Highlander

  • Title:  Highlander
  • Director:  Russell Mulcahy
  • Date:  1986
  • Studio:  Republic Pictures
  • Genre:  Action, Romance
  • Cast:  Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown, Sean Connery
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen 
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC (DVD is 10th Anniversary Ed. – Director’s Cut)
  • Soundtrack:  Queen

This is a review of the first Highlander film, not the subsequent ones (which were pretty awful) or the TV series (which wasn’t bad, but I personally didn’t like the lead).  It’s a real pity the sequels were such a mess – because the original film is seriously an excellent film.  The cast is excellent, though Lambert’s accent is a tad distracting at times.  The filming is beautiful – especially in the scenes in Scotland.  The film is built on layers of contrast — even the romances contrast with each other.  And, the intercutting between Connor MacLeod’s past and his present is extremely well done and keeps the audience interested, by using short vignettes to build up the characters.  And the sword fighting is excellent as well.

Highlander drops you in to the middle of the action,  trusting the audience enough to stay with the film long enough to understand what’s going on.  Russell Nash attends a wrestling match at Madison Square Garden, then ends up in the parking garage having a sword fight with a guy who I swear looks like the Equalizer — dark suit, glasses, even semi-grey hair.  Nash wins his sword fight, cutting off the guy’s head and uttering the catch phrase of the film, “There can be only one!”  He then hides his sword and leaves, but gets caught by the police.  He’s released because the cops don’t have enough to hold him on.

However, during the wrestling match, Nash has dreams, or as we learn, memories… of his life in the Scottish Highlands as Connor MacLeod of the Clan McLeod.  Over the course of  the film, we see flashbacks to his life in Scotland that explain what’s going on.  His clan are to fight the Frasers, but on the field of battle no one will fight Connor and they even run away.  Unbeknownest to Conner — a mysterious Black Knight has paid the Fraser’s to fight anyone but Conner.  The Knight intends to kill Conner. However, he is mortally wounded and his cousin fends off the Black Knight.  Conner’s taken back to his village to die, but he recovers.  His girlfriend becomes convinced he has “the devil in him”, and stirs up trouble in the village against Conner.  He’s banished.  He ends up at a small sheep farm, where he meets Heather, falls in love with her, and marries her.

While living on the sheep farm, he meets Ramirez (Connery), another Immortal, like Conner and the Black Knight.  Ramirez takes Conner under his wing, teaches him how to fight, and about their ways.  He knows that some are Immortal, but doesn’t know why.  He knows that wounds that would kill a normal man, drowning, etc, will not kill an Immortal — the only method of killing one is by decapitation. He knows they cannot have children.  And he advises not falling in love — because he was devastated when his own third wife, a Japanese princess, died.  He also tells Conner that the Black Knight is the Kurgan (Clancy Brown), the oldest and strongest of the Immortals from the steppes of  Russia (think Ghangis Khan).  He also tells Conner that when only a few are left, The Gathering will take place, the last Immortals will be forced to fight and There Can Be Only One.  The last remaining Immortal will win The Prize.

Back in the “present” (the 1980s) the New York police are confused and befuddled by the sudden rash of beheadings.  An old friend of Conner’s shows up – but is killed by the Kurgan.  An woman who’s an expert in ancient swords, and works in forensics for the New York police, starts investigating both Russell Nash and one of the beheadings because the forensics of the sword used show it to be extraordinary — folded 200 times, yet made in 600 B.C.

We learn more about Nash/MacLeod’s life past and present — he does fall in love with Heather, marry her, and live with her until she dies.  The Kurgan also kills Ramirez — and Connor inherits his Katana. When Heather dies, he buries her under his MacLeod Claymore, and leaves, taking the Katana.  In the present, we meet Nash’s secretary, Rachel, who he had rescued when she was a child, during World War II — she knows all his secrets.

Nash and Brenda have a brief hot and steamy romance, and the Kurgan kidnaps her.  The climatic final sword fight between MacLeod and the Kurgan is on a rooftop by a bright red neon sign reading, “Silvercup”.  MacLeod wins – and discovers the prize is mortality, the ability to have children — and total knowledge of what everyone in the world is thinking.  The total knowledge thing is a bit scary, though a closing remembrance of Ramirez reminds MacLeod to use his gift wisely.

But the film is filmed beautifully — and filled with contrasts.  There’s the natural wide-open beauty of Scotland, verses the dirty and claustrophobic feel of modern day New York.  Most of the scenes in Scotland take place in the day as well; whereas the scenes in New York are mostly at night.  There’s the two romances — Conner’s original love, Heather, is sweet and kind and they have a life-long love.  His relationship with Brenda is more an animal attraction that quickly progresses to the hot and steamy side. However, they do seem to still be together at the end of the film.  And then there’s Rachel, who almost seems to mother Nash, though she knows exactly who and what he is.  Conner and Kurgan contrast as well — Kurgan is cruel, mean, and disgusting and only wants The Prize for whatever power it may bring him.  Conner seems to be honest and forthright, who will only use The Prize to help humanity.

And the sword fighting, both the fights and the various characters practicing their moves at various points, or Ramirez teaching Conner, are well realized.  Even watching Kurgan put together his multi-pieced broadsword and practice his moves is enjoyable to watch.

Overall, an excellent, enjoyable film, highly recommended.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  His Girl Friday

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