It would be too obvious to say that Judge Neil Dorsett cried "off with its head!" after watching this disc.
"There can be only one."
Lord, if only that were true.
Over the past few years, Anchor Bay has been bringing us the Highlander franchise pretty much in toto, releasing as many of the feature films as possible and later turning their attention to the reasonably successful syndicated television incarnation of the series. By now most of us as filmgoers are nominally familiar with Highlander's simple premise: Among us walk mostly-immortal beings who share a similar power, who are in a slow process of battling each other to death by decapitation. In the end, as they say, there can be only one. But if that's true, how can there be so very much Highlander? Well, one man's pitted prunes are another man's choice steak, and Highlander is a staple to many fans while seeming both simplistic and endlessly repetitive (in contradiction to its own premise and inaugural feature, where the catchphrase was actually fulfilled) to others. But it's clear that this time around, even the most rabid fans of the franchise will find this disc redundant.
Facts of the Case
First off, we'll take care of the most glaring and obvious thing about this situation. Finale is a title only marginally misleading when aired on the actual series, but its title as a DVD suggests that this is the final episode of the series or a wrap-up movie made after the series ended; this is not the case. Finale, rather, is the two-part conclusion to the third season of the Highlander television series, and is already available from Anchor Bay in a series-spanning box set. For fans of the series, that should take care of this release right away. People who are not fans of the series are unlikely to purchase a "finale," so my only estimation is that this disc has been prepared primarily as a rental. Judge Rob Lineberger has already covered the Season 3 box set here, and that review is well and adequate to anyone who has a genuine interest in the series. I am not such a person. Rather, I am exactly the kind of shlub who I think is being targeted by this disc: someone with a passing familiarity with Highlander. Further, the familiar "Princes of the Universe" opening to the television show has been omitted on this disc, in favor of a silent credits sequence presenting "a film by Mario Azzopardi and Dennis Berry." It's also been cropped to a nominal widescreen aspect ratio (looks like 1.66:1) in order to make it look more like a movie. Whether this was done specifically for this DVD, or for some attempt at movie-type cable television sales, it was done. So fine, Finale. You want to be taken as if you're a feature film?
The movie opens with a flashback sequence. "Two years earlier," it proclaims. Here we are in trouble already. If this were a television show, I'd be somewhat grounded in its current temporality and aware that it had actually been running for three years, meaning that the flashback material probably happened on screen. But I'm not aware of that. I'm only aware of "two years earlier." Reminiscent, I thought, of a pizza coupon I got one time, which had an expiry date "in thirty days." I used that pizza coupon for twelve years. While reflecting on this matter of temporal displacement through vagueness, I saw a rather campy and odd-voiced large fellow incarcerated for what were presumably the most savage crimes after being defeated by a heroic sort of chap. Two years later (which would have been ample caption by itself), the large, bemustachioed villain liberates himself from the institution, taking his crazy longhaired sidekick with him. The two have a passion for neck snapping that they indulge with regularity. On their way out, they are set upon by a leather-clad woman who engages them in acrobatic combat. This lovely and aggressive lady turns out to be another immortal named Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen), who has a long-running emotional connection to the heroic guy from two years earlier, who just happens to be our Highlander, Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul). I have no idea what the series's explanation is for the existence of two Highlanders among the immortals club, or if the movie one even exists on the series's terms (I think he does, but…ah, if you care you know, if you don't care it's not important), but we're just going to take it as read that this is our hero for the show and that he's got matters in hand.
Now, I must admit, every time someone says "MacLeod" on this show, I think not of the Highlander, but of Dennis Weaver. And then I laugh for a bit, and it's okay, because not much is really going on at any given moment to demand my attention anyway. The show splits its attention between three plotlines that have little to do with one another: Duncan's on-and-off romance with Amanda, the villain's attempt to revenge himself on Duncan, and the possible public unveiling of the immortals, a matter that troubles Watcher Joe and fellow immortal Methos to no end. The plots do ultimately overlap, but the journey makes them feel very dissociated from one another. Details are filled in, to some degree, with flashbacks in the traditional Highlander character-establishing style and meetings with other characters whose appearances, meant to be familiar to longtime viewers, are distressingly random to those unfamiliar with the series, so their dramatic moments fall completely flat. I was mystified by the presence of Fine Young Cannibals's singer despite getting that he'd appeared before. Some of these former compatriots or foes are dispatched by the menacing villain, Kalas. The flashbacks on Duncan's part are primarily concerned with dramatic meetings he'd had with Amanda in the past: the Arabian desert and a 1920s socialite party. It must be said that Gracen is an absolute knockout in the flapper gear; the look really favors her face and form and these are the moments in the show in which she's the most appealing overall as well. Gracen fares less well when cast as Spider-Man; her acrobatics and combat quips are pretty dull. Flips and quips are, however, staples of theatrical stage combat, presentation of which is the real reason this show exists. This stuff is, however, a far cry from the louma-kicking fight scenes of the movie, or indeed any movie save perhaps Robocop 2, which had the most boring action scenes of all time. The camera angles and blocking in these fights are singularly unexciting; indeed, that applies to the entire movie.
