Thursday, 6 October 2011

Highlander (1986)

Highlander (1986)

"There can be only one."
– Christopher Lambert, as Connor MacLeod.

Right from the start, I want to say that I have always been a big fan of the original movie, Highlander (1986).
Okay, so we can see the wires that suspend Christopher Lambert in mid-air during the climatic “quickening” sequence, but this is a minor flaw.
At the time it was made, this was an original, exciting and well made fantasy movie, with excellent acting, humor, beautiful cinematography, great script and many exciting action sequences. It stills stands up today. Christopher Lambert made
the role of Connor MacLeod his own, Clancy Brown is excellent as The Kurgan and Sean Connery obviously had fun stealing every scene he’s in. In fact, there isn’t a bad performance in the entire movie. The flashback sequences are brilliantly handled and add so much to the plot. There are also some great comedy moments, like the scene where Connor MacLeod is tipped out of the boat by Ramirez (Connery), and sits at the bottom of the lake laughing hysterically after discovering that he can’t drown and in the later scene set during 1783, when a drunken Connor MacLeod fights a duel with Bassett. And those are just two scenes out of many others. The Queen songs in the soundtrack fit the narrative beautifully and the incidental music is well orchestrated.
So … having said all that about the 1986 original … I am left wondering what the hell happened with the sequels!

I eagerly awaited the arrival of the first sequel: Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) … and I can’t describe enough how bitterly disappointed I was with it. The plot, such as it was, made little sense and the actors Michael Ironside and Virginia Madsen (two of my favorites) were wasted in their roles, but did the best they could with what they had. However, even great actors such as they are can’t save a dismal script. There were terrible scenes with the characters flying around on boards and engaging in badly staged battles. The freeze-frame at the end was laughable and the idea of having Ramirez return after being killed in the original seemed crow-barred into the plot, along with the revelations of the immortals suddenly being aliens from a planet called Zeist and a shield around the ozone layer, all of which just threw away the concept of what the original was about. It was a mystery to me how the director Russell Mulcahy had done such an excellent job with the original movie and such a lousy one with the second. I would later discover his struggles with the production company and how he understandably wanted to remove his name from the credits and replace it with “Alan Smithee” – a move he wasn’t permitted to make. Highlander II: The Quickening was an embarrassing mess and ranks as one of the worst sequels and movies ever made. I understand that the film has since been recut and re-released in what is called the “Renegade Version”, which I read is an improvement on The Quickening, which wouldn’t be hard to achieve.

I’m unable to elaborate on the Renegade Version, because I haven't seen it, but will update with my not-so-humble opinion when I do.

Then came Highlander III: The Sorcerer (aka The Final Dimension) (1994) … co-starring Mario Van Peebles and the beautiful and talented Deborah Kara Unger. Like The Exorcist III (1990), the "official" sequel that made up for the abysmal Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), this third outing has the air of “please pretend the second movie doesn’t exist and just continue the story from here”. This was still not as good as the original.
Few sequels ever really are, arguably with the exception of The Godfather: Part II (1974), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992) - which I personally loved - and 28 Weeks Later (2007). But, in fairness, Highlander III: The Sorcerer captured a lot of the atmosphere of
the original, aided by good Celtic-sounding mood-music, was faithful to the original themes and resulted in an enjoyable enough movie, which remains for me as the best of the sequels.
Highlander: Endgame (2000), merged the movies with the TV series that ran from 1992 – 1998 and brought in the character of Duncan MacLeod, played by Adrian Paul. I can't comment on the TV series because I haven't seen one episode of it.
It’s worth noting here that this franchise has also produced an animated series, but again I’m unable to elaborate because it hasn’t come my way. In Highlander: Endgame, Beatie Edney as Heather MacLeod and Sheila Gish as Rachel Ellenstein both reprise their roles from the original movie. Lisa Barbuscia plays Kate/Faith. I sat down to this fourth installment with gritted teeth, expecting the movie to be garbage, but reached the end credits thinking: not as good as number three but still better than number two.

I don’t know what to make of the fifth movie, Highlander: The Source (2007). Adrian Paul and the gorgeous Thekla Reuten are both wasted in this. The plot (again – such as it is), concerns the quest for “the source”. I’m presuming the source of the immortals, or life itself. I’m guessing because it made about as much sense as Highlander II: The Quickening and even challenges that as one of the worst movies ever made. The speeded up fight sequences are terrible and the only consolation was that the version I watched was only 80 minutes long … but it was still a long hour and twenty minutes of my life which I will never get back. Thekla Reuten has gone on to better things, notably in supporting roles in the excellent In Bruges (2008) and In Tranzit (2008). I wish better things for the rest, simply so they can omit this one from their résumé because, sadly, everything about Highlander: The Source is an irredeemable mess. Christopher Lambert must be thankful that his character, Conner MacLeod, lost his head in Highlander: Endgame, because at least he didn’t have to be a part of this disaster.
Today, I read that a remake of the original Highlander is in the works, coming our viewing way maybe in 2012.
Of course … I’ll watch it. I sat through the other sequels, good, bad and ugly, so I will give the proposed remake a chance because I love the 1986 original so much. I only hope they weave the same "kind of magic" (pun absolutely intended) with the story that Chris Nolan did with Batman Begins (2005).
Watch this space for a future update on the Highlander franchise.
For now, all I can do is quote the tagline to the classic 1986 original: "There can be only one."
Maybe the directors, studios and producers et al should have taken this literally and left it at that.

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