- Highlander (film)
Original style-A poster
Directed by Russell Mulcahy Produced by Peter S. Davis
William N. Panzer
Screenplay by Gregory Widen
Story by Gregory Widen Starring Christopher Lambert
Music by Queen
Cinematography Gerry Fisher Editing by Peter Honess Studio Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment
Highlander Productions Limited
Distributed by 20th Century Fox Release date(s) March 7, 1986(United States)
August 29, 1986 (United Kingdom)
Running time 110 minutes
Country United States
Language English Budget $16 million Box office $12,885,193
Highlander is a 1986 fantasy action film directed by Russell Mulcahy and based on a story by Gregory Widen. It stars Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, and Roxanne Hart. The film depicts the climax of an ages-old battle between immortal warriors, depicted through interwoven past and present day storylines. Despite having enjoyed little success in its initial U.S. release, the cult film launched Lambert to stardom and inspired a franchise that included film sequels, television spin-offs, and an upcoming remake. The film's tagline, "There can be only one," has carried on throughout the franchise, as have the songs provided for the film by Queen.
The film begins with a voiceover establishing the film as the story of the immortals fighting to the death for centuries. In 1985, Russell Nash (Christopher Lambert) decapitates Iman Fasil (Peter Diamond) during a sword fight in a Madison Square Garden parking garage. Nash hides his sword, an ivory-handled katana, and the police foil Nash's escape attempt from the garage. In 1536, Connor MacLeod (Lambert) and his clansmen, including his cousins Dugal MacLeod (Billy Hartman) and Angus MacLeod (James Cosmo), leave to confront Clan Fraser in a battle. During the battle, MacLeod is fatally wounded by the Kurgan (Clancy Brown), an Immortal ally of the Fraser Clan. The Kurgan prepares to decapitate Connor, but Dugal and Angus stop him. Connor's kinsmen and lover Kate MacLeod (Celia Imrie) mourn for him over his deathbed, but the next day, MacLeod has fully recovered, much to the confusion — and rising fear — of his clan. Dugal and Kate believe Connor is in league with the devil, and the clan prepares to burn him at the stake, but Angus saves him by banishing him instead.
In 1985, the police, led by Lieutenant Frank Moran (Alan North), investigate the Madison Square Garden crime scene. Forensics expert Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart) discovers a shard of MacLeod's sword in an I-beam, and takes it away for analysis. When she recognizes the sword steel to be older than any sword-smithing techniques known from medieval Japan, she becomes all the more interested in the mystery weapon. Moran returns to the Police Headquarters, where he tries in vain to interrogate Nash, while elsewhere, The Kurgan checks into a seedy hotel. Nash confronts Brenda at a local bar. When he leaves, she follows. The Kurgan confronts them, and he and MacLeod engage in a sword fight, but a police helicopter causes the two men to separate.
In the 16th century, Connor has married a woman named Heather MacLeod (Beatie Edney). One day, a stranger named Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (Sean Connery) arrives at their home, and MacLeod is hit by a sudden, painful sensation, which Ramirez calls the Quickening. Later on, Ramirez and MacLeod are out on a loch in a rowboat, and Ramirez throws MacLeod into the water. Unable to swim, MacLeod panics and begins to sink, but he finds himself still alive. Ramirez finally reveals that they are part of a select group born as Immortals, who are destined to fight and kill each other (by decapitation) until only one survives; this last Immortal will come to wield a prize which will give him supreme power over all mankind. Ramirez begins to train Connor in the use of the Quickening and the ways of the sword.
Later, Ramirez tells MacLeod that immortality can be a curse as well; Ramirez reveals he has been married three times, including to the daughter of a Japanese swordsmith who made Ramirez's katana, and watched all his wives grow old and die. He then begs MacLeod to let Heather go, but MacLeod refuses. Later one night, while MacLeod is out, Ramirez and Heather are having dinner when the Kurgan storms in. Ramirez and the Kurgan battle, and Ramirez almost wins, but is overpowered and decapitated by the Kurgan, who takes Ramirez's power and then rapes Heather. Connor returns to find his house in ruins, keeps Ramirez's sword, and remains by his wife's side all her life. Following her demise, MacLeod wanders around the world, with only his memories and Ramirez's sword to keep him company.
In 1985, Nash/MacLeod returns to his apartment and meets up with his adopted daughter, Rachel Ellenstein (Sheila Gish). He also encounters fellow Immortal Sunda Kastagir (Hugh Quarshie) and share a brief and friendly reunion and their memories of old times. Later that night, a paranoid ex-Marine Kirk Matunas (Christopher Malcolm) spots the Kurgan and Kastagir duelling. Kastagir is decapitated and Matunas open fires on the Kurgan, but the Kurgan recovers quickly and impales Matunas on his sword and leaves. Lt. Moran visits Matunas in the hospital, but Matunas' description does not match that of MacLeod, so the Kurgan becomes Moran's prime suspect. MacLeod visits Brenda after being invited to dinner and confronts her with his knowledge that she works for the police, but Brenda declares that all she really cares about is examining MacLeod's sword. As she later begins to delve into MacLeod's past life, she finds to her startlement that he has assumed the identity of a child which had died at birth and that he has walked the earth for several centuries. She confronts MacLeod with her findings, who tells her, cornered, that he is immortal, which he proves by plunging a dagger into his body. Connor and Brenda share an emotional kiss, and then make love.
