If there can be only one, why is this the second Highlander DVD Judge David M. Gutierrez has reviewed?
"Divide and conquer."—Peter Horton
On the surface, Highlander: Counterfeit shows what can happen when the person you most want to come back to life seemingly does. As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for. I just wished this DVD made just a little more sense.
Anchor Bay has taken select two-part episodes from Highlander: The Series and edited them together into a feature. Fans of the series will quickly notice a new, alternate opening sequence as the telltale sign of this new edit.
Facts of the Case
Highlander: The Series chronicles the adventures of Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul, The Void) of the Clan MacLeod, an Immortal from the Highlands of Scotland. Duncan cannot die unless his head is severed from his body. All Immortals are assigned a Watcher—a mortal who is never to interfere, only discreetly observe and record their lives. Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes, Wiseguy) has been following MacLeod for several years, recently attempting to forge a friendship of sorts. MacLeod has taken new Immortal Richie Ryan (Stan Kirsch, The Flunky) under his wing, training him for the Gathering, all-out Immortal battle royale, with the victor claiming the mysterious Prize.
Richie Ryan gets into a nasty scuffle with some mysterious men at a French carnival. Thanks to an intervention by motorcycling bad boy Pete, Richie gets away. Unbeknownst to Richie, Pete is on the payroll of one of Duncan MacLeod's most vicious enemies, James Horton (Peter Hudson, Camille). Horton, a former Watcher, hates all things Immortal and has sworn to kill MacLeod. Having lived for over four hundred years, MacLeod finds Richie's rescue a tad too convenient for his tastes.
Meanwhile, convict Lisa Halle (Melanie Paul, The Butterfly Effect) has been broken out of a prison transport by Horton's men. For reasons she's unaware, Lisa is being groomed to act French and undergoes heavy cosmetic surgery.
MacLeod gives Pete some false information to test him. After a bad turn of events, Pete meets a violent end. Richie just can't understand why MacLeod has sent new friend Pete to his death. While at Pete's funeral, MacLeod sees someone who looks just like Tessa (Alexandra Vandernoot, Prêt-à-Porter), a recent girlfriend who was killed in a mugging. MacLeod is all too eager to accept this new woman and pursues her. Tessa's twin turns out to be Lisa Halle, the escaped convict wearing Tessa's face. Lisa's appearance rightfully raises Richie's suspicions. When Duncan ignores Richie's protests, Richie contacts Dawson. Horton, whom Dawson believed to be dead, makes an attempt on Richie's life and cements any suspicions of his involvement. Lisa and MacLeod grow closer. MacLeod slowly grows suspicious of Lisa's past when he notices a scar just under her chin. MacLeod discovers Horton's involvement, leading to a showdown between Lisa, Horton and himself. As the opening monologue promises, "In the end, there can be only one."
Before addressing what I liked about Highlander: Counterfeit, there is one nagging point that kept me from enjoying the film. The Richie/Pete friendship that drove the first half of the DVD was too convenient and too fast. While I can understand Richie's loyalty to the man who just saved his life, his inability to doubt Pete's hard luck story and his failure to give Duncan the benefit of the doubt put me off. Since this was lifted from some point in the second season of Highlander: The Series, there may have been some history that explains Richie's reluctance to believe MacLeod. Unfortunately, this is something I am not privy to and ultimately hurts the story.
I do like Horton's method. It's an old strategy, the divide and conquer, but an effective one. Causing a rift between Richie and MacLeod worked well. Despite the fact that the having an exact twin of Tessa's pop up is flatly ludicrous, it plays out due to MacLeod's desire to have Tessa back overriding his sense of reason. Men make plenty of stupid mistakes to get a girl, and it's nice to see MacLeod is no exception. He knows all along that it's impossible and too good to be true, but he allows his judgement to be clouded.
