Highlander: Season One

Highlander: Season One (2001)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Extras: Interviews, Promotional Reel, Bloopers, Biographical Notes, Production Notes, DVD-ROM content

Though it runs under the mantra of, "there can be only one, " devotees of the Highlander saga know there have been far too many to count – video releases, that is. From special director’s cuts to special 2-pack releases to episodes of the adapted animated series, Highlander has been profusely proliferated throughout the theatrical and home video markets. Even though in its theatrical run the original film seemed to come to an inarguable end, two sequels were conjured up that all but ignored the events of their predecessor. But in between the release of these two inferior theatrical extensions (the third installment being the weaker of the two), a spin-off television series emerged in 1992 that would run a full 6 years before finally coming to a close (for the time being, anyway). And though the series was without the same big-name actors that graced the theatrical releases, it did manage to improve upon the depth of each character and further elaborate on the mythical nature of the Immortals and their quest for the ultimate reward. In this new release from Anchor Bay Entertainment, you’ll find not one but nine discs that capture the full 22 episodes that make up ‘Highlander – Season One.’

As the series opens, the reclusive Immortal Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) finds himself in the midst of the ongoing battle between good and evil when fellow clansman and cousin Connor (in a reprisal appearance by Christopher Lambert) warns of an immortal stalker on the loose. In case you’re rusty on your Highlander lore, one must suffer a mortal death before becoming elevated to an Immortal existence. Once Immortals, this race of beings cannot be killed unless their heads are severed from their bodies, thereby releasing the Quickening – the essence of the Immortal’s knowledge and power – to be absorbed by their assailant. As expected, Immortals are quite adept at swordplay and medieval martial arts, engaging in sensational battles on a regular basis. The reward for being the only surviving Immortal – The One – is that of ultimate power across time and space. Through this first season, Duncan, under the guise of an antique shop proprietor, meets up with other Immortals, as well as mortals, accompanied by his romantic interest Tessa Noel (Alexandra Vandernoot) and friend Richie Ryan (Stan Kirsch).

While some have complained the first season of ‘Highlander’ tended to drift a bit while seeking its ultimate niche, the upside here is how the hour-long television format allowed for a deeper exploration and development of the mythic existence and supposed history of Immortals. Moreover, this is where the Watchers are introduced – a clandestine group of men and women who monitor the actions of the Immortals among us. And though there is merit to the accusation that ‘Highlander’ struggled for about a dozen episodes before it found its ultimate pace and direction (clearly attempting to establish a reasonable transition from the events of the first film, stammering a bit at the outset), the eventual result is well worth the journey, culminating at the very tight and thoroughly engaging season finale.

As far as the acting goes, well, that’s a bit spotty through this first season. Adrian Paul, once becoming settled into his role, serves as the anchor to the rest of the cast (though the adopted Scottish accent does waver some). Regulars Vandernoot and Kirsch seem to struggle a bit more than Paul and, unfortunately, sometimes render the otherwise well-produced series of only "TV quality." The numerous guest actors who appear in the various episodes add continual variety and generally perform well in their roles.

Consuming eight full discs, these 22 episodes make for lengthy viewing, end to end. Presented in a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, matching the episodes’ original broadcast format, the image quality here looks reasonably good. Existing largely in the blue and green hues of the color wheel, the picture is quite lush, often vibrant. While black levels are deep and contrast remains quite consistent, the image suffers a bit of softness and sometimes fails to deliver the sort of crisp details to be expected of DVD. Not a bad presentation by any means yet nowhere near stellar quality.

The audio fares better here than did the video, the show’s original stereo track having been remixed into <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1. While most of the action is centered in the front channels, the rears are employed frequently to stretch the soundstage, most notably during the opening sequences when rock band Queen’s "Princes of the Universe" seems to emanate from all directions. The low-end channel isn’t terribly prolific yet roars into presence during the Quickening sequences. As a nice option, the show’s unaltered 2.0 stereo track can also be selected.

On the extras side, each episode includes a variety of menu-based features including interview segments with series Executive Producer William Panzer, accessed by clicking the little slate icon, in which he offers interesting insight and anecdotes of the production. Click the Watcher icon to access the Watcher Chronicles, a series of textual notes that offer biographical, historical, and trivia-based information. Finally, there’s a curious little "Q" icon that, when selected, will skip directly to the Quickening segment of each episode. Disc 8 of the set also includes additional extras beginning with an interesting 30-minute promotional presentation used for pitching the series. The video quality is rather substandard on this promo piece but it’s fun to watch, nonetheless. There’s also an entertaining 10-minute blooper reel that delivers some nice laughs. Lastly, Disc 9 is devoted entirely to CD-ROM content and is home to each of the 22 episodes’ shooting scripts. In all, it’s quite a bit of extra content that’s sure to please Highlander fans.

Lest it be overlooked, this slipcase edition is actually superior to the same content released exclusively at the Highlander web site in their limited edition keep case collection in 2001. Not only is this set contained in the space-conscious Digi-Pak packaging, it also includes a slick booklet not available in the limited set. And, as the limited edition set was also significantly more expensive than this Anchor Bay offering, this new release of ‘Highlander – Season One’ is clearly the best bet for all you aspiring Immortals.