Friday, February 5, 2016

Highlander


   I've always had a hard time convincing my friends who haven't seen Highlander that it's a movie they should watch. Granted, I don't have many friends who haven't seen Highlander to begin with, but still. Even the more cinematically open-minded among them tend to be hard to sell on it. And, I get it. I do. It looks awkward. Highlander looks rough and cheap. It looks like, at a glance, like a hard movie to sit through. People who love Highlander have a hard time agreeing with that because they love it so much, as do I. But, then again I saw it when I was 11. I was young, wide-eyed, impressionable, and able to look past the visible wires and the slapdash effects. I still am. Those who can't? Well, they're missing out.

   If you bother to give Highlander a shot beyond watching a trailer or eyeing the cover of the DVD at your local Wal-mart, you might actually be impressed. It's a movie about immortals and swordplay, revenge and superhuman powers- and it's all of this wrapped up in a hyper-kinetic, music video styled, package. Which isn't so surprising when you realize that the director, Russell Mulcahey got his start directing energetic commercials and music videos for Duran Duran, among others. He brought that same electric vibe to Highlander. Even in it's low key, more soulful moments, there's always a feel to it- like a heavy metal rock ballad, or a (then) modern day fairy tale- kitted out in full blood, gore, grunge, neon, and inner-city grime.

   From the genius scene transitions from 1985 New York City to 1700's Scotland, to the intensely edited action scenes, and sweeping panoramic camera shots, there's always a larger than life scope to Highlander. It's a movie that's constantly in motion. The camera is always zipping through the action as blades swing- narrowly missing heads, or clashing with other swords, sending sparks flying into our faces. We're always in the action. Low shots keeping up with Christopher Lambert as he runs through the parking garage at Madison Square Garden- fighting a duel to the death with another immortal- his heels kicking up water and trash. That's just one of my favorite shots in this movie, and there's many.  Highlander is a visual treat- total eye candy.

   But, it's eye candy in a way that's lost on modern audiences. Unfortunately, "eye candy" nowadays is a term that has become synonymous with the abuse of CGI and other phrases like "check your brain at the door" and "mindless entertainment".  Highlander is neither mindless, nor does it require you to 'check your brain at the door'. Sure, it plays fast and loose with historical fact- sword nuts will probably go mad because of factual inaccuracy, but that's nothing compared to the plot holes, the abuse of physics, and massive logic gaps that modern "mindless entertainment" would have us overlook and forgive.

   Tonally, Highlander is a bit wild. It deals with castles and countrysides, sword fights and evil knights, and yet the movie has an ever-present hard rock, heavy metal vibe to it. Due in no small part to the phenomenal soundtrack by Queen, the score by Michael Kamen, and the wow-worthy cinematography. It's hard not to get sucked into this world and invested in these characters. Christopher Lambert is positively iconic as Connor MacLeod. A 700+ year old immortal who has made a life for himself in New York as an antiquities dealer. Yet by night he finds himself, as always, engaged in life or death battles with other immortals which will eventually lead to a mysterious power called 'the prize'. If that's not a perfect example of a modern day fairy tale... I don't know what is. It has a storybook flavor, but comic book visuals. It's colorful and brooding, energetic yet passionate.

  Of course, not all of it has aged all that well. Like I said before, some of it looks rough and more than a little slapdash. But, I think that's part of the charm. The movie is so fast and engaging, that once you're into it, you can't be bothered with little things like that. It's stuff like Clancy Brown's insanely entertaining performance as the evil Kurgan, and Sean Connery's charisma as Connor's mentor- Ramirez, that ultimately make Highlander something special. It doesn't have the most impressive special effects, or the best writing ever, but... There's a special charm to any movie that can open on a wrestling match in a crowded stadium, then yank us into a bloody battle on the hills of 1700's Scotland, right before throwing us into the middle of a contextless sword fight between two men in a modern day parking garage-...all without missing a beat, AND all within the first five minutes of the movie...

   There's something special about that. I guess... it's a kind of magic.

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