Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren duke it out in Roland Emmerich's Universal Soldier as genetically-enhanced super-soldiers, making for decently fun escapism. Nearly thirty years later, the cult sci-fi action favorite invades 4K Ultra HD with a great-looking Dolby Vision HDR video but the same DTS-HD MA soundtrack and the same set of supplements. Nevertheless, the video is a notable step-up over its Blu-ray counterpart and Worth a Look.
Some movies, we love because they're genuinely good cinematic treasures. Others because they continue to make us laugh years later no matter their objective quality — the so bad, they're good type. And then there are those we enjoy simply for the nostalgia factor, the guilty pleasures more often than not beloved for the memories attached to them. For me, Roland Emmerich's Universal Soldier falls in the latter category, a movie my best friend and I went to see but also snuck into Batman Returns, Cool World and Patriot Games that same day. I remember more the laughs we shared over Jean-Claude Van Damme's and Dolph Lundgren's bad acting as a pair of genetically-enhanced super-soldiers that suddenly remember they actually not besties. Of course, the sci-fi military actioner has its moments of lively spectacle and amusing fight choreography, but ultimately, the story is a rather silly concept and nothing particularly memorable. Close to thirty years later, the movie hasn't aged well and feels like low-budget straight-to-video fare, yet my nostalgia still makes the movie a tolerable watch.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out Tom Landy's review of the 2009 Blu-ray HERE.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Lionsgate Home Entertainment brings Roland Emmerich's Universal Soldier to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital Copy. The code can be redeemed via moviesredeem.com, but through VUDU, owners have access to the 4K Dolby Vision HDR version with legacy Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio. The triple-layered UHD100 disc sits comfortably opposite the same Region A locked, BD50 disc and housed inside a black, eco-cutout case. At startup, the disc goes straight to the usual menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Emmerich's cult actioner marches into Ultra HD with an excellent and occasionally dazzling HEVC H.265 encode, rewarding loyal fans with several impressive enhancements over its Blu-ray comrade. Reportedly struck from a remaster of the original 35mm camera negatives by StudioCanal, the new 4K transfer is notably sharper overall with better definition and clarity of the background information. We can plainly make out the small scratches on the outside of the military vehicles, each blinking button of the computer consoles, the thick threading in the soldiers' uniforms and the minute features of the Deveraux family farm. We can also see the pores, wrinkles and minor blemishes in the faces of the entire cast. The picture comes with its fair share of softer, blurrier moments, to be sure, which is the result of the original photography, but overall, the movie has never looked better or as detailed than here.
The cryogenic super-soldiers are also augmented with brighter, cleaner contrast, showering the action with brilliant, radiant whites while supplying daylight sequences a bit more pop and vibrancy. Likewise, specular highlights are intensely energetic and vivid but crisper and narrower at the same time, allowing for better visibility in the hottest spots, like headlights and the giant plumes of explosions. The 2160p video also enjoys improved brightness levels, and every scene throughout shows rich ebony blacks in the soldiers' uniform and gear, the inside of the mobile command center and in the various weapons. Nighttime scenes are bathed in true, velvety shadows while maintaining outstanding visibility in the darkest corners. Along with a thin layer of grain, the 2.39 image has a lovely film-like quality to it.
The best aspect of this Dolby Vision HDR presentation is definitely the better, wider color gamut, displaying a fuller and ampler array of primaries. Reds, in particular, range from the cherry scarlet in blood and the crimson rose in some of the clothing, buttons and other random objects, and the blue skies of the desert scenes are a beautiful cerulean shade while nighttime sequences are swimming in an electrifying mix of indigos and navy. Admittedly, secondary hues offer a subtler jump, but the nuanced differences are nonetheless appreciable, showing a fiery, more animated oranges in the explosions, a diverse array of tans and browns in the desert, and a warmer golden, canary yellow hues in daylight. The orange-teal palette doesn't make as a dramatic leap as other movies of similar caliber on UHD, but overall, this is a solid, great-looking 4K picture quality fans will love. (Dolby Vision Video Rating: 84/100)
The war to rediscover a soldier's humanity storms home theaters with the same DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack enjoyed on the previous Blu-ray. While an object-based track would have been a welcomed addition, this lossless mix remains a strong audio presentation for an actioner of this vintage and caliber. A noteworthy factoid is that Universal Soldier marks as the last theatrical release recorded for the Cinema Digital Sound (CDS) format, and although it an adequate track for modern home theaters, it doesn't quite compare to others from the same era currently available.
Nevertheless, the design arrives with a sharp and expansive mid-range, delivering excellent clarity in the upper frequencies and during the loudest segments. This produces a satisfyingly broad and engaging soundstage with distinct, well-prioritized dialogue and a decently potent, responsive low-end. When applying the receivers' Dolby Surround or DTS: Neural:X up-mixing functionality, the rears and ceiling channels are nicely employed as ambient effects lightly bleed into the surrounds and top heights, subtly expanding the soundfield.
For a more in-depth take on the audio quality, you can read our review of the Blu-ray HERE. (Audio Rating: 72/100)
For this UHD edition, the same collection of supplements are ported over from the 2009 Blu-ray release.
Roland Emmerich's Universal Soldier is a gloriously dumb romp littered with just enough explosive spectacle and amusing fight choreography to make it decent escapism. Featuring the stale, wooden performances of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren as genetically-enhanced super-soldiers, the sci-fi military actioner may not be anything particularly memorable, but nostalgia still makes it a fun watch nearly thirty years later. Emmerich's cult favorite erupts on Ultra HD with a great-looking 4K Dolby Vision HDR presentation but the same DTS-HD MA soundtrack and the same set of supplements. Nevertheless, the video is a notable step-up over its Blu-ray counterpart and worth a look.