Monday, November 13, 2006

Of Denmark, Humanity, War and Sci-Fi Movies

I was visiting Copenhagen for a neurosurgical conference, and had some time to kill in town. I fell in love with Copenhagen. This is a beautiful city, inhabited by some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet. I read somewhere that the Danes are the happiest people in Europe. But something is rotten in the state of Denmark: the Danes are among the heaviest opioid users in Europe, and have the highest rate of consumption of anti-depressants (maybe that explains why they are so happy?).

I was walking around town, doing some shopping, visited the Bang and Olufsen store (could not afford to buy anything but they sure looked pretty and sounded good), and popped in to a record shop that had movie DVDs on sale. I collected some random titles, among them the 1998 Sci-Fi number Soldier, starring Kurt Russell, directed by Paul Anderson and written by none other than David Webb Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven).

I am a huge fan of science fiction. But science fiction films are few and far between, and good sci-fi films are truly scarce. All we get is 5 too many Star Wars films, and that's not even science fiction, it's more fantasy.

"Soldier" was a major flop and received some of the harshest critique in recent memory. The Rotten Tomatoes website gives it a stinking rotten 5% score, with only one favorable review. Needless to say, I wasn't expecting much, but at €1.99 the DVD was worth picking up anyway.

I was in for a surprise. "Soldier" is up there among some of the boldest, most sincere sci-fi films I have seen.

This is a thinking man's sci-fi film that resonates with the themes in Blade Runner, the greatest sci-fi film ever made. Granted, it's a B-ish movie, but it has heart, and raises some important questions about our times, about technology, war, and the core values of humanity.

It has some decent action, too. It lacks the ironic and satiric humor of such genre films as Robocop, but why should every movie be humorous? This is a sincere effort by the filmmakers, and Kurt Russell achieves the improbable as Sergeant Todd: suspending disbelief against all odds, in a very tough role.

The film has some powerful images that linger in mind long after the end credits have rolled. Desire; the golden hair and sensuous lips of Sandra, played by the beautiful Connie Nielsen, awakening some unfathomable force deep in the soul of sergeant Todd, rendering him vulnerable like no enemy could ever do. Destiny; the fate of Todd's nemesis, Cane 607 (Jason Scott Lee) in the hands of sergeant Todd, a moment of killing in the rain, in a piece of brilliant moviemaking capturing the inevitability of death, a soldier submitting to his fate, much like pvt Stanley Mellish in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Cane 607 dies like Roy Batty in Blade Runner - "All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain".

I actually teared up a little when somewhere in the middle of the film Russell's character, exiled by his newly found community of marooned outcasts, was caught unawares by his own tears, finally recognizing his human nature and coming to terms with his stolen childhood and realizing that he had been denied the one thing that ultimately makes us human: Love.

I was also pleasantly surprised by my ability to be moved by a simple, action and sci-fi B-movie. Hell, maybe I'm not that old yet. Maybe there is some juice left in me.

But the most important question remains unanswered: Where can I find Blade Runner on DVD?