February 12, 2015

Movie Review: Highlander (1986)

“I am Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I was born in 1518 in the village of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel. And I am immortal.” – Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert)

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Writer: Gregory Widen , Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson

Producers: E.C. Monell, William N. Panzer and Peter S. Davis

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Major Stars: Sean Connery, Christopher Lambert, Clancy Brown, Roxanne Hart, Jon Polito

Highlander always struck me as a film that just needs to be remastered to become a very good movie. Better special-effects, clean up the film stock, and get rid of the wrestling intro (the latest version cleaned the film stock nicely). There has to be a better way to get MacLeod and Fasil into that parking garage.

Despite the horrendous sequels that followed it (and a moderately-decent television series), Highlander remains a fun little film about Immortals, the price they pay for eternal life and why they all want to kill each other. We aren’t talking classic here, but it’s not crap either.

You all know the story, yes? So I don’t have to re-hash the anguished tale of Connor MacLeod? Good. Suffice it to say, Christopher Lambert’s almost-lazy, sometimes undecipherable speech works very well in this role. If you were a 400-year old Immortal, wouldn’t life bore you to tears as well?

Clancy Brown is fantastic as Kurgan, one of the best movie villains ever. Completely evil and insane, he steals every scene he is in. I love Brown as an actor. If you want to see him absolutely kick-ass on-screen, check out HBO’s Carnivale on DVD, where he played Justin Crowe. Or, for a more kid-friendly product, he’s also the voice of Mr. Krabs on Spongebob Squarepants. A multi-talented man is Clancy Brown.

Then there is Sean Connery as Ramirez, the Spanish-named Egyptian with a Scottish accent via Japan who’s over 2000 years old. It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind role. Connery hams it up a bit but it works because he has so much fun with the character. And Ramirez is an interesting guy, willingly training a fellow Immortal whom he may have to fight someday in the future.

The sword-fights are fun to watch (if basic), as are the vignettes of Connor’s life. My favorite is the duel where he is repeatedly run through with a sword without effect. And there is the undercurrent of the pain he suffers as an Immortal, watching his wife grow old and die, with no children to their name. And how that has made him a bitter and distant man.

The soundtrack is kick-ass. Queen rocks and that’s all there is to say about it.

Russell Mulcahy did a nice job directing Highlander. Some of the scene-cuts are well-done and prevent that sense of dislocation a flash-back sometimes hits you with in a film. I still don’t know why he opened with the wrestling, though. It dates the film in a big way.

And the special-effects...that is where the film really shows it age. For 1986 they were fine but now they are just painful to watch. Sad but true.

Plus, even if you are a fan of the film you have to admit the whole thing is a bit silly. But unlike a lot of people who think that’s a reason to hate it (even after they loved it when they were younger), I disagree. As long as the film remains true to the logic it establishes, then I’m fine with that. Or can someone really argue that Immortals lopping off each others heads is crazy, but the idea humanity is actually plugged into a global machine as batteries (The Matrix) makes perfect sense? Highlander doesn’t violate its internal logic or cheat to get where it’s going, which is more than a lot of films can say.

When I reviewed Independence Day I mentioned my concept of “foundation films” for a list like this one. Those are films that create a minimum standard but will likely fall off the list as more films (100+ for this list) are reviewed. Is Highlander such a movie?

It’s not a classic, but Highlander is an enjoyable, fun film. It will never be a Top 10 selection, but it’s a lot more logical and honest than Independence Day. And I never get tired of watching Kurgan.


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