Judge David Ryan had a logical breakdown contemplating the inconsistency of Highlander's tagline and the fact that there's a sequel.
Our reviews of Highlander 2 (Blu-Ray) (published November 12th, 2010) and Highlander / Highlander 2 (Blu-Ray) 25th Anniversary Collection (published January 31st, 2011) are also available.
THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE! (please insert Disc Two)
Highlander was an unlikely cult success. Starring Christopher (formerly Christophe) Lambert, last seen showing off his rippling pecs in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes while barely speaking English (not that the ladies cared in the least), the highly underrated Clancy Brown, and some guy named Connery (who apparently achieved a measure of success with something called "James Bond"), Highlander posited the existence of a small group of immortals who walk among us, all bound to attempt to kill each other off—by lopping off heads—until only one remains. Its director, Russell Mulcahy, was best known for directing all of the classic Duran Duran videos of the early '80s. It was a good film, and a smart film (with a nifty score by Queen), but a film that wasn't promoted properly in the U.S. It found great success in Lambert's semi-native France (he's actually American/Swiss by birth) and elsewhere in Europe, and eventually did catch on in the U.S. thanks to the magic of video and cable TV. Despite the film's conclusively final ending, surely a sequel would one day follow.
Actually, as it turned out, a whole franchise would follow. There have been four Highlander films to date (with a fifth in production), and a successful syndicated TV show, lyrically and creatively entitled Highlander: The Series. The world of Highlander has an established and loyal fan base, and made stars out of Lambert and Adrian Paul, who starred in the TV series.
But you never would have guessed that this would be the ultimate outcome in the months after the release of Highlander 2, originally entitled Highlander 2: The Quickening. It was a catastrophe—a bad film hated by even die-hard fans of the original. Its biggest problem? It simply made no sense—and it seemed to explicitly contradict the first film as well. In fact, all subsequent Highlander projects don't even acknowledge its existence.
It turns out that there was a reason for all this: the film was never actually finished. The full story came out with the release in 1997 of a recut of the film, now entitled Highlander 2: The Renegade Version. Now, Lions Gate, the producers, Mulcahy, and the original visual effects artists have taken the rehabilitation of the film as far as it probably can go with the release of this set. The result is, as the producers say, the best version of this film that they can make with the material they have on hand.
It's still not a particularly good film—but it's infinitely superior to the original version.
Facts of the Case
It's the year 2024, and Earth is in trouble. Way back in the 1990s, we had all collectively ruined the ozone layer, causing rampant health problems from excess solar radiation. One of the victims of this environmental crisis was a woman named Brenda, who just happened to be the wife of Connor McLeod (Lambert), a good-looking guy who also was an immortal warrior. When last we saw Connor, he had defeated all his fellow immortals (there can be only one, you know), thereby attaining his long-desired mortality. Now, with his horribly burned wife dying in his arms, he swears to help humanity solve the ozone problem. The solution? A giant electromagnetic shield enveloping the planet. It blocks the radiation, true—but it also blocks most of the light, leaving the planet in a perpetual dark twilight.
Now, in 2024, some believe that the ozone layer has repaired itself and the shield is no longer necessary. Chief among the believers is a group called Cobalt, led by a comely young ecoterrorist named Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen, Dune, The Hot Spot, little sister of Michael). Cobalt, while staging a raid on the Shield Control building, discovered that ultraviolet radiation levels outside the shield are now normal—meaning that it isn't necessary. But the shield is now big business, charging every country in the world for its services, so the shield company, represented by stock Evil Businessman David Blake (John C. McGinley, Scrubs), has no interest in shutting itself down.
Connor McLeod is now old and feeble, reaching the end of his corporeal days at long last. He realizes that the shield company he helped found has become corrupt, but he's old enough that he doesn't care anymore. A monkey wrench is thrown into his whole "I'm going to die soon" plan when another arch-enemy from the past (yes, it's the past now—that whole Planet Zeist stuff never happened, okay?) named General Katana (Michael Ironside, Scanners, Total Recall, and countless other films) sends two of his nutty minions to kill him, apparently just for spite. The appearance of two more immortals in the world retroactively revokes Connor's mortality, and he's back to his old immortal self again. He calls upon his old friend Ramirez (Sean Connery, probably best known as the star of Darby O'Gill and the Little People and Meteor), who promised to appear magically if McLeod ever needed help, even though he's dead.
Upon killing the nutty minions, Connor once again undergoes The Quickening, in which the dead person's soul/energy/built-in stock of special effects (take your pick) is transferred to the killer. The Quickening turns Connor back into his studly former self, and he quickly bangs the comely Louise (up against a wall, no less!), despite having just met her about five minutes prior. (Ah, the perks of being Christopher Lambert…) Meanwhile, Ramirez has materialized in Scotland, and has to find his way to wherever Connor is located. Which is never made clear.
Katana is displeased with the incompetence of his nutty minions, and decides to pop over to the future to take care of Connor himself. Wacky hijinks ensue, and lots of stuff blows up. It blows up good.
