1. Left Behind (Vic Sarin, 2000)
2. Left Behind II: Tribulation Force (Bill Corcoran, 2002)
3. Left Behind III: World at War (Craig R. Baxley, 2005)
4. Project Moon Base (Richard Talmadge, 1953)
5. The Underwater City (Frank McDonald, 1962)
6. Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (James Hill, 1969)
7. Target Earth (Sherman A. Rose, 1954)
8. Hangar 18 (James L. Conway, 1980)
9. Nineteen Eighty-Four
(BBC Sunday-Night Theatre) (Rudolph Cartier, 1954)
The second live recording of the first adaptation of Orwell's classic, and the one of the two broadcasts that thankfully survived. I haven't seen the 1956 feature film, and I barely remember the 1984 film, and indeed don't remember the book that well either, so this was a fairly "new" experience in a sense. The dimness of the visuals and cheapness of early British TV notwithstanding, this ends up a rather powerful production, thanks mostly to the performances of Peter Cushing as Winston Smith and André Morrell as O'Brien. Donald Pleasance is also notable as Syme, but Yvonne Mitchell's Julia didn't really register that much with me, maybe because the character is rather underwritten and everything is, after all, from Winston's perspective - and she is, at first, pretty much just an angel to him. It is very sad that this story seems to gain ever more relevance with every passing year, not less.
10. Universal Soldier
(Roland Emmerich, 1992) (re-watch)
11. Universal Soldier: The Return
(Mic Rodgers, 1999)
12. Universal Soldier: Regeneration
(John Hyams, 2009)
13. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
(John Hyams, 2012)
I saw the first in this series - which also includes a couple of made-for-tv films that came out before the first theatrical sequel, which I didn't bother with as they don't feature either of the series' main stars Jean-Claude Van Damme or Dolph Lundren - when it was new, most likely when it was first on VHS. I have a distinct memory of seeing it with my roommate Tom at the time, and yet while watching it almost nothing came back. Well, it's really not all that memorable when it comes down to it. Cyborgs and "programmed" humans and androids and such have been around science fiction for a long time, and the concept of the "super soldier" - named as such - dates at least to the creation of Captain American in the comics 50 years before this first film was made. So nothing new in the basic concept, and even the idea that the soldier would be re-animated dead guys killed in battle is probably nothing special, though doing it in the context of a sci-fi-action film rather than horror is probably a little unusual. At any rate, the basic idea here is that JCVD and his sergeant Dolph were soldiers in Vietnam, Dolph goes a little nuts, and he and JCVD kill each other, only to be re-animated 25 years later by the gub'mint, which of course doesn't bother to take into account (or doesn't know) that Dolph was insane and homicidal, and that causes problems when something inevitably snaps. One of the things I like about this film is that they just don't bother to get into heavy explanations of any of this - it's almost pure action start-to-finish and the filmmakers just assume it's simple enough that the audience will get it; only near the end is there the most basic and cursory explanation of how the re-animation process works and it almost seems thrown in for laughs. The action is decent enough and Lundgren is really in his element playing a bad guy, but all in all it still ends up just OK, maybe because at this point there simply seems nothing at all novel or interesting about any of the ideas at play. Ally Walker brings some cuteness and charisma to the role of the TV reporter who ends up going along with JCVD for the ride.
brings JCVD back, but nobody else from the original film, and ends up being on all counts the poorest of the series despite the presence on the wonderfully-voiced and super-buff Michael Jae White as first a disembodied computer which runs the UniSol program these days, then as the baddest-ass super-Unisol of them all when he decides to give himself a body and create his own new super-race to take over the world. It's JCVD back on the job to stop him, of course! Like all of the other films this starts out in media res
in an action sequence and doesn't really let up, so that's cool, but it's one of those films which sets up the bad guy as basically Godlike, and yet we know that our hero will easily defeat him in under 90 minutes and that none of the supporting characters that we are supposed to like (OK just a couple here, his young daughter and another female TV reporter) will die. It's hard to make plots like that interesting in the first place and when you have expressionless piles of muscle like JCVD doing the work it's even harder. Meh
has a slightly higher IMDb rating but I don't see any evidence that it's really any better liked than the second film, which is too bad because it ends up rather interesting overall, if moreso to think about than actually watch. That's not to say that it's some deep intellectual exercise, but the way in which this film - taking place mostly in a huge abandoned factory, the kind of setting that all the cheap sci-fi action films that don't take place in deserts seem to always rely on - seems to develop more layers of grimness and hopelessness as it goes on, and the sense of the post-Soviet political world that it takes place in being one of chaos on the verge of armageddon, is quite palpable. In the first scene, the children of the Russian PM are kidnapped and taken to Chernobyl, and the terrorists who have them threaten to blow up the place and release and immense cloud of radioactive waste - as well as kill the kids of course - if they don't get what they want; and they have their own UniSols to help out. It's up to an international team with newer UniSols to stop them and get back the kids, but of course this doesn't work and ol' JCVD has to be brought in. But lurking in the background is his old nemesis... Anyway, I wasn't that keen on this for quite a while, but the industrial grimness of the second half, and the way in which the kids kept getting away, and being endangered, and JCVD (or others) kept coming to their rescue was really...strange. Almost comic. And for some reason I was also reminded of Stalker
a couple of times as well in the visuals. All in all it doesn't really work, but it's probably at least as good as the first film and the action scenes ain't bad at all.
And then we come to Day of Reckoning
, John Hyams' justly celebrated second film in the franchise, clearly meant as much to be a criticism or deconstruction of this particular kind of action film as well as it's own very weird and I would say quite Lynchian (others have mentioned Gaspar Noé, which makes sense, but Lynch was doing many of the same things visually before Noé, and I think the narrative strategies owe much more to Lynch) pastiche of film noir and Apocalypse Now
. This is one of those films I could probably describe in fairly great detail but wouldn't feel like I was spoiling much, because the plot is fairly nonsensical for sure - but it's also one with a dreamlike quality that keeps much of it from remaining in my memory, at least not in any kind of meaningful order, just a few days after seeing it. The two stars of the previous films are really only footnotes here - JCVD apparently kills the family of protagonist Scott Adkins in the very first scene, and Adkins then spends the rest of the film trying to track him down, learning a lot of things along the way about his own memories and his own past life that he'd rather not be privy to. Lundgren shows up only late in the film (as he did in the previous film) and is put to some lovely comic-supervillain use. It's not too surprising that fans of the series (how many of those could there be though?) didn't know what to make of this, it's simply not an "action movie" in the sense that even the previous film was, and those who want their punching and shooting and bad-guy-killing done in a coherent and straightforward fashion just aren't going to get anything they can handle here. I'm not quite sure I'd call this a "great" film after one viewing, in part because I wasn't sure how well the disparate genre elements and ideas were integrated myself, but it's certainly a fascinating novelty and in a completely different category than the previous films or, indeed, virtually all other American action films.