With Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning we get the 4th (or 6th if you want to add the two relatively unconnected TV films to the series) entry of the action franchise that had its start in 1992 when German director Roland Emmerich brought it into theaters. 7 years later, a sequel was released in cinemas but couldn't repeat the success of its predecessor. After the 2 TV movies, it took 11 years until the franchise got back on track. Fortunately, Van Damme and Lundgren both reprised their roles once more under the direction of John Hyams in Universal Soldier: Regeneration. This time, the movie was clearly conceptualized for the direct-to-video market but managed to generally satisfy the fans and to gain enough money to make another sequel possible. Production started relatively quickly and John Hyams sat down in the director's chair once more. Also, Van Damme and Lundgren are both advertised on the poster. But we have to take a closer look at this sequel, which is so different from the films before.
Day of Reckoning comes with some surprises. The smaller one of them is that Van Damme and Lundgren don't play the biggest part but are more of an evil threat hiding in the background. Of course, they have some scenes in between and are especially present in the finale but the main screentime has Scott Adkins, who managed to gain a certain reputation among both fans and filmmakers. In Day of Reckoning, Adkins delivers a good performance, especially if you keep in mind that the story demands some acting skills. Wait, what? Universal Soldier and acting? Yeah, you heard right. Day of Reckoning has a totally different vibe than the other films which mostly jumped from one action scene to the next. Hyams, who also wrote the script here, worked in some elements that make this movie a mix consisting of psychological horror, martial arts and action film. That's very unusual for the franchise and a considerably daring move which a certain number of fans will most likely perceive with irritation and doubt. Those who are able to accept something new and don't demand the same old recipe each time can enjoy a variation that certainly has its moments (and some quite dangerous flickering scenes for those viewers who suffer from epilepsy - beware!). The cinematography is superb, the look of the film seems expensive (the IMDb mentions a budget of 11.5 million Dollars) and the violent moments should satisfy every adult action fan to the full extent. The explicity of Day of Reckoning is enormous. Next to some CGI usage, the number of handmade effects with blood spilling everywhere clearly outweighs the digital FX. If Hyams gets the chance to keep the camera on the gore, he absolutely uses that. Sometimes, it is even rounded out by a splatter finale. It's no wonder that the film had problems with the MPAA.
The uncensored version of the film got the infamous NC-17 rating by the MPAA, which is rare in the action sector anyway and especially in the last few years (with the exception of Law Abiding Citizen). Though Hyams himself declared that he was contractually obligated to deliver an R-Rated version (for brutal bloody violence throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and language) for the theatrical release, he didn't rest to mention in interviews that he thinks of the uncensored, harder version as the superior one. An example is the interview with Collider.com, from which we will quote an extract:
And Hyams didn't overexaggerate. The R-Rated version is indeed visibly censored. The violence still feels rough but the rawness that the MPAA mentioned has been toned down. In order to do that, simple cuts and the usage of more harmless alternate material were applied when the effects became too bloody. Luckily, the editors refrained from making a pedantic framecut orgy which can be found quite often when looking at censored MPAA versions of movies. Of course, one should try to get the NC-17 version in order to see all effects the way the director initially envisioned them in.
Another aspect where Hyams has been seemingly a bit too optimistic is the release strategy of Sony Pictures USA. Here, all evidence leads to the expectation that the American DVD and Blu-ray will not contain the NC-17 version. Instead, they'll most likely contain the R-Rated cut which was previously shown in cinemas and on-demand. All the more pleasant is the fact that this won't be a worldwide case. At least for Germany we can confirm that those releases include the NC-17 version (read more details here). Fortunately, it turned out in the meantime that next to the German releases, both the UK and Canada got the NC-17 version, as well. Interested customers now have some alternatives to get the uncensored movie.
Comparison between the R-Rated and the NC-17 version (included on the German DVD/BD/BD-3D) (by Planet Media, who kindly supported us with several releases of the movie).
19 differences, consisting of
11 scenes with alternate material
The NC-17 runs 32.88 seconds longer than the R-Rated.
0:05:19: Clearly visible alteration when Johnís wife is shot in the head. The blood spatter is much more extreme in the NC-17 while itís just a small spot in the R-Rated. This can be seen throughout the rest of the scene.
No time difference
0:16:40: Hard sex between the soldier and the prostitute. The R-Rated omits this.
0:18:01: The brothelís reception ladyís head drops onto the counter after the headshot, showing a bloody exit wound at the back of her skull.
0:18:35: The NC-17 shows Magnus shooting the prostitute from his own point of view. Also, a short frontal shot showing a bloody exit wound in her stomach area was cut. The R-Rated has alternate material of Magnus standing in the door while shooting in the room.
The NC-17 runs 0.24 sec. longer
0:18:53: The muzzle flash differs in both versions. The R-Rated shows Magnus while reloading his gun, the NC-17 has a close-up of the bloody shot in the prostituteís stomach.
No time difference
0:19:02: The leg of the killed soldier twitches a little bit.
0:19:08: Both versions show how Magnus shoots the running prostitute but how she is thrown to the ground by the impact of the bullets can only be seen in the NC-17 version. The R-Rated varies and depicts Magnus holding his gun.
The R-Rated runs 0.68 sec. longer
0:19:11: Magnus reloads his gun in the NC-17 while the R-Rated shows him going through the corridor a little longer. Is that censorship?
The NC-17 runs 0.68 sec. longer
0:19:28: The R-Rated misses the third shot in the soldierís chest.
0:33:14: Once more big differences in the scene where Johnís wife is shot in the head.
The R-Rated runs 0.08 sec. longer
1:03:43: A remarkable difference when the final blow with the baseball bat is applied to Magnusí head. While the R-Rated doesnít go into detail and just continues the shot from behind John, the NC-17 delivers the gory goods. It changes to a perspective behind the kneeling Magnus whose head gets smashed into bloody pieces. After that there are minor differences regarding the order of the shots of John but they have nothing to do with censorship.
The NC-17 runs 3.76 sec. longer
1:25:06: John directs the shotgun once more at the head of the kneeling soldier and shoots half his skull off. Very gory.
1:27:10: One soldier lies on the ground waiting for John but gets a considerable amount of bullets shot into his head. Blood spurts.
1:30:16: When Andrew slices his machete into Johnís back, we see a short shot of the bloody wound in the NC-17 while the R-Rated shows the scene without this interruption.
The NC-17 runs 0.12 sec. longer
1:30:45: A slightly more distanced shot showing the machete sticking in Andrews head is exclusive in the NC-17.
1:33:27: A part of the fight arm vs. machete is missing. Luc looks at John with striking indifference.
1:33:32: The side shot of the machete stuck in the arm is less bloody in the R-Rated. It seems that a different take was used.
The R-Rated runs 0.12 sec. longer
1:36:19: Another flashback to the headshot Johnís wife endures. The same changes with the blood spatter.
No time difference
1:41:13: Even though the R-Rated version of the headshot Agent Gorman gets is pretty bloody, the NC-17 tops it.
The NC-17 runs 0.08 sec. longer