Highlander

[This is a review of the 1986 movie. It includes spoilers!]

Brenda: "What can you tell me about a seven foot lunatic hacking away with a broadsword at one o'clock in the morning in New York City in 1985?"
Connor: "Not much."

As B-movies go, this one isn't all that good. But it did something extraordinary: it introduced a unique fantasy universe that has captivated fans for years. I've spent a lot of time fantasizing about the Highlander-verse. If I wrote fanfic, it would probably be Highlander fanfic.

These immortals appear to have it made. They live forever and don't age after their first death. They regenerate and recover from everything but beheading. But Highlander at its best effectively explored the drawbacks of immortality. They must always live on the fringes for fear of discovery. They are constantly at war with each other, competing for "the prize." If they love a mortal, they must watch them age and die. If they don't love mortals, they cut themselves off from the world. The fact that they can't procreate intensifies their isolation; this was a particularly clever writing choice. This movie dipped its toes into this theme with Connor's marriage to Heather, and his relationship with his adopted daughter, Rachel.

Christopher Lambert's Connor is pretty good, especially considering that the actor barely spoke English at the time. He doesn't do it for me like Adrian Paul does, though. Bringing in Sean Connery as Connor's immortal sponsor was a good move, although I've always had a hard time getting past them casting a Scot as an Egyptian in scenes that take place in Scotland.

Along with the fantasy universe itself, there were several things I loved about this movie. The utterly gorgeous Scottish scenery. The clever transitions from Connor's present to his past – my favorite was the Mona Lisa on the wall. The fabulous rock score by Queen, particularly "Princes of the Universe" and "Who Wants to Live Forever," which has become even more poignant after the premature death of Queen's lead singer Freddie Mercury.

And then there's Clancy Brown, one of my favorite character actors, as the Kurgan. He may be the scariest, most over-the-top Highlander villain ever. He's certainly the most physically imposing. I just loved him in that insane costume in the irreverent church scene. Also loved him chasing Brenda around her apartment, and their kamikaze drive around the city. It takes a very good actor to pull off stuff like this.

Highlander is not a long movie. For reasons I'll never understand (probably the deeper wisdom of the suits, who do their best to screw up movies), the U.S. version of this movie is eight minutes shorter and lacks some backstory, some of the more violent bits, and (idiotically) the war flashback that explained Connor's relationship with Rachel.

Lots of bits and pieces:

— Connor was born in 1518 in Glenfinnan. Ramirez told Connor that he was born 2,437 years ago, but we don't know the year that scene took place.

— Kurgans were an ancient people from the steppes of Russia. We don't know how old the Kurgan was. But he was definitely the first of a long line of immortal villains with names that begin with the letter K.

— Many of the basic "rules" are introduced in this movie: feeling ill when encountering another immortal (the "buzz"); holy ground; not being able to have children. All wounds heal, with the exception of wounds to the neck which appear to be permanent. (Loved Clancy Brown's safety pins.)

— My favorite scene may be the 1783 flashback to the duel on Boston Commons, with Bassett having to kill the drunken Connor over and over again, as Connor giggled and staggered around. It showed comic possibilities to immortality which were later explored extremely well in the television series.

— The brief zoo scene felt like a deliberate homage to Christopher Lambert's previous movie, Greystoke.

— Most Obvious Symbolism was Connor and Kurgan fighting for the Prize under a huge sign that said, "Silvercup." And in the same scene, Brenda was wearing plaid.

— Dan observed that Highlander felt a lot like Terminator with its exuberant guerrilla filmmaking, an unkillable, unstoppable foe and a couple on the run from him.

— Connor had a specific look: trenchcoat, jeans, and sneakers. It worked for him.

— The final battle in front of all of the windows (which you know will eventually all break) was striking. Pun intended.

— Connor made his living as an antique dealer. A marvelously logical occupation for an immortal.

— Birds flew up into the air right before Ramirez died.

— Sean Connery's red costume with the peacock feather cape was too much. Not too many men could carry that one off, but he did.

— Connor's last five aliases were Adrian Montagu, Jacques Lefebret, Alfred Nicholson, Rupert Wallingford, and Russell Nash.

When you have a fantasy universe with multiple movies and a long-running television series, you're going to have inconsistencies. How could they know? Here, there are lots of them:

— Ramirez told Connor he was experiencing a "quickening" but it was unrelated to taking someone's head. The whole thing with the stag is inconsistent with the later Highlander-verse.

— When Connor was stabbed and drowned, he didn't die and revive; he just stayed conscious.

— The biggest was the ending, of course, with Connor being the last of the immortals and getting the prize. The fact that it included having kids and growing old was probably intended to be ironic. The Kurgan would have been deeply disappointed.

Quotes:

"There can be only one." The most famous line from the movies and the series.

Connor: "Stop, sir, I beseech you. I apologize for calling your wife a bloated warthog, and I bid you good day."

Kurgan: "Happy Halloween, ladies. (thrusts his tongue in and out at them) Nuns. No sense of humor."

This isn't a particularly good movie in the grand scheme of things, but it's certainly compelling and unique. Three out of four stars,

Billie
---
Billie Doux knows that there can be only one. And that's Methos.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thought you might be interested in this:

'Twilight' Writer Melissa Rosenberg Takes Over Summit's 'Highlander' Script

Neal Moritz and Peter Davis are producing the remake of the 1986 action fantasy that starred Sean Connery.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/blogs/heat-vision/twilight-writer-melissa-rosenberg-takes-97481