The only unholy alliance Judge David Gutierrez had to deal with before watching this DVD were his morning coffee and bran muffin.
"You cut off his arm, didn't you? No wonder he's pissed."—Charlie De Salvo
All right, so you're immortal and the only way to die is to get beheaded. Your entire life is devoted to learning how to defend yourself and prepare for this thing called "The Gathering," in which people like you will eventually converge and battle to be the last of your kind. On top of that, all your friends are dead, will end up dead, will try to kill you, or force you to kill them. It is a charmed life for Duncan MacLeod, is it not?
I have to confess to not really following the television series. I enjoyed the first Highlander film a great deal, but felt that it had a definitive ending and didn't really need a slew of sequels. Thankfully, Highlander: Unholy Alliance is a nice addition to the Highlander mythology and a return to the roots and rules established in the first motion picture.
Facts of the Case
Highlander: Unholy Alliance is a two-part episode of the popular show Highlander: The Series edited together into one feature length, well, feature.
Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul, The Void) is an Immortal from Scotland in a good deal of pain. He's still mourning the death of his girlfriend, Tessa, and trying to move on with his life. He's recently become aware of a group of mortals that chronicle the lives of the Immortals called the Watchers. MacLeod's Watcher, Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes, Wise Guy), and MacLeod have just recently begun forming a fragile bond.
Our story begins when Immortal Xavier St. Cloud (ex-Fine Young Cannibal, Roland Gift) begins killing other Immortals using death squads. After taking the heads of a couple of Immortals, St. Cloud has targeted MacLeod. St. Cloud has revenge on his mind, wanting to settle up with MacLeod for robbing him of his left hand. Dawson warns MacLeod that St. Cloud may be behind an identical set of Immortal beheadings, breaking the Watcher's rule of non-interference. Things become ferociously personal when MacLeod and his friend Charlie De Salvo (Philip Akin, The Sum of All Fears) are suspiciously followed, almost assassinated, and have their dojo decimated.
Later, MacLeod meets government agent Renee Delaney (Stacey Travis, Ghost World), assigned to investigate these murders. MacLeod is fed information on where to find St. Cloud. Of course, it's a trap. De Salvo decides to tag along, endangering himself and the mission at hand. MacLeod and St. Cloud begin their duel. Then, in an odd turn of events, De Salvo and MacLeod are shot by ex-Watcher James Horton (Peter Hudson Camille), a mortal who believes that Immortals are evil and should be removed from the face of the earth. MacLeod escapes death while St. Cloud and Horton bolt, swearing revenge another day. Just when it appears he's betraying MacLeod, Dawson reveals that Horton has special ties outside of the Watchers that keep Dawson from killing him. We learn Horton is supplying St. Cloud with the locations of Immortals, furthering his agenda to kill every last one of them. St. Cloud's minions make another attempt on MacLeod's life, but this time they leave some clues behind. With the aid of French squatter and artiste Maurice, and some light detective work, MacLeod tracks St. Cloud down. In their final battles, MacLeod challenges St. Cloud and Dawson challenges Horton. Since there are plenty more seasons of Highlander: The Series left, it is not difficult to guess who will survive.
Agent Delaney prepares to return to the United States but leaves MacLeod with the option of allowing something more substantial to blossom between them. Behind the pair stands Horton, still alive and forcing the question—Is Horton an Immortal?
This DVD entertained me. Anchor Bay took great care in presenting this as a sort of pop-song single DVD—a quick fix piece of a greater canon of work. The DVD was even treated to an all-new opening sequence and theme song, one completely different from the Queen anthem used for the series. These one-off releases are a good idea to drum up interest in the series.
A few of the events in the story confused me. For example, for what is supposed to pass for a crack team of military assassins is extremely sloppy. When asked by St. Cloud to make certain that De Salvo and MacLeod are dead, instead of walking up to a pair of unarmed men and putting a few bullets in their chest, they continue firing from far enough away to give them an opportunity to survive. I am still trying to understand why Horton didn't allow St. Cloud to kill MacLeod when he had the opportunity. While it did allow the story to progress, it broke its overall flow and made me groan.
