Revisiting 'Highlander 2,' the sequel to the 80s cult favorite with the tagline "There can be only one," I tend to share the same sentiments as one of our forum members David Sambrook, aka DaveS1138: "There really should have been only one." That's as honest and forthright a reaction to Russell Mulcahy's follow-up as anyone could express. It's to the point, clear-cut, and goes straight to the heart of what's wrong with this movie. It simply should not have been made, or at least, not made into the incomprehensible and rather embarrassing disaster that was shown in theaters. I still recall watching it at an early matinee, when prices were more affordable, and leaving confused and angered by the whole thing. Heck, there were even stories of Mulcahy walking out of his own film during the premiere!
That's right. Rumors were circulating that the movie was so bad the director stood up in the middle of it and walked to the nearest exit. It almost doesn't matter if the stories were true! And as the saying goes, "The proof is in the pudding." What was seen in theaters was a head-scratching mess about the ozone layer disappearing in 1999 and Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) with a team of scientists constructing an electromagnetic shield to protect the planet. Somewhere between that time and 2024, a terrorist group led by Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen) plots to bring down the corporation in charge of the Shield. Nearly forty years after the events of part one, MacLeod is now an old man in a future that looks much like the 1940s.
Now, that's just the setting, essential to understanding the stuff we really want to watch: the swordplay between immortals! Sadly, we are not given much of that. Instead, what we do have is an absurd and laughable backstory that really ruins the entire 'Highlander' mythos. It's something strange about immortals originally being from planet Zeist and sentenced to Earth in pursuit of the Prize: to live as mortals on Earth or return home. The idea was that Ramirez (Sean Connery) and MacLeod were part of a rebellion against General Katana's (Michael Ironside) dictatorship. When caught, they were punished. Hence, the first film is fully explained — we now know why they exist.
Well, if that's all there is to it, then I'd much prefer not knowing, thank you very much. But, no. Somewhere in all this, an unsatisfied Katana wants to finish the job when MacLeod is living as if with one foot in the grave. For crying out loud, the man practically looks like he's already set his funeral arrangements! So why in the world travel to Earth and give him the chance at becoming immortal once again? And to top it all off, amidst the puzzling chaos Ramirez is magically resurrected during MacLeod's Quickening. Together, they join Louise to bring the Shield down, because apparently the ozone layer has been restored, which is at the cost of Ramirez's life.
All that, just to (try to) understand the plot! Geesh!
The funny thing is that only a few years later, Mulcahy returned to the movie and re-edited it with almost twenty more minutes of footage and removed any references to the immortals being aliens. Dubbed the Renegade Version, the director's cut is a vast narrative improvement, light years better than the previous trainwreck. Unfortunately, it remains a pretty bad movie. I like 'Highlander 2' better with the idea of the men originating from some long ago, forgotten past and sentenced as immortals into the future for their rebellion. The Prize is then understood as being free to live as mortals. Although this is the idea I much prefer, I can still admit the movie is only slightly better but does little to fully appease angry fans, and many questions still remain. When did MacLeod get his katana for the final showdown? And why exactly does Katana even care when it's fairly obvious MacLeod is about to keel over at any minute?
Aside from that major subplot change, this cut also provides a reason and purpose for Louise's terrorist group, COBALT, existing, while also allowing the audience to understand that the ozone layer is returned earlier. In fact, a good deal of the restored footage revolves around this subplot, and we even see Connor atop a mountain with Louise looking at a bright blue sky. The entire movie is better paced and more entertaining than the theatrical release. In 2004, the filmmakers revisited the new version and added some CGI effects, returning the film to the way it was originally intended to look. The Shield now looks blue rather than the oppressive red of before. Thankfully, this Blu-ray is taken from that cut of 'Highlander 2' and not the other ill-forsaken mess.
