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 clearly 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 doesn’t bother to explain why only one of these guys, The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) is evil, and why the rest seem to be really quite friendly with each other. The plot mentions a prize for the winner of this knockout tournament, but doesn’t really elaborate on what that is or why anyone should really care about it. Other than just making sure The Kurgan doesn’t get hold of it, but 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’, as sort of bizarre localized 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 *. What it means, or why it’s important for MacLeod to experience it. None of the other immortals ever do. Maybe ‘the quickening’ is what makes MacLeod so special, and why The Kurgan makes a point of trying to take the Highlander out of the game before he trains with Ramirez. Not that The Kurgan seemed all that concerned about relieving MacLeod of his noggin, as he gets several clear opportunities during the film and lets them all lazily pass.
It’s poorly made. With clearly visible wires in some shots, and 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 I got the feeling this movie was shot with only an eye for cool visuals irregardless of how all the footage would come together to form a coherent motion picture. Which isn’t too surprising since the director, Russell Mulcahy, shot music videos before taking on feature films, and a lot of those techniques that work for that media, are clearly applied here.
As I said, there are plenty of reasons why this film should be awful. But I love it anyway!
Christopher Lambert is very likeable as MacLeod, despite his dodgy take on the Scottish 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 however, are easily overshadowed by Clancy Brown’s Kurgan. Evil and very deadly, yet played with a creepy playful manic energy. He gets the best dialog, and turns in a really memorable performance.
I also liked all the jumping back and forth in time, and some of the transitions between periods are really neatly done. The highlands of Scotland never looked more beautiful, and it was fun to watch MacLeod’s duel in Edwardian era England, and the scenes in Germany during the Second World War.
What really makes this movie a favorite of mine however, is the soundtrack. An awesome collection of rock tunes from the legendary band, Queen, accompanied by a truly epic score by Michael Kamen. So despite how stupid all this is, the images of MacLeod’s life in the Scottish Highlands played to Queens ‘Who wants to live forever?’ Still moves 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!
* 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.
This movie plays more like a music video than a full length feature film, so keep that in mind. If you’re a fan of silly fantasy stories, and the band Queen, you’re probably going to love this.
This film looks great, and a theater sized screen is your best option. I re-watched this at home in HD, and I have to say I wasn’t too thrilled with the transfer. The extra definition is really nice during the scenes in the Scottish Highlands, but it also really dates the visual effects. A regular DVD or streaming show should service this film well enough. Just make sure you turn up the volume to 11!
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!”