29 September 2012

FWS Forgotten Classic: Soldier (The Outer Limits 1964)

With the recent blogpost on the super-soldier, I thought we could revisit one of the earliest super-soldier stories seen on American TV. The foundation ideas that populate modern science fiction are sometimes tricky to track down. Prior to me watching 1964's the Outer Limits episode 'Soldier', I would have guessed the origins of the super-soldier could have traced back to Sparta or the Samurai, or even, the Sardaukar from DUNE, however, it may have started with this episode and the 1957 short-story it was culled from. Back in 1964, Soldier was the premier episode for the second season of the Outer Limits in 1964, and starred  veteran Star Trek Klingon actor Michael Ansara. Since the episode aired in the 1960's, Soldier has gone on to influence science fiction creators, and even was the root for 1984's the Terminator. I was disappointed when the Outer Limits came back on TV from 1995-2002, that they did  not remade Soldier.

The Plot of Soldier 

In the 38th century, two men wait on a scarred landscape of burned out buildings, fog, and laser beam dancing. Here two soldiers raised by the state, with no regular human experiences to speak of, square off on the this battlefield. As Qarlo attempted to take a break with one of his self-lighting cigerettes, when command issues a simple order: "Find the Enemy. Kill the Enemy". With their break canceled, they storm off into the fog, only to get zapped and thrown into a temporal tear. Qarlo is transported to the American of the 1960's, and while it does not say this in the show, I imagine where they fighting in what was left of Los Angeles, that is why Qarlo was transported to the back-lot of Paramount studios.
Trapped in the past, Qarlo is hunted down by the police, captured, and tossed into a padded cell, while two men, one from the FBI, and another, Philologist Tom Kagan are trying to figure him out. Qarlo repeats the same odd speech over and over, and while some of it sounds like English, most of it too gutterly, and laced with unfamiliar words. Kagan does locked on to his words, and informs the FBI that what the soldier of the future is saying is his name, rank, and serial number, just in the dialect of the 38th century. Over the new few weeks, Kagan and Qarlo build a bridge towards understanding, using pictures and films, all while Qarlo's nemesis from the other side on the future conflict is trapped in time, struggling to get out.
Kagan becomes convicted that the only way to reach through the level of program that Qarlo has been subjected to is for him to live with his family. It is during Qarlo's capture that they figure that based on drawings of star patterns that he is from 1800 years in the future, and his DEW rifle will work even without a few parts, and the power supply could last for months even while fired continuously. More shocking was that Qarlo was born from a government military hatchery, raised for war. Kagan soon hits a wall with his patient, and asks the FBI for Qarlo to transferred to his care at his own home. Once Qarlo is sent home with Kagan, he processes to freak out his family and the cat.
For another few weeks, Qarlo tries home life in early 1960's, which is completely alien to him, calling them 'not the enemy', but has a odd relationship to the cat. But soon, Qarlo breaks into a gun store, because: "soldier needs a gun." But this point, Qarlo's enemy from the other side is loose, and using his tracking equipment hunts down Qarlo to the Kagan's home. Using his DEW rifle, the enemy soldier burns a frakking hole through the Kagan's house, and points the weapon at the family. Qarlo leaps into action, wrestling the enemy soldier to the group, but both are killed in a flash of energy. Did they go back to their own time or were they both killed? And now that the 1960's knows about the dark future ahead, will things change?

The Historical Context of Soldier 
Soldier was adopted from Harlan Ellison's short story Soldier from Tomorrow published in Fantastic Universe magazine in 1957, perhaps making it one of the earliest military science fiction stories being one year earlier than even Heinlein's Starship Troopers. In the original text aligned the 38th century to the political realities of the 1950's, were the Qarlo's capitalistic Tri-Continentals battle against the Ruskie-Chinks. This is in keeping with the trend at the time of wrapping non-mainstream political opinion under the thin veil of science fiction allowed the writers to explore the topics of the day without being labeled. One popular with the writer community was the Red Scare of the 1950's and 60's, and the militarization of the society. In the 1950's, when Harlan Ellison was writing, the globe was still recovering from the Second World War, and before the dust was settled and the bodies buried, America was already squaring off with a new foe...Communism. Writers like Ellison were worried about the future, and the growth of the military. It was easy to imagine, at the time, the military-industrial complex continuing to grow in power, and needing to field tube-raised soldiers.

Some Observations about Soldier
While the uniform that Qarlo and his enemy where is seemingly nothing like modern tactical gear, it is closer than you think. Both of the DEW 'heat-ray' rifles feature pop-up sights, similar to modern reflex red-dot sights on seemingly on every single weapon on Modern Warfare 3. Both soldiers wear regular, loose fitting garments under their hard-plate chest armor. This is once again similar to modern soldier, that wear BDUs under their tact-vests that feature ballistic armor plates. Then we come to the helmets. Communication gear is directly fitted into the helmet, along with a night-vision visor and topped off with a antenna. Unlike in the 1960's, modern soldiers have such gear hanging off of their helmets, but were not as stylish as the ones featured in Soldier. 