The Kurgan notices this new intimacy in Connor's life, however, and when Brenda returns to her apartment, he captures her and takes her hostage. MacLeod decides to kill the Kurgan once and for all and rushes off to confront the Kurgan at Silvercup Studios. After a long and difficult battle, MacLeod finally manages to decapitate the Kurgan and receives the Immortals' collected powers. Later, back in Scotland, MacLeod reveals to Brenda he is now not only mortal and is finally able to have children, but has also been bestowed with the gift of telepathy, which he decides, remembering Ramirez's teachings, to use for the benefit of mankind.
Actor Role Christopher Lambert Connor MacLeod / Russell Nash Roxanne Hart Brenda Wyatt Clancy Brown The Kurgan / Victor Kruger Sean Connery Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez Beatie Edney Heather MacLeod Alan North Lieutenant Frank Moran Jon Polito Detective Walter Bedsoe Sheila Gish Rachel Ellenstein Hugh Quarshie Sunda Kastagir Christopher Malcolm Kirk Matunas Peter Diamond Iman Fasil Billy Hartman Dugal MacLeod James Cosmo Angus MacLeod Corinne Russell Candy Celia Imrie Kate MacLeod
Gregory Widen wrote the script to Highlander, which he then titled Shadow Clan, as a class assignment while he was an undergraduate in the screenwriting program at UCLA. Widen sold the script for US$200,000.
According to William Panzer, joint producer with Peter S. Davis of the Highlander franchise:
“ Gregory Widen was a student at film school, and he wrote this as his writing class project. (...) He was apparently travelling through Scotland on his summer vacation and he was standing in front of a suit of armor, and he wondered, 'What would it be like if that guy was alive today?' And that's where everything fell into place — the idea that there are Immortals and they were in conflict with each other, leading secret lives that the rest of us are unaware of... ”
Widen's original draft differed significantly from the movie version. It's darker and more violent. Connor is born in 1408 rather than 1518. He lives with his mother and father. Heather doesn't exist; Connor is promised to a girl named Mara, who rejects him when she learns he's immortal. Connor leaves his village instead of being banished. His alias is Richard Tupin and his weapon is a custom broadsword. Ramirez is a Spaniard born in 1100 instead of an ancient Egyptian born more than two thousand years earlier. The Kurgan is known as the Knight, using the alias Carl William Smith. He is not a savage, but a cold-blooded killer. Brenda is Brenna Cartwright.
Other elements were changed during the rewrite. Initially, immortals could have children; in the draft Connor is said to have had 37. In a flashback in the first draft, Connor attends the funeral of one of his sons. His wife (in her 70s) and his two sons, who are in their mid 50s, see him revealed as an immortal. Also, there are no quickenings in the first draft. When an immortal kills another, nothing special occurs. Nor is there mention of a "prize". When Connor finally kills the Knight, he feels a sharp burning pain. We are not told if he remains immortal.
Director of Photography Arthur Smith actually filmed the scene where fish fall out of MacLeod's kilt, but Lambert's kilt proved to be too short. Smith said, "I stuck part of a drain pipe above Chris's kilt out of camera range, and fed live trout down the tube." Smith also had difficulties shooting the scene where MacLeod meets the Kurgan. It was raining that day, and the crew had to use umbrellas and hair dryers to prevent the water from hitting the camera lenses and appearing on the film. Smith also remembered that Lambert, who was near-sighted, "kept forgetting to take off his glasses as he came over the hill on his horse."
The filming of the parking garage scene took place in two different places. According to New York location manager Brett Botula, "the garage exterior is Manhattan, across from Madison Square Garden, and the interior is 'somewhere in London.'"
The scene where the MacLeod clan sets off to battle is supposed to take place "in the village of Glenfinnan on the shore of Loch Shiel" in the Lochaber area, but was actually filmed at Eilean Donan Castle, which is in the same general area but is really on the shore of Loch Duich, a sea loch near Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye.
According to the DVD commentary, the film's climax was originally intended to take place on top of the Statue of Liberty. Then it was changed to an amusement park, and finally changed to the rooftop of the Silvercup Studios building. The opening sequence was originally intended to take place during an NHL hockey game. But the NHL refused to allow the crew to film there because they were intending to emphasize the violence of the match.
