Judge Gordon Sullivan thinks the Highlander saga has definitely hit a valley.
The quest for mortality begins.
The Highlander franchise has been in need of a serious reboot for quite some time. To be successful, the series needs to streamline the mythology/continuity, balance the action set-pieces of "the Game" with the more introspective commentary on eternal life, and tell some new stories with a different and charismatic immortal character. Sadly, Highlander: The Source does none of these things.
Facts of the Case
The film begins with a title card explaining the three "rules" of the Highlander franchise, explaining immortality and the Quickening. There's also a voiceover explaining the post-apocalyptic nature of the world featured in the film. The voiceover tells us of a mysterious "Source," and how some Immortals believe in it, while others don't. The voice also introduces us to our hero, Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul, Highlander: Endgame).
Duncan is a bit more brooding than he was in the television series, a little more angsty, perhaps a little more self-centered. Unsurprisingly, he gets pulled into the search for the Source. Also unsurprisingly, his ex-wife is the human who can help them find the Source. Methos (Peter Wingfield, Catwoman) and Joe (Jim Byrnes, Highlander: Endgame)—both from the television show—are involved, as are a pair of other Immortals who hope to find the source for their own reasons. There's also a new bad guy: the Guardian. Naturally, he wants to stop this band of Immortals from getting to the Source. Of course no one knows why, or even what the Source is, but that's supposed to be the fun part.
Gather round, and I will tell you of a time, long ago, when a couple of guys named Panzer and Davis got together and made a film. This film revolved around a continual battle between beings who appear human, but are immortal—unless you cut off their heads. There was pathos, there was action, there were funny accents (thank you, Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert). It wasn't a masterpiece, but it was a fun way to spend an evening. That film was the original Highlander. Three more films have continued the story of that first highlander, Connor MacLeod, and the torch has been passed to other Immortals in other media, most famously Duncan MacLeod in Highlander: The Series. Since that time, the stories of the Immortals have been uneven: sometimes inspired, but often perfunctory. Highlander: The Source changes all that, by taking a massive &%$# on everything that was once good and interesting about the Immortals and their mythology.
What are you looking for in a Highlander movie? Interesting Immortal characters? There's none of that here, just a bunch of cookie-cutter sword-swingers. Even returning characters Duncan and Methos don't get to do (or say) anything interesting, just further the lackluster plot. How about sword fights? Sure, The Source has some blade-work, but much of it is melee instead of the typical one-on-one duels we've seen previously. This change up might have worked, but the scenes are so poorly edited that they create no tension. Even the more traditional fights are obnoxious because most of them are against the Guardian. He flits around like a toddler on speed, making the choreography boring and the outcome of most of the fights pretty obvious. There was also a hint of the tragic about the Immortals in previous outings. This film tries to preserve that heritage by giving Duncan a lover who leaves him because he can't be a father, but this plot point manages to be heavyhanded and shallow at the same time. There's nothing grand or sweeping about this film, something even the television show managed with relative frequency.
Really, this could have been a fun film. Re-teaming Duncan and Methos is a great way to please fans (including myself), and adding Joe into the mix was a good idea. Also, we've seen Immortals team up before, but usually in pairs. The fact that The Source follows a group of sword-wielding characters was a good start. It seems that the writers used up all their good ideas at this point, because by the time they got to the script they had nothing left. Methos and Duncan suffer the worst fate. They aren't given much dialogue, and what they are given is crap that the TV writers would have rejected as laughable. Methos gets it especially hard; he's 5,000 years old, and his job in the film is to stand around and look pretty—while wearing a leather jacket with fringe (Something about the fringe just drove me insane during this movie). It's nice to see Joe again, but he's a plot point, not a fully developed character. The other Immortals could have been interesting if they'd had more time to grow. As it is, their characters are created by hairstyle and accent, not by dialogue and story. The Guardian is a wannabe Kurgan who accidentally stepped through Doug Bradley's Hellraiser wardrobe. Lame.
Because it's a quest film, the writers had to invent reasons to have fights, since the Guardian couldn't just run up and attack everybody at once. Their brilliant idea was to have the Source on an island full of post-apocalyptic cannibals. It might have been cool, but it feels so half-baked that the cannibals never seem like a credible threat. The fact that the Immortals are getting weaker just seems cheesy by the time they reach the island. Rather than build tension, it seems like a betrayal of the mythology. The Source (are you as tired yet of that word as I am?) itself is an excuse for the rest of the plot. It's never really explained, but it fundamentally changes the Immortal world. Again, lame.
The film was made on a low budget, and it shows. There are lots of green screen effects to create the futuristic look of the film, but it's not great work. It has a distinctly "direct to video" feel about it. The direction (from the guy who brought us The Lawnmower Man) is competent, but it amounts to naught with story ideas this poorly thought out. The lackluster story also makes it hard to judge the actors. They could be Shakespeare-quality thespians, but with this script, who can tell? Most seem to fail into overacting or underacting, but it's forgivable when their lines are either obvious or overblown.
The DVD is an okay effort. The film doesn't look great, but that seems to be a problem with the source (ha, ha), not the disc itself. The colors look muted, the green screen work stands out (and not in a good way), and the whole affair looks cheap. The sound does a decent job with dialogue and music, but it didn't do much to impress beyond that.
The extras include an 80-minute making-of documentary. Yes, it's only a few minutes shorter than the film. Sometimes, that kind of runtime can work for a DVD extra. In the case of "Highlander: The Process," it's mostly tedious video of the shoot, with occasional comments from cast and crew. This could have been a really effective 20 minutes with some narration and editing. There's also a tribute to produce Bill Panzer, who passed away before the film was released. It features interviews with the man and his colleagues, and it's nice to see some of the faces behind the Highlander franchise. There's also a storyboard-to-scene comparison, if you're into that sort of thing. The studio also threw in a preview for a new Highlander video game which looks like it might be fun. It would have to try pretty hard to be less fun than this film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Highlander: The Source can be turned into a brilliant comedy by following these simple rules (with the adult beverage of your choice):
1) Take a drink every time someone says the word source.
With these rules in mind, your Source experience will be greatly enhanced.
I was genuinely looking forward to the further adventures of Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod. I knew the film wasn't going to be brilliant, but I expected something better than this. The series has never been totally consistent with the mythology, but the direction this film takes is laughable.
To those new to the Highlander legend, this film will seem nonsensical, overblown, and drawn out. To those who cherish (or are even familiar) with previous incarnations of the Immortals, take the worst moments of the previous films and multiply it by the worst moments in the television series, and you've got an idea of how horrid Highlander: The Source really is.
Highlander: The Source is guilty of wasting a prime opportunity to give this franchise a much-needed reboot. After this, there can be only none.
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Scales of Justice
• "Highlander: The Process"
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