past. So, it makes sense. You’ll be able to grab this one on November 5th, and if you utilize the Amazon link below, I probably make about 15 pennies.

Film 

During the Vietnam War, soldier Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) finds that his superior officer, Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), has turned violently deranged, and the two fight to the death. After their bodies are retrieved, they are placed into a secret program in which they are reanimated and trained to become unquestioning killing machines. While Devereaux and Scott initially have no memory of their former lives, glimpses of their pasts start to return, rekindling their intense conflict.

Just days before writing this review, Scott Mendelson (Forbes) and I were prepping to talk about Terminator: Dark Fate on fellow Why So Blu/We Live Entertainment writer Aaron Neuwirth‘s podcast Out Now With Aaron and Abe and for some reason or another he brought up seeing Universal Soldier in theaters many moons ago upon its release (Yes, I just plugged a lot of things there).  His disappointment in what the film REALLY was struck an interesting thought of mine. Universal Soldier is almost the film equivalent of the independent low rent sword and sorcerer/sci fi action/horror VHS box of the 1980s. You know, the kind where it promised us something huge with its artwork that never delivered in  the film. There was never a budget for any of it, and upon popping it in you’d know you were had in 2 seconds.

Universal Soldier opens with a pretty “big”, effective Vietnam sequence. Its probably low rent, but effectively filmed. Its followed by us getting a look and some action from these “universal soldiers”. Quickly, the movie abandons it all for a sort of amnesia, fish out of water, odd couple pairing road trip escape action movie  that is nothing what you’d expect from the poster or marketing materials from the movie. The soldier suits are  ditched and everybody just ends up opting for camo pants and tank tops or t-shirts. Its spins our expectations as it looked like something a bit more unique and becomes something far more common in that era.

Now, wading past that, years later and knowing all this, one can see it much more clear. And the film is still pretty fun and decent escape for what it is. And I do remember the film being pretty popular back in the day. It did solid, typical Van Damme numbers at the box office and seemed a popular rental. The film did make due on its primary promise of pitting two of the bigger action stars of that era against one another. There was an elite tier of Schwarzenegger/Stallone/Willis, but right below that sat Van Damme and Segal. Lundgren I would say was right below them, but a pairing of the two seemed it would equate one of the big guys. Kudos to them for putting egos aside and teaming up as it would be for a couple decades that the others would buy in. However, I’ve never thought of Dolph as one of the more egotistical as he seemed game to pair up if asked (Also see the terrific Showdown in Little Tokyo with Brandon Lee).

Roland Emmerich found a break in his directing career with Universal Soldier. After this he’d got on to Stargate and Independence Day. This was the step to lift off to bigger and higher profile original pictures that he would soon become noted as a “blows up iconic landmarks” guy. Its a wonder if this release was picked at random to come out on 4K or if his new film Midday (Opening this weekend as of writing this) has anything to do with it. In any fashion, at the very bottom line, the film is entertaining and if you enjoy action heroes like Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, you are getting double your money’s worth. Plus this film’s ear-necklace opening to the film has always stuck with me since seeing it back in 1992, so I need to credit it that much. Its the first time I can truly remember seeing the “horrors of war” or “Darkness of Vietnam” depicted in a movie. I don’t know that its one people were pining for at this early juncture of 4K to have, but you just know it’ll be one to hit a friendly price point to have you thinking about just scraping it up because its cheap soon.

Video 

Encoding: HEVC/ H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Universal Soldier arrives on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray with a brand new transfer via Studio Canal. This is a native 4K picture. Of note, the Blu-ray included features the new transfer and not the former one on the Lionsgate release. The picture is much more crisp, darker and more refined than previous (Leaps and bounds so) with good color saturation and depth to showcase. Detail and color saturation/black levels sees a pretty notable uptick from the new Blu-ray that’s included on this release as well.

Depth: Spacing sees a nice improvement over the previous Blu-ray release, this has some rather good depth on pushback, apparent in more interiors and set shot exteriors. Motion is smooth with no disruptive distortions present.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and totally natural here, baring a little bit of heavier grain and handling fog/mist/smoke with admirable accuracy. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty strong and well saturated with a slight blue edge them, more apparent in the darker sequences. Its well saturated throughout and reds have a nice pop to them. HDR comes across nicely with a good glow on lights and explosions as would be expected.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and find a good consistency throughout the entirety of the feature. Facial details come through quite clearly in any given frame with stubble, sweat, dried blood, wrinkles make-up lines and more coming through better than ever.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Latin American Spanish 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: I’m pretty sure the original 5.1 DTS-HD MA track has been retained from the original Universal Soldier Blu-ray release. If they’ve done anything to it, its been nothing excessive. While not a mastery of the arts, it knows how to pack what an action fan would want into a mix, heavy on the action with loud, layered effects, speaker traveling and plenty of usage from the subwoofer.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: The subwoofer does not disappoint here as effects pound plenty loud and the natural effects get a nice swift bump as well.

Surround Sound Presentation: Speaker interplay is playful and pretty on point. Not so much in the unique environmental sounds but moreso in helicopters flying around the room and a bullets/rockets traveling back to front and side to side.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp. With how loud the effects and score come off in this mix, they do feel a bit low and less prominent than one might expect.

Extras 

Universal Soldier comes with the standard Blu-ray edition and a digital code for the film.

Audio Commentary

  • by Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Dolph Lundgren
  • by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin

A Tale of Two Titans (SD, 14:12)

Guns, Genes, and Fighting Machines (SD, 18:53)

Alternate Ending (SD, 13:08)

Behind the Scenes (SD, 13:28)

Trailer (SD, 2:19)

Summary 

Universal Soldier promises more than it delivers, but still manages to be a fun, B-level action film once you can see what it really is. Lionsgate ports of the UK Studio Canal release that is a very solid presentation, and an easy upgrade from what was available before. There’s a new transfer that looks MUCH better, the 5.1 holds strong and all the extras carry over. I don’t know if this is a “DAY ONE!” title for anybody, but this is a real solid pick up/upgrade when the inevitable $9.99 price drop happens.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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