What can one really say about the original Highlander? It’s a mediocre action flick about a group of immortals who swordfight. Only decapitation can kill them and the last one left alive wins “the prize” – “there can be only one.” In reality, the film doesn’t make much sense but is still entertaining, regardless of Christopher Lambert’s awful acting and the bad Queen soundtrack. Since I’ve summarized the film already in two sentences, I figure the best course of action is pointing out the film’s positives and negatives, of which there are many.
First off, the immortals, running around the world for centuries, will meet at a specific place eventually for the Quickening: the final showdown between them. Yet for centuries before the event, taking place in New York City, the immortals still go around decapitating each other. Why? Eventually the Quickening will happen, so why the unnecessary fighting? It doesn’t make sense. Also, at the end of the film, when Macleod finally wins the prize and becomes a god of sorts (“I know everything”), why are there multiple sequels and a television show? Are more immortals born afterwards? I never saw the sequels – content with the original film – so I can’t really say for sure, but the original Highlander seems like a self contained story. The film ends with Macleod becomes human, yet is “connected to all living things.” It’s convoluted and doesn’t make much sense. If he’s no longer immortal, but has the mental abilities of a deity, what’s the point? Isn’t immortality enough?
The film begins at a wrestling match, with Lambert sitting in the stands looking forlorn and mysterious. Amidst the screaming crowd he looks silly, sitting in a seat, detached from the rest of the world. I get the symbolism of this scene, but it just seems stupid. First off, why would anybody centuries old find solace at a wrestling match? The basest of American activities isn’t really even filled with your average people (actually containing mostly sub-humans) and it seems like the filmmakers were with pro wrestling, which was at its peak in the mid 1980s. Macleod then enters the parking lot, where he fights another immortal, who looks like an investment banker. The cinematography and choreography for this scene is really well done, probably the best in the film, and the use of shadows and falling water (from a busted sprinkler) give the scene a certain ambiance that makes it work. Unlike later fight scenes, which seem contrived, this introductory scene is really well put together and sets up the rest of the film, which unfortunately doesn’t live up to the hype. Eventually Macleod wins, assuming his opponents life-force or something after the battle. It’s pretty silly when you think about it.
Macleod’s narrative moves between the present and the past, showing his life over the centuries and where he is now. We’re privy to the events of his early years, during colonial times, and during World War II, where he saves a little girl who eventually becomes his personal assistant in the present. After his first wife he never loves again, or at least not until the film’s conclusion when he gets together with an investigative reporter he falls for rather quickly. Will his children, which he’s excited he can now have, be immortal or have his powers or will they be regular humans? I’m not certain the sequels address these issues, instead focusing on the swordfights.
By far the most amusing part of the film is Ramirez (Sean Connery), an extremely old immortal who trains Macleod. Ramirez teaches Macleod the ancient “art” of sword fighting, the film’s mythology, and other such things. Eventually Ramirez meets his demise at the hands of Kurgan (Clancey Brown), in a not-so epic swordfight that destroys Macleod’s giant castle. Eventually Kurgan and Macleod meet, starting their epic battle on a rooftop and ending it inside a building. Ramirez’s portion of the film is interesting, since he’s such an old immortal whose travels are extensive and fascinating. He’s worked for kings, emperors, wealthy dignitaries, and so forth. I’m told the second Highlander focuses on his more but I’ve also heard it’s one of the worst films ever made; I doubt I’ll check it out.
Clancy Brown’s portrayal of Kurgan is another fun part of the film. He appears in the film’s beginning as a monstrous knight with a skull helmet and later dresses as a pseudo punk rocker, intimidating hotel managers, the elderly, and vigilantes. His antics are comical, especially a church scene where he intimidates a priest, licking his hand and delivers an irreverent monologue. His punk attire is ridiculous and another instance of the filmmakers’ idiocy. Since their reverence for professional wrestling already signifies this, it’s no wonder they portray punk rock in such a fraudulent fashion. Luckily Brown brings sincerity to the role that transcends the stereotypes his embodies, making me forget the filmmakers’ errors when crafting this film.
In short, Highlander is stupid. It’s fun at times and entertaining, but it’s a moronic film. I know hordes of people like it, especially because of the syndicated series featuring Adrian Paul, but it’s a pretty silly film. The movie’s mythology is more interesting than the execution, which unfortunately doesn’t carry a film. If only the film’s plotline equaled its mythology Highlander would succeed. However, this fatal flaw reduces Highlander to B-movie status and allows other films with similar back stories the chance to overtake it. Maybe somebody will reinvent the franchise and breathe some decent life into it, erasing the foibles the original Highlander contains while keeping the mythology alive.
Here’s the trailer