The church scene involving The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) was filmed at Augustines C of E in Kilburn, London at night time with the permission of the priests in charge. Still, Brown's lines were ad-libbed, and they were reportedly considered so sacrilegious that the priests off-camera were making the sign of the cross as he said them.
The scene in the alley where The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) beheads Kastagir (Hugh Quarshie) and then stabs the ex-marine, followed by the explosion, was filmed in an alley in England even though it was set in New York. The director was reluctant to set off the explosion in the alley because the windows were full of Victorian glass, but he was given permission to do so because that particular site was going to be destroyed in a few months anyway.
All of Sean Connery's scenes had to be filmed in a single week due to Connery's hectic schedule. Still, during the filming of the movie, Connery and Lambert got along even better than their on screen counterparts, even going as far as to call each other by their characters' names when not filming. The two were (and continue to be) such good friends that Lambert threatened to back out of the sequel unless Connery's character was added to the film. The opening voice over by Sean Connery has an echo effect because it was recorded in his Spanish Villa bathroom. It was played for the producers over the phone, and they approved of it because they could not discern the quality of the recording that way.
The original orchestral score was composed by Michael Kamen and the soundtrack includes several songs by Queen, such as "Hammer to Fall" and "Princes of the Universe," which was also used in the Highlander television series title sequence. Queen wrote many of the songs specifically to match the mood of the scenes when the songs were played, notably Brian May's "Who Wants to Live Forever," concerning the doomed love of Connor and his wife Heather.
While no albums specifically tied to the Highlander movie were ever released, Queen's 1986 album A Kind of Magic features most of the songs from the film, although sometimes in different arrangements. Notably, Queen's version of "Theme from New York, New York," which plays while The Kurgan drives Brenda through New York, was incompletely recorded, in that Mercury never recorded a full-length version of the song, and thus the band never released it. Part of Michael Kamen's score was played during the New Line Cinema logo before their movies in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Deleted and abandoned scenes
A duel sequence that introduced an Asian immortal named Yung Dol Kim was cut from the film. The footage for the scene, along with certain other deleted scenes, was later destroyed by fire, although a few stills from the sequence, some in colour and others in black & white, survived. Other deleted, and subsequently lost, moments include a scene of Connor, Kastagir and Bedsoe partying at a bar and one in which Connor shows Brenda his katana after sex.
In the scene following the one in which Connor takes the Kurgan's head, director Russell Mulcahy had originally envisioned an animated dragon with the Kurgan's battle helmet emerging from the Kurgan's decapitated body and challenging Connor again. Only after Connor had defeated this Ghost-Dragon would he have received the final quickening and subsequent Prize. This idea was eventually cut due to budget constraints.
The European version of the film contained scenes not found in the American version. The Director's Cut is based upon this version, and it runs eight minutes longer than the US version. The additional scenes include:
- MacLeod having a short flashback about his first battle in Scotland during the wrestling match
- A longer fight scene between Connor and Fasil, mainly Fasil doing backflips through the garage
- A scene showing Connor's first love, Kate, bringing him flowers before he goes to battle
- A flashback to World War II that further develops the character of Rachel Ellenstein
- Longer sex scene between Connor and Brenda
- A scene where the Kurgan can be seen in the background trailing MacLeod and Brenda at the zoo
- Much longer fight scene between MacLeod and the Kurgan at the end of the movie
There are several changes in dialogue from the theatrical version:
- Whooshing sounds whenever one Immortal senses another
- When Connor and Ramirez jump into the water during training, Ramirez (in the theatrical version) shouts, "MacLeod, this is the Quickening!"
- When Connor is talking about the 1783 bottle of wine (in the theatrical version), after he says, "Brandy, bottled in 1783", Brenda's head can be seen moving but she speaks no dialogue. In the new release, she says, "Wow, that's old."
- After Connor wins the Prize and is being comforted by Brenda (in the theatrical version), he looks up and says, "I want to go home." This is missing in the new release.
The new release is also missing a short scene of Detective Bedsoe spilling coffee on himself while staking out Brenda's apartment.
The French theatrical version of Highlander is mainly the same version as the US theatrical. It includes the World War II flashback but it removes the interior shot of Detective Bedsoe in his car while on a stakeout. This has been issued on 2-disc and 3-disc DVD sets in France with French dialog only.
Release and reception
Upon initial U.S. release, it was not well-received, but it gained wide and persistent popularity in Europe and on other markets, as well as on home video. It has since obtained status as a cult classic film in both domestic and non-domestic markets, leading to four sequels, a television series, and various other spin-offs.
