Lionsgate // 1986 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Lionsgate // 1991 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ike Oden (Retired) // January 31st, 2011
"From the Dawn of Time we came, moving silently down through the centuries, living many secret lives, struggling to reach the Time of the Gathering, when the few who remain will battle to the last. No one has ever known we were among you, until now."
Connor Macleod (Christopher Lambert, Mortal Kombat) is immortal. Born in the Highlands of Scotland in 1518, he is fatally wounded in battle by a barbaric warrior, The Kurgan (Clancy Brown, Pet Semetary 2). On his death bed, Connor's friends and family are disturbed to find his wounds have healed themselves. Banished from his village, he re-marries and starts a new life. His idyllic existence is interrupted by fellow immortal Ramirez (Sean Connery, Thunderball), who trains him in preparation for "The Gathering," a time when immortals will battle one another for "The Prize." The rules are they can only die by decapitation, they must never fight on holy ground, and only one immortal emerges victorious. It all goes down in New York City, 1986, where the Highlander must face The Kurgan again, and I assure you, heads do roll.
Highlander 2 picks up in the distant future of 2024. Connor Macleod (Lambert) has won The Prize and has reverted back to an aging mortal. When the earth's ozone layer is depleted from pollution, Connor conspires with the earth's best scientists to erect an artificial shield around the earth. This comes with a price, however, as it blocks out the sun, keeping the earth in darkness indefinitely. When eco-terrorist Louise (Virginia Madsen, Sideways) discovers proof the ozone layer has repaired itself, she enlists Connor's help. She may have caught him at a bad time, as the immortal who banished Connor from the past, General Katana (Michael Ironside, Total Recall), returns with his lackeys to assassinate Connor once and for all. Now Connor must deal with corporate corruption and a new Gathering, with the help of his resurrected teacher Ramirez(Connery).
The large part of Highlander's appeal lies in the film's premise, which combines the best elements of fantasy with period drama and 1980s neo-noir. The flick is director Russell Mulcahy's film history mix-tape, taking familiar conventions of these genres and pumping them full of kinetic, MTV inspired editing and camerawork. This visual pizzaz and rhythmic editing is as much a star of the film as Connery or Lambert, driven by a script that, while certainly flawed, is steeped in time-hopping, iconic mythology that cements it as a cult classic of the highest honor.
Despite the eccentric international casting, Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert create two of the most memorable characters of their careers. While certain critics take umbrage with Lambert's take on the Scottish character, I can't imagine another actor bringing the same amount of screen presence, intensity, and physicality to the role. His chemistry with Sean Connery's Ramirez cannot be overstated -- the pair feel like old friends and the scenes they share together are a joy to watch. Countering their sense of fun is Clancy Brown's take on The Kurgan, who's barbarian-punk rock badassitude is as physically intimidating and loathsome as he is likeable.
Of course with the blessing of Highlander, there comes a price. If the first film is an action flick I love unconditionally for all the things it does right, Highlander 2 is a film I'm obsessed with for all the things it does wrong.
You're probably well-aware of the sequel's history: the film was pulled from the filmmakers by a bail bonds company and released in a largely unfinished theatrical version that reveals the immortals are aliens from the planet Zeist. The Renegade Version is included here and backpedals on the alien conceit, but remains a cluster f -- k of epic proportions.
Where the original spans the 1500s through the 20th century, Highlander 2 crafts a unique and grungy futuristic setting. The 1990s would be a big decade for post-Blade Runner dystopian metropolis, but Highlander 2 does it better than most. Director Mulcahy returns once again to inject the film with some pretty badass action set pieces within this grungy, gritty future setting. None of the sword fights quite touch the battles from the original, but they feel a lot more polished and experiment with some pretty cool concepts, particularly a sword fight on hoverboard and hang glider. Lambert and Ironside handle the choreography well and Mulcahy's editing has a similar song-and-dance feel like the original. From a purely directorial perspective, the film is downright neat. Not amazing, not mind blowing, but appealing in a comic book sort of way.
