There Can Only Be 4K!
Long, long ago, decades before sword swinging Jon Snow’s life was even written on a Ravens note, then rubbed out, then written again, never mind him not actually knowing anything anyways in Game Of Thrones, there was another distant and magical land. Like the Scottish play it’s name was more airbrushed than spoken, When fully rendered and the masking fluid rubbed off to read it’s name… it was called ‘The 80s’ and presented itself in all it’s tinted gradient coloured glory. Busy going walkabout in said glamorous shoulder padded and Pantone swatched land there was an eager young Australian director by the name of Russell Mulcahy who was making a name for himself directing some suitably fabulous videos such as ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ and ‘Rio’ (both 1982) for a little known band called Duran Duran.
Russell’s success with these visually astute and period defining additions to the video vault jukebox of pop history lead to his first feature film ‘Razorback’ (1984), a stylish and entertaining low budget horror movie set in the outback of Australia and then swiftly into contention for directing the movie adaptation of a script from an American college student Gregory Widen.
The story detailed the adventures of Connor MacLeod a 16th Century Scottish warrior who after a fatal wound in a vicious battle discovered much to his surprise (and that of his fellow clansmen) that the death blow wasn’t actually going to kill him, being that he was sort of immortal. His village mates weren’t impressed though as we all know that has to be the work of Satan, so poor auld (VERY old) Connor had to leave as we can’t have that sort of thing going on. It’s a local village for local mortal villagers only. And so the ‘Highlander’ (1986) was born and sent out into the world to achieve cult status.
MacLeod was played by relatively new garçon on the European block Christopher Lambert who had done some very hip French movies including Luc Besson’s ‘Subway’ (1985) and most notably ‘Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes’ (1984) as Tarzan himself. It was actually the case that Chris was still learning English (he grew up in Geneva, Switzerland) on the set of ‘Highlander’, which of course brought a wonderfully distinct cadence to his version of the Scottish accent.
Also on board was none other than actual Scottish icon Sean Connery playing an Egyptian fellow immortal (with a Scottish accent) who would Yoda like guide MacLeod through his essential training to keep him alive so he could reach ‘The Quickening’ where the other fellow remaining immortals would battle each other for ‘The Prize’, of which there ‘can only be one’ winner. Oh, and the only way to actually kill an immortal was to swiftly remove his head, completely. So swords were the must have accessory de jour.
Lambert really looked the part though. He may not have had all the vast vocabulary, but what he didn’t actually say with his mouth he more than made up for with his furrowed brow which aptly bore the weight of centuries of shaving, the world, history, immortality and queuing for things. His ruggedness balanced with the peacock dress and flamboyance of Connery’s Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez who looked like he fell out of a Baz Luhrmann Shakespeare adaptation.
Added into this mix of immortal berry shake was the not so nice, but INCREDIBLY awesome Clancy Brown playing The Kurgan, who MacLeod had the chance to meet on the battle field all those centuries ago that introduced him to his immortality. If Kurgan wins The Prize, all of Man will suffer as the world will fall into darkness. Brown brings in a performance that Heath Ledger must have added to his Joker performance such is the madness, the chaos, carnage and considered insane focus to the work, he’s truly outstanding and effectively steals/decapitates (if not bludgeons into submission) every scene he’s in. He gets some truly killer lines of dialogue too.
But the magic doesn’t stop there. With no shortage of confidence Mulcahy had the idea of getting Queen, the biggest rock band in the world at the time to write a song or two for the soundtrack. In that hope he presented some footage to the band showing what he had done and planned to do with the movie. The band were so impressed with what they saw they offered to write the entire soundtrack (with additional work from Michael Kamen), which in turn went on to inspire one of their most successful albums ‘A Kind Of Magic’ and tours ever. Magic clearly begets magic.
With all these elements involved it’s wonderfully of it’s time and of a time. Looking at it now it is somewhat dated, but such is the genuine integrity, creativity and inventiveness pulsing through it’s veins and time lines it’s hard if not impossible to LOVE it. Having seen it in the cinema all those years ago, it still sends chills of excitement racing up your spine with the first notes of the opening Queen track ‘Princes Of The Universe’ as we sweep (in an apparent single shot) through a time tunnel into and across a wrestling match in 1985 New York’s Madison Square Garden and up into the nose bleed seats where we meet MacLeod (Russell Nash in this era) for the first time, to partake in one of the most memorable battle sequences & segues EVER in the history of cinema, and underground car parks.
And that’s the amazing thing about the movie. Despite it’s dating, some not so great dialogue and some acting that wouldn’t be a contender for any award, there’s also stunning cinematography, some of the best most quotable lines EVER, brilliant acting, honest fun and absolutely fantastic songs. It doesn’t really matter if you see saftey wires in supposedly perilous situations or special effects crew physically pushing boulders on top of actors, or indeed what is clearly not the main cast standing on top of mountains doing fight sequences (Connery’s contract made him available for only seven days shooting) the joyous vibe permeates all and prevails with the very same immortality of MacLeod.
The movie has finally come on a restored 4K blu-ray from the amazing folk over at STUDIOCANAL, all from an original camera negative and approved by Mulcahy. In addition there are some fantastic making of features, deleted scenes, audio commentary from Russell and recent interviews with both Lambert and Mulcahy.
It may have inspired generations of film makers and some terrible sequels, but this is a true gem in the cinematic genre crown whose effect will last for generations.
‘Highlander’ is out on blu-ray now.