Do you have to be a nerd to enjoy a fantasy action-adventure flick like Russell Mulcahy's 'Highlander'? No, not really — not any more than it would take to enjoy 'Conan the Barbarian,' 'The Beastmaster,' or 'Krull.' Or at least, that's what I keep telling myself every time I watch the movie with delight and enthusiasm. In all honesty, it doesn't hurt to possess a slight nerdish quality to really get into this movie. It helps to enjoy sword-fighting in modern day New York — or even sword-fighting in general, just not the LARP type. It helps, actually, for following the fast-paced editing, the moving back-and-forth in time, and the choppy narrative that make up this 1986 cult favorite.
The plot and story are so wildly fantastical and unique that it's really a movie which takes some warming up to. Basically, the appeal and charm of 'Highlander' is best appreciated after a couple viewings. That and it's automatically cool just because Sean Connery is in it . . . with a katana. How many movies feature a Scottish actor playing the role of a 2,000-year-old Egyptian immortal from Spain who travels to Scotland and teaches a highlander sword-fighting? Or how about an American-born French actor in Christopher Lambert who plays a nearly 500-year Scotsman living the rest of his days in New York? Oh, and then we have a 3,000-year-old Russian, the Kurgan (Clancy Brown), played by an American.
When we look at it like that, what's not to love in a film about a secret society of immortals caught in a cryptic game that involves something called a Quickening and a mysterious prize. Then when there are only a few left (they can, by the way, die via decapitation), the mystifying warriors clash in one final struggle called the Gathering. According to the text at the beginning, these brave champions, these fearless titans, have lived amongst us in secret throughout the centuries. So secretly that even they don't know they're immortal, like our hero Connor MacLeod. And this is where our story comes in because a nosy forensics expert Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart) pretty much stumbles onto their existence.
Suddenly, the idea of being a bit of nerd is creeping up again. But truth is I just enjoy these sorts of imaginative fantasy actioners from the 80s — 'Legend,' 'Flash Gordon,' and 'Dragonslayer' are another group of movies that come to mind. Of course, I can also admit that 'Highlander' comes with a few drawbacks and it's far from faultless. Russell Mulcahy tried to use his experience as a music video director to influence the overall look and feel of the movie. And in some ways it does look sorta cool, with the erratic edits and strange camera angles giving it a flashy, gloomy, fast-paced swagger. Unfortunately, the narrative also moves with such quickness that it becomes somewhat difficult to keep up with certain plot points. Added to that, there are times when the audience isn't too sure when the film is meant to be taken seriously and journeys into camp.
But all things considered, 'Highlander' remains a fun and imaginative fantasy-action feature. While so many other films of the period heavily situated their stories in far-away, whimsical lands, Mulcahy takes a chance with a swashbuckling plot set in modern-day New York and brings everything to a head in loud, spectacular, and satisfying fashion. This 1986 cult favorite remains good entertainment for a lazy Saturday afternoon.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
LionsGate Home Entertainment brings 'Highlander' to Blu-ray as the Director's Cut, similar to the DVD version released by Anchor Bay. The BD50, Region Free disc is housed in a blue eco-keepcase. At startup, viewers are greeted with previews for other catalog titles from the studio as well as the theatrical trailer for the upcoming Blu-ray 'The Expendables.' Afterwards, we find the standard set of menu options engraved on the MacLeod long sword.
The difference between the theatrical version and the Director's Cut is about five minutes of footage only available for years in the European market. The changes are not significant enough to alter the film, but the added scenes will be noticeable to fans. Most obvious is a flashback to World War II where we see Connor meet Rachel for the first time and the final battle with the Kurgan has been extended. The funniest sequences are a longer sex scene with Brenda and the fight in the parking garage now shows Fasil doing backflips.
'Highlander' arrives to Blu-ray with a rather nice-looking 1080p/VC-1 encode (1.85:1) that will impress fans but won't make any waves when compared to other catalog titles. The picture shows plenty of great, even somewhat excellent high-def moments with terrific definition of the finer objects and textures. The transfer can be so good sometimes that in certain scenes we can clearly see the make-up work on the Kurgan and the strings at the end.
Contrast falls slightly on the lower end, but it's mostly well-balanced and satisfying. Although details are often obscured by dark, murky shadows, which is disappointing, blacks are accurate and attractive for the majority of the presentation. The movie has always displayed a heavy grain structure, and it's noticeably intact here, giving the image an enjoyable film-like quality. Primaries are bright and bold while the other hues are pleasant and true. Flesh tones appear natural and healthy. Only other nitpicks — besides delineation — is with consistency, as the picture frequently loses resolution and regularly softens. Otherwise, this 80s cult favorite looks quite good for its age.
'Highlander' also arrives with a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that's about equal with the picture quality. Aside from some obvious ADR issues, vocals are clean and intelligible, except for a couple really loud action scenes that overwhelm the dialogue just a tad. The design has been opened up to spread across the soundstage, with Michael Kamen's score and Queen's songs benefitting the most from the higher resolution. There are times when the music even bleeds into the rears along with some choice discrete effects, but much of this doesn't feel natural or convincing. In fact, the lossless mix as a whole displays strong fidelity and clarity in the action, but everything in the mid-range generally feels hollow and weirdly barren while low bass does little to add weight during action sequences. The problem likely comes from trying to expand the original stereo track for modern home theater systems. Whatever the case, 'Highlander' doesn't sound all that bad on Blu-ray, but it's not great either.
Strangely, this 'Highlander' Director's Cut Blu-ray comes with a puny assortment of special features. Most disappointing is the Queen music videos from the Immortal Edition not being included in this package.
Russell Mulcahy's 'Highlander' is a fantasy action flick featuring Sean Connery as an immortal. Set in modern-day New York, the story is a swords-and-sorcery type that was popular at the time and displays a unique visual style that still looks kinda cool. However, the choppy narrative through the ages can be rather difficult to follow and holds the movie back from reaching its full potential. Still, the cult favorite remains a fun and entertainment watch for fans. The picture quality of the Blu-ray shows a clear upgrade from previous editions, but it's not all that consistent or impressive. The audio also feels a bit strained and hollow, yet it's a nice improvement. The supplements are definitely a disappointment, which will make fans hesitant. Overall, it's not a bad package, but I can't help feel that it could have been better.