Acting-wise Connery and Lambert carry over their chemistry from the original without missing a beat. Virginia Madsen looks exquisite, though she seems pretty confused as to what the hell is transpiring around her. Michael Madsen and John C. McGinley put in performances that are so cheesy and absolutely over-the-top that Clancy Brown's performance seems restrained in comparison. Their scenery chewing is a byproduct of the stiffly written monstrosity Highlander 2 calls a screenplay -- heavy on exposition and far too short on character development. Yes, its predecessor has a screenplay that borders on ridiculous at times, but it had it had well-defined characters with a fair amount of emotional depth. The Highlander 2 script has no idea what made the original work -- a crippling lack of sensibility that would mar subsequent sequels as well.
With Lionsgate's Blu-ray, we're given the Renegade Version. All references to Zeist are deleted, a fight on top of a truck between Katana and MacLeod (shot five years after the film was released) is restored, and the special effects are doctored with some CGI touch-ups added from the 2004 Special Edition DVD. The result feels more like a movie than the theatrical release, and looks substantially more modern and impressive. Producers William Panzer and Peter Davis felt the need to recut and remaster Highlander 2 as a means of apologizing to fans and redeeming the film, but the sequel remains irredeemable. It survives as a curiosity piece, a mess of a movie that proves dynamic direction and high-concept effects cannot carry a crappy premise, Zeist or no Zeist.
The technical specs of each film are pretty underwhelming. Highlander has never been a spectacularly clean looking film, and following the patchwork re-tooling of the film's Director's Cut (originally released on DVD by Anchor Bay), the film's visual quality is even spottier, giving us snatches of VHS quality transitions in between the scratchy, grainy source material made worse by some noticeable edge enhancement. Rather than give a laundry list of flaws, I'll put in perspective by saying the 1080p transfer is the best I've seen Highlander look, with more visible details and a stronger color palette than ever before.
The 5.1 DTS master audio track is fairly underwhelming, boasting a nice remix of the film's iconic Queen soundtrack (particularly "Who Wants To Live Forever"), but the track lacks the sort of surround sound oomph apparent on many standard DVDs. C'mon, Lionsgate, at least give me some swooshing, sparking sword surround effects or something!
Despite these flaws, it is safe to say that Lionsgate's treatment of Highlander is the best home video rendition of the film to date -- I just wish the bar wasn't so low to begin with.
Extras are slim. First, we have 3 minutes of deleted scenes which look handsome in HD (arguably better than the film itself at times) but lack a soundtrack. Among the footage is extended MacLeod/Kurgan rooftop fighting, which is worth a look. Finally, Mulcahy offers a commentary a track that is okay for hardcore fans, but has enough dead air to alienate casual Highlander viewers. Unfortunately, the Queen music videos from Anchor Bay's original release are not included. Boo, hiss.
Highlander 2 is the superior Blu-ray in every way, containing a fair amount of grain but some substantially sharp details. The audio mix is a top notch action flick track, though some of the dialogue in the newly added Renegade scenes remains a bit too low.
The extras are ported over from Lionsgate's 2003 special edition DVD, and remain mostly intact (ditching "The Deconstruction of Highlander 2," a branching behind-the-scenes footage option that was lackluster to begin with).
"Seduced By Argentina" -- the 47-minute retrospective/Argentina-travelogue/apology-to-fans -- is a decent, if slightly generic, look at the film's inception, troubles and lasting legacy. Also included in the series are "The Redemption of Highlander 2," "Shadows & Darkness: The Cinematography of Highlander 2," "The Music of Highlander 2" and "The Fabric of Highlander 2." Deleted scenes, a Cannes promo reel and a trailer round out the disc.
For the fans that don't already own these Blu-rays, the set is a bargain.
Just be prepared for further double dipping. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Ike Oden; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice, Highlander
Perp Profile, Highlander
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Distinguishing Marks, Highlander
* Deleted Scenes
Scales of Justice, Highlander 2
Perp Profile, Highlander 2
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Distinguishing Marks, Highlander 2
* Deleted Scenes
* IMDb: Highlander
* IMDb: Highlander 2