Highlander [retro review]

highlander“There can only be one!”

The Scoop: 1986 R, directed by Russell Mulcahy and starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery and Roxanne Hart

Tagline: He fought his first battle on the Scottish Highlands in 1536. He will fight his greatest battle on the streets of New York City in 1986. His name is Connor MacLeod. He is immortal.

Summary Capsule: Immortal swordsmen battle it out over time and dialogue.

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Kyle’s Rating: In the end, there can only be one . . . Highlander movie!

Kyle’s Review: I was told once by a wise mentor that while the Highlander sequels are to be avoided (and his updated wisdom includes the recent Highlander: Endgame and the television series as well) the original Highlander is worth a look. You know what? He’s absolutely correct. Thank you, brother Mike!

True be told, I saw Highlander back in the day when I was a wee tyke. My response was typical for a young boy: I didn’t dig the mushy romance stuff but I knew anything that involved swords and decapitations was to be revered, so I immediately bought out my local junk store of those $1 plastic ninja swords, proclaimed myself a Highlander and went around figuratively cutting off the head of everything I could (lawn gnomes, pets, parents, friends, unsuspecting neighbors, flower beds, fences, trucks, teachers, trees) and then faking a grand mal seizure as I collected the Quickening energy of these fallen immortals. It was a good life. Good enough.

Now I’m grown up, and ironically I live in Highland, CA, making me a Highlander of sorts. I still have a plastic katana in its, uh, purple plastic sheath that I keep next to my bookcase, and every time I pick it up I have to do a Lambert impression (“There can only be one!” in that never-to-be-replicated-again accent of his) and try out some moves. I recently rented Highlander to see if it lived up to my childhood memories, and I’ll be a son of a gun because it did!

In case you missed it the first time around, Highlander follows a contest that exists between the immortals; people that looks just like you and I and move among us in the world, only they will live forever or until a fellow immortal cuts off their head. See, a person doesn’t know they are an immortal until they die for the first time, then they surprise everyone around them a day or so later when they pop out of their coffin none the worse for wear. Christopher Lambert is a Scottish Highlander in the 1500’s who is just doing his thing, fighting with his clan against enemies in big swords duels and stuff, when one day he dies. End of the movie, right? Dammit, didn’t you read anything the rest of this paragraph?

That’s right, Lambert gets better the next day and gets driven out of his home, he rebuilds his life and finds a hot blonde to marry and then Sean Connery comes along to fill him like I did with you guys: Hey, you’re an immortal, you can’t die unless you lose your head, and apparently it’s an immortal’s thing to play around with swords (what would Freud say?). Well, the sword thing is kinda justified by the fact that the destinies of all immortals are irrevocably tied together. See, it is the fate of the immortals to fight each other over the centuries until there is only one left, and then when there is only one the “winner” will received the Prize. Sounds cool, eh? I know, it’s like “hey, sign me up!”

Anyway, Connery convinces Lambert that even though some day one of them may have to take the other’s head, it’s important for Connery to train Lambert so that if it ever comes down to one of them versus the Kurgan (Clancy Brown), it won’t be the Kurgan walking away with the prize. That’s because whatever the prize is, if the ultra-evil Kurgan wins it mankind will be screwed. And that was in the 1500’s; now it’s present day and it’s down to a handful of immortals left and everything is pointing towards the final showdown to be between the Kurgan and Lambert. Can the good immortal win, or will mankind be grabbing its ankles for unbeatable evil? Watch Highlander and find out!

This is a real jewel in the rough, a renegade production that is so firmly entrenched in 80’s style yet manages to be so unique and compelling that you can watch it over and over. The movie takes place in modern day yet flashbacks over the last 500 years comprise an important element of the plot. However, it’s always clear when you’re in a flashback and the way you slowly learn more and more information from the combination of the past and present is really cool. There is a love story or two thrown in for flavor and to keep your girlfriend quiet there isn’t much blood anywhere, so don’t hesitate to choose this as your Friday night date movie. This a great movie!

