Russell Mulcahy is directing.
Starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, Roxanne Hart, Sheila Gish, Hugh Quarshie and James Cosmo.
An immortal warrior is pursued through time by a brutal barbarian who appears to be the “Only One”.
StudioCanal continues to dig through the vaults of its catalog of cult films from the 1980s to bring them to 4K UHD and has decided to give 1986s highlanders a polish. Whether you think this is a great idea or not probably depends on your relationship with the film and when you first saw it, as opposed to its protagonist highlanders hasn’t aged well.
This protagonist is Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), a Scottish (!) warrior of the MacLeod clan who is critically injured in battle with a rival clan aided by the brutal barbarian The Kurgan (Clancy Brown), a formidable beast a man who is part of a race of immortals, the only thing that kills them is decapitation.
Believing that Connor is dead, his clanmates are stunned when he shows up the next day and drives him out of their village, where he eventually settles in the Scottish Highlands with his true love, Heather (Beatie Edney). However, it turns out that Connor is also immortal, because the Egyptian warrior Ramirez (Sean Connery) finds him and tells him so.
Anyway, that was all hundreds of years ago and now Connor lives in modern America as an antique dealer, which would be a good career for someone immortal. However, the Kurgan is still after him, popping up like he’s in a black metal band, and the stage is set for the ultimate prize, because apparently there can only be one.
OK, so highlanders is not a serious film, which you hope was intended all along, but you know it probably wasn’t. Let’s get the elephant out of the way in the room – Christopher Lambert is French and has clearly never heard a Scotsman speak, which is odd considering he was on set and shared many scenes with what is probably the most famous Scottish actor alive the time (no, not James Cosmo).
Even if he’d stuck with his French accent, that would have been more believable, but Lambert somehow thinks that trying to emphasize certain words and lower his pitch is good enough to create a kind of transatlantic and European murmur. Granted, he looks the part, but every time he opens his mouth you can feel your eyes starting to roll in their sockets, no doubt as some sort of physical distraction to take the pain away from your ears. And then they went and cast one of the few real Scots in the cast as an Egyptian, albeit an Egyptian with a Scottish accent and a fake tan.
Despite his tangled genealogy, however, Ramirez is the saving grace highlanders because a) he’s the friendly mentor character and gives us some much-needed acting, and b) he’s played by Sean Connery, so naturally that you warm to him, because who else could come up with a line like “I was born 2,437 years ago.” . In that time I’ve had three wives” and make it sound sincere?
That leaves Clancy Brown as The Kurgan, the film’s antagonist, and he’s great too, but in a slightly different way. While Connery knows exactly what he’s doing and only blinks briefly at the camera every time he offers advice to MacLeod, Brown throws everything he’s got into his villain role and takes The Kurgan to the next level when it comes to it going to be awesome trying to chew up large parts of the landscape. Like Connery, Brown knows what kind of movie he’s in, but he takes his role seriously and never makes The Kurgan a funny character when the balance could easily have tipped into camp territory.
But although two-thirds of the three main actors are outstanding, highlanders is a film that fails to live up to the level of quality that the casting brings. All of the mythology is a bit warped and doesn’t stand up to too much scrutiny, the action scenes are clunky and rely on the energetic score and soundtrack to make them a bit more exciting than they actually are, and pretty much all the characters that there are none of the three main actors that are a bit boring and doesn’t really do much other than add to the list of horrific performances that spice up this film; obviously not Sean Connery or Clancy Brown, but pretty much anyone else who gets more than two lines of dialogue is just awful, and as this is a nearly two-hour movie it gets more than a little frustrating considering that the best shots were they could get.
Come with a decent supports highlanders Retrospective, a revealing featurette about the soundtrack – in which Queen tries to reiterate what they did Flash Gordon But to credit the filmmakers for weaving the songs into the film to add exposure through Freddie Mercury’s lyrics (but if you’re not a Queen fan, it just gets annoying) – and a fun interview with Clancy Brown, who always offers value for money when discussing his films, along with audio commentary from director Russell Mulcahy and various other alumni.
Picture-wise, the 4K upgrade is a bit of a mixed bag, as outdoor scenes in Scotland are packed with detail and pops of color and night scenes in America are suitably dark and menacing, but there are scenes with heavy grain throughout and there aren’t really big effects sequences that like a modern blockbuster, the color palette doesn’t really go further than highland greens or the occasional splash of red blood. The images themselves don’t come across as particularly sharp or as intense as they could possibly be, but that could be due to how the film was shot in the first place.
In total, highlanders is a film that will resonate with a lot of people who saw it in the 80’s, and the combination of fantasy sword fighting, a throbbing Queen soundtrack and a chilling Clancy Brown performance will still give them as much fun as they did back then . but if you look at it through a 2022 filter it hardly qualifies as a children’s fiction film to throw at it and enjoy/laugh at a basic level, but time hasn’t really been kind to it as the action compares to more modern films is a bit boring. The choppy direction is irritating and the performances you thought were poor in 1986? Don’t expect them to be better, even on an ironic level.
Despite this, there is always the proposed remake on the cards, and highlanders is a story that would definitely benefit from a modern retelling because, ironically, for a film featuring immortals in different time periods, the original is still very much stuck in 1986 and is probably best left there.
Flickering Myth Rating – Movie ★ / Movie ★ ★