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During a fierce sword battle in the 1500s, Connor MacLeod, a simple Scotsman known as a poor fighter, is mortally wounded -- but he does not die. MacLeod learns from the mysterious Ramírez that he is of a race of immortals. These rare knights never age and never reproduce, they can only meet death by the blade of another of their kind. Leaping back and forth through the centuries, MacLeod once again meets the evil Kurgan who nearly killed him 500 years ago. <b> There can be only one.</b>
For more about Highlander and the Highlander Blu-ray release, see Highlander Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 22, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Writers: Gregory Widen, Larry Ferguson
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown, James Cosmo, Beatie Edney
» See full cast & crew
Highlander Blu-ray Review
Is that a sword in your pocket or. . .
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 22, 2010
If you're ever feeling down and depressed, head on over to Wikipedia. There, scattered amongst the misspellings, grammar fiascoes, and outright misinformation, are occasional nuggets like this opening description in the Russell Mulcahy article: His work is easily recognized by his use of fast cuts, tracking shots and use of glowing lights. Much like John Ford, most of you are probably thinking. Mulcahy, director of Highlander (and its sequel, though he disowned that film after its release), does indeed seem to like fast cuts, tracking shots and, yes, glowing lights, so in the larger scheme of things, this particular Wikipedia quote might be termed relatively accurate. Mulcahy has had an at best spotty feature film career, after having helped found and develop the then nascent form of the music video (he indeed directed the iconic "Video Killed the Radio Star"), and somehow, against some formidable odds and initial critical disdain for the effort, Highlander has gone on to achieve considerable cult status, with a legion of fans, most of whom were probably pretty young when the film was initially released in 1986, and who thrilled to its comic book ambience filled with immortal Scotsmen (and other nationalities) and less than immortal dialogue and action. Highlander unfortunately has not aged very well at all, with wooden performances, oddly (and at times badly) staged action sequences, and lots and lots of big 1980s hair.
Highlander does have some things going for it, including some great transitions between time periods which Mulcahy serves up with some at times astonishing ingenuity. A segue from beneath an icy stream up to the air gets us to two different time periods hundreds of years apart. A close-up of star Christopher Lambert's face morphs into a wall poster of the Mona Lisa, odd to say the least, but visually arresting. In fact, Highlander's trips back and forth from 16th century Scotland to "present day" New York City account for some of the film's narrative sweep and help to at least partially ameliorate the often laugh out loud dialogue. The film is also helped immensely by the colorful (both literally and figuratively) cameo of Sean Connery, who shows up about halfway through the enterprise to explain to MacLeod (Lambert) why he has recovered so quickly from a seemingly mortal wound, and then to school him in the art of what being an immortal really means. Connery hams it up, to be sure, but his performance is like a lightning bolt of energy in a film that otherwise lurches and halts from sequence to sequence, some working, others often just lying there like a decapitated immortal.
Part of Highlander's problem, as it was with his previous film Greystoke, is the Neanderthal presence of star Christopher Lambert. Lambert is undeniably charismatic, in a caveman-esque sort of way, and perhaps it's unfair to lambast him too badly, as he was still not anything close to fluent in English when this film was made (as Mulcahy discusses in his commentary), but soulful eyes and a hulking physique do not a movie star make. Lambert has turned in some excellent performances in his native French tongue (notably Subway), but here his performance is flat and lacking the tormented energy it really needs to make this character come fully alive. In fact, aside from Connery, the only other electric performance is the over the top turn by Clancy Brown, as the proto-punk villain Victor Kruger. Brown is viscerally frightening in this hyperbolic performance, which has him doing everything from destroying an ancient Scottish castle to licking a contemporary priest's hand while in a New York City Catholic cathedral. That's range.
Mulcahy's work here, like the film in total, is uneven at best. The transition sequences and several of the establishing shots for various segments are handled amazingly well. The opening flyby of the wrestling arena is amazing, and gorgeous crane shots of ancient Scotland are similarly picturesque. But just as soon as you're sure that Mulcahy has a good hand on the directorial reins, we get some appallingly bad fight choreography, including the ludicrious first showdown between MacLeod and a nemesis in a parking garage. Unwieldy swordplay melds with the laugh out loud decision to have the bad guy do acrobatics to get away, making for an uncommonly amusing fight sequence that is funny instead of exciting.