Danél Griffin of Film as Art awarded the film four stars (out of four), saying: "The key to Highlander's success is in its approach to its subject matter. What could have been a premise that breathes cliché is given a fresh approach due to Mulcahy’s unique directing style and a cleverly-written script. [...] Highlander is certainly a classic film that will continue to be cherished and watched as the world of movie making continues to grow and change. It is a triumphant example of the art of cinema, and watching it reminds us all of why we like going to the movies in the first place." Christopher Null of FilmCritic.com gave the film four and a half stars out of five, writing: "Highlander has no equal among sword-and-sorcery flicks." Null later called Highlander "the greatest action film ever made," saying that it features "awesome swordfights, an awesome score, and a time-bending plotline that only a philistine could dislike."
Matt Ford of the BBC gave the film three stars out of five, writing: "From the moody, rain-soaked, noir-ish streets of late 20th century America to the wild open spaces of medieval Scotland, Mulcahy plunders movie history to set off his visceral fight scenes with suitably rugged locations. [...] What the film loses through ham acting, weak narrative, and pompous macho posturing it more than compensates with in sheer fiery bravado, pace, and larger than life action." Dean Winkelspecht of DVD Town also gave Highlander three stars out of five, writing: "The film's slow pace and dated look will turn away many a new viewer [...] 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] the film's story is unique and entertaining."
Also giving the film three stars out of five, Adam Tyner of DVD Talk wrote, "The screenplay spots a number of intelligent, creative ideas, and I find the very concept of displacing the sword-and-sorcery genre to then-modern-day New York City to be fairly inventive. The dialogue and performances don't quite match many of the film's concepts, though. The tone seems somewhat uneven, as if Highlander is unsure if it wants to be seen as a straight adventure epic or if it's a campy action flick." IGN, awarding Highlander a score of 8 out of 10, wrote: "This 80s classic has a lot going for it. The hardcore MTV manner in which it was filmed is common these days, but was groundbreaking then. This movie features some of the best scene transitions committed to celluloid. [...] To this is added some fun performances by Connery and especially Clancy Brown."
Leonard Maltin gave the film one and a half stars: "Interesting premise made silly and boring... Former rock video director Mulcahy's relentlessly showy camera moves may cause you to reach for the Dramamine."
The video was a hit in the United States. The theatrical release of Highlander II: The Quickening in 1991 significantly increased the rental activity on Highlander even though the sequel was not a box-office success. Highlander was first released to DVD in the United States in 1997, in a "10th Anniversary Edition" Director's Cut that contained the international uncut version of the film. A "15th Anniversary" edition was released in Australia in 2001, which also contained the International cut of the film. Highlander was again released in 2002 in two editions: a special edition "Immortal Edition" with several extra features and a standard edition, both of which contain the International uncut version. On the 17 June 2009 French distributor StudioCanal issued the film on Blu-ray with identical releases following in Germany, UK, Holland, Australia and Japan. The U.S. director's cut is currently available on DVD in North America from Lionsgate under license from the film's current owner, StudioCanal. 20th Century Fox, the theatrical distributor, remains the television rights holder.
A novelization of the film was written by Gary Kilworth. It expanded more on the movie by telling how The Kurgan met his first death, his training with an Immortal Arab known as The Bedouin whom he eventually kills. The novel also reveals how The Kurgan gets his customized broadsword and his battle with an Immortal Mongol before meeting MacLeod in 1536. The novel also expands on Connor's friendship with the African Immortal Sunda Kastagir. A flashback of them during the Zulu Natal Wars of 1879 describes how Connor was captured by Zulu King Cetewayo's men and how Kastagir helps his friend escape and showing Connor the way to the closest British camp. Rachel, in the novel, poses as Connor's mother.
Marie-Pier Côté, a 12-year old Canadian, published a novel called Laura l'immortelle. On March 13, 2007 the French-language newspaper La Presse published an article noting a list of similarities between Laura l'immortelle and Highlander. Côté later admitted that the story was a plagiarized Highlander fan fiction originally written by a Frenchman.
On March 2008, Summit Entertainment announced that it had bought the film rights to the Highlander franchise and is remaking the 1986 original movie. Originally Iron Man writers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway were writing the script, but Summit Entertainment turned to Melissa Rosenberg to write it instead, with release scheduled for 2011. In September 2009, Fast & Furious director Justin Lin was announced as director of the film while Neal H. Moritz will co-produce. As of 2011, release has been pushed back to 2014.
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- Swords used in the film
Highlander Films TV series AnimationThe Animated Series · The Search for Vengeance Books ComicsHighlander (comics) · Way of the Sword Video games Main characters Supporting characters Enemies Lists Other Films directed by Russell Mulcahy 1970sDerek and Clive Get the Horn (1979) 1980s 1990s 2000sOn the Beach (2000) · The Lost Battalion (2001) · 1st to Die (2003) · Swimming Upstream (2003) · 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story (2004) · Mysterious Island (2005) · The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (2006) · While the Children Sleep (2007) · Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) · The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (2008) · Prayers for Bobby (2009) · Give 'Em Hell, Malone (2009)
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