Image Entertainment // 1994 // 900 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 26th, 2009
There can be only one!
Can anybody hear the cry of "There can be only one!" and not laugh at this point? I like the mythology of the Highlander franchise as much as anyone, but it's gotten a little confused and tired at this point. It was weird enough when an R-rated film got turned into an adult television show, but things got really strange when those same folks tried to adapt the ideas to an animated kids show. I laud the attempt to branch out the mythology (even if it seems to happen in the name of cashing in on the lucrative kids market), but Highlander: The Complete Animated Series, as it's collected here, takes away many of the best parts of the other series and substitutes iffy animation and voice acting in an underexplored future world.
It's 700 years after a catastrophic event turned Earth into a post-apocalyptic land. Most of the Immortals have lain down their swords to avoid the Game and preserve human knowledge, but one has stood in their way: Kortan is a ruthless immortal who controls what's left of civilization, and he hopes to win the Game by killing the remaining Immortals. Only the young Quentin MacLeod, scion of the famous clan MacLeod, can stand in Kortan's way.
I grew up on the Highlander franchise, and there are several things I love about it. First, the protagonist (whether Connor or Duncan) is an unusual mix of world-weariness with a zest for the finer things in life. Second, there's the interesting locations that the show takes place in. Third, there's the Game itself with all those cool sword fights and interesting enemies for the MacLeods. Sadly, pretty much all of this is washed away with Highlander: The Animated Series.
The first major blow to the show is the protagonist, Quentin. As a young man, he doesn't have any of the flair or wisdom of his older fellow MacLeods. That could provide an interesting opportunity for the portrait of the artist as a young immortal, but since this is a kids' show, there isn't much room for that kind of extended characterization. Plus, like most young male protagonists for kids' shows, he's rather obnoxious much of the time.
The show's setting was an interesting opportunity to add something new to the franchise, but instead of cool exotic locations and gothic graveyards, we get Highlander plus Mad Max meets Blade Runner without the fun of the latter two films. Although the designs are somewhat interesting, there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to them, and some of the designs seem like they're based more on marketability than visual interest for the show.
Finally, the Game doesn't get much love in this series either, since all that killing wouldn't make a very good central point for a kids' show. Kortan does dispatch some people, but Quentin uses non-violent means to merge with his fellow immortals, which means that Kortan is the main enemy for the show. As far as nemeses go, he's fine for a kids' show, but he's not up to snuff compared to some of the baddies from the films and television show.
The animation and voice acting aren't quite bargain-basement quality, but they're definitely hanging out on the first floor. Some shots look quite good and well-rendered, while others look like they were scribbled during lunch hour. The voice acting ranges from hammy to obnoxious, with most voices right in the middle.
The best thing I can say for the DVD is that it gathers all 40 episodes in one place. The transfer quality is fine, with no serious compression problems, but the source isn't pristine, with some damage here and there. The audio is oddly mixed, with some voices sounding clearly and louder than others, but overall everything is audible. Extras are nonexistent.
It's not all bad. Although the execution is off, I like the idea of the Jettators, Immortals who have lain down their weapons to safeguard knowledge. However, these would have been better explored as a small group rather than the majority of living Immortals. They would have also been more interesting in a contemporary universe rather than a post-apocalyptic one. I also appreciate the attempt to take Highlander to a new world. If it had been done in a film instead of a kids' show, I would have been 100% behind it, but the format just doesn't allow for the kind of exploration that makes the franchise interesting.
There's also enough of the usual Highlander stuff to keep the faithful interested, although not in the abundance they're used to.
Highlander: The Animated Series plays like a failed attempt to introduce the mythology to a new generation. Although hardcore fans will appreciate the sword-swinging action, the show is not exceptional in idea or execution. This DVD set from Image has the benefit of containing all the shows from both seasons, even if some of them look a little ragged. Fans should be glad it's out there, but it's probably not worth more than a rental.
Guilty of adding a superfluous Immortal to the franchise.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 900 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated