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Featured Blu-ray Review: Highlander and Highlander 2

October 31st, 2010

Highlander - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: Highlander and Higherland 2: The Quickening

The Highlander franchise started in 1986 with a small film called Highlander. That film cost $16 million to make, but only brought in $13 million worldwide. However, it achieved a cult following on the home market, becoming so popular that five years later a sequel was made, The Quickening, and then another, and another, not to mention two TV shows, a comic book, and RPG, and more. The first two films are coming out on Blu-ray this week, so how well do they live up nearly 25 and 20 years later? And is either Blu-ray worth picking up or upgrading to?

Highlander

This is a hard plot to describe, as it takes place over two time lines with the movies bouncing back and forth between them repeatedly throughout.

The earlier story begins in 1536 with Connor MacLeod, a Scottish Highlander, preparing to go into battle with his two cousins against the Fraser clan. During the battle he is seemingly mortally wounded by a warrior named The Kurgan, who then shouts, "There can be only one!" before trying to decapitate Connor. However, Connor is saved by one of his cousins. That night the priest comes to Connor's bed as he lies dying and gives him his last rites, but the next morning Connor has recovered completely. His clansmen are clearly disturbed by this turn of events and banish him from the village.

Later Connor is married and settled down when a man by the name of Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, explains to him that they are both immortals. As such they must fight other immortals, killing them by decapitation, until there is only one. At this time they will earn "The Prize", which includes control over mankind, and mortality. This mentor relationship ends when Kurgan kills Ramírez and rapes Connor's wife.

In modern day, Connor is living under then name Russell Nash, an antique dealer. There are few immortals left, and fewer once he takes one out in the underground parking of Madison Square Garden. In the aftermath, the police arrive on the scene and despite trying to get away, Connor is caught, but released. He's under investigation by a police detective, Frank Moran, and the forensic investigator and sword expert, Brenda Wyatt. Connor and Brenda are attracted to each other, but Kurgan is still out there, and there still can be only one.

Highlander does what a film like this should do, i.e. setup a cool mythology and tell an interesting story within said mythology. It also does it in a rather inventive way with the two time lines being explored simultaneously, and with a style that wasn't really seen before then. Remember, the director, Russell Mulcahy, got his start making music videos, which were in their infancy back then. So the quick cuts that have become commonplace, and let's face it, overused, were very new back then. Also, it was a Sword & Sorcery film set in modern day, and with modern music. (The sounds provided by Queen are excellent in setting the mood of the movie.) Also, Sean Connery is great in this movie, even if the accents are a little off. (His character is an ancient Egyptian with a Spanish name and a Scottish accent. On the other hand, Christopher Lambert is playing a Scotsmen with a French accent. When Ramírez asks Connor about haggis, it's pretty hard not to laugh at the problems these accents are causing.)

It's perhaps a little too stylized at times, but overall it is still a great movie, if you are in the mood for this kind of film.

The Blu-ray

Russell Mulcahy sits down for an audio commentary track. It's not exactly energetic, but he does go into details about the filmmaking process and some of the tricks they used, some of the problems they encountered, etc. (And yes, he talks about the problems with the accents.) There are also five deleted / extended scenes that couldn't be included in the High Definition edition of the movie because the original audio had been lost. It is too bad that this happened, but I'm happy the footage was included. If you have the Immortal Edition DVD, there are a couple extras missing, unfortunately. This is likely due to an issue of rights.

Moving onto the technical specs, I would call the Blu-ray release mixed. At its best, the video is surprisingly good, considering the film's age and its moderate production budget. (Relative to other 1986 releases, $16 million is about average for an action oriented film.) On the other hand, it looks worse than the average DVD at other times. There are scenes with too much grain, that are too soft, lack of detail, etc. The good scenes outnumber the bad scenes, but it is still troubling. The audio is likewise good, considering its age, but it is not as dynamic as it would be if it were made today.

