A modern action film isn’t a true hit unless you can production-line a sequel. And while, nowadays, the studios can usually be relied on to confuse/dumb down a follow-up, many will fare better than the likes of HIGHLANDER, the 1986 film that flopped on release, gained cult status on video and spawned such abysmal sequels that the franchise’s legacy is a thousand bad Sean Connery impersonations.
Watching it now, for the first time in a dozen years, it’s a real mixed bag. The core story (immortals wander the earth, fighting each other for an ultimate prize) is still a fantastic idea, a story given weight and authenticity by the casting of Connery to spell it out to the audience. Let’s face it, if we can seriously believe that Sean is Egyptian, we can believe anything, right? As the titular Highlander, Christophe Lambert struggles more with his accent, but exudes the right balance of weariness and menace that you would expect from a man out of time. That leaves our baddie to fill out the main cast, and this is where the best feature of the film reveals itself.
Clancy Brown’s stature and voice alone would make the Kurgan (bad guys name, don’t ask) a formidable enemy, but with Browns intense performance, he really steals the show. From his opening reveal (kinda reminding me of a Dark Eldar for some reason) as much as you are meant to hate him, you want to know more about the man. The films deft cutting inbetween past and present sets up as much as it misses and I feel a sequel could have mined this rich vein of the missing centuries for more stories, instead of heading forward into a damp squib of a future.
The films’ other huge win is its soundtrack songs, with Queen laying down the sort of tune-age that Bay wishes his, much used, Linkin Park buds could even approach, in terms of quality. I mean the songs are written about the events of the film yet still became hits in their own right, some probably not even noted by some fans as being for a film. It also amused me no end to see, in one promo, Freddie crossing swords with Lambert (well, Lambert’s sword and Freddie’s microphone stand). . . . but it’s just hilarious.. . . . . but that’s me, okay?
It’s not all win for the film, of course. Watched today, the soundtrack rocks but the incidental sound is pretty atrocious, coming from the height of popularity for tech-noir, synth-based, sound effects. The cutting in the various effects scenes is classic 80’s pop promo (expected as director Mulcahay was from a promo background) and the use of one effect recut to look repeated, a bit distracting. And then there's the matter of suspension wires. . . uuurrgh. Move on. The female lead (played by Roxanne Hart) is very derivative and of course there is a big old 80’s style “love scene” to make the kids feel uncomfortable. These are small matters, but they do give you a feel for why this wasn’t a huge hit on the big screen, where some of these flaws would have been felt more.
Of course I mentioned the sequels and they are pretty awful, from memory and what others have said. Nevertheless, I will give them a rewatch to see if they have maybe aged better. The TV show? Not seen it, don’t want to. A colleague of mine once worked on the crossover flick that covered the film and TV series. He said Lambert was a real gent, Paul (the bloke from the series) a prize arrogant twat. So no inclination, really. However, as I was preparing for this review, I was advised by a mate to check out what may well be the best sequel/remake of the whole franchise, one I had no idea existed. . . .so. . .
24)HIGHLANDER: THE SEARCH FOR VENGENCE
Crikey! That hits the spot. Yes, an animated feature that might not be perfect but clearly “gets” the feel of what the film series should be about. Rather than waffle into this (and bore you even more senseless on another already long review) lets go as follows
Take the Original Highlander
Take the animated visuals of FIST OF THE NORTH STAR
Mash them together
Ta-da!! It works well, especially in its time-jumping and character-setting. The version of Connery in this is more akin to Merklin from VISIONAIRIES, but thats no bad thing. . . . right?
So. . . . If you’ve not seen HIGHLANDER yet then give it a go. If you have, and fancy an update, then try THE SEARCH FOR VENGENCE