Special mention should be made for one of the elements that works incredibly well in Highlander, and that's the wonderful song score by Queen. Mulcahy in his commentary states the film "belongs largely" to Freddie Mercury, and Mercury's luscious multi-tracked harmonies make for a very appealing sonic experience. In fact it's notable (no pun intended ) and actually laudatory that neither Queen nor score composer Michael Kamen opts for well worn Celtic clichés, despite the more than occasional bagpipe cue, throughout this score. Queen's contributions are unfailingly melodic and lyrically appropriate, and while Kamen has the tendency to deliver some histrionic orchestral cues, overall the music to Highlander is one of its saving graces.
Highlander is one of many films which saw its fortunes ascend with the advent of the home video market. There is certainly something here that attracts legions of fans. Whether that be its quasi-mythic scenario, or its rather ingenious ping-ponging approach to two disparate time frames, or something else entirely is anyone's guess. Those who love this film probably won't be swayed by any critical analysis that doesn't deem the film an outright classic. It's really nothing more or less than comic book fare, as Mulcahy himself tends to support in his commentary. As such, it's far from the best in this genre, but it probably isn't the worst, either. Highlander is more middling ground than anything.
Highlander Blu-ray, Video Quality
My hopes were actually quite high when Highlander's AVC encoded 1080p image started. This film has always looked pretty squishy soft in its many home video presentations, and after the noticeable telecine wobble of the credits had passed, I was really nicely surprised at the uptick in sharpness and clarity in the opening wrestling sequence. Alas, like so much about this film, this Blu-ray transfer is at times shockingly uneven. Large segments are bright and clear, especially the wonderful historical scenes in Scotland, and then we get pretty appalling softness and an incredible amount of digital noise in other shots. In fact, I almost started wondering if two different film stocks had been used for master shots and coverage. Masters are often very soft with just overwhelming noise (look at the establishing shot on the Central Park bridge for a startling example), while close-ups tend to be noticeably sharper with at least acceptable levels of detail. It's really odd and confounding. Colors are notably better saturated on this release, though contrast, especially in the many dark and/or nighttime scenes, isn't great, and black levels are all over the place.
Highlander Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Highlander's nice lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is surprisingly spry for its age, especially with regard to the great Queen song score, but it still lacks consistent surround activity that could have made it a knockout. While the fidelity and especially the dynamic range of this track is quite commendable, with thundering lows and absolutely no distortion or damage, dialogue scenes play resolutely front and center a lot of the time. There is some nice ambient environmental noise and great sound effects, especially in the historically placed scenes, and LFE here is very impressive. But it's the Queen score where the lossless audio really reaches its full potential, with Freddie Mercury and the boys sounding fantastic.
Highlander Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Mulcahy delivers a pretty good Commentary track that is very informative, but which tends to have several pretty long lulls. The only other supplement is a set of five Deleted Scenes (6:14), with no audio, set to underscore from the film.
Highlander Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Why do certain films attain cult status after their release? In the case of Highlander, it's even harder to fathom than it usually is. This is a film with an intriguing concept, great bridging sequences, but some absolutely leaden dialogue and performances, especially by star Christopher Lambert. If an immortal Scotsman traipsing through 16th century Scotland and 20th century New York is your plate of haggis, Highlander is probably must-see cinema, though this film's spotty Blu-ray image quality may argue against a purchase and more for a rental.
Highlander: Other Editions
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Highlander Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Highlander 1 and 2 Announced on Blu-ray - August 11, 2010
Confirming yesterday's retailer alert, Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced that on November 2 it will release Russell Mulcahy's Highlander in a director's cut Blu-ray, and also its sequel Highlander 2 (also known as Highlander II: The Quickening), with "enhanced ...
• Highlander Blu-ray Coming Up - August 10, 2010
An early announcement to retailers indicates that Lionsgate Home Entertainment is set to release the 1980s action/adventure/fantasy movie Highlander on November 2. There is no information regarding technical specification or special features at this time. This ...
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