Retro Review – Highlander
The Eighties were a long time ago. A long, long time ago. So, now that a 4K remastered print of Russel Mulcahy’s Highlander is available, and some of us had the chance to sample it at the Edinburgh International Film festival, will the past thirty years have taken the shine off this classic, in spite of all the hard work done to make it all pretty for our modern age?
The story is a comparatively simple, if nonsensical, premise. There are immortals living amongst us, and throughout history they must fight until but one of them remains, (after all, there can be only one!) at which point they shall gain “The Prize”. In this original, and fairly universally accepted as best, entry into the franchise, no attempt is made to explain their origin, even the immortals themselves don’t know where they came from, and this in fact aids us in accepting the idea. Hell, if the protagonists are suspending their disbelief, why the hell shouldn’t we!
We are thrown straight into the action as we follow Connor MacLeod at a wrestling match, zooming into his character in the middle of a crowd, but obviously apart from them. From the start we have Queen’s iconic soundtrack booming, and along with Micheal Kamen’s excellent score, this makes the film an almost visceral experience from the beginning. MacLeod is played with a fair bit of intensity by Christopher Lambert (Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, Mortal Kombat). It is actually worth noting how much more creepy he is in this part than you remember. In fact, if you are new to this world, his actions make you really question if he’s actually the good guy.
After our first introduction to Connor’s wonderful world of beheadings, which is the only way to kill an immortal, MacLeod rushes from the scene and is caught by the police. We now meet Brenda Wyatt, brought to life in all her 80’s permed glory by Roxanne Hart (Letters From Iwo Jima, The Verdict). She’s a Police Forensic Technician, who also luckily is an expert in swords, which makes her very interested in the happenings surrounding our hero.
The other two main characters we are yet to be introduced to, come to us in flashback. The first of these is Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption, Starship Troopers), playing the villain of the piece, The Kurgan, with such glee and relish that he steals every scene he’s in, and possibly some he’s not even in. The Kurgan is a Russian immortal, the biggest, strongest, and most vicious of them all, and Brown chews, licks, and bites every bit of scenery in his path.
The second of these two is Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, an Egyptian immortal, from Spain that’s spent many years in Japan. Given the complex background of this character, they called on the only man able to give the nuanced accent that this part required, Sean Connery (Dr No, The Hunt For Red October). As with Brown, Connery obviously knows that this is just an excuse to let rip. He smirks and swaggers all the way through his scenes, and reminds us all how much fun he was as an actor. Ramirez is Connor’s mentor, teaching him how to fight, and deal with his immortality, all seen in flashback. These flashback sequences work really well for the storyline as a whole, dropping in just the right amount of information at the right places as the storyline unfolds, adding some much needed humanity to Lambert.
The film progresses much as you’d expect, all coming to one final battle. Here is where we start to see the age of this classic start to shine through the cracks. With modern eyes, this final battle does seem somewhat anticlimactic. It works ok, but the stunt work is a bit dated, and the feeling really is that the victor is the victor more by luck than skill.
Bar one scene, you can really tell the difference from all the work that has been done to bring this classic up to our modern hi-def standards. The landscapes are stunning, and the effects really stand up very well. As I’ve mentioned, there is a single scene where the pixilisation is as the whole film used to be, and it stands out like a sore thumb against the quality of the rest of the print. This small visual hiccup aside, when you add in the aforementioned score and soundtrack, Highlander is still a cinema worthy experience. I can’t have been the only person in the cinema singing along under my breath, and saying iconic lines to myself.
I can only sum up by saying that Highlander is the same bit of nonsense that it was in 1986, but it has aged rather well. There are some very 80’s moments as the film progresses, but the flashbacks to other historical periods actually helps it feel less dated, as you can watch the entire movie with this mindset. Basically, if you get a chance to enjoy this again on the big screen, treat yourself, you won’t regret it.
As a wee bit of a postscript on this review, if you’d like to see what The Kurgan himself had to say to Kneel Before Blog’s very own Craig McKenzie, click here.