Highlander 2 is a profoundly silly movie. Yet, it's also quite a rarity: it's a darned well-written profoundly silly movie. There are truly inspired moments in this film—the best being the in-flight "safety video" shown on a plane that consists of screaming passengers frantically donning their safety equipment right before the plane plummets into a mountain. Connor's character is relatively rich in detail compared to the typical action/adventure hero—he's quite melancholy, and we really get a sense of how emotionally painful it is to be immortal. Ironside is more over-the-top than usual in the Katana role, which is great fun to watch. The character seems to be a bit psychotic to begin with, so Ironside's scenery-chewing is perfect. (There ought to be an award for actors who consistently play bad guys and play them very well. Ironside should be winner #1; McGinley #2. I'd suggest the award be named after Donald Pleasance, too. But I digress.) Madsen is ridiculously beautiful as usual, but doesn't have much to do (besides Lambert).
Which is all well and good—but none of that helps the story, which is implausible at best. At worst, it's slow-moving when it's not jumping past important plot points entirely. It makes the film hard to follow, and almost impossible to understand if you're not familiar with the first film and the history of these immortals.
There's no commentary track, either. Boo!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Okay, it's a pretty poor film. But it isn't entirely the fault of its creators. And although the movie is weak, this DVD package has a lot going for it.
Disc Two of this two-disc set contains a series of documentaries, the most thorough of which is the first, "Seduced by Argentina." This documentary tells the story of how the film was completely shut down due to cost overruns, resulting in an incomplete final product. The film was made in Argentina at a time when the country's economy was spiraling out of control. Costs on the film inflated to the point where the insurance company that had issued the film's completion bond stepped in and immediately shut down production. New people were brought in to cut what was already "in the can" into a film that was complete enough to release. This is what was unleashed on the audiences back in 1990. Needless to say, it was borderline incoherent. The 1997 "Renegade Version" restored the film to the director's intended edit; the cast and crew even reunited in 1994 to shoot some scenes that had been left incomplete by the shutdown.
This film not only features the proper order as restored in the "Renegade Version," it has also been reprinted in high definition from an original negative, and virtually all of the visual effects have been improved using digital and computer technology. (All of the effects changes are explained in the "Redemption" featurette.) The result is a visually spectacular film, especially compared to the original version. Colors are crisp and vibrant; there's a little bit of digital "grain" in the transfer, but not enough to complain about. At long last, the color of the shield in the sky (which originally was red, but now is blue) and the color tone of the sets and lighting (blue) match. Simple painted mattes used in the original film have been replaced by fully digital, and highly detailed, replacements, giving the futuristic city more life and structure. Equal attention has been given to the sound of the film; the new surround mixes are nearly indistinguishable from a typical contemporary sound mix.
There are a couple of other featurettes included on the second disc, covering the film's music, costume design, and cinematography. All are well done; the best of the lot is the music documentary, featuring composer Stewart Copeland (formerly of The Police). Copeland is obviously a very intelligent guy, and explains everything you need to know about (a) scoring a film and (b) his influences in scoring this film, all in under 10 minutes. He's a funny guy, too.
The main feature also has an optional feature called "The Deconstruction of Highlander 2," which gives you the option to jump out of the film at various points and view behind-the-scenes footage of the making of that scene. It's interesting enough, but probably isn't worth more than one viewing. (The behind-the-scenes footage can also be viewed as a separate featurette if you so desire.)
A handful of deleted scenes are included; some of these are actually just blooper rolls. But the original ending of the film—which was ludicrous beyond belief; it made Xanadu look downright rational and realistic—is there for all to see, including alternate (and even worse) takes of it.
Also added is a 10-minute promotional reel originally screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990. Once upon a time, this would have been an interesting tidbit for fans of the series, since it contains scenes that didn't make the final released film. But all of those scenes are restored in this edition, making this promo reel a somewhat unnecessary addition.
All the bonus features make this a pretty solid DVD package, the absence of a commentary track notwithstanding. But far and away the most important "feature" is this: the changes made to the movie itself are so profound that they take an absolutely horrible film and make it…not all that bad. It's not a great film—but if you compare it to the train wreck that was the released Highlander 2: The Quickening, it's like night and day. It's actually not hyperbole for the producers to say that they've now "redeemed" this film. And they're still apologetic (and somewhat disappointed) that they couldn't make it better.
I can't in good conscience recommend this film. It's too incomplete to be a quality product. But if you're a fan of the Highlander universe, you might want to give it a look. At best, you might find that what was once a horrible, horrible film has become downright tolerable, and actually somewhat entertaining at times. At worst, you'll get a sincere apology from the film's creators for letting you down, and an explanation of why it happened.
Everyone associated with this film has their sentence commuted to time served, because they're apologetic and did their community service by attempting to wring a film out of the mess the studio saw fit to release. Except for Virginia Madsen. Ginny, you're sentenced to doing more movies, because you still look fantastic, and we just don't see you enough.
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• The Deconstruction of Highlander 2
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