Director: Russell Mulcahy
Script: Gregory Widen, Peter Bullwood & Larry Feguson
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown, Sean Connery, Beatie Edney, Alan North, Jon Polito, Sheila Gish, Celia Imrie
Running time: 117 minutes
Back in 1986 I saw an intriguing teaser trailer for a film called Highlander, one which had me seeking the film out at the cinema, based on just a few shots of a man standing on a remote hilltop being struck by lightning, but managing to somehow survive the, err, shocking experience. When I finally caught up with the film I remember being somewhat elated and disappointed in that here was a film that felt very much aimed at me, but at the same time had outed a number of ideas that I was then toying with for a fictional book I was going to write. Damn Gregory Widen, I thought!
Well, all these years later, I still haven’t written the book (although I have come up with a better idea – well, I think so), but I have seen the film Highlander several times and thoroughly enjoyed it each time. It’s still a fun film, full of the sort of myths and legends that have been enthralling generations throughout the ages… Odysseus, Beowulf, Sinbad, Aladdin, and now Macleod..?
The story sees immortal Connor Macleod trying to blend in as best he can in modern day New York, posing as antiques dealer, Russell Nash; all the while anticipating a gathering of fellow immortals for one final contest, the winner of which will gain a prize of ultimate power, enabling them to rule over mortal men, or something like that…
However, Highlander isn’t really about the quest for ‘the prize’, but about the human condition, even when one is immortal. Although, when I say immortal, that isn’t completely true – they can die, but only by way of decapitation!
Christopher Lambert is perfectly cast here as a man out of time, out of place, trying to fit in as best he can; never really being able to form proper, normal relationships; never being able to share his life with anyone, for fear of having to watch them grow old and die, while he remains in his twenties.
At its core Highlander is a love story, flicking back in time to when Connor is in the early stages of his relationship with former wife, Heather, and saw out a crofter’s life with her in the Scottish highlands of his birth, and then flicking forwards to his burgeoning romance with Brenda, a police forensics investigator.
Sean Connery plays cocky Spaniard Ramirez, who takes on the role of the wise old mentor figure, teaching our hero who he is and how to fight properly, in order to stay in the game. He also presents him with the ‘rules’ that the immortals have to live by, which sadly includes never forming lasting relationships. Immortals can’t have kids (they’re sterile), must never fight on holy land, and they eventually must fight to the death until there is only one of them remaining at the end, at the mysteriously named ‘the gathering’.
For me though it’s Clancy Brown’s portrayal of the movie’s requisite bad guy, the Kurgan, who wins top acting honours, and he is the main reason why this film will always stand head and shoulders above all the other Highlander films and TV shows. He fills the screen with such energy and presence, and has such fun with the role; he’s up there as one of the greatest screen villains of all time. He also gets all the best lines, and blows everyone else off screen in pretty much every scene he’s in.
Highlander didn’t do particularly well when it was first released to cinemas – in fact I remember the screening I went to had about three people in it, including myself! However, once released onto video it built up a solid fan-base, which has only grown and grown over the years.
Classed as a cult film, Highlander is a movie that once seen is hard to completely forget. It has a memorable central story idea, great characters, awesome locations, some fantastic photography, and a score that stays in your brain, whether you like the rock band Queen, and composer Michael Kamen, or not.
Although it is one of my favourite films there are things that do grate with me concerning the script. Why, for example, does Ramirez actually bother to help the young man, when he, like the Kurgan, stands to gain from defeating Connor later on in battle? Why would Connor Macleod put his health at risk the amount of times that he does, during his past, when it still really hurts to get pierced by a sword or a bullet? And how does Brenda suddenly get down from the top of the roof during the finale, and end up in the same locked warehouse as the two sword-fighting men? We never see her find some stairs or a lift to descend, or even see her fall down. She just suddenly appears there, on the ground floor, to save Connor’s bacon at a crucial moment! All signs of lazy scriptwriting, me thinks…
All things aside though, it’s great that Studiocanal have released Highlander on Blu-ray and DVD for its thirtieth anniversary, and it looks and sounds great – in fact the sound mix is pretty intense during the action sequences. So, for the many souls who still haven’t seen this great fantasy adventure film, I recommend they give it a whirling dervish.
Studiocanal are distributing Highlander on DVD and Blu-ray. There are loads of extras on the disc including:
An audio commentary with director Russell Mulcahy, which I haven’t got around to listening to yet.
A new interview with the director (22 mins) where he talks about his background and how he started making 8mm films when he was just 14 years old, and how he graduated to filming and editing music videos for the likes of AC/DC, Duran Duran and Queen. He also comes up with some funny stories about the shoot, and talks about how the film was cast.
A recent interview with actor Christopher Lambert (20 mins), who talks about how he got involved in the first place, and about his way of acting compared with some of his co-stars.
A ‘making of’ documentary in four substantial parts:
In A Legend is Born (29 mins) the writers talk about the story and about how it was developed from Gregory Widen’s original script that he wrote while at film school. For me, as a wannabe scriptwriter, this was perhaps the most interesting part of the documentary so kudos to the documentary filmmakers for giving the writers a decent amount of the limelight.
Visual style (40 mins) showcases DoP Gerry Fisher and production designer Allan Cameron who chat animatedly about their involvement in the project. Strong Women (15 mins) is where actress Roxanne Hart (Brenda) talks about her experiences of working on the film.
Producer’s point of view (30 mins) sees the two principle producers talk about how it all happened, about the casting process and the challenges of shooting in a number of countries etc.
An older interview with Christopher Lambert (8.5 mins) where he talks very fast, in French, about how he and the director have a lot in common, and he compares Russell with director Luc Besson.
Deleted scenes – five scenes from the film that were shot differently and are presented here in audio-free versions, so of limited appeal (6 mins).
Theatrical trailer (2.5 mins)
All in all a really comprehensive set of extra features to rummage through. My only real regrets are that they didn’t manage to feature interviews with Clancy Brown, Sean Connery and Beatie Edney. Plus it would have been nice to have heard from the sword master about training the actors, ready for their filmic swordfights.