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Sunday, 27 May 2007

Highlander (1986) Russell Mulcahy

At Madison Square Garden the Fabulous Freebirds are facing off in the squared circle against a trio of somebody or others, but Russell Mulcahy's camera is swirling around to find the one man who isn't screaming at the guys in the ring. He's Connor Macleod and he's thinking back to his own battle, fighting as a highland warrior for his clan in 1536. He's also not far off another one, for now is the Gathering, the time when all the immortals who have hidden among us for millennia get to fight it out to discover who gets to be The One and receive The Prize. His battle is downstairs in the deserted car park against a guy that looks like an investment banker.

What we have here is rock video elevated to action movie. There's no band, there's no dancing but there's a killer soundtrack by Queen and there's everything else that every director of today has ever learned from watching MTV. Russell Mulcahy, who directed this film, had made films before, notably the powerful Aussie horror movie Razorback, but he was far better known as a music video maker, with videos to his credit for a wide range of new wave bands from Duran Duran to the Human League to Spandau Ballet. He was the man behind Video Killed the Radio Star by Buggles, making him a fine choice to make this.

The film has aged. I can see things now that I didn't see in 1988 or whenever it was that I first saw it. Even on the 'deluxe collector's edition' issued on DVD for the tenth anniversary, it's acquired a graininess that makes me wonder if some scenes were shot on handheld video. There are plotholes that seem obvious now but that I completely overlooked way back when. How did Nash and his opponent smuggle their million dollar swords through the security at the Garden. How did the enemy clan know who Connor was in his debut battle to avoid fighting him? How did Brenda find the Toledo Salamanca in about five seconds flat even though every other cop in the city had beaten her to the scene by quite some time? Why does Macleod bitch at Brenda for following him after asking to walk her home in the first place? And hey, that must be the most flimsy stone Scots castle that Ramirez and the Kurgan destroy in their swordfight together.

At the end of the day it doesn't matter, because this was something new. It's a science fiction movie, a love story, a historical drama and an action film, all rolled into one. You could almost call it an art film too, however commercial it might be, just an art film firmly from the rock video age. It has no end of catchy one liners for the attention deficit age, beginning but not ending with 'There can be only one!' It launched Christopher Lambert into stardom, even though he'd already played Tarzan in Greystoke and a wonderfully quirky thief in the excellent Subway. It also gave Sean Connery arguably his most notable character since Zardoz over a decade earlier and definitely one of his best movie entrances. There's good cinematic use of both awesome highland landscapes and the very different urban cityscapes of eighties New York City, with some great camera sweeps.

I also found a lot of enjoyment wandering around IMDb and discovering things about the cast that I never knew. After all, I know this story almost by heart and it was easy to multitask and not miss anything. So, here are some interesting side facts. The first victim, Aman Fasil, is played by Peter Diamond, one of the great stuntmen of British film who must be one of only a few people to appear in all three Star Wars movies (all uncredited bit parts, needless to say). In fact in Star Wars, he played four different uncredited bit parts and I found it interesting that of his eleven Doctor Who appearances, two were in The Highlanders. Beatie Edney, who plays Connor's wife Heather, is the daughter of Sylvia Sims, though I don't believe I've seen her in anything else.

Clancy Brown, so memorable as the Kurgan, is probably best known nowadays for his voicework in a seemingly unending sequence of children's animation series. It's just going to be a little difficult for me to think of him as Lex Luther in Justice League or Mr Krabs in Spongebob Squarepants or Ratso in Jackie Chan Adventures. I'll look forward to seeing him in Carnivàle though, which is high on my list of TV shows to catch up with. James Cosmo, who plays Connor's huge clan brother Angus has also played Father Christmas twice: in Santa/Claws and in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Alan North is excellent as the cop in charge of the headhunter case, but of course he was the perfect choice for the captain in Police Squad. Most surprising of all though was the discovery that the old man in the car, whose wife the Kurgan takes for a scary ride, is Frank Dux, he who was played in Bloodsport by Jean-Claude Van Damme.

As for Highlander, it's not the classic it once was, but it's a great look at how the medium of film changed in the eighties and what our expectations were of our environment. It's a whole bunch of supernatural mumbo jumbo turned into something unique and, however many holes I can now see in it, it's still a huge amount of fun. How high to rate the later entries in what became something of a major franchise is another question.

1 comment:

Twinlet said...

I agree with everything, but it's still one thrill ride i love to sit back and enjoy watching.