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Anchor Bay presents
Highlander: Season Four (1995-1996)

Richie: You got a plan?
MacLeod: Yeah. I'm gonna find him and I'm gonna kill him.

- Stan Kirsch, Adrian Paul

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: April 13, 2004

Stars: Adrian Paul, Stan Kirsch, Jim Byrnes, Elizabeth Gracen, Lisa Howard, Peter Wingfield
Other Stars: Carsten Norgaard, Philip Akin, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Nicholas Campbell, Myles Ferguson, Kevin McNulty, Kabir Bedi, Ann Turkel, Rae Dawn Chong, Ron Halder, Ocean Hellman, Duncan Fraser, Alison Mohr, Byron Chief-Moon, Kristen Minter, Crispin Bonham Carter, Roland Gift, Roger Daltrey
Director: Adrian Paul, Charles Wilkinson, Dennis Berry, Mario Azzopardi, Neill Fearnley, Duane Clark, Paolo Barzman, Yves Lafaye, Gérard Hameline

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, language, sensuality, brief nudity)
Run Time: 17h:52m:13s
Release Date: April 13, 2004
UPC: 013131261998
Genre: television


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

DVD Review

Due to the nature of this series, discussion of Season 4 will necessarily involve some spoilers for earlier seasons.

The television series Highlander was enormously popular for a syndicated program. It's not too hard to see why: there's an intriguing central concept, plenty of action, romance, humor, and surprisingly high production values throughout. The scripts are intelligent for the most part, and the cast is often terrific. As usual, the longer European cuts are presented on this set.

Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) is an Immortal, a race that can be killed only by decapitation. The Immortals are engaged in ongoing duels to the death that result in the Quickening, with the lifeforce of the defeated being absorbed by the victor. Many of the Immortals see themselves as above mere humanity, but MacLeod uses his skills for good, with the aid of his friends fellow Immortals Richie Ryan (Stan Kirsch), Methos (Peter Wingfield), and Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen), as well as Watcher Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes).

Even though this is the fourth season, the concept hasn't been worn out yet; there are still plenty of intriguing stories to be told that examine different facets of immortality: among others, we meet a developmentally disabled Immortal straight from Of Mice and Men, a comic examination of marriage between two Immortals, and a moving romance between Methos and a dying young woman. A couple episodes start to drift into the formulaic, with a character out of Duncan's past intent on revenge, but for the most part there's a good deal of creativity on display here that keeps the stories fresh and interesting.

Probably the most intriguing notion introduced here is that of the Dark Quickening, where the evil life force taken in is so overwhelming as to be utterly corrupting. This notion was hinted at in earlier seasons, but it's given a fairly full development in a two-episode sequence. It provides an opportunity to take a very different look at our heroes, and it could have gone on much longer without fully exploring its possibilities.

The trademark flashbacks are still here, giving the modern day stories a deeper resonance by comparing them to prior experiences in MacLeod's life. In an unusual twist, the second episode features flashbacks to Joe Dawson's life, as we finally find out how he lost his legs. There are a ton of references to earlier seasons, as well as reappearances of characters from prior years (some of whom are long dead, through the convenient means of the flashbacks). The Anne (Lisa Howard) storyline from Season 3 is finally resolved, as is that of Charlie DeSalvo (Philip Akin), while there's a surprising revelationregarding Tessa's death back in Season 2.

Adrian Paul continues to turn in admirable performances in the lead (though his Scottish burr in the flashbacks never quite finds its center), with intensity and good humor as the occasion calls for. Stan Kirsch's Richie is finally becoming less whiny and annoying, but Elizabeth Gracen and Peter Wingfield really steal the show. Their somewhat roguish Immortals make a terrific counterpoint to MacLeod's heroism, and they're beautifully realized and consistently entertaining. The weekly guest stars are usually first-rate as well, most notably Rae Dawn Chong as a concert pianist who becomes an Immortal only to find that her art is linked to her mortality. She makes this a highly memorable and moving episode for anyone who appreciates art and music. Roland Gift and Roger Daltrey both make welcome reappearances, despite having been dispatched in prior seasons.

The swordfights are even more elaborately staged in this season, although the Quickenings occasionally get out of hand: in one instance, a house ends up being levitated for no good reason and that just seems ridiculous. The producers seem to have realized they crossed the line there into self-parody and wisely pulled back a bit on the pyrotechnics after that. But the battles themselves are always well done, especially when Paul has an opponent who's capable with the sword, such as Shakespearean actor Nicholas Campbell.

How often do you get a series that manages to be action-packed, witty, and delves into interesting philosophical issues? Highlander's fourth season does all of these things and does them quite well indeed, separating the very dark episodes with a handful of light-hearted comic ones. Without them, this set might be hard to take in a few sittings, but they make a well-rounded package for the enthusiast. The two-part finale is complete here, even though the last half was aired as the first episode of Season 5. After Season 4, the budget dropped significantly, so this season is the high water mark of the series.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture looks quite good overall. The original is very grainy at times, but it's quite well rendered, without having a sparkly or uneven appearance. Black levels are deep and rich, and shadow detail is generally sharp. Color is vividly rendered but not oversaturated, and edge enhancement and ringing are kept to a minimum. There's really nothing to be unhappy about here.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Both 5.1 and Dolby Surround tracks are provided on these discs. The 5.1 is easily preferable, with much deeper bass extension and vivid directionality apparent throughout. The sound is highly immersing, and the dialogue is clear and there's no audible distortion in the music. Hiss and noise are hardly noticeable.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 170 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
11 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
Screenplay
Production Notes
2 Documentaries
34 Featurette(s)
7 Feature/Episode commentaries by stars Adrian Paul, Stan Kirsch, Elizabeth Gracen, Jim Byrnes, director Charles Wilkinson, crew Don Paonessa, Bill Panzer, Gillian Horvath
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
9 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Every season of this series receives more and more extras on DVD to the point that this fourth set is simply bursting with goodies. Seven episodes feature full-length commentaries that, for the most part, are well done and don't stoop to narration (except for Jim Byrnes, whosecommentary on Judgment Day is pretty dispensable). There's also the option to watch an edited version of the commenting sessions, allowing one to catch the highlights without investing an entire hour in the commentary.

Each episode also gets one or two featurettes that include interviews with cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage, raw dailies, outtakes, bloopers, and other fun material that the fan will be delighted to wade through. A whopping 11 deleted scenes, some of them very lengthy, are included, as is an alternate ending to the seventh episode, The Colonel. One of the best things about the featurettes on this set is that the participants are quite frank and forthright aboutthings that went wrong. They're not above admitting that certain elements don't work, and they do their best to explain why some episodes are disappointments compared to what they were aiming for. That's refreshing in such materials, which usually generate into back-patting lovefests.

The Watcher Chronicles for each episode provide further background on the characters and their weapons, and there's often some surprising material there that makes them worth checking out. A still gallery with about 50 photos is on the first disc, while the ninth disc, a CD-ROM, includes all the scripts, bios, trivia, and more. About the only thing missing is a deleted sex scene from The Blitz, referenced and briefly glimpsed in the featurettes, but not included in the set.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

No TV show on DVD packs as much bang for the buck as Highlander, and the extras just keep getting better and more generous. The transfer's quite good, and the set is a must for any fan of the series.

 


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