The plotting is cool (though you’d think any and all immortals would have more dealings with the law over the years, you know, with all the cutting off of heads they all do), the mood is dark and cramped in the city scenes and wide open and sprawling in the Scottish scenes, and all of the actors do a great job. Christopher Lambert has never been better than as Connor MacLeod, the tortured immortal who longs for the game to be over. Sean Connery is pretty cool as Ramirez, Connor’s mentor, and Brown is downright creepy as the barbaric Kurgan. If you haven’t seen Highlander or you haven’t seen it in a while, get some friends together and see it again! Then, when it’s over, grin at your friends and bust out the plastic ninja swords! Remember: in the end, there can only be one!

"Repeat after me: Every Higlander dies.  Mostly.  But not every Highlander lives.  Mostly."

"Repeat after me: Every Higlander dies. Mostly. But not every Highlander lives. Mostly."

Intermission!

  • MacLeod says “It’s a kind of magic”, which is the name of the Queen album which contains songs from the film. The Vietnam vet who tries to machine-gun Kurgan has the Queen song “Hammer to Fall” playing in his car.
  • The castle where Connor MacLeod lived is the same castle used for the interior shots for Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
  • Non-American versions of this film include a WWII flashback sequence showing MacLeod rescuing Rachael, where he tells her “It’s a kind of magic”.
  • The castle the MacLeods leave in early scenes is Eilean Donnan, or MacRae castle. Above the door is a plaque which read “Whenever there is a MacRae inside there will never be a Fraser outside.” And they are going to battle with the Frasers.
  • The vigilante drives a 1977 Firebird, which soon turns into a 1979 Firebird.
  • The opening scene is said to take place at Madison Square Garden in New York City, but all scenes of the wrestling match take place in the Brendan Byrne Arena (now known as the Continental Airlines Arena) located in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
  • The Masamune sword that Connor wields is not historically accurate in several ways. First, the Masamune swords (by the legends) are “katsujinken,” swords to preserve life and protect. Yet Connor is using it as a “satsujinken,” a sword merely for killing. By the legends, the Masamune blades would have resisted such attempts. Second, katana are always made in two parts (a core and the outer shell) so that the forces caused by rapidly changing the direction of the blade will not snap it. This sword is talked about as being folded steel, which would indicate that it is solid the whole way through. The hilt is also a wonderful dramatic piece, with no historical reason for existence. The grip on that sword lends itself to slipping out of one’s hands if they are in the least bit wet.
  • Kurgan falls through several floors of castle and survives. Yet Ramirez accepts being decapitated, rather than jumping off the staircase and retrieving his sword.
  • Christopher Lambert spent time with a dialogue coach, developing an accent which sounded non-specifically foreign.

Groovy Quotes

Ramirez: [narrating] From the dawn of time we came; moving silently down through the centuries, living many secret lives, struggling to reach the time of the Gathering; when the few who remain will battle to the last. No one has ever known we were among you… until now.

Connor: You’re a liar!
Ramirez: You have the manners of a goat. And you smell like a dung-heap! And you have no knowledge whatsoever of your potential!

Connor MacLeod: I am Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I was born in 1518 in the village of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel. And I am immortal.

[Just before the MacLeod clan goes to war]
Kate: Angus, you’ll keep him in one piece, ya hear?
Dugal MacLeod: And we all know what piece that is!

Connor MacLeod: I’ve been alive for four and a half centuries, and I cannot die.
Brenda: Well, everyone has got their problems.

Connor MacLeod: There can be only one!

Sunda Kastagir: Macleod, it’s good to see you again. It seems like a hundred years.
Connor MacLeod: It’s been a hundred years.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Highlander 2: The Quickening (or the Renegade Version)
  • Highlander: Endgame
  • Fortress
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5 Comments

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