Thursday, July 20, 2023

Danny Stewart’s Soldier: From Script to Screen

Cody reads about the making of the 1998 film Soldier.

Released in 1998, the sci-fi action film Soldier was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and starred Kurt Russell as Sergeant Todd 3465, a man who literally grew up in the military. The story tells us that in 1996, several children were born into the Adam Project, where they were raised not by parents but by military officers. They spend the first seventeen years of their lives in training, and then they are sent off to war. Forty years down the line, a new breed of soldier is being introduced, so Todd and the others from the Adam Project are deemed obsolete. After Todd and others are bested by a younger soldier, the incapacitated Todd and the corpses of his fellow soldiers are shipped off to the waste disposal planet Arcadia 234 – which is believed to be uninhabited, but actually has several residents who crash-landed on the planet years earlier. By observing this group, Todd gets his first exposure to the idea of humanity... and when the new soldiers are brought to Arcadia 234 and ordered to wipe out the residents as a training exercise, Todd steps up to protect them. Becoming a one-man army in a fight against the soldiers replacing him and his squad.

Soldier had an impressive cast (Russell was joined by the likes of Jason Isaacs, Gary Busey, Connie Nielsen, Sean Pertwee, Connie Nielsen, Jason Scott Lee, and Michael Chiklis) and some fun action sequences, but it sputtered out at the box office, making just $14 million on a budget of $60 million. Several other Russell classics suffered a similar fate (Used Cars, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Grindhouse), but still managed to find a large following once they reached home video. Soldier hasn’t been quite as lucky. It’s not a movie you hear referenced very often. But, of course, it does have its followers – and one of those followers happens to be Danny Stewart, who decided to channel his longtime appreciation for Soldier into the crafting of the book Soldier: From Script to Screen.

The book only has a page count of 144, but most of those pages are packed with small print text, so Stewart did manage to fit more information into them than I expected. (I could have done without the 15 page reprinting of the film's credits, though.)

Since Soldier is considered to be a sci-fi twist on the classic western Shane, the book begins with an overview of the Western genre, followed by an overview of Kurt Russell’s career. Then it dives into the making of Soldier – and while Stewart didn’t manage to score interviews with Anderson or Russell, he was able to interview several members of the crew. This includes associate producer Fred Fontana, camera operator Allen D. Easton, first AD Dennis Maguire, second second AD Andy Spilkoman, key second AD Jayson Merrill, second assistant camera Phil Shanahan, film loader Eric Dyson, actor Mark Bringleson, production designer David L. Snyder, location manager Mike Fantasia, assistant art director and technology designer Kim Bailey, art department member Jon Danniells, makeup artist Peter Montagna, key makeup artist Steve LaPorte, and visual effects supervisor Van Ling... and it’s difficult to imagine that any of the bigger names involved with the project could have added much information that those crew members weren’t already able to provide. Pretty much everything you could ever want to know about Soldier is packed into this book.

The biggest name interviewed for the book is screenwriter David Webb Peoples, who is better known for having worked on the likes of Blade Runner, Leviathan, Unforgiven, Hero, and 12 Monkeys. While the finished version of Soldier was made to be set in the world of Blade Runner, complete with references to battles that were also referenced in Blade Runner and the use of props from the earlier film, Peoples reveals that he never intended the two movies to be connected. He wrote the script in 1984, after being blown away by The Terminator and feeling inspired to write about a troubled tough guy character who at first seems unsympathetic, but earns the viewer’s sympathy as the story goes on. He also confesses that he has never seen the film that was finally released fourteen years after he wrote the script, because he felt that the studio and/or filmmakers didn’t really understand what he had written.

Some interesting trivia that comes up along the way is the fact that First Blood director Ted Kotcheff was attached to make the film at one point, that Clint Eastwood liked the script but didn’t make the movie because he wasn’t comfortable trying to visualize its futuristic settings, and that Sylvester Stallone was considered for the role of Todd. If he had signed on, it would have been his next film after The Specialist – but that turned out to be Judge Dredd instead.

Once we know about the making of the film, the book then examines the finished product with a story, theme, and character analysis, as well as three modern reviews and an look into the overall critical reception (a chapter that even features a quote from my cohort Jake Dee). The idea is to expand Soldier’s following and get readers to see how underappreciated the movie has been for the last twenty-five years. But even with that goal in mind, Soldier: From Script to Screen isn’t a complete Soldier love-fest, as some of the crew members interviewed let it be known that they aren’t fans of the film and, as mentioned, Peoples hasn’t even attempted to watch it.

I have never been a big fan of Soldier myself. I revisited the movie right before reading the book, and while I got more entertainment out of it now than I did when I first watched it in the ‘90s or early ‘00s, I still wouldn’t rate it very highly. I can’t say I finished Soldier: From Script to Screen with a new appreciation for the film, but I did enjoy learning about what went into the making of this largely-forgotten movie. Don’t judge the book by its generic cover. If you want to know about the making of Soldier, there’s plenty of information to be found here.

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