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The "Highlander" Boxed Set on DVD

Great Scots!

The Tenth Anniversary Deluxe Collector's Edition of the first two Highlander films is a nice attempt at doing justice to what many feel is a guilty pleasure.

Both films are "restored" director's cuts that have been given the THX treatment to ensure optimum audio and video quality, and both have enough extras to ensure the set becomes a collectible in its own right.

Highlander is a rather disjointed yet enjoyable tale of Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), a young, 1500's vintage man from the Scottish highlands who discovers (thanks to an Egyptian mentor played by Sean Connery) that he's one of the rare race of immortals who cannot die unless his head is physically separated from his body.

According to the legend, these immortals are bound to duke it out over the centuries until there's only one of them left. This makes one wonder why neither Connery nor the "really bad guy," the Kurgan (Clancy Brown) sliced MacLeod's head off at their first opportunities, before he was aware of who and what he was.

Ah, but what's a plot hole in a ripping yarn?

Anyway, other than the flashbacks from MacLeod's earlier life, "Highlander" is set in New York, site of the Gathering that'll whittle the ranks of the Immortals down to one. It's structured in part like a conventional police drama, as the NYPD tries to track down the person who's beheading other people with an ancient sword.

The story jumps around all over the place and is quite hard to follow at times, but on the whole it means well and it succeeds on most levels. Performances are good, though Lambert's Scottish brogue isn't particularly convincing. Connery is good in his role, but it's basically a long cameo for which he got co-star billing. Clancy Brown is appropriately mean, nasty, and lecherous, as the Kurgan.

The movie has some really nice camera moves, though a few of them seem to be there for the sake of artiness and end up getting in the way, and the production values are pretty good considering that this appears to have been a fairly low budget affair. And Queen's music, which is very typically Queen and therefore very good, also seems out of place, much like it did in Flash Gordon.

The restoration isn't up to the quality of other restorations, and the use of the THX standards proves that, as good as it is, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Video quality is spotty, from very grainy at times to merely very good. The audio soundtrack has been remixed into Dolby Digital and it sounds good, though it's a touch muddy in places and was obviously originally recorded using analog technology.

Still, they tried, and they put their money where their mouths are and that's a good thing. They even stuck an extra eight minutes or so of footage that had been cut from the film's original US release.

The widescreen film also includes a selection of behind the scenes photos, a running commentary by director Russell Mulcahy and producers William Panzer and Peter Davis, and there's a still frame "slide show" of the film's development from script through release. This latter extra reminds us of the golden days of laserdisc, when companies like the Criterion Collection would include these frame by frame looks at various aspects of a movie.

There's also the original trailer, of course, and a brief liner note about the restoration.

And don't forget abundant scenes of the beautiful Scottish highlands that could be used as promotional footage for Scotland's tourism industry.

Highlander, from Republic Pictures Home Video
116 minutes, Widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown and Sean Connery.
Produced by Peter S. Davis and William N. Panzer, Written by Gregory Widen and Peter Bellwood & Larry Ferguson
Directed by Russell Mulcahy

Highlander 2 has very little to do with the first movie, except that Lambert and Connery's characters are the same. It also appears to be a much a bigger budget film than Highlander, because it's much more lush looking and sounding and features a lot more effects sequences.

This is the "Renegade Version" of Highlander 2, and to find out exactly what that means you can watch the featurette that accompanies the disc. According to the producers/director, the film was going over budget and the insurance company that had the completion guarantee stepped in, resulting in a version of the movie with which the creative team wasn't happy in the least.

The special DVD gave them a chance to release the film they had originally envisioned and, though it definitely has its weird aspects, it's a pretty neat yarn. It's also substantially different from the theatrical version.

The movie's set in 2042, about forty years after Conner MacLeod spearheaded a project to build a planetary shield around the Earth to protect the planet and its inhabitants from severe ultraviolet radiation caused by the demise of the Ozone layer. From this politically correct concept we have one subplot involving a maniacal Immortal (Michael Ironside, with his usual scenery chewing) bent on destroying MacLeod - and a more important subplot that revolves around the shield and the company that controls it.

Either one of these subplots could have made an interesting film, but putting them both together in the same film makes for more than a bit of confusion. The shield subplot would make being an Immortal irrelevant, however, except for their handy capacity to survive hails of bullets, so it's understandable why they'd need Ironside to keep the first film's theme of "There can be only one" going.

Despite convoluted and confusing plots, Highlander 2's well worth seeing. It's imaginative and fun.

The THX-certified DVD looks and sounds great. The producers digitally remastered the film, adding some 19 minutes to it, using the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The Dolby Digital soundtrack is first rate, with lots of surround effects.

You also get a running audio commentary from director Russel Mulcahy and the producers, a bunch of behind the scenes photos, the abovementioned documentary and a terrific liner booklet that outlines the Renegade Version's gestation and explains all the changes made to the "original" film.

Highlander 2, from Republic Pictures Home Video
109 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Virginia Madsen, Michael Ironside.
Produced by Peter S. Davis and William N. Panzer, Written by Peter Bellwood, Story by Brian Clemens and William Panzer
Directed by Russell Mulcahy


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Updated May 13, 2006