For fans, what was seen in theaters nearly twenty years ago will likely never be forgotten. But three versions later, filmmakers have tried to redeem 'Highlander 2' and turn it into something followers can better appreciate. Ultimately, when MacLeod announced there can be only one at the end of the first movie, that's really where filmmakers should have left it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
LionsGate Home Entertainment brings 'Highlander 2' to Blu-ray on a BD50, Region Free disc inside a blue eco-keepcase. At startup, viewers are greeted with previews for 'Kick-Ass,' 'Apocalypse Now,' and other catalog titles from the studio. Afterwards, we find the standard set of menu options while full-motion clips play in the background.
It's something of a challenge knowing where to even start with this disaster, because frankly, 'Highlander 2' looks plain awful and ugly on Blu-ray, showing most every video artifact imaginable.
To start on a happier note, the AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) does come with a few great moments of good definition and sharp contrast levels. Blacks during these moments are also attractive and deep, providing the picture with nice depth and punch. MacLeod's battle with Corda and Reno on the city streets is a perfect example of the disc's potential. Unfortunately, it's not a consistent attribute, as the video often falters drastically along with absolutely horrible resolution quality. Take a look at the scene towards the end when General Katana and David Blake discuss how to finally finish MacLeod, at around the 1.37.00 mark. The sequence literally feels like we've traveled through time and are watching a VHS tape. At their best, colors are accurate and decently rendered, but through most of the movie's runtime, they appear average. Facial complexions can be revealing and natural, but this is only during close-ups. Otherwise, the picture is generally soft.
Compounding matters, the transfer shows unsightly ringing and haloing in several scenes. Early in the movie, at 0.14.46 mark, the halo is so thick on the soldiers left side that we're almost convinced edge enhancement has been directly applied. Even moiré patterns can be seen at certain times, like at the 0.46.40 mark, and banding rears its ugly head on occasion — look at the 1.36.10 mark when it's most apparent. Chapter 14 reveals a strange framing issue, when the screen partly moves to the right and reveals a light green bar running down that side. It only lasts for a short while, but it's pretty obvious and clearly visible.
At its worst, the Blu-ray comes with several instances of thick video noise and some slight macroblocking with fast moving objects. And finally, adding insult to injury, 'Highlander 2' is plagued with the worst case of aliasing and stair-stepping I've seen in a really long while. I wish this were hyperbole, but I'm sorry to say that almost every scene throughout exposes some instance of jaggies, ruining any chance of a smooth and natural image.
Ultimately, the video hardly looks any better than an upconverted DVD and is my vote for the worst video presentation of the year. UGH!
Thankfully, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack doesn't suffer the same fate as the video. In fact, the original design has been opened up and extended into the back surrounds without feeling forced or fake. Granted, the mix doesn't exactly make the best use of the 7.1 channels labeled on the package, and certain discrete effects can be easily localized, but overall, atmospherics and some light movement give the movie an enjoyable lossless track that's fun and engaging. Stewart Copeland's score and other tracks gain the most benefit from the higher resolution. The music spreads across the entire soundstage with a pleasant mid-range that gives the clashing of swords and other action sequences good clarity. The low end, too, offers some deep bass, though it's not as sharp and responsive as I would like. Dialogue reproduction is also clean and well-prioritized. All things considered, the lossless track makes 'Highlander 2' more enjoyable than the picture ever will and is also entertaining.
This Blu-ray edition of 'Highlander 2' features the same assortment of bonus material found on the 2004 Special Edition DVD. For fans, there's some pretty good stuff about the movie and its history which are rather enjoyable.
Russell Mulcahy directs this follow-up to his own cult favorite with disastrous results, an incomprehensible mess with aliens and a planet called Zeist. 'Highlander 2' was later redeemed with a director's cut which is a huge improvement and alters the story with a better backstory on the origins of the immortals. I'm sure fans will agree that this is the preferred way to watch the sequel, despite still being a rather bad movie. The Blu-ray unfortunately arrives with a terribly ugly and unsightly video presentation. The audio, on the other hand, receives better treatment and is quite enjoyable but not excellent. Supplements are the same ones found on the Special Edition DVD, making this disc a very difficult recommendation. I'll simply chalk this up as one to avoid until the movie receives a higher quality transfer.