Soldier: From Script To Screen (Danny Stewart) – Book Review

Having first started out as a child star way back in the 1960s, Kurt Russell has had a lengthy and durable career. Audiences may well remember many of the wide and varied roles he has played on screen across the decades, from Snake Plissken, to Jack Burton, Colonel Jack O’Neil, Wyatt Earp, Ego the Living Planet, or even the King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Aaron Presley.

However, one which may not so readily come to mind is that of Sgt Todd 3465, in the 1998 Paul Anderson film Soldier. It seems to be one of Russell’s movies which has slipped off the radar in many ways, and is rather a curio piece, particularly as it was actually an unofficial ‘sidequel’ to Blade Runner, with references to some of the events as mentioned in Roy Batty’s famous “tears in rain” monologue from Ridley Scott’s 1982 seminal sci-fi feature. A quarter of a century has now passed since Soldier’s release, and for writer Danny Stewart, this is a motion picture worthy of revisiting.

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Soldier: From Script To Screen is not, by any measure, what you could consider to be a conventional ‘making of’ book, or even a retrospective. Instead, this is part appreciation, part overview, and part analysis, which explains the book’s rather atypical structure. Stewart is quite candid in his introduction that he does consider Soldier to be “a high-quality film that is overlooked”, and some wonderful works have sprung from an abiding affection for the subject matter. It is not, however, a purely rose-tinted look back at the movie.

It is, instead, an unflinching, warts-and-all study of Soldier, not shying away from perceived flaws or shortcomings with the finished product. There are candid reviews of the movie, along with a rundown of the critical drubbing it received on its initial release, so there is no attempt to ignore any of this, or sugarcoat what might be a very bitter pill. Perhaps when you have such a deep and abiding affection for something, it means you can appreciate it as a whole, rather than in spite of any flaws or imperfections. This is certainly what Stewart seems to do here and – by tackling that head-on – hopes to increase its profile and status.

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On first viewing, Soldier may feel rather like a rather routine, by-the-number science fiction action flick, with any notion of a message being rather lost amongst all the mayhem and ostensible machismo. It certainly lacks the sharp and satiric edge of the previous year’s Starship Troopers, although that was seemingly missed during its own theatrical run. Stewart goes beneath the surface, and points out parallels with other works, most notably the Western Shane, highlighting along the way the many thematic crossovers that there have been between the two genres over the years, some perhaps rather more overt than others.

He also breaks down the various stages of the film’s creative process, right from its initial inception in the imagination of screenwriter David Webb Peoples, who got some inspiration from James Cameron’s The Terminator. A camel, they say, is a horse designed by committee, and after reading this book, you get the strong impression this was the case with Soldier, as the end product moved away from the writer’s own vision for the project. The Hollywood machine can be insidious and damaging, and in Stewart’s interview with Peoples, you get a sense of wistful regret about what could have been.

Stewart also has lengthy sections on the design and filming of Soldier, with contributions from many of those ‘backroom boys’ whose efforts would usually get overshadowed by the headline talent, who draw all the oxygen of publicity. There are some real, valuable insights into the production process on Soldier, with the kind of refreshing openness you might not necessarily get from those further on up the Tinseltown food chain. While Russell and Anderson are both noticeably absent from amongst the interviewees, Soldier: From Script To Screen does not feel as though it suffers from this, which is a sign of Stewart’s skill in knitting this all together.

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Soldier: From Script To Screen is a compendious look at the film, and whilst clocking in at only 134 pages, it feels not to have skimped in any essential areas. This is a part academic study, part oral history, and it does serve its subject matter well. For those familiar with Soldier, the book will enhance the experience for any future rewatchings, and for those yet to have seen it, this will act as an incentive to check it out for the first time, going in with eyes wide open. While Soldier is never going to be hailed as a classic, Stewart absolutely does it proud here, and he adds a bit of polish and TLC, whilst also never been anything but even-handed throughout.

In the words of Sgt Todd 3465 at one point towards the end of the movie, soldiers deserve soldiers. Cinephiles deserve Soldier: From Script To Screen.

Soldier: From Script To Screen is out now from BearManor Media.

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