Time has a way of changing the perspective for films. What may look staid and rather dull at the time of release can actually benefit a film if and when it is re-assessed. Of course the opposite can happen as well. Something that looks very modern can date very quickly and seem totally out of place in a relatively short space of time. A few nights ago I happened to catch Highlander on late night television. At the time of release I enjoyed this film greatly. Sword fighting, fantasy elements and a multi-national cast were perfect for me at the time. Having only seen the film once since its initial release I was keen to find out if it still had the same appeal.
The story flits between 1980’s New York and various points in history from the 1560’s onwards. Together they tell the story of Connor Macleod (Christopher Lambert). The opening sequence sees Macleod facing off against a be-suited opponent in the car park of a sports stadium. A fierce sword fight takes place with Macleod emerging as the victor after separating his opponents body from his head. A spectacular burst of energy is released and apparently absorbed by MacLeod. After being interrogated and released by the police Macleod’s story is told through flashback sequences. He is first seen in the Scottish highlands as his clan is setting out to battle a local rival clan. On the battle field a mysterious warrior, The Kurgan (Clancy Brown), allied with the other clan has laid claim on Macleod. No one else is allowed to touch him. As they battle Macleod is mortally wounded but is saved from death at the hands of The Kurgan by his fellow warriors in skirts.
At deaths door for several days Connor then makes a miraculous recovery. His clan, fearing that he has been possessed, cast him out. Macleod has to try to build his life, shunned by his friends and family. After settling down in a run down Keep with his new wife he encounters a strange and exotic Egyptian who enlightens Macleod about his immortality and its link to his destiny. The Quickening.
This film has not aged at all well. it is very much identified with the 1980s from the the set dressing , costumes, dialogue and action sequences. The script and dialogue are pretty poor. There’s a veritable cheese fest going on. Christopher Lambert, who I used to think was pretty cool, is shockingly bad. Granted, some of his lines are not the best but he delivers them with no style or substance at all.Sean Connery, as usual playing himself, is not exempt from the bad dialogue but at least he tries to put a bit of life into it. Clancy Brown as MacLeod’s nemesis totally hams it up and as such is probably the best thing about the film.
The direction and the set pieces are all overblown. In the first action scene Macleod’s opponent is retreating in order to regroup. Does he run? Oh no! He executes a series of back flips for no apparent reason. A genuinely laugh out loud moment for all the wrong reasons. There is little build up during the fight sequences. They max out almost immediately which leaves them no place to go in terms of interest and excitement. The worst offender is the fight between Kurgen and the Egyptian. It is full on right from the start and it looks obvious that they ran out of ideas so they had lightning strike the stairs they are fighting on destroying the wall below but leaving the stairs intact above. This scene represents the direction of the film as a whole. Instead of careful staging and editing, the director Russel Mulcahy throws everything into the mix at the same time. All the action scenes, especially the modern ones are deliberately staged so the most spectacular explosions and effects can be brought to the screen. This is fine once or twice but not every single time. It soon loses it’s appeal.
Obviously this appealed to some as a film with the tag line ‘There can be only one’ managed to spawn four (I kid you not) movie sequels, a TV series and an animated series. Now we have the remake to look forward to with Ryan Reynolds in the lead role. I hope Queen do the soundtrack to that one as well.
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