Thursday, April 12, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Highlander (1986)

When I was in middle school, I enjoyed watching Sci-Fi Channel re-runs of Highlander: The Series. The show features Adrian Paul as Duncan MacLeod, an immortal Scotsman who must battle other immortals for "The Prize." Highlander: The Series is actually a sequel to the 1986 film Highlander, in which Christopher Lambert plays Connor MacLeod, a similar character.

(Connor is from the same family, but from a couple generations back. The opening episode of the television series features him intervening on behalf of Duncan when the latter, who has abandoned pursuit of "The Prize" to live a quiet and normal life, is attacked by the evil immortal Slan Quince.)

I also taped (yes, on a VHS tape) Highlander on USA Network's Joe Bob Briggs' MonsterVision program and enjoyed it, even though Briggs mocked the movie's ponderous terminology ("the Quickening and the Gathering and the roaming and the gloaming"). The medieval incarnation of the villainous Kurgan (Clancy Brown) is the inspiration for the appearance of Grendel, the first lord of the Northlands and antagonist of my as-yet-unpublished steampunk-Western Battle for the Wastelands. And of course, the opening song by Queen is awesome. So when the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood picked the movie, I was eager to participate.

Here's the podcast. Now for the review...

The Plot

Connor MacLeod is a young man in medieval Scotland who is mortally wounded on the battlefield by a barbarian mercenary known only as the Kurgan. He recovers miraculously, but is cast out by his superstitious kinsmen. He soon encounters the Spaniard Ramirez (Sean Connery), who was actually born thousands of years before in ancient Egypt. Ramirez introduces him to the secret world of the immortals, who are destined to someday be called to "a distant land" for the time of "The Gathering," where they will behead each other until one wins "The Prize."

Mishaps ensue, and we catch up to Connor years later in 1980s New York City. His taking the head of another immortal attracts the attention of police forensic scientist Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart). Unfortunately, it is also the time of the Gathering, and the Kurgan is still alive and ready to claim the Prize.

The Good

*The movie is never boring. I watched it on my Kindle (via an Amazon "movie rental") on the elliptical at my gym (much like I did with Tomb Raider for an earlier episode) and an hour went by pretty quickly.

*The aging and death of Connor's medieval wife Heather while he stays young, all set to "Who Wants to Live Forever," is legitimately poignant. No wonder Ramirez advises him to leave her for her own sake, especially since she seems to blame herself for their not having children. For the record, it's part of the mythology that immortals are sterile.

*The version I saw seemed to be an extended version which included just who Rachel, who seems to be Connor's modern-day assistant, is. When I first saw the movie I thought he might be Connor's modern lover who he intends to leave for someone new as soon as she ages to the point the age difference starts getting noticeable (which would make Connor a gigantic asshole--per one of the graphic novels, even the dastardly Adam Monroe from Heroes pretended to be his wife's son and then grandson until she passed, and Connor himself did that for Heather), but the version I saw revealed that Rachel was a little girl he'd rescued from the Nazis and kind of adopted. It also makes it clearer that Heather's death has traumatized Connor so much that he's abandoned any effort at romantic relationships, as Ramirez had advised him to do.

*Brenda Wyatt is a very active female character--she becomes interested in Connor after the police investigate the opening battle in Madison Square Garden and investigates him on her own even though the police seem to give up on investigating Connor for the other immortal's death. She even sets up a date with him and sets up a tape recorder recording and stashes a gun just in case in order to find out more. She also searches the archives for information on Nash and the owner of his house. She's also very interested in ancient sword-making, which is what clued her into his immortal nature in the first place. Some shrinking violet she is not.

*The vile Kurgan gets some interesting character development in the modern day--he has a rather twisted sense of humor, which he gets to indulge in without consequence owing to his immortality.

The Bad

*One wonders if Christopher Lambert, born to French parents and having grown up in Switzerland (and thus having a very French-sounding accent), was the best choice to play the Scottish Connor. Although one could imagine him adopting a different accent and mannerisms over the course of centuries of life, he doesn't seem too different in medieval Scotland as he does in 1980s New York City.

Sean Connery's Ramirez, who was born in ancient Egypt but is living as a Spaniard in medieval times, is even more blatant. It's my understanding that ancient Egyptians were a Semitic people like Jews or Arabs; although there might be exceptional-looking individuals like Ramesses II who was apparently a fair-skinned redhead, I imagine Ramirez would be more Jewish or Arabic-looking than the Scottish Sean Connery. Omar Sharif might have been a more sensible and equally commercially-viable alternative--take a look at his character in the 1980 Chevy Chase film Oh Heavenly Dog or in the 1986 Peter the Great miniseries. He even kind of looks like Sean Connery.

*Lambert's delivery in many cases, especially when he seems to be trying to assume a Scottish accent, isn't very good.

*When Ramirez battles the Kurgan in medieval Scotland, he has several chances to take his head but doesn't do so. That weakens both characters--it makes the Kurgan seem less dangerous and makes Ramirez, who is over 2,000 years old and has been doing the whole "battle other immortals for their heads" thing the whole time, seem less competent. The filmmakers missed a chance to make the Kurgan seem truly deadly, as befitting the man whom Ramirez claims is the strongest immortal.

*Wyatt's discovery of Connor's immortality basically requires him to have been living in New York City continuous for over 200 years--or at the very least returning to the same house after years- or decades-long gaps. That doesn't reflect well on Connor's intelligence--even with the kind of turnover pre-modern disease-ridden cities had, surely someone might notice. And that assumes nobody pays too close attention to ownership records.

*I don't get the romance that develops between Connor and Brenda. Connor's will to never repeat what happened with Heather might be starting to crack after 400-odd years of not being in a serious relationship and he might glom onto an attractive woman pursuing him, but Brenda seems to be motivated more by intellectual curiosity than love or even desire.

*How on Earth can Brenda afford such a gigantic New York City apartment on the salary of a police forensics official, even with some extra income from her books on sword-making? At least in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it was made clear April was living above the store she inherited from her father and owned property outside of the city as well, which perhaps she made additional income renting out. Maybe Brenda's living in New Jersey or somewhere else outside of New York City proper, since it takes some time for her to get back into the city the last time we see her in it. This article from Cracked.com of all places shows that Hollywood often misrepresents just how expensive housing is.

*When an immortal character is killed, monsters and demons and what not appear in his Quickening. In previous Quickenings, it seems to be just lightning everywhere. Not really sure what was going on there.

The Verdict

A pretty good movie, but could be better in many ways. 8.0 out of 10, but barely.

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