As for the price, currently on Amazon.com it is just $14, which is hard to argue with. It's not the best Blu-ray out there, but it looks and sounds better than it ever did on DVD.

The Verdict

Highlander is an excellent movie that never found the audience it deserved in theaters, but that changed on the home market. Its domestic Blu-ray debut has a bargain price and while it is worth picking up, I wish it was given the treatment is deserves.

Highlander 2: The Quickening

"There can be only one!"

Or not.

Taking place nearly 40 years after the events of the first film, and about 30 years after the collapse of the ozone layer. We learn in the prologue that the ozone layer failed and that an electromagnetic shield was put in place to protect the Earth. However, some believe the shield is no longer necessary.

The story again takes place on a multiple time line. One for the year 2024, another in the near past when the ozone layer first failed, and another possibly on another planet where Ramírez and Connor are rebels fighting against an evil General, Katana, but who are exiled into the future, or onto Earth, to fight other immortals till there is only one. Once that happens, the last immortal can choose mortality on Earth, or return to the home world.

The story of 2024 centers around a group of environmentalists, led by Louise Marcus, who have discovered the ozone layer has repaired itself and want the shield taken down. However, the head of the corporation in charge of the shield, David Blake, knows this already but wants to keep the shield in place, because it makes his company a lot of money. She wants Connor to help her, but he's old and tired and just waiting to die.

Meanwhile, General Katana has sent henchmen to kill Connor before he can choose to come back to their home planet. Of course, Connor had forgotten this was a choice, and he is too old to do anything if he did return, but when he kills the two henchmen, he's youthful again, while Ramírez is suddenly alive again. ... no clue why that happened.

Now General Katana comes to Earth to finish the job his henchmen failed to do. And naturally, he finds an ally in David Blake.

I may have a few of the details wrong, or all of them. Quite frankly, this movie is a mess and I have no idea what is going on. I have seen this movie roughly four times now (maybe three, maybe five) and even so, I simply can't follow the plot. This might be because it is such a bad movie in so many ways that I can't muster the effort. The plot is so convoluted I doubt even the screenwriter could follow the movie. It doesn't help that the dialogue is poorly written and badly delivered by a cast that, quite frankly, are not doing their profession any favors.

On the other hand, the sets look great and the strange mix of futuristic and Film Noir is cool, but you can get that from many other, much better movies.

The Extras

Strangely, this Blu-ray is loaded with extras, starting with a 50-minute making of featurette, which goes over the problems the production had and the many attempts to redeem the film. There is a 14-minute featurette on the new special effects done for the film. There's another featurette on the music, one of the costumes, and finally one on the cinematography. There are several deleted / extended scenes that are in less than ideal condition. There is also some promotional material from the film's initial release. In total, there are roughly 100 minutes of extras. That's a lot, much more than the film deserves. Why couldn't they have this much material on the first Blu-ray?

The video is no better than the first film with some scenes that look great, but a lot that look really bad, in some cases distractingly bad. The audio track is more active with the surround sound speakers getting a good workout, but that's not enough to save the Blu-ray.

The price is reasonable, for shovelware, but not a bargain by any means. Even if you are a fan of the film, upgrading is not a necessity at this price.

The Verdict

Highlander 2: The Quickening is, in a word, unbelievably bad. I know that's two words; I don't care. Watching this movie has sapped my ability to care.

The Final Verdict

I mentioned in the link to the RoboCop Trilogy review the concept of "The Law of Diminishing Returns". In terms of movie franchises, it basically means each additional sequel is harder and harder to pull off and that eventually the movies will become unwatchable, if the franchise goes on too long. When it comes to Highlander, that happened immediately. The first Highlander combines a cool mythology with a lot of style and it is an underrated classic. Highlander II is unwatchable. Neither Blu-ray really stands out, but the Blu-ray for Highlander is inexpensive enough that it is worth buying.


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Filed under: Video Review, Highlander II: The Quickening, Highlander