Overall, the interpersonal relationships between MacLeod and his friends and enemies are what allow the feature to work. It's easy to see why MacLeod has to remain guarded and wary of all those he encounters. We all know everyone will die eventually, but it's something else altogether to see it happen to everyone that you know and care about. MacLeod's complex relationship with Dawson is handled well and realistically. Tension plays better than harmony between these two characters.
Adrian Paul portrays MacLeod with the right blend of arrogance, tragedy, angst, and enjoyment. While at times Paul swaggers more than he acts, the majority of his performance is handled well. Jim Byrnes does a great job as Joe Dawson. He plays a convincing tortured and torn man. No hero is complete without his rogues gallery, and MacLeod is lucky to have enemies like Horton and St. Cloud. Horton is always fun to watch. Equally as cocky and hammy as MacLeod, Horton moves around like a panther toying with its dinner. St. Cloud, while not as overtly threatening as Horton, is just as dangerous. Easily the smartest character around, St. Cloud knows enough not to get his hands dirty while still managing to reap the benefits. Still, I could not understand why St. Cloud wasn't more powerful. If he gains the abilities and strength of all those he's killed, I reckon he would be a greater challenge to MacLeod. It may have been Roland Gift's acting, but St. Cloud never quite lives up to his potential.
I noticed a nice picture quality. Unlike the series, this feature was letterboxed. The image transfer was superbly done with only a few moments of grain, almost exclusively on exterior shots. I liked the sound transfer. The music, battle sounds, and dialogue are full and lush.
Special features include a nifty Watcher Chronicles. This handy guide tells the viewer anything they need to know about a character's past. Thank you, Anchor Bay. I recommend that anyone watching Highlander: Unholy Alliance read these before and after viewing the main feature. I guarantee a greater appreciation of these characters if you do.
Also included is a commentary by the producers of the series and actors
Adrian Paul and Jim Byrnes and a short set of interviews. The most interesting
aspects of the commentary were the views expressed by the producers. Since they
addressed the new beginning sequence, I believe this was recorded exclusively
for this DVD and not a part of commentary featured on Highlander: The
Series—Season Two. Adrian Paul and Jim Byrnes appeared to be recorded
separately and their comments were dropped in wherever appropriate. I
appreciated that Adrian Paul was not above pointing out technical or plot
problems. Byrnes didn't have much to say. The interviews are a nice addition for
those who are a fan of behind-the-scene minutiae.
Rounding out the special features is a very short video clip of the flooded port where MacLeod's boat resides.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Completely new viewers may be lost. Without a past to draw upon, the moment when it all clicks—when the viewer discovers that St. Cloud and Horton have teamed up—loses its strength. Instead of "holy crap," the viewer might say "oh." The same confusion applies to the rules the Immortals must abide by when engaging in combat. It may not seem as defiant to see St. Cloud attacking other Immortals with a team of assassins. In fact, who could blame him?
I have to admit, I miss the Queen song Princes of the Universe. Nothing can announce the coming of something grandiose like Freddie Mercury's vocals. A minor complaint, but since the song is synonymous with all things Highlander, it would have been a nice inclusion.
Anchor Bay made an odd choice for the cover art. Instead of using scenes from the television show they have opted to use a stock photo of a seated and smug Adrian Paul. Looking at the DVD one could easily think they were picking up "Adrian Paul's Guide to Picking Up the Ladies" and not Highlander: Unholy Alliance.
Highlander: Unholy Alliance makes for a nice addition to the shelf. Think of it as a primer. While I know all episodes of Highlander: The Series don't deserve this extra-special treatment, I look forward to seeing more releases like this from Anchor Bay. I applaud them for treating what most companies might ignore as something significant and packing it with extras.
Highlander: Unholy Alliance is free to go. Anchor Bay is sentenced to parole. I want to make sure they keep up the good work.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Audio Commentary by Adrian Paul, Jim Byrnes, Bill Panzer and Don Paonessa
Review content copyright © 2004 David Gutierrez; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.