Highlander is one of those films that has, either in spite or because of it’s bizarre and kitsch ways, always held a cult following. The original 1986 film spawned a franchise that turned into a TV show that has repeatedly harboured rumours of a remake starring Ryan Reynolds. Now celebrating its 30th Anniversary Highlander hasn’t dated well but it creates a fascinating lore and world despite its often cheesy execution.
In New York Russell Edwin (Christopher Lambert) is confronted in a car park by a sword wielding man. They fight and, with his foe’s head removed, Edwin absorbs his power. Flashing back to the 14th Century Scotland we learn that Edwin was formerly known as Connor MacLeod the latest in a long line of immortals who walk the earth. Learning of his fate from fellow immortal Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (Sean Connery) Connor is trained by his mentor and learns the truth about his new role in the world. For these immortals the only way to die is by having their heads removed and Connor is being tracked by a rival immortal The Kurgan (Clancy Brown). As their paths collide throughout the course of history so Connor learns there can be only one.
Ridley Scott’s The Duellists is an obvious inspiration what with two men locked in a series of battles. But James Cameron’s The Terminator also seems to have heavily influenced the aesthetics. Like that seminal horror actioner Highlander sees a downtrodden, overcoat wearing hero traversing a neo-noir metropolis with an unstoppable, punk clad, killing machine hunting him down.
Where Highlander really works is in asking the question, as the Queen inspired song written for the film states, “Who Wants To Live Forever?” For MacLeod it’s a curse as he has to watch his loved ones age and die around him. Even for The Kurgan it seems to have sent him insane, his disdain for human life nicely commenting on the disregard he has for his own.
But where it falters is in the way it never delves deeply into these these themes. Instead director Russell Mulcahy choses to focus on the more operatic moments. The grand sweeping ones which involve set-pieces that, certainly by today’s standards, feel horribly dated. What is perhaps surprising is in this high-definition transfer nobody thought to remove all the obvious wires holding people in place. Or even CG the terribly stunt-doubles as they wield swords on Scottish highlands far too dangerou for highly paid actors to dare step foot.
At times amusingly silly and others annoyingly execute Highlander nonetheless offers up a fascinating concept that you wonder isn’t rife with ideas for a potentially more interesting remake.