Starring: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, Roxanne Hart, Beatie Edney, Sheila Gish, Hugh Quarshie
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written By: Gregory Widen, Peter Bellwood, Larry Ferguson
Rating: R (US) Running Time: 1 hr 56 min
In so many quantifiable ways, Highlander should be an awful film. It makes no plausible effort to justify how and why we have a group of immortal sword wielding blokes running around trying to cut each others heads off. It also doesn’t bother to explain why only one of these guys, The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) is evil, and why most of the other immortals seem to be friendly with each other. The plot mentions a prize for the winner of this knockout tournament, but doesn’t elaborate on what that is or why anyone should really care about it. When you eventually find out what everyone is dying for, you’ll be hard pressed to understand what the fuss was about.
Then there’s ‘the quickening’, a sort of bizarre lightning storm that gives immortals indigestion, or something, which our hero, MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), experiences when he first meets The Kurgan and Ramirez (Sean Connery). He doesn’t, however, experience this when he battles an immortal called Fasil (Peter Diamond) during the movie’s opening action sequence, or later when he meets up for a drink with his buddy, Kastagir (Hugh Quarshie).
At no point in this movie do we actually find out what the quickening is*, or what it means for MacLeod to experience it. None of the other immortals go through this ordeal. Maybe ‘the quickening’ is what makes MacLeod so special, and that’s why The Kurgan makes a point of trying to take the Highlander out of the game before he trains with Ramirez? Who knows? It ultimately doesn’t matter anyway as The Kurgan gets several opportunities to relieve MacLeod of his noggin during the film, and lets them all lazily pass.
It’s poorly made. There are clearly visible wires in some shots, and it employs animated visual effects that look like doodles inspired by a death-metal fan’s tattoo ideas book. Frequently, the camera movement is obvious and distracting, and the whole thing ends up being a time jumping patchwork of ideas that never connects enough to tell a coherent story. Which isn’t too surprising since the director, Russell Mulcahy, shot music videos before taking on feature films, and a lot of those creative sensibilities seem to have been applied here.
As I said, there are plenty of reasons why this film should be awful. But I love it anyway!
Christopher Lambert is hugely likeable as MacLeod, despite his dodgy accent, and Sean Connery is perfectly cast as his mentor and friend. Even though, I did find it hilarious they cast a Scot to play an Egyptian/Spaniard, make no attempt to hide the accent, and then have him ask what haggis is! These two great performances are somehow overshadowed by Clancy Brown’s Kurgan. Evil and very deadly, yet played with a creepy playful manic energy. He gets the best dialog and runs away with every scene he’s in.
What really makes this movie a favorite of mine is the soundtrack. An awesome collection of rock tunes from the legendary band, Queen, accompanied by a truly epic score by Michael Kamen. Despite how stupid all this is, the visual of MacLeod’s life in the Scottish Highlands played to Queens ‘Who wants to live forever?’ Still gets to me. No matter how bad the special effects get, the short scene that has The Kurgan comment on this news-radio dialog ‘The head, which of this time, has no name’ – with – ‘I know his name‘, immediately followed by Queen’s ‘Gimme The Prize (Kurgan’s Theme)’ – is just freakin’ awesome! Highlander is bad in so many ways, but it’s also, somehow, very cool.
* Sure you can Google it, now that there have been two sequels and a TV series. In this first movie MacLeod feels ill when he first meets The Kurgan, and later when Ramirez appears. That feeling is described as ‘the quickening.’ The other firework shows that occur after an immortal is killed are never given a name in this film.
There are plenty of great moments in this film, but my favorite is when The Kurgan visits MacLeod in a Church. After MacLeod leaves, The Kurgan gets seriously creepy with a priest, and then leaves with:
“I have something to say! It’s better to burn out than to fade away!”