Retro Review: ‘Highlander’
Every so often a movie comes along that introduces audiences to something completely different and does so with an undeniable coolness becoming a cult favorite in the process. I am talking about movies like; the Sweet Smell of Success, the Warriors, El Mariachi and the movie we are looking at today, Highlander. Directed by Russell Mulcahy, this 1986 movie features; a high-fantasy concepts, sword-fighting, AND music from Queen. As I said the movie has an undeniable coolness.
Living among us in secret is a race of sword-wielding immortals who are locked in eternal combat. As prophecy foretells, these immortals will battle each other to the beheading (known as a Quickening) until the time of the Gathering, and in the end there can be only one. One such immortal is Connor MacLeod while he may appear to be a simple New York antique dealer, he is actually a centuries old warrior from the Scottish Highlands. Throughout the film we see flashbacks to the life he once had and his training under the tutelage of Ramirez, played by Sean Connery. Thanks to a recent duel with one of his fellow immortals, a clever crime scene investigator, Brenda has turned unwanted attention onto MacLeod as she is figuring out that there may be something more to him. As he tries to stay one step ahead of law enforcement an old enemy of his the Kurgan has returned to his life. Looking to settle their centuries old rivalry, the Kurgan engages the Highlander in a sadistic cat-and-mouse game inevitably leading to a final epic duel between the two of them.
To put it plainly, this urban fantasy flick is nothing short of badass. Granted any movie with sword fighting would be fun to some extent, but this is actually an incredibly well-made movie. Working with a small budget proved to be no problem for music video director (and maker of the awesome movie Razorback) Russell Mulcahy as he made Highlander look like a top tier production. Like many other directors of the era, Mulcahey took advantage of the fact New York was infamously dealing with problems of crime and blight creating a fantastic gritty environment. Though setting a fantasy film here rather than a crime flick like Taking of Pelham 123 or Death Wish, was quite the stroke of genius. Granted most of the movie was shot in the UK, with only a few iconic Big Apple landmarks thrown in. Abandoned rooftops, underground parking garages, and seedy alleyways are all transformed into a battlefield for immortals locked in eternal conflict.
Jokes have been made aplenty about Belgian actor Christopher Lambert playing a Scottish character, but the actor turns in a perfectly brooding performance as a man who has seen it all. He truly portrays immortality as a curse more than a gift as he has seen so many he has loved grow old and die while he continues on. I often make the joke that Sean Connery is a gifted character actor if that character is a womanizing Scotsman, but he proves perfectly cast as the Spanish mentor to Connor MacLeod. Filming all of his scenes in a single week, he brought a sense of gravitas and credibility to the film. It is said during his short time on set he and Lambert really hit it off and their friendship truly comes across onscreen as the two really seem to enjoy being around each other. That makes it hurt that much worse when his head is claimed by the Kurgan. Speaking of the Kurgan, beloved character actor Clancy Brown is so gleefully evil in his performance that completely owns every scene he is in. Russell Mulcahey said that Brown got so much into this role that people on the set chose to avoid him. His villainous character is repugnant, funny, and sadistic all at once.
Multiple sequels were produced to Highlander over the years, and not a single one is really worth watching unless you are into good/bad movies. In the 1992, a television spin-off was produced featuring Duncan MacLeod, another immortal of the Clan MacLeod which was quite enjoyable. Over the years so many attempts to sequelize or remake this film have failed, proving that perhaps THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE…….Highlander.