Highlander (1986)

Highlander (1986)
  • Time: 116 min
  • Genre: Action | Adventure | Fantasy
  • Director: Russell Mulcahy
  • Cast: Christopher Lambert, Clancy Brown, Sean Connery


Born in the Highlands of Scotland in 1518, Connor Macleod is immortal. When he is wounded in battle but does not die, he is banished from his village. He meets another like himself, Ramirez, who teaches him swordsmanship–the only way to kill another immortal is to take his head–and the ways of the immortals. Modern-day New York is the location of “The Gathering,” where Connor and the few remaining immortals must battle to the last for “The Prize.”

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  • For the genre of adventure films, there’s multiple ways to make action sequences depending on weapon type. The most common of ammunition are guns and objects of physical contact such as swords, hands, legs and other improvised weapons of choice. Among those, swords are probably the second most used item. The act of clashing two sharp metal blades together is a method of contact that is barely used today in contemporary battle. Most movies that used violent blade action during the 1980s were horror and various Asian influenced films. Occasionally there would be a movie here or there that defied the usual trope like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), but most followed what was “in” during the time. However for this movie, it was probably one of the few to portray this kind of swordsmanship in an entirely different culture. Of the films released around this time, how many films actually displayed the Scottish culture on film? Probably not a whole heck of a lot.

    Directed by Russell Mulcahy (as his first American made film) and written by Gregory Widen, Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson (who at the time didn’t have many other credits to their names) put together a wondrous story with enchanting direction. The story is about an immortal Scottish Warrior (AKA a Highlander) known as Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) who is in a constant state of alert watching out for other immortal warriors who look to decapitate him. Turns out, each immortal is looking to be the last in order to achieve a prize, but this is only attained once the last immortal is standing. The warrior who seeks MacLeod’s head the most is The Kurgan (Clancy Brown), a brutal fighter who is beyond negotiable and has no conscience. The only way MacLeod will be ready to defeat The Kurgan is by getting trained by Juan Ramirez (Sean Connery), an eccentric and colorfully dressed swordsman. This alone is an interesting concept and it feels original.

    The acting is believable and works on its viewers. Christopher Lambert has a great mix of one liners that are funny, emotional and clever. Though it is bit strange that his youth resembles that of a Thomas Jane persona. Clancy Brown as the Kurgan was a great choice. Although he is known more for his voice work nowadays, his physical acting chops are just as strong. Plus, his hulking size and costume design adds to his menacing demeanor along with his recognizably deep voice. Sean Connery as Ramirez is acceptable in his role too. Casting him seems like an odd choice for the role since his accent clearly doesn’t change but nonetheless he plays a likable mentor for MacLeod. There’s also a subplot about MacLeod’s identity during the current time with reporter Brenda J. Wyatt (Roxanne Hart) on his tale. When it comes to character development, Hart’s role is the weakest link. She plays a love interest and the build up to how it gets there feels forced unfortunately. The mythology of the story is another ball of wax.

    The storytelling is encapsulating but there are noticeable loopholes. Two big flaws are the explanations given for the warriors being immortal told by Ramirez. It is unknown to how they became immortal yet they know why they must fight each other until one is left to win a prize. Well,…okay so you know why you’re immortal but can’t explain how you became immortal? Who told Ramirez to begin with? If he wasn’t told directly from the source, then how is the word going around and how come MacLeod wasn’t told? Another is how does each immortal know when they are the last of the group? Two could have a showdown and think who’s ever last has won the prize but there may be someone halfway around the world that’s waiting for his chance. It’s rather illogical unless all immortal warriors are born with some kind of immortal tracking device (and that’s not said in the movie either). So this still begs the question; however even with all these questions, most viewers will let it slide because of how likable the characters are.

    For action, the sword fights are not as nimble or agile as other sequences seen in slicker films, but they do entertain all the same. Medieval sword action isn’t as commonly seen on film anymore so it is different to watch. The special effects, which usually involve rotoscoping animations look creative as well. Since this film took place in a time when computers were just beginning to be used, a lot of the effects look practical and that’s commendable. Gerry Fisher as director of photography is probably best known for his work in this production. There are magnificent panning shots of the Scottish landscape and inner city streets that MacLeod goes through. Plus, the transitions between past and present times are nicely stitched together. Finally the music composed by Michael Kamen was memorable. There’s a recognizable main theme for MacLeod that sounds heroic and has a sense of bravado. This is all produced with the help of strong string progressions and battle cry like percussion beats mixing with the calling of various horns. An uncommon heroic sound.

    Aside from the overall mythology to the backstory being contradictory in most places, the storytelling is enticing to see play out with its likable characters headed by Christopher Lambert, Clancy Brown and Sean Connery. The action, old school special effects, beautiful cinematography and music assist in making it not your typical action fantasy film.

    Points Earned –> 7:10

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