The rifts MacLeod's stubbornness and arrogance creates between himself, Richie, and Dawson make the story all the more compelling. These characters work best when they don't get along. The scenes between Richie and Dawson are strong and allow for good acting moments for the pair. Richie finding Dawson "creepy" is a logical reaction to a man whose occupation is to follow his friend and mentor around for a living and echo Richie's fear of the Watchers organization.
Adrian Paul delivers another fine performance, allowing him to appear vulnerable and foolish. It's a calculated risk that provides his character with some depth. I can't conceive of the mistakes a man who lives over four centuries could make.
Alexandra Vandernoot looks like she enjoys playing the good/bad Lisa. Her triple performance as Tessa shows Vandernoot's range. We only see Tessa in flashbacks, but it's clear there was a strong on-screen chemistry between Tessa and MacLeod.
Peter Gordon's Horton is perfect. He is one cold and efficient predator, but the otherwise stellar performance is damaged by an annoying cat growl that accompanies his smile. I don't know what that was about, but I know it wasn't necessary. This lame sound effect was used in a scene with Vandernoot as well.
Anchor Bay takes good technical care of its series. Let us begin with the special features.
The audio commentary by Adrian Paul, Stan Kirsch, Dan Paonessa, and Jim Byrnes was spotty. The comments by Adrian Paul were dropped in making me sense they were edited in from another commentary, but I did appreciate his honesty and humility. There are some interesting moments when he discusses the involvement of his ex-wife in this episode. Stan Kirsch and Dan Paonessa were recorded together. Kirsch was open regarding his approach to specific scenes and his acting fears. Paonessa added some trivia and some production history. Both made a few funny comments about Paul's ex-wife as well. I can't remember Jim Byrnes saying anything.
We are treated to interviews with Alexandra Vandernoot, producer Bill Panzer, and director Dennis Berry. Vandernoot likes the Tessa character quite a bit and gave me the impression she was sad to see her go. I don't know the specifics of why she left the show, but it was good to see her again. Panzer added some more production trivia. The Berry interview is worth checking out, if only to see a man go on and on about virtually nothing. At length, he shares his views on directing and preparation again and again and again. It's just really funny.
Also included are some lost scenes and alternate cuts. These are best viewed after listening to the commentary and watching the interviews, as they make reference to a few items Paonessa and Panzer discuss. Nothing crucial or amazing is revealed, but I did enjoy seeing a scene between Lisa and MacLeod that didn't make it to the final cut. Some of the footage isn't cleaned up or enhanced, but since it was cut, what can you do?
How I love the Watcher Chronicles. Those interested in this DVD and that are unfamiliar with the "Highlander" mythology best read up before and after viewing the feature. Trust me, it helps.
I owe Anchor Bay big for the beautiful picture and sound. First off, we get this in letterbox. France looks amazing in letterbox. Great transfer, too. While some of the cemetery scenes were swimming in haze and murkiness, I think that was more by production design than by transfer problems. The sound was good. The mark of fine sound work is not noticing it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This DVD is definitely not for the casual viewer. The relationships are too mired in history. Watching this DVD would be similar to walking into a joke just in time for the punch line. Horton's hatred for MacLeod will be lost and not have the impact it should, nor would Horton's ultimate and seemingly definitive fate.
I don't like the cover art. Cover art should invoke some sense of story or feature an element of the film or TV series it promotes. Instead, Highlander: Counterfeit has a cover reminiscent of a Hanes Underwear advertisement for its line of comfortable, ribbed classic A-Shirts. Quit using stock photos and try putting together something from the episodes. You can do better, Anchor Bay. I know you can.
Anchor Bay, I hope you continue releasing "singles" from the greater Highlander: The Series catalog. These are perfect for the fan of the show not looking to sink hundreds of dollars into a complete series run. Not every episode can be a winner, making it a good idea to stick to the stronger ones. Highlander: Counterfeit is not without its problems, but Adrian Paul's performance and the relationships between his character and others keeps this DVD afloat.
Highlander: Counterfeit is the real thing. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary by Adrian Paul, Jim Byrnes and Don Paonessa
Review content copyright © 2004 David Gutierrez; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.