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Anchor Bay presents
Highlander: The Immortal Edition (1986)

"Because you were born different, men will fear you, try to drive you away."
- Ramirez (Sean Connery)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: June 06, 2002

Stars: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery
Other Stars: Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown
Director: Russel Mulcahy

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: R for (language, violence, frequent nifty beheadings)
Run Time: 01h:56m:27s
Release Date: April 16, 2002
UPC: 013131172393
Genre: fantasy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- C-B-B C+

DVD Review

Highlander was originally written as UCLA film student Gregory Widen's senior thesis, and it certainly has the feel of something written by an ambitious 20-something. It hangs so many different genres—sci-fi, fantasy, sword and sorcery—on such a flimsy framework (a group of chosen immortals battling to the death) that it constantly threatens to collapse under the weight of its own absurdity.

Christopher Lambert (who reportedly could barely speak a word of English prior to filming) stars as Connor MacLeod, the Highlander, a 16th century Scotsman and hero of his clan. When he survives an injury that should've been mortal, he discovers that he is one of the Immortal, part of a group that is destined to live through the ages until "The Gathering," a final battle that will leave one man standing to claim ultimate knowledge and power. The only way to kill one of the chosen is to behead him, which is perhaps not as arbitrary as it seems (if you have to kill someone who is supposedly immortal, it's as good a way as any).

Some of the Immortals (including the villainous Kurgan, played by Clancy Brown) are eager to get rid of some of the competition a little early (I suppose that would be a lot of heads to chop off in one day if they all waited until the end), and Connor is a target until he is befriended by the 2000-year-old Ramirez (Connery), who is, for some unfathomable reason, more than happy to teach one of his opponents how to use a sword.

The film cuts between present day New York, where MacLeod has become the chief suspect in the investigation of a mysterious beheading, and 17th century Scotland, as Connor is trained. There are two romantic subplots, both fairly mawkish, milking the "only one of us is going to die" element for all it's worth.

1980s Music video director Russell Mulcahy handles this material with all the subtlety and finesse of, well, a music video. Fight scenes are particularly garish, with way too many cuts and way too much in the way of garish lighting. Everything about Highlander's direction is over-the-top, and though that is perhaps appropriate considering the outlandish storyline, the film is still what I could politely call an assault on the senses. The acting is fine—Lambert is stiff, but Connery and Brown seem to be having a lot of fun—and it doesn't really matter, considering the frequently leaden expository dialogue.

Highlander has a huge fan following, of course, so give it a try and make of it what you will. I'd say it's nothing to lose your head over. Or I would say that, if it weren't possibly the worst joke ever written.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The original Republic edition of Highlander carries the dubious distinction of containing one of the worst DVD transfers from a major studio. This new edition is a marked improvement, but it's still not a pristine image. It may be, however, the best possible barring a full digital restoration of the original elements. Most of the problems from the first issue have been cleaned up. The image is still somewhat hazy and soft, but the digital graininess and frequent artifacting have been greatly reduced. The scenes taking place in the Scottish Highlands still look pretty grainy, but the colors are much more natural and balanced in this edition. Blacks are fairly strong, but shadow detail is a bit lacking, and many dark scenes look muddled on my display. The source material shows few glaring defects, with is a credit considering that the original elements have fallen into disrepair. Overall, this isn't a reference material transfer, but it does represent the best Highlander has looked on any format.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Anchor Bay has gone all out with the audio for this edition, offering not only a new DD EX mix, but also a six-channel DTS mix. Both sound very similar, at least to my ears, with perhaps slightly more natural imaging from back to front with the DTS mix. Both feature a lot of surround use in the action scenes, some of it quite flashy, and a wide front soundstage with good directionality and clear dialogue anchored in the center channel. Still, it is glaringly obvious that these new mixes were created from a simpler surround track, and as a result, the sound is often too over-the-top, to the point where it becomes grating. Sound effects are reproduced with strong, grounding bass, but the mix still seems juiced to the point of sounding shrill. Of course, Highlander isn't a subtle film, and perhaps the pumped-up mix is appropriate. Just keep your finger on the volume button.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Russell Mulcahy and producers Peter Davis and William Panzer
Packaging: Double Scanavo
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Poster and Still Gallery
  2. Queen Still Gallery
  3. Queen music videos: Who Wants to Live Forever, A Kind of Magic, and Princes of the Universe
  4. Bonus CD with three Queen songs
  5. THX Optimizer
Extras Review: The biggest draw of any re-release is the improved special edition content, but in this case, Anchor Bay's Immortal Edition title seems somewhat dubious. This version, retailing for nearly $40, comes packaged in a snazzy metal slipcase and includes a 24-page booklet of production notes and Queen trivia. Disc two is simply a three song CD, featuring Princes of the Universe, One Year of Love, and Friends Will Be Friends, all from Queen.

Disc one's supplements are limited to a commentary from director Russell Mulcahy and producers Peter Davis and William Panzer, ported over from the previous DVD, some text bios for the cast and crew, two trailers, and three Queen music videos.

The commentary track is packed with information, and all three participants are fairly talkative, but they are also quite serious about the film, and they tend to get into long, ponderous discussions about where a particular scene was shot or what special effect didn't work. I suppose Highlander fans will enjoy knowing all of the little details, but I could've used a little more humor.

The three Queen videos include two directed by Mulcahy: Princes of the Universe and A Kind of Magic, and a third, Who Wants to Live Forever. Highlander itself is ripe with homosexual subtext (Connery and Lambert running barefoot along the beach, anyone?), and once you mix in sweaty shots of a thrusting Freddie Mercury, well, let's just say subtext becomes text. The videos are in pretty good condition considering their video origins, and are a nice bonus for fans.

Other than that, there are two fluffy still galleries, one with various Highlander poster designs and on-the-set shots, and another with stills of Queen.

Overall, it's a nice collection of extras, if a bit lacking in depth, but the price makes the Immortal Edition a difficult sell considering that a single disc version, with all of the extras save the three music videos and the metal case, is available for around $15.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

Highlander has a huge cult following, and fans will no doubt love the presentation on this DVD. I, on the other hand, am not a fan, and I probably wouldn't suggest this as a blind purchase. Though I will admit that this is the best fantasy/sci-fi/cornball romance/wrestling/sword-fighting/head-cutting-off movie I have seen in quite some time.

 


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