HIGHLANDER - DVD review


DeanWink

"Highlander" is a film that has attained a very large following, but it is also a film that is an acquired taste. The films slow pace and dated look will turn away many a new viewer, however, die hard fans will sit through the film countless times without thinking twice. Though it does not get released with the frequency of another cult class, "The Evil Dead," "Highlander" has enjoyed a good life in the home video marketplace and continues to do so. The new Anchor Bay "Highlander: The Immortal Edition" offers fans a new transfer, and new supplementary features that celebrate the music of Queen, the rock group responsible for the films soundtrack. Though it is not as supplementary inclusive as the previous Artisan / Republic DVD, the film does offer fans something new.

The film itself tells the story of an immortal, Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) and his discovery of his uniqueness through his mentor Ramirez (Sean Connery), and his final battle with destiny against an evil immortal named Kurgan (Clancy Brown). The story begins with MacLeod as a simple Scotsman who does battle against an opposing clan. He is severely wounded, but miraculously survives. He becomes an outcast, until Ramirez finds him and educates him on the meaning of being an immortal. As the centuries pass, MacLeod is not subjected to the aging process of mortals. He outlives his loves and finds that immortality is not the gift it may seem.

One prophecy of the immortals is that there will eventually be a gathering and that the immortals must do battle until only "The One" is left standing. The final immortal will receive a powerful gift. The calling is finally made in New York City in present times (well, late Eighties to be exact). Connor has been living in the City and the others arrive. Kurgan has been a nemesis for years and MacLeod knows that he is the most powerful of the immortals and his prime rivalry to be "The One." During one sword battle, the police intervene and MacLeod is introduced to the female lead and object of desire, Brenda (Roxanne Heart). Brenda is attracted to MacLeod's bladed weapon and her curiosity drags her into the center of Kurgan and MacLeod's blood feud.

As I previously stated, the pacing of "Highlander" leaves a bit to be desired. The film moves very slowly and the fight choreography doesn't even come close to that shown in any given Jackie Chan film or the wondrous "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." "Highlander" is certainly not a film for hard-core sword fighting enthusiasts. Some scenes feel to last much longer than their actual running time. The film contains a limited amount of humor and action, and the characters are not very well fleshed out. However, there is a certain appeal to the film that brings back many for a second or third helping. I have learned to appreciate the film over the years, and was not very enthusiastic about it after my first viewing. The films story is unique and entertaining. It may not be the most action packed film in the annuls of cinematic history, but it has gathered quite a large following that you simply do not want to argue the films shortcomings with.

Video:
I have previously owned both the original Anniversary Edition LaserDisc and the DVD that was released by Republic and derived from the LaserDisc. The DVD was considered by most to be a disappointment because of the poor image quality. The THX Logo was lambasted because it simply appeared on the cover of the disc and there was no apparent quality control used in the transfer. Anchor Bay has revived the picture to a degree and now present the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image quality is head-over-heels better than the previous DVD and LaserDisc, but it is still a far cry from how the film should look. Film grain is still heavily present during quite a few scenes. Edges are visibly over-enhanced and detail drops from time to time. Colors are generally well-saturated, and when grain isn't a burden, black levels are good. There are times when the picture shines and looks splendid, but there are moments when it looks horrendous. This is the best the film has ever looked, but I feel as if it could look much better.

Audio:
Age again plays a role in hindering the films sound. Had better source materials been found, the DVD could have looked better, but the age of the original source recording technology keeps the film sounding old. The film has been remastered in both Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES. This is fine and dandy and the film really does sound great compared to what it previously did. It is clearly an upgrade over anything done before. However, the clarity and power of DVD show the shortcomings of the original recordings. The high ends seem subdued and the bass is deep, but does not feel natural. The effect given by the remaster is similar to what happens when you record a cassette to Compact Disc. This film simply sounds old. This DVD release is all about the music of Queen, and sadly, Queen doesn't sound as lively as one would hope with a 6.1 channel mastering. I'm sure Anchor Bay did their best with this, but they didn't have the best to work with.

Extras:
If you are the proud owner of the poorly mastered Artisan/Republic DVD of "Highlander," you may want to discard it now. The 10th Anniversary Edition contained the incredibly huge and notorious still gallery that featured over 1000 photos and became a real test of hand-eye coordination between the flashing stills and the pause button on the remote. If you own the DVD, you understand exactly what I am talking about. Anchor Bay contains the still gallery, and this time, the interface works. Of course, the menus are a lot nicer than they previously were. The film is still the same director's cut that was featured previously and the commentary featuring Director Russell Mulcahy and Producers Peter Davis & William Panzer is included. The commentary is informative and entertaining and nicely done. It's the same as before, but why fix what isn't broken. The previous featurette that showed the inserted scenes is now amiss. However, some new biographies have been thrown in for good measure. Two theatrical trailers are also included.

The "Immortal Edition" is all about Queen. On the first disc of the two disc set, a still gallery containing a couple dozen Queen photos is included, as well as three musical videos. "Who Wants To Live Forever," "A Kind of Magic" and "Princes of The Universe" are nicely presented for those who simply cannot get enough Queen. These are not the classic songs that Queen is best remembered for, but their inclusion is a nice touch. The second disc of the nicely packaged DVD is a compact disc featuring three Queen tracks. "Princes of the Universe," "One Year of Love (Extended Version)" and "Friends Will Be Friends" are songs featured on the CD. Other than its Queen related content, the "Immortal Edition" is set apart by a very nice metal slipcase packaging that is nicer than the similar "Terminator 2" deluxe treatment.

Summary:
The new "Highlander: The Immortal Edition" is a step up over the previous Artisan/Republic release. The image and sound are quite better than before. However, their noticeable age and shortcomings because of that age keep this offering from being truly stellar. It is good, but not great. Anchor Bay has released two versions of this film onto DVD. The standard edition features everything but the metal slipcase and the Queen 3 song CD. It retails for $14.98. The reviewed "Immortal Edition" costs a hefty $39.98 and I'm not quite sure the huge jump in price is worth the extra money. Had the CD contained the entire soundtrack, I would highly recommend the pricier 2-disc set. As far as entertainment, I have grown to like "Highlander," but still feel the film plods along at times and will quickly acknowledged it is an aged action film that doesn't have a chance against modern offerings. Still, the film has its following and that cannot be argued.

Ratings

Video
6
Audio
6
Extras
5
Film Value
6