“There can be only one” is the catchphrase uttered by centuries-straddling, sword-wielding immortals once they have despatched their competition through beheading. That motto could easily be applicable to the quality control of a film series which spawned a deeply inferior, needlessly retconned sequel, further lacklustre follow ups, a bizarre kids cartoon series and two insipid cheapo TV spin-offs. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the original and by far the greatest in the Highlander franchise has been duly given a 4K touch up and boy, does it look good. The two disc set is comprised of both older DVD special features and new material, although it’s the film’s pristine presentation which will be the most alluring pull for fans.
In a modern era where fantasy cinema is almost exclusively derived from established material, be it remake, sequel or literary adaptation, it’s hard to imagine a film like Highlander being green-lit today. This is a completely original product, and that’s precisely why the film has enjoyed longevity. The Joseph Campbell template is certainly adhered to and creator Gregory Widen spins a fun mythology with the kind of loopy premise that somehow works despite the many inconsistencies it throws up (for instance, why do the immortals vary in age?) Of course, having the tricky exposition delivered by the authoritative and regal inflections of Sean Connery’s seasoned Egyptian-Spaniard warrior certainly helps. Perhaps it was this mystical mentor figure which inspired Peter Jackson to (unsuccessfully) seek out the actor for the role of Gandalf.
It’s also a nifty narrative device of having the back story and origins of protagonist Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) play out during his adventures in 1980’s New York. Director Russell Mulcahy’s transitions are still hugely inventive and awe-inspiring, even in the thirty years since where seemingly every visual trick in the book has been exhausted several times over. Having a camera smoothly glide from a (then) contemporary urban car park to the mud-encrusted battlegrounds of 16 th century Scotland is still pretty exciting to behold. There’s something refreshingly quaint about watching that initial Celtic skirmish in a CGI age, where a handful of revved-up extras are utilised instead of a huge legion being artificially pasted in there.
Unsurprisingly the film has dated a little and that pompous dry-ice 80s aesthetic is sometimes achingly on-the-nose (although MacLeod’s ridiculously sumptuous townhouse apartment-cum- museum of his extensive life is a lovely character touch). The film also loses momentum when the flashbacks have ended, and what essentially remains is a damsel in distress tale. However, it’s still an immensely entertaining slice of sword and sorcery hokum, right through to the stunningly OTT final face-off between MacLeod and his arch enemy, the Kurgan (Clancy Brown is just as formidable as you remember him to be in the role). Highlander is the visual counterpart to rock band Queen (who supply a number of songs on the soundtrack) – big, brash and operatic filmmaking of the highest order.
Adam Lowes | @adlow76