Sunday, September 18, 2016

Trash Bin: SOLDIER

Welcome to another installment of the TRASH BIN, where we watch the worst movies Hollywood has to offer, according to the critics, and give you our thoughts, good and bad. For this week’s offering, I reached into the bin where the movies that are considered to be critical and/or box office flop get thrown in and pulled out a movie that is one of my personal favorites...SOLDIER.

Soldier, written by David Webb Peoples and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, was released into theaters on October 23rd of 1998 and had a production budget of $60 million. The movie, starring action favorite Kurt Russell in the title role, was roundly trounced by critics and audiences alike. Opening weekend it made less than $6.5 million in the US theater market. Ultimately, Soldier ended up grossing only $14.5 million total by December of that same year, which was nowhere near breaking even let alone recovering the budget spent on it. In fact, it didn’t even cover the $20 million salary paid to star, Kurt Russell.

Critics of Soldier gave the movie more of a thrashing that anything Sgt. Todd or anyone else in the movie received. It was called ‘an insipid waste of time’, ‘a script filled with over used action clich├ęs and hampered by second rate special effects’, ‘very little satisfaction in seeing Sgt. Todd killing people who are just as blood thirsty has he is’. The one thing that almost all critics of Soldier liked to point out as if it were a terrible thing is that, even though Russell was in the movie 85% of the time, he only spoke 104 words in it.

They may have thought it was a detriment to the movie, but I found it to be one of the things I like most about the film. From watching the movie, we the audience know that Sgt. Todd isn't being laconic because he likes to emulate Clint Eastwood. Taken from the nursery as a baby, along with other male babies, Todd is raised from that point on to not speak unless spoken to and to not verbally show reaction to things like pain, violence, and abuse. It’s a pointed reference to the age old social idea that ‘men don’t cry or show their feelings’.  The non-verbalization of dialog in this movie led to a different kind of communication and meant that, as an actor, Kurt Russell and all the others playing soldiers had to rely on body language to convey what was going on with them. Anyone who reads my reviews knows that I find an actor’s ability to use body language effectively a big plus for them as an actor.  I like Soldier because, for one of the rare times in a hot and heavy action movie, the leads and other actors did not have to rely heavily on the use of profanity to somehow make their characters sound tough or be seen as tough.  I’d rather see a movie where the lead action hero only says 104 strong words of dialog than a barrage of meaningless F-bombs.

In Soldier, Kurt Russell makes great use of body language and facial expressions to show the audience how Todd is at first confused and then curious about the open displays of affection and friendship by the people in the crash survivor community he comes upon.  When Sgt. Todd does speak, his words carry meaning and insight into his life. Lines of dialog like the respect filled ‘soldiers deserve soldiers’ when he explains why he is going after the invading force alone. Or the satisfaction in his voice when he tells Colonel Mekum, who once deemed Todd as such. ‘Your men are obsolete’.

I have a have always viewed Soldier not just as another action movie/space adventure, but also as a metaphor for ageism and how society must always have the latest and most advanced of everything, tossing aside the older as soon as the new comes out. The voice for this metaphor in Soldier is given to the character of Church, played by screen icon, Gary Busey. With lines like ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’ and ‘don’t get all fancy, just take the hammer and hit the nail’ he epitomizes the folly of sometimes getting too caught up in the ‘new and improved.’ The first meeting between Caine 607 played by Jason Scott Lee and Sgt. Todd where they go head to head in tests of physical strength and endurance is, on the surface, a show of how the new, genetically engineered ‘super soldier’ is superior to the ‘old fashioned one’. That’s face value. Underneath is the knowledge that Caine’s opponent was a purely human, highly trained and dedicated man nearly twice Caine’s age.

The survivors on the trash dump planet are yet another metaphor of how easy it is to discard not only things, but people too. In his arrogance, Colonel Mekum treats them like ‘hostiles’ to be disposed of when in reality, they are families just trying to make the best of a bad situation. It’s these people, especially Mace (Sean Pertwee, currently seen as Alfred in Gotham), his wife Sandra (Connie Nielsen) and their son Nathan (played by twins Jared and Taylor Thorne) who are the first to lead Sgt. Todd on the journey of discovering his emotions. It’s their heart and soul that show him he is not obsolete and he is more than just a fighting/killing machine.

Soldier is a serious action movie, but it is also filled with a lot of fun ‘in-jokes’ for those like myself who follow Kurt Russell’s other movies. The list of awards and metals that Sgt. Todd has received throughout his military service read like Russell's IMDb resume. Things like "Plissken Patch", the "O'Neil Ring Award", the "Cash Medal of Honor", and the "MacCready Cross". Other in-jokes include Sgt. Todd’s skill with the "Illudium PU36 ESM" otherwise known as the Illudium PU36 Explosive Space Modulator. This is the same weapon Marvin the Martian is always threatening to use on Earth in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Writer David Webb Peoples has been quoted as calling Soldier a "side-quel" to his 1982 movie, Blade Runner. He says this because, as the writer of both movies, he has set them in the same universe and in fact the vehicles used by the Blade Runners - spinners - are also used in Soldier.

Critics and such may not have liked Soldier and it certainly made a spectacular flop of itself at the box office, but this reviewer loves the movie, enough so that it has a place among the very few movies I actually purchased DVD copies of.


Rotten Tomatoes: 10%
IMDb: 6/10


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