Small Soldiers (1998)

Action/ Adventure/ Comedy
Rated PG
Spoiler Free

Fuck me, Small Soldiers is a quarter of a century old. That makes me feel old, which is partly because I’m getting there so very fast, but enough about that. In the spirit of trying to remain young I was the recent, very grateful recipient, of a new VR headset. Like a child, over Christmas, I gleefully jumped around like a lunatic fighting invisible foes in his mind. Only they weren’t in my mind, they were real and right in front of me and I could actually shoot them because VR is awesome.

Like the thirty nine year old idiot I actually am, I pulled a muscle in my leg doing it and spent three days limping.

I thought it’d be cool to do a review of a film viewed entirely on the VR headset. VR = virtual reality, by the way, but if you don’t know that I don’t print these reviews and thus you probably aren’t reading. Sorry for your loss. The Netflix VR app is rather neat, it places you in a virtual living room, sofa, coffee table etc. and your show or film of choice is played on the room’s TV. You can make the room disappear if you want (I did) and expand the screen (I did).

You have to stay in one place watching a film on a VR headset, which is both a good and bad thing. Having a sip of tea is hard, or Coke, or Jack Daniels and Coke or whatever STOP JUDGING ME IT WAS CHRISTMAS because outside the impressive fake screen you’re basically immobile and entirely blind. Not moving anything bar your head because the screen is so big it's like being front row at the IMAX and you have to pan to see the corners, is a very good way of ensuring you don’t check your phone.

Directed by the brilliant Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Burbs, Inner Space) who has a talent with effects films, Small Soldiers is held up by a fantastic voice cast (Tommy Lee Jones, Frank Langella, Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest). Gregory “Who?” Smith stars as a teenager who, when left to run a toy store alone, comes across toys which have been accidentally microchipped with military grade AI. Kirsten Dunst plays his love interest, only them being fifteen or however old they’re supposed to be, and this being a kids’ film, love is downplayed to awkward affection. At least it's more romantic than how most fifteen year old boys deal with a crush, anyway.

The biggest issue I have with Small Soldiers, or rather with me for never picking up on it before, is who the fuck lets a fifteen year old run a business alone?! I can’t blame the kid for the weapons grade Action Men, but as far as not covering your bases go if the ToyMinator 2000 rocks up, your shop is at more risk with a pubescent pitching a tent over Kirsten Dunst in charge.

Fortunately the good toys and the good kids befriend one another and the microcosm of how quickly humans will accept to weird shit becomes a fun but ludicrous commentary on marketing, patriotism and indoctrination. “Don’t call it violence, call it action” says someone who may or not have been Tobias from Arrested Development. Shit, Toy Soldiers even throws in a Patton nod; now that’s four star Generable.

In my little bubble I enjoyed Toy Soldiers as much as I did the first time I saw it, which definitely wasn’t in VR. Potentially the first great CGI/ practical FX crossover, this is a very funny, very cleverly grown up, visually brilliant film. Toy Story was 1995 but Toy Soldiers rips its head off and peers confusedly down its carcass. A grown up film for kids, rather than sentimentality in 3D. It isn’t too much of a stretch to see Toy Soldiers turned into a much more grown up and sinister film, that I'd also watch.

Bedsit it?

Thanks to cameras on its outside and God knows what otherworldly technology, the VR headset knows where you are when you stand up, which is good because after some booze and ninety minutes deep in VR world, I fucking didn’t. My brain needed escape. VR is great at replicating a big screen but is a last-ditch cinema. As an experience VR film watching is a novelty.

Toy Soldiers is a fantastic film, suitable for everyone and available on Netflix. 8/10

For other films currently on Netflix, check these reviews out!...


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