Saturday, October 9, 2010
A Look Back: Highlander and Highlander 2
Having not looked back for a while, I decided now was the time to do with the 1986 fantasy hit Highlander and it's 1991 sequel Highlander II.
Highlander starred Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod, who lives with his clan the Macleod's in the Scottish highlands, one day during a clan fight he receives a fatal stab wound but instead of dying he survives, banished from his home he learns from a man named Ramirez played by Sean Connery that he is immortal, destined to battle down the ages until only a few remain, where those who are left will fight for the Prize, which could spell doom if it falls into the wrong hands.
With all of that, you would expect a jumbled piece of filmmaking, right; wrong, Highlander works in every area, Australian Russel Mulcahy keeps a firm hold on the direction of the film while also bringing a strong editorial style to the piece, Lambert, Connery, Clancy Brown as the Kurgan the film's main villain and Roxanne Hart as Brenda the film's main love interest are solid here and perform very well, there's a very strong story regarding the nature of immortality, some great swordfights and of course, some kick ass songs contributed by the rock band Queen, as I said all of that adds up to a movie that simply worked.
If anything it worked a little too well for it's own good, and from here on there will be spoilers so read on at your own risk, the whole coda of the movie and the entire series is "There can be Only One" meaning that in the end, only one can remain before the Prize is given and that's exactly what happens at the end of the first movie, MacLeod kills the Kurgan and claims the Prize, meaning that there's now only one, doesn't leave a lot of room for a sequel let alone a franchise now does it.
Well, Producers William Panzer and Peter Davis decided to give it a shot, upon receiving pressure from the foreign distribution market they decided to make Highlander II, but unfortunately they failed miserably to make it work despite having a bigger budget, a big name cast with Lambert and Connery reprising their roles plus adding Virginia Madsen and Michael Ironside who were then enjoying some box office success and mainstream recognition plus Russel Mulcahy returning to the director's chair, but why did this film fail where the first film succeeded, especially with those elements listed above.
1. The Necessity of the Film Itself: My own principal reason as to why this film failed was that we didn't need it at all, the first Highlander movie ended things on the right note with there now being only one, why not leave it at that, so many sequels fail time and time again because they only exist because of the box office of the previous film demanding it and that's what happened here, the first film was a hit so the industry demanded a sequel within a certain amount of time, as a result fans don't get the sequel they deserve and the one they get makes some of them think "why did we need this movie at all".
2. The Script: The second reason H2 failed is the lack of a coherent script, because of the way the first film ended, there would have been enormous difficulty going forward on a sequel that could take place afterwards, a prequel could work easily, just show Connor in a different time period before the time of the Gathering, living under a false name like his Russell Nash identity the first film and also remembering what Ramirez taught him and fighting another immortal villain.
Interestingly enough Lambert did a movie called The Sicilian with Michael Cimino, something along those lines might have worked instead of the 25 years later story we got, even though the idea of the Shield protecting the Earth is a good one, mainly because it actually builds on what we learnt in the first film in terms of Connor and the Prize.
On top of that we also get a script that doesn't know what it wants to do with itself, trying to capture the new sci-fi setting as well as the mysticism of the first film when it should have been one or the other.
3. Revealing the Immortals Origin Story: This would be number 1 for most people but since I value a coherent script more, this is number 3 instead, in the first Highlander we knew nothing about how people became Immortal and it made for some interesting intrigue, this time around their origins are revealed as aliens from the planet Zeist, which was enough to make every Highlander fan seeing the film for the first time have a sour taste in their mouth, again a story idea that simply didn't work.
4. The Return of Ramirez: In one of the first film's most dramatic and exciting moments, Ramirez and the Kurgan face off, resulting in Ramirez being carved up 3 ways to Tuesday and losing his head, here through the Quickening, he's magically brought back to life and for no genuine purpose, even though Connery does a nice job and gives the film it's only source of comedy that works.
5. The Use of the Queen Songs: Again an insult to fans of the first film was the use of that films songs by Queen, both A Kind of Magic and Who Wants to Live Forever can be heard on the film's soundtrack and again it serves no purpose but to make you remember the first Highlander movie and how good that was, way to go guys, it's bad enough this sequel was insulting to begin with.
I could go on and I probably have for some people but you know, I'm a big fan of Highlander and I wanted to cover it in this kind of way, as for me the success of Highlander 1 led to the failure of Highlander 2 as all that film was to sum it up was pointless, incoherent and insulting to the fans who enjoyed Highlander 1 and yearned for a sequel despite the fact that we didn't really need one at all, perhaps in the end, There should have Been Only One.