The Terminator/Soldier Connection
One of the elements that Soldier was better known for was it connection to 1984's Terminator and resulting lawsuit. This trouble all started back when Terminator was being filmed, and a Starlog writer, Shapiro, visited the set. When the Shapiro asked Cameron where he came up with the idea for the Terminator, Cameron responded by saying: "rippled off a couple of Harlan Ellison stories." For those that have seen Soldier and Terminator know that they start off in a similar visual sense, and have Qarlo/Reese being chased down by the police. Then we have the enemy, in both stories, hunting their prey and being noticed less that the hero of the story. When Harlen made inquires about Terminator and wanted to see the strip, Cameron and his wife-at-the-time, Gale Hurd, blocked Harlen's request. After Ellison tried to screen Terminator being a film critic, he was blocked, that caused Ellison to break out the lawyers to find out what the hell Cameron and company where hiding. Starlog magazine contacted Ellison telling him that Cameron was putting pressure to not publish what James had said about ripping off some of Harlen's stories for the basic idea. Bowing to pressure, Starlog omitted that omission by James Cameron. Given the relationship between Starlog and Ellison, an original copy of the interview was handled over to Harlen, containing Cameron's omission.
With this, and other pieces of evidence, Orion Films and the Cameron's settled out of court for about hundred thousand dollars and a credit at the end of the film. The ironic element in the story was that Harlen would have allowed Cameron to use his Outer Limits stories if he had just asked, and without the exchange of money, but Cameron's ego had gotten in his way. While James Cameron bitched about the lack of connection, I can tell you, I've been obsessed with the dark future scenes from Terminator since I first witnessed them in the mid-1980's, and doe moment Soldier episode of the Outer Limits popped up on my laptop, I knew there was a direct stylistic connection.

The Soldier/ Hulk Connection?
The 1983 issue #286 of the Incredible Hulk writer Bill Mantlo mined the 1964 Outer Limits episode for a story that sets up a future soldier and the Hulk for adventures in time travel. In the 41st century, a future soldier similar to Qarlo. who loyal only to the state, gets transports back to the 20th century via a DEW discharge and a gamma storm and directly into Bruce Banner's lab. Shortly after, this the soldier and the Hulk are teleported to the 41st century. Once there, the Hulk learns that robotic statue of Kang the Conqueror commands one of the sides in this future war. Of course, the Hulk smashes the statue, freeing the slaves-soldiers of this war. Hulk smash. Brilliant. Of course, a portion of the plot is similar to Soldier, but the connect is deeper, Kang the Conqueror has the same name of the Klingon character that was played by Michael Ansara.

Was Soldier (1998) named after Soldier (1964)?

Then we come to another film about emotionless super-soldiers born into service and used for the purposes of the state without remorse or concern or consent: 1998's Soldier. Much like Qarlo and his nemesis, Kurt Russel's Todd-3465 is very similar to Qarlo, according to the opening narration of the Outer Limits: "trained from birth by the State. He as never known love, or closeness, warmth. He is geared for only one purpose: to kill the enemy." So, is Soldier from 1998 another work based on the genesis of Harlen Ellison? Not according to official sources. David Peoples, the co-writer of BLADE RUNNER's primary script, cited Soldier being writing around the time after his work on BLADE RUNNER as a work to focus on the Replicants at war on the off-world colonies. When the script was altered to direct it away from the 1982 work, David People's called Soldier (1998), a 'sidequel'. It is heavily likely that the Outer Limits played a part into the foundations of this story, but it is not official acknowledged.   

The Soldier/Captain Power Connection...WTF?
Many of the readers of FWS know that I grew up watching Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, but it wasn't until I watched this epsiode of the Outer Limits that I saw yet another connection to that 1964 classic: 1987's Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. Much like the dark future of Qarlo's time, Power's 22nd century Earth is still scarred from the crushing Metal Wars, where a few human attempt to resist the evil machine empire. Of course, Captain Power is wholesale connected to Terminator, but I also see a basic connection to Soldier: the visor is a dead give-away!

Why is Soldier a classic?

Classics are older works that impact the genre they written in, and if you look at the list above, it is easy to see how much a single episode of cult TV series can have on the genre of military science fiction. Despite this episode of the Outer Limits was pitted against other higher rated shows, and much like today, the network threw away this episode away. Soldier survived with help from passionate fans and heavy rotations on independent TV stations James Cameron used Soldier has the basis for Terminator and the resulting lawsuit.


Here is a video on the Soldier/Terminator Connection

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