Highlander, 2-Film Anniversary Collection, Blu-ray (1986-1990-2011)
Starring: Sean Connery, Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Virginia Madsen, Michael Ironside
Studio: Studio Canal/Republic/Lionsgate [2/1/11]
Video: H.1: 1.85:1 for 16:9 1080p HD color; H.2: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced 1080p HD color
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English, French,, Spanish (English SDH on Highlander 1)
Extras: H.1: Audio commentary by director Russell Mulcahy, Deleted scenes; H.2: “The Redemption of Highlander 2,” “The Music of Highlander 2,” The Fabric of Highlander 2,” “Highlander 2: Seduced by Argentina,” Original Cannes Festival promo reel; Deleted scenes; Theatrical trailer
Length: H.1: 116 min.; H.2: 109 min.
Rating: H.1 **; H.2 ****
I hadn’t paid any attention to the Highlander franchise in the past, and was surprised to learn that it became a huge movie and TV franchise, especially outside of the U.S. There were at least three spin-off TV series, one live action starring Adrian Paul that lasted six seasons, one short series (“Highlander: Raven”) that starred a female immortal with a male human sidekick, and an animated series.
Both feature films are classified as sci-fi, but I feel that only applies to the second one. The basic plot is built around immortals who can die only if their heads are chopped off, and their dealing with the loneliness and other problems this brings up. The first film opens in 16th century Scotland as clansman Connor MacLeod discovers he is part of a legion of immortals, of which – in the end – “there can only be one.” His long journey lands him in modern New York City, where he has to face other immortals – bad ones who get their heads chopped off – at “The Gathering.” He passes this time as an antique dealer, and each lifetime has assumed the identify of a different child who died shortly after birth. Connery – without whom both films would be losers in my estimation – is Connor’s immortal mentor and has trained him in the art of sword-fighting. There is plenty of the latter in both films, sometimes to silly extremes. The female protagonist is an expert on ancient swords who works for the police department. Rock band Queen provided the soundtrack music.
Director Mulcahy and his producers never expected the first film to be so popular thruout the world since it didn’t do well in the U.S. They didn’t end it with any sort of cliffhanger to lead to a sequel, and were later at a loss how to place a sequel. They found that many U.S. viewers were confused by the flashbacks to ancient Scotland and wanted to know more about why the immortals were immortal. Their solution – making it sci-fi by having Lambert and Connery be aliens from the planet of Zeis who were sent to Earth as punishment for trying to revolt against a terrible dictator. That may have explained their immortality, but it didn’t explain why this alien civilization that had a time machine and space travel did all their fighting with long swords.
I liked Highland II much better, and aside from an over-the-top shooting of the two leads (they were breaking into a prison to rescue a human friend, and being immortal of course come back to life afterwards), would recommend it – especially for sci-fi fans.
The year is 2024 – no explanation for why all the cars are 1930-1960 vintage – and the two leads are back to save the Earth. Connor designed a worldwide atmospheric shield to protect the Earth’s population from death and injury due to depletion of the ozone layer. But the Sharon Stone-looking female protagonist leads an insurgent group who suspect that the shield is no longer needed because the atmosphere has healed itself. Corporate greed demands that the shield remain up no matter what, and thus the plot thickens. Also, the dictator on Zeis wants Connor dead and comes to Earth to kill him. There are some silly scenes with a couple of his unsuccessful assassins who he first sends; one flies around with some special wings and Connor suddenly dons flying shoes to battle him.
In the interesting extras for H. 2 it is revealed that the studio cut off funding and control of the film and its editing before it was finished, and their edited result was full of holes. But at the last minute another source of monies entered and not only was the original film completed but the special effects were enhanced with state-of-the-art cgi to give the film a much better appearance. The feature was shot in Argentina, where the buildings were just perfect for the grand but somewhat decaying appearance the designers wanted, and the crew and actors loved Buenos Aires and the tango, and didn’t want to leave. Stewart Copeland created the musical score, and in his featurette he says the producers made a gross error by using someone else for the first film but got it right by hiring him for this one. He didn’t have to do much work, because most of the music is by Wagner! – a kick for Wagnerites for sure. And it does fit very well – though it reminded me of watching Captain Video on early TV and other movie serials that often lifted Wagner for the soundtrack. It even opens with a long scene at an opera performance of Die Gotterdamerung – as images in it remind Connor of his struggles in early Scotland, as well as on Zeis. (Does Wagner get any credit? Of course not – at least Tchaikovsky got mentioned somewhere in the small print in the publicity about Black Swan.)
— John Sunier