The year was 1986, things were different, big hair, large shoulder-pads in your clothes and the top three highest grossing movies of the year were: 1) Top Gun, 2) Crocodile Dundee and 3) The Karate Kid Part II.
What then, inspired a newly graduated writer to put pen to paper and create a movie about immortality and being chased down through time by someone wanting to chop off your head? Well, that man was Gregory Widen and you can hear all about how he came to get Highlander from pen to screen in this new, 4k UHD release.
On a personal level I have strange memories attached to Highlander. Because the sequels (1991 and 1994) came out when I was still at high school, there was a certain buzz about the whole franchise, but more than that, one of my friends became very obsessed with the whole thing.
What do I mean by obsessed? Well, he bought a sword, similar to the one Christopher Lambert wields in the movie (and was given a telling off from police when they pulled him over and it was in the boot of his car!) but more than that, he believed he was an immortal.
Even at the time this was weird, but now, looking back, I realise not only was it weird, it also misses the point of the whole premise of Highlander. If he had been an immortal, he would have had a deep-voiced Clancy Brown chasing him through time, wanting to chop his head off!
Anyway, I digress, Highlander didn’t exactly set the box office alight on its release, winding up 109th on the 1986 box office charts, behind the likes of “My Little Pony: The Movie” and “Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation”.
However, it didn’t take long for the movie to gain a cult following that resulted in not just the two sequels but also a 111 episode TV series with Adrian Paul taking the role of Duncan MacLeod.
But back to this release, which sees the original movie given the 4k UHD treatment, which is perfectly fine. I always remember the movie being a little ‘grainy’ and dark, so it doesn’t come out anywhere near as crisp and clean as modern movies in 4k, but it cleans up well.
The movie sees Connor MacLeod, Christopher Lambert (“Hail, Caesar!”, “NCIS: Los Angeles (TV)”), discovering he is immortal with a little help from Ramirez, a post James Bond Sean Connery. So that’s a Swiss-French-American playing a Scot and a Scot playing a Spaniard, got that? Good.
MacLeod lives for centuries and we witness, in jarring and sudden flashback, some parts of the many lives he has lived. This also includes his first meeting with Kurgan, Clancy Brown (“The Shawshank Redemption”, “Starship Troopers”), on the battlefields of Scotland in 1536.
Kurgan is an angry immortal, whilst some are happy to live out their immortal lives and not, you know, chop each others heads off, even be friendly, Kurgan wants to play the game, he wants to be the ‘only one’ and he has his sights set firmly on MacLeod for some reason.
This being the eighties then we get a training montage between MacLeod and Ramirez, which has some fun moments, though it’s never quite clear exactly why Ramirez has decided to train him, I’m sure it’s in there somewhere, just never leaps out at me each time I watch the movie.
We then fast forward a few years to eighties New York where Kurgan has tracked MacLeod down and wants his head. MacLeod meanwhile, now an antiques dealer, has Brenda Wyatt, Roxanne Hart (“Letters From Iwo Jima”, “Chicago Hope (TV)”), a tenacious sword lover who works with the police, to deal with as she begins to learn his secret.
All of this culminates in a final epic battle scene between the two immortals, the winner’s head stays on.
Throughout the movie the music of Queen powers through, the band reeling somewhat after working on Flash Gordon were sent a rough cut of the movie to convince them to provide the soundtrack, Brian May in particular apparently being very keen.
Directorial duties went to Australian Russell Mulcahy who, from the mid seventies, had been making music videos for the likes of Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Duran Duran, Bonnie Tyler, Spandau Ballet, Falco, Go West, I mean, pretty much everyone.
You may think this was a gamble, and it probably was, but it was one that paid off. Mulcahy’s directing is a joy to behold, particularly the transitional shots he uses which have been copied many times since, though arguably never bettered. The opening aerial shot, in a time pre-drones don’t forget, is a marvel.
The same can’t be said of the special effects which were all done ‘in camera’ so, at times, can have a very ‘Disney Fantasia’ feel to them, they’re certainly of their time.
As for extras, you get a documentary with the surviving cast and crew talking about the making of the movie and how it came about, for instance, that Lambert couldn’t speak much English when he took the part so was learning on set.
There’s a featurette on the soundtrack of the movie and how Michael Kamen worked along with Queen for the soundtrack. There’s an with photographer David James, one with Clancy Brown who talks about his time on Highlander and then audio commentary with: author Jon Melville or with Russell Mulcahy or with William Panzer and Bill Davis.
Should your purchase Highlander 4K UHD Collector’s Edition, which will be released on October 31st 2022, you’ll also get brand-new artwork from celebrated artist Matt Ferguson, a 64-page booklet, prequel comic #1 Way of the Sword, a set of badges, art cards and a poster.
31st October 2022
THE QUICK SELL
The cult eighties classic Highlander gets the full 4k UHD treatment bringing the immortals and that epic Queen soundtrack right to your living room setups.