Every now and again a movie comes along that fails at the box office, bombs, crashes and burns, call it what you will it just isn’t a hit. But then for some reason a few years later, either as it’s released on DVD (or video in this case) everyone seems to be talking about it. The movie gathers pace, it’s everywhere, your friends can’t stop talking about it and nothing is going to stop you from owning a copy. That’s what happened to Highlander.
Set between 1518 and 1986 (no, really) the film follows Connor Macleod (Christopher Lambert) a Scottish tribesman ‘Highlander’ who receives a fatal wound in battle but doesn’t die.
Banished from his village, Connor lives out a lonely existence until in walks, or rather rides, the cheeky, wise and rather decadent looking Ramirez (Sean Connery) who explains that Connor is immortal and can only die if he is beheaded. He must therefore train to defend himself and take his place as the last of the immortals.
Cue some excellent montages of his training in martial arts and swordplay and we see Connor becoming the Highlander he was destined to be. But, alongside him, his wife grows old while he remains young and so begins a deep undertone of the film that immortality is not the gift we might hope it is.
As good and true as Ramirez is, he is not the only immortal that Connor meets and The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) turns up to show that Connor has more than a simple fight on his hands. Brown plays The Kurgan brilliantly, pure evil and suitably terrifying enough to hammer home that if the world is to be saved it must be someone honourable that becomes ‘the one’.
As time goes on we follow Connor from 16th century Scotland to the 17th century England, through the world wars and into 80’s New York. By now Connor is a rich antiques dealer but no older looking than when we first met him, wise beyond his years and trying to avoid the NYPD after metallurgist, Brenda J. Wyatt (Roxanne Hart) links him to rare metal from an ancient sword at the scene of a beheading in the city.
Connor leads Wyatt on an historical treasure hunt as she comes close to finding out the truth about this man, who seems closer to the antiques he trades than most people realise, all the while preparing himself for the ‘Quickening’ where he must literally fight for his life to ensure the power of the immortals remains in good hands.
As quality of performance and direction go it’s certainly not the best film ever but there’s something about Connor’s loneliness and depth that makes this more than your typical action film.
The excellently (for the time) choreographed medieval/Samurai sword fights are a pleasure to watch and as the film has grown in cult status you’ll see how it has helped influence other similar scenes in film (think Kill Bill, Blade, Batman Begins) whilst itself being referenced and quoted in far too many post 80’s films and TV shows to mention. The soundtrack is also not to be ignored, provided entirely by British rock band Queen, you’ll absolutely recognise It’s a Kind of Magic and possibly know the ballad Who Wants to Live Forever? which leaves a lump in your throat as you realise this film is as much about the loss we all face as we go through our lives as it is about immortals fighting with swords and cutting each other’s heads off.
Sadly with a lot of films that end up doing well the sequels appear and, while Highlander’s cult status seemed to be enough for five sub-standard movies and two TV spin-offs, it proves that sometimes, in the end, ‘there can only be one’.
Best scene: Connor kills Nazis in WW2.