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 has inspired a franchise that includes film sequels and television spin-offs.
Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) was born in the year 1518 "in the village of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel." In 1536, his clan is in conflict with the Clan Fraser, and Connor rides along into his first battle. The Frasers are working with a towering monster of a man known as The Kurgan (Clancy Brown), who has recognized that Connor is a fellow Immortal, and hopes to use the battle to kill Connor before he becomes aware of his abilities.
On the battlefield, Connor wonders why none of the Fraser's forces will attack him, until he comes across the Kurgan and is struck by an odd pain (from sensing the proximity of another immortal). This leaves him open to attack. The Kurgan mortally wounds Connor but is interrupted as he was preparing to decapitate him by several members of the MacLeod clan. As he's being pressed back by Connor's kinsmen, the Kurgan vows to return and finish the job.
The clan mourn Connor, but he miraculously revives shortly after his 'death'. Accusing him of witchcraft, Connor's clansmen beat him and prepare to burn him, but his cousin Angus (James Cosmo) persuades them to exile Connor instead. He escapes with his life, but is banished forever from his clan and birthplace.
MacLeod eventually becomes a blacksmith in Glencoe, where he marries Heather (Beatie Edney). In 1541, he is located by a much older Immortal, who introduces himself as Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (Sean Connery). He explains that the pain he feels in the Kurgan's and Ramírez's presence is "The Quickening", which compels Immortals to battle each other. Ramírez appoints himself MacLeod's tutor in the ways of being Immortal, their pursuit of The Prize, and the rules of an age-old "Game", which will end when the few who remain participate in "The Gathering", noting that "in the end, there can be only one." Immortals can only die by decapitation and can only avoid battle on holy ground.
Ramírez later explains that his own name is just his current alias, being Egyptian by birth. He adopted it while serving as Chief Metallurgist for Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (also King of Spain between 1516-1556). His sword is a katana he received in Japan in 593 B.C., made by his (then) father-in-law Masamune. Masamune, a genius far ahead of his time in the forging of swords, was the father of Princess Shakiko, Ramírez's third wife. Ramírez also takes it upon himself to improve MacLeod's swordsmanship, which he declares is "no better than that of a clumsy child."
Ramírez warns MacLeod to leave his wife or face heartbreak, explaining that "I was born 2,437 years ago. In that time, I've had three wives. The last was Shakiko, a Japanese princess... When Shakiko died, I was shattered. I would save you that pain. Please, let Heather go." He also explains that Immortals are incapable of having children.
MacLeod refuses to leave his wife, though he continues to train under Ramírez, who also explains the origins of the Kurgan and the risk for the world if he wins the Prize. One night, the Kurgan arrives at MacLeod's home while MacLeod himself is absent, though Heather and Ramírez are there. