Oh Highlander, you perfect movie you

Out of boredom, you might find yourself flicking through channels, desperately looking for something to sedate your brain; to find a show or a film or a documentary that might, even if just for an hour or two, numb you from the horrors of the real word. Fortunately, some channels in the UK know only too well of this need and have some films on standby to help you through your woes. On ITV2 you can regularly find The Mummy. On Channel 5, Resident Evil is the dumb film for you. On almost every other channel, you can find Highlander

Every single time I see the film listed on some channel, I tune in. I should just buy the DVD. In fact, I was in a charity shop the other day and saw it on the shelf. Two of the Queen’s finest English pounds it would have cost me, but I didn’t. There were books on offer and I went for them. Even if I did own a copy, I’d still watch it on TV. There’s just something better about watching some on the telly, wouldn’t you agree?

Everybody should know the story by now. Even if people haven’t seen the film, it has such a following that I’m sure they are aware of the plot and premise. But I’ll recap just for the sake of it: a group of immortals gather in New York for a climactic battle, in which the victor will win The Prize. The focus of the film is Connor MacLeod, the titular Highlander, a five-hundred-year-old immortal. His life, past and present, and his relationships are examined as he reaches the deciding battle with his centuries old rival: the Kurgan. 

It’s a rather silly premise in truth. But it works. Oh boy, does it work. The acting is wonderfully stilted by some; others leave visible bite marks in the props as they make their way through the scene. The choreography of the fight scenes is lazy — a fact they seemingly tried to get around by doing such a botch job with the lighting and cinematography that you can barely see what’s going on anyway. The lore isn’t fully fleshed out. A pedant might raise the question of what exactly a Quickening or a Gathering is. They might question why Holy Ground would be a thing for a group of immortals. They might question what triggers immortality. Supposedly one must experience their first death in a violent manner to unleash their immortality. Connor certainly doesn’t have that experience — he gets seriously wounded, yes, but it is made clear that it is his not dying that causes his banishment. Supposedly damage to the head, neck and brain is what is fatal to immortals, but the Kurgan’s first death was from having his crushed by a boulder so he shouldn’t even be around to be the antagonist. Neglecting to fully detail the lore to the characters or to the viewers isn’t itself the issue — what does seem to be the issue is that the writers didn’t fully layout what the rules were for themselves, which leads to all those pedantic thoughts about a fantasy movie. In the end, the writer just shoos away any critiques with a line of dialogue. It’s a nice speech from Connery’s Ramirez  but, as poetic as it may be, it’s still handwaving from the writers.

There’s a lot of commentary on Christopher Lambert’s accent. It’s not the Scottish that should be possessed by his character. It’s not his native French. It’s definitely not American, a country where his character has been living since at least some time after the country was colonised, save for that brief moment where he’s running around Nazi-occupied Amsterdam for some reason. For the flashback scenes his accent might not quite work, but in the modern day it does fit the character. It would make sense that a 500-something year old character who has wandered the world, living in a variety of countries throughout the centuries would have something of a mutt accent. He’s an unplaceable man in an unplaceable time with an unplaceable pattern of speech. It certainly fits better than Sean Connery’s Egyptian-masquerading-as-a-Spaniard-with-a-thick-Scottish-accent thing that he’s got going on. 

And yet, despite all of that, I love it. In those opening moments, when that poorly edited fight begins with Fasil switching between backflipping his way across a parking lot and creeping on Connor, I knew I was in for a winner. I truly can’t decide whether Lambert’s performance is atrocious or sublime. It’s certainly captivating. Clancy Brown’s Kurgan is one of the finest characters in any medium I have experienced. He’s evil and eccentric and over-the-top and he just loves it all. The film caught Connery about a year or two before he stopped caring and just turned up to collect his pay. I’ve never been a fan of Connery. That thick Scottish accent despite being an Egyptian, a Spaniard, a Russian always riled me. But he’s fine enough in the film. The rest of the cast are just there to fill out the time before the final showdown. Roxanne Hart’s metallurgist/love interest role is very love interesty and descriptive of metals. The antagonistic cops who follow Connor are just that, antagonistic. The crazy old Vietnam veteran is there for some comic relief. At the heart of it, it’s a story of Connor and the Kurgan. They are the most developed of the characters. Everybody else is secondary and the script treats them as such. 

As for the soundtrack, well, it’s Queen. It’s just perfect, isn’t it? If the soundtrack wasn’t what it was, perhaps the other flaws couldn’t be overlooked. But we don’t have to hypothesise on that.

So, where exactly does Highlander stand? Is it a good bad movie? It is a bad good movie? Different people might suggest different things. But journalists and film critics deserve scorn so who cares what those different people think. Good, bad, it’s all subjective to the individual. As an individual, I love the film. Badly written, poorly acted, sloppily edited as it is. It’s an interesting premise done in a way that makes it charming despite all the issues listed above. It’s the reason I watch it every time it’s on, it’s the reason why I’ll watch it in future every time I see it on, and it’s why I’ll never bother to buy the DVD.

And what’s even more incredible is that they knew that the film worked well enough as a standalone that they never thought to taint its legacy with a sequel. Nope, they resisted all urges to make a sequel, or a second sequel retconning the first sequel, or a sequel-cum-spin-off TV series, or a sequel that overrode the established canon of that TV series, or novels, or an anime spin-off, or a whole group of direct-to-TV movies which were so universally loathed that the producers finally realised that the idea was not salvageable in any shape or form. When the producers said “There Can Be Only One”, they meant it. Until that reboot they’ve been producing since 2008 finally gets released.

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