2012 Film Challenge #54 - Soldier

One of the first films I watched this year was an insult to a beloved franchise.

I've been made to understand that Kull the Conqueror makes a mockery of its source material.

I described it as a “brash, camp, unashamedly naff nineties source & sorcery & sandals & swords gay comedy epic.”

I was told that the original Robert E Howard stories were “incredibly dark and grim, laden with symbolism and commentary on civilization and barbarism, and expertly written short stories.”

Oh my, did I feel silly.

Well, no. I didn't. At all.

I think that even if I were to immerse myself in a stack of Robert E Howard Kull stories for a two month period, were I to rewatch the film version I'd feel exactly the same way as I did when I wrote my review.

It's for the same reason that I can still enjoy Sylvester Stallone's Judge Dredd film even though I now know that 2000AD fans view the film with as much disgust as they'd view a vagabond who's just held up a picture of their sister and licked it suggestively.

It's because Judge Dredd and Kull The Conqueror both have a very special feel to them.

It's the feel of a stack of rented videos watched sequentially on a rainy Saturday afternoon in the nineties.

The films we used to rent were big, bold, brash, colourful and, quite possibly, completely devoid of any artistic merit.

But oh how we loved them.

And the reason we loved them was because these films weren't designed to tick many boxes beyond the one marked “entertain”.

I got an identical feel from Soldier. It's likely that the only reason we didn't watch it on rented video in the nineties was because of its 18 certificate.

In those days, even films with 15 certificates were frowned upon by those who drove us to the shop and actually paid for our rentals.

I know it's a massive cop-out for any writer to ever say “I guess you had to be there”, but I honestly believe that the only way you can understand what I'm getting at when I covet films such as this is to have grown up with me and enjoyed hundreds of similar films on hundreds of rented videos on hundreds of rainy weekends by my side.

Had you been there, you'd find a pleasant fizz of Dr. Pepper sparkling unbidden across your tongue when you so much as consider the existence of films like Kull The Conqueror, Judge Dredd, and, most recently, Soldier.

I was captivated right from the opening montage which detailed the process by which, in this future society, babies are taken and trained from teat to terror – they're manufactured as hardened killers.

A ten year old Kurt Russell is forced to watch as a pack of braying dogs rip to shreds a cage full of pigs. I was struck by how they gave the young Kurt Russell identical hair to the older Kurt Russell.

And, when Kurt Russell finally came of age, I was struck by how much he resembles Apprentice victor Ricky Martin.

So Kurt Russell is a supersoldier called Todd 3465. His world is turned upside down when he's introduced to his replacements. They're better than him at everything. So he blinds their leader in one eye.

This doesn't impress the future military brass, so they banish him to a desolate wasteland.

And it was here that the wonderful nineties rented action sci-fi feel first sunk in. The world to which he's banished takes the best bits of the post-apocalyptic societies of Mad Max 3, Waterworld and the desert scenes in Judge Dredd and combines them into a dusty vista of nostalgia. I was quite tired whilst watching Soldier. But when I first saw the world to which Tod was banished I knew it was one I'd have to stick out to the end. They had me.

This wasteland is literally a land of waste. The people live amongst the ruins of aircraft carriers and starships. Reportedly, the film takes place in the same universe as Blade Runner – a Spinner from said film can be glimpsed amongst the wreckage. I wonder what Mr. K. Dick would have made of such a trope?

No. At no point in its 100 minute run-time was there anything Soldier could call its own. This is all stuff we've seen thousands of times before.

Oh, but it's so much fun. The future world depicted felt real and lived-in. Things exploded, and Kurt Russell's performance was astounding by anyone's standards.

As an unfeeling killing machine who's trained to shoot hostages if they're stood in the way of hostiles, his face is an immobile mask of cold instinct.

But those eyes! Who needs gesture, tone or expression when you've got entire worlds to explore with your eyes? To look into them is both tragic and unnerving. You can see the desire to kill, but you can also see a subdued desire to feel, to connect.

And the way he addressed most everyone as “sir” is just adorable.

I don't generally believe in the existence of “guilty pleasures”. As far as I'm concerned, should it give you pleasure and nobody gets hurt, then why should it make you feel guilty?

But if ever there was something I enjoy massively which, perhaps, I'm not “supposed” to enjoy on any level beyond that of irony, I suppose it would be these throwaway big-budget 1990s action sci-fi epics.

Though I'm quite convinced that not only can the lasting appeal of such films be found with not much in the way of digging, but also that such enjoyment can be garnered even by those who weren't sat by my side on those countless rainy weekends.


  1. Oh my, did I feel silly.

    Well, no. I didn't. At all.

    I'm glad of that. Really, I am! I wasn't intending to imply you should automatically turn against the film or think of it differently because it's an affront to the source material: I just wanted to give a little context as to why some people completely and utterly despise the film.

    The fact that you still enjoy the film and are completely unfazed by its relation to Howard is, at the end of the day, no skin off my nose, and you're absolutely welcome to enjoy it. In fact, I even envy you a bit: I wish I could look at the film as the piece of silly fun it clearly is, without thinking of how it fails as an adaptation and all that jazz.

    Case in point, I love the live-action "Fist of the North Star," which I consider a film very comparable to Soldier, Judge Dredd (which I also liked despite being a 2000 AD fan - outside of Rob Sneider) and yes, Kull the Conqueror. I've read the manga, watched the anime, even played the game. But I still love that stupid, daft, fun Gary Daniels film.

    So if nothing else, I can't tell anyone You Should Hate Kull The Conqueror, because it would be hypocritical as well as intellectually overbearing. But I would like people to be aware that there are other reasons people dislike the film beyond it just being campy fun.

  2. There's a live action Fist of the North Star which has a similar feel to Stallone's Judge Dredd?

    This sounds unmissable.

    Very noble of you to comment. I appreciate your civility greatly.

    But please don't think that my quoting you was fighting talk. I merely wished to place my appreciation of Soldier in some context.