Soldier: Kurt Russell, a major injury, and an ornamental cabbage

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Paul W S Anderson’s Soldier has links to Blade Runner and Event Horizon – but also was a movie that inspired a not-particularly-truthful press statement.

The 1998 movie Soldier might not have set the box office alight – far from it, in fact – but there’s much more to it than oftentimes it gets credit for.

For one thing, it’s effectively a movie that exists in the same world of Blade Runner. Way before the cinematic universe became a thing, writer David Webb Peoples would admit the crossover between the two films. He wrote them roughly around the same time (scribbling Soldier in earnest once Blade Runner was before the cameras), and crucially the idea for Soldier – a soldier facing off against a genetically enhanced foe – had a direct Blade Runner link.

The story goes that Soldier spun out of an abandoned opening scene from the original Blade Runner, that would have seen replicants abandoned on an off-world colony. What’s more, at one stage Clint Eastwood – who took a different David Webb Peoples script, Unforgiven, and waited a decade to film it – was linked with the movie.

Furthermore, it was planned to be a real upscaling of Kurt Russell and director Paul W S Anderson’s respective careers, too. Russell has been slowly accruing a collection of hit movies (Breakdown, Stargate, Tombstone, Unlawful Entry amongst others), and his films were crossing the $50m mark at the US box office regularly. This at a point in history when that was a lot of money, and no mean feat. Anderson was on the climb too, with the success of Mortal Kombat in particular getting Hollywood’s attention.

It was a big deal that Soldier finally saw Russell break into megastar salary levels. This was his big payday: a $20m paycheque, a big Warner Bros science fiction action movie, and headlining a sizeable studio tentpole picture as the only name above the title on the poster.

He took it very seriously, too. Russell knew that his character needed to be in strong physical shape, and committed to an 18-month regimen of workouts, up to four hours of day. This had a knock-on effect of delaying the movie’s start of production, and in turn, it’s the reason we ultimately got the film Event Horizon. Director Paul W S Anderson, rather than sitting around and twiddling his thumbs, opted to go and make another movie, and was able to get Event Horizon completed whilst Russell was beefing himself up. We covered that particular film in a previous podcast.

There was a further ramification to the delay, that was to the movie’s ultimate detriment. Anderson and Peoples wanted the film to be a western in space, yet in the time it took Russell to prepare, a hurricane had caused substantive damage to planned locations for the movie, rendering them unusable. Instead, therefore, the production was scaled to be more studio-based, something Anderson would very much regret.

But the film nonetheless remains an exercise in how to cover up an injury to a leading star. For at one stage, Russell sustained a broken ankle on the set of the movie, just one week into production. It led to a hurried change of the schedule, with scenes that could be shot with him lying down going before the cameras first, and the running sequences were saved to the end.

What was interesting, though, was that when Russell was injured, a statement was put out to the press that announced he’d broken his ankle during filming of a stunt for the movie. However, this was not the truth. On the commentary track for the Alien Vs Predator DVD, director Paul W S Anderson finally admitted the real reason behind Russell’s accident. What had actually happened was that the actor, during a break in filming, had taken a stumble. Not only was there no stunt involved, but Russell had actually fallen over an ornamental cabbage. True story.

The rest of the shoot would inevitably be testing for Russell, given that he was carrying a major injury. It didn’t help that a week after filming begin, Russell sustained a second injury to his right foot. Not as severe, certainly, but still not without impact.

Yet Russell was determined to get to the end of it, and duly did. There was, too, the prospect of a sequel were the film to hit big. Presumably another sizeable paycheque too.

But it didn’t hit big. Instead, Soldier found itself on the wrong side of negative reviews, and its box office was deflated too. An opening weekend of just over $6m was a crushing disappointment, and the movie would gross just $14m in the US. In the UK, I barely remember it even getting a cinema release. But still: there’s more to the film than it’s often given credit for, and I’ve seen much worse films do much better. None of them, though, had an ornamental cabbage to watch out for, capable of nearly defeating their leading star…

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