Highlander: The Immortal Edition

Highlander: The Immortal Edition (1986)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Sean Connery, Christopher Lambert
Extras: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailers, Talent Bios, Poster and Still Gallery, Music Video, DVD-ROM, Weblinks, Queen CD

There’s a reason why "Highlander II: The Quickening", "Highlander III: The Sorcerer", "Highlander: EndGame", "Highlander the TV series" and "Highlander The Animation series" exists. And the reason is – "Highlander: The Immortal", written by Gregory Widen and directed by Russell Mulcahy. It’s the movie that started this ‘cultish’ following and it is, by far, the one that outshines the others.

This is one of the few DVDs that I’ve purchased where I’ve slipped it into my player as soon as I could. It still maintains its appeal as it did 16 years ago! Watch it – watch it – watch it! Okay, maybe I’m a bit biased since it was one of my favorite movies as I ventured out of my teen years, but it is still so damn entertaining and ‘smart’! You even get to see good old "007" in some funny Spanish garb! The music by Queen is rockin’ memorable and the story was filled with both action and heartfelt romance.

Highlander is about an immortal, Conner MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), a Scotsman who discovers he can’t be killed after being mortally wounded in battle. His friends, family and lover, believe him to be the devil and he is brutally banished from his clan and village in the 1500s. Five years after he is banished, he falls in love with Heather (Beatie Edney) and watches her grow old as he stays young — never letting go of his love for her. He promises to light a candle for her every year on her birthday. This subplot, along with Queen’s music, is one of the resonating emotions that this film has successfully carried for 16 years.

Conner is trained by an Egyptian swordsman, Juan Ramirez (Sean Connery), in order to face a Russian monster, Kurgan, who’s race would throw children into a pit of hungry dogs to fight for food – if that doesn’t make you want to watch the movie I don’t know what will. Ramirez becomes Conner’s mentor and prepares him for the fate of his future and the future of mankind. Kurgan and Ramirez duel in a bloody battle and Kurgan finally ends up cutting off Ramirez’s head – reminiscent of the Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader scene in the original Star Wars.

We catch up to MacLeod 400+ years later in modern day New York (1986) where he meets the remaining Immortals that have come together for "The Gathering". It is at this "Gathering" where the last of the Immortals battle with swords in order to claim "The Prize." The catch is… you must cut off your opponent’s head and be the sole survivor to be awarded "The Prize" – mortality and the ability to read thoughts of others. "There can be only one!"

Director Russell Mulcahy and writer Gregory Widen worked well to capture the pain and suffering of an Immortal. Much like a vampire but more human than a creature of the night. It’s a being capable of pain and love. A person dwelling in the past, who carries the load of the future and the world on his shoulders – literally. He’s driven, like all Immortals, to one day face their biggest challenge – "The Gathering"

It seems Connor MacLeod may not have the physical or emotional strength to beat his arch nemesis played by Clancy Brown as Kurgan. When MacLeod learns, after many centuries, that Kurgan raped Heather, we know he now has the determination and willpower to destroy Kurgan! The final confrontation is not as climactic as the plot builds it up to be but is a nice showdown of Hero vs Villain and the emotional subplot of romance wraps up well with Connor being able to fall in love again.

The opening sequence of this film and the editing is excellent. It goes between a wrestling match and MacLeod’s inner thoughts of his past and a big battle on the fields of Scotland. The juxtaposition of scenes reflects one another so brilliantly it is masterful and overlooked by most viewers. The transitions from past to present are well constructed in order to tell us back-story and prepare us for the final confrontation between Connor and Kurgan. The landscaped scenes of the 1500s aren’t as breathtaking as "Braveheart" but hold their own in this mini-epic. The overall story has holes in it (which I wasn’t completely aware of when I previewed the film several years ago) but is strong enough to hold your interest.

I was a bit disappointed in the quality of the transfer at first glance. Highlander is presented in a 1.85:1 in an <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer that is far from pristine. Compared to the previous release from Republic/Artisan, which presented viewers with a washed out, muddied print that was excessively riddled by compression artifacts throughout, this version is a revelation however. The problem is that the original film stock of "Highlander" is very grainy and it is reflected in the transfer on this DVD. It is an authentic transfer in that respect, but may disappoint a few viewers who are used to seeing the grainless footage of modern movies. Compared to today’s film making standards, you may consider Highlander a very low-budgeted film and the film transfer shows that.

Audio comes in the form of an English <$DTS,DTS>-ES, and a <$DD,Dolby Digital> EX track, as well as <$DS,Dolby Surround> tracks in English and French. The soundtrack featuring music by Queen livens up the presentation and an accompanying CD with 3 songs adds to this blast from the past.

The Box Set is in a special tin slipcase which features the DVD <$PS,widescreen> presentation that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs, Commentary/Multi-Audio by director Russell Mulcahy and producers Peter Davis and William Panzer; Queen music videos; Queen still gallery; Theatrical trailers; Poster and still gallery; DVD-ROM links; Bonus Queen companion CD featuring songs "Princess of the Universe," "One Year of Love" and "Friends Will Be Friends."

The DVD also includes footage that was not included in the American release of the film. From Mulcahy’s commentary he states that this footage was extremely important for the story. It was in the original script, taken out of the script then shot after production. He then added it to the foreign release of the film and did not add it to the American release. The scene is back-story relating to MacLeod’s secretary, Rachel (Shiela Gish). It does answer some odd questions about their relationship but takes you completely away from the real story line. The subtext and the ambiguous relationship he has with Rachel is stronger when we don’t have all the answers. Leaving out this scene makes the flow of the story more acceptable. If you’ve seen or are familiar with the original version of the film, this scene will jump right out at you.

If you’re in your 20s, you may not appreciate the songs written and performed by Queen. But this stuff is such an integral part of what makes this movie a necessity in my DVD library! You may find some ‘campy-ness’ in the film and some forced ‘tongue in cheek’ dialogue. Heck… it’s an 80s film! But overall, you’ll enjoy this action packed story! It’s… "a kind of magic!"

There is "Highlander: The Immortal", then "Highlander II: The Quickening" and finally "Highlander III: The Sorcerer". All star Christopher Lambert and available on DVD. Highlander is epic and a must see! The later two, three, or ten I won’t touch with a 10 foot Japanese samurai sword folded over 200 times!