'Highlander' and its sequel were first released on Blu-ray back in November 2010 as standalone editions. Four months later, Lionsgate offers those same two discs as a packaged set, dubbed the 25th Anniversary Collection. These Blu-ray discs are identical their predecessors with the only difference being new cover art and a slipcover, described in further detail below. Portions of this article first appeared in separate reviews of the cult classic and the Renegade Version sequel.
Highlander: Director's Cut
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. (Movie Rating: 3.5/5)
Highlander 2: Renegade Version
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. (Movie Rating: 2/5)
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
LionsGate Home Entertainment brings the two 'Highlander' movies to Blu-ray in repackaged two-film set dubbed The 25th Anniversary Collection. The Region Free, BD50 discs are housed in a blue eco-case on opposing panels. The package arrives in a cardboard slipcover that prominently features the faces of Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert. The cover art is the same pic. At startup, both discs commence with skippable previews for 'Apocalypse Now,' 'Kick-Ass' and 'The Expendables.' When finished, viewers are given the standard menu setup with the usual options.
'Highlander' arrives on 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. (Video Rating: 3/5)
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! (Video Rating: 1.5/5)
'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. (Audio Rating: 3/5)
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. (Audio Rating: 3.5/5)
This Blu-ray edition of 'Highlander: 25th Anniversary Collection' comes with the same set of bonus features seen on the standalone discs.
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 tale that was popular at the time and displays a unique visual style that still looks kinda cool. A few years later, the director revisited the cult favorite with a disastrous follow-up — 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.
This new Blu-ray package where both films are offered as one set features the same mildly impressive quality on the first movie but alas, the same shockingly ugly and unsightly picture of the second. The audio receives better treatment with the sequel sounding like the best improvement overall. The supplemental collection is also identical. In the end, fans that waited for the inevitable re-packaged double-dip are rewarded with this two-film set. Everyone else will do just fine with their previous purchase.