As far as Duncan goes, I must say that the fellow bored the hell out of me. Paul does a fair job at a stoic television hero, but his theatrical scenes in the flashbacks fall quite flat. I was more interested in Methos, the immortal who seems to actually bear the scars of a long past with guilt and contemplation. Sadly, there was little here to develop either character very much. The screen time is spent more often on Duncan's dancing scenes with Amanda (one on top of the Eiffel tower, where she tries to convince him to jump just for kicks and he deflects her into a dance, the transition to which is a standout moment of goofiness for Paul) and the villain's endless neck-snappings. It also has the gall to reprise the raspy-voiced villain whose voice rasps because of a throat injury dealt by the hero, which some may remember from the original Highlander film. In the end, of course, there can be…well, the villain will have to be eliminated, let's leave it at that. But what will be the result of the possible exposure of the immortals? The movie leaves this element hanging for the viewer to figure out. Not so much figure out the results, but whether it's even happened or not. Was Kalas lying when he gave the old dead-man ultimatum? If not, what will become of the immortals? Indeed, in the end, there can be only…thousands of long-lived jerks who might or might not have their secret identities disrupted. Big stinkin' deal. I saw a Highlander movie one time that had an actual ending and it wasn't called Finale at all. It also wandered less and had a villain who looked like he was having a good time with it all. And that was The Quickening! Okay, cheap shot, and I actually meant the original. Still, it's hard to see how this could stand alone as a presentation in any way. The fights are dull, the scenes are slow, the blocking is stock, the characters are under-established and bland, and the whole thing is…well, assembled to episodic television standards of a syndicated early-to-mid-nineties fantasy show. Easy to forgive when that's literally true; impossible to forgive in a movie. So take off your damn mask, Finale. The costume party's over.
The video on Highlander: Finale is a muddy mess. Dark scenes with the villain are in many cases virtually invisible, and any pan across stonework (which the directors seem to favor, particularly in those Highlandery time-transitions) seems to cause the motion encoder incredible difficulty. Dreaded embedded 3:2 pulldown, as one would probably expect of a TV series, is fully in place here, eating bitrate as always and helping to screw up those pans. The crop to widescreen ratio is intrusive with characters' heads routinely wandering offscreen to the far north. The color is weak and the image is soft. All pretty much in line with what one would expect of an Avid-assembled TV movie version of an already existing pair of shows and clearly assembled after the fact using the existing transfer. The sound is equally forgettable, a 5.1 mix that does little more than replicate the original environment and dialogue sounds while pumping up the music and the explosions. Nothing special there at all. The original stereo mix is also provided.
On the other hand, there are a lot of extras on this disc. I was unable to determine from Judge Lineberger's review whether any of these features are new, but I'd suspect that this disc is a simple duplication of the last disc in the Season Three box in this department. Provided are audio commentary and interviews with the principals, and various lost and alternate scenes from the episode pair. Also included are "The Watcher Chronicles," an ongoing part of the Highlander DVD package which elaborates on the data collection procedures (and their results) of the show's "Watcher" character class.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of course, it is obvious that this presentation is not actually a feature film, and under ordinary circumstances it would be highly inappropriate to judge it as such. It is only Anchor Bay's single disc presentation (and the fact of its corresponding box set), which sets this disc into the category of an incomprehensible and unappealing standalone, and no discredit to the people involved in its production whatsoever. All of the seemingly random characters who seem without depth or value to the casual viewer are actually reappearing from either regular or irregular previous appearances on the Highlander series, where viewers have come to know and enjoy them. All of the performances and characters are exactly what is called for at the end of a season of Highlander. There is every reason for anyone who is watching Highlander to watch and enjoy Finale. And watch it they should, as part of Anchor Bay's box set of the season, recommended here by your own DVD Verdict. Och!
Highlander: Finale is a poorly engineered and redundant disc for fans of the television series and of no discernible interest to anyone else. These facts are so obvious that, as stated, it seems that this disc seems geared to cheap rental, perhaps by those who are lured by the title into thinking they will see the conclusion of the entire series—and given that the disc does nothing to state that the series did not end with this episode, may well come away thinking that the series ended with the possible catastrophe of the immortals seen here and that the villain had a more important bookending role than was intended, when in fact the series ran for another four years, making this no "finale" at all.
Anchor Bay is sentenced to four months of kilt-wearing with no sporran for producing this exploitatively titled disc as a reddened, extruded and quite unnecessary appendix to their comprehensive box sets. Highlander: Finale is found guilty of being a season concluder to a cheesy fantasy TV series, but that's how it entered its plea, so the creators of the series are sentenced only to the memory of scratchy fake voices, ultra-derivative villains, and "special skills." As far as the people who thought it would be neat to resurrect the Kurgan thing of the wounded throat…off with their heads!
Hey, it wouldn't be Highlander if it didn't happen to someone.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary by Adrial Paul, Elizabeth Gracen, Jim Byrnes, Peter Wingfield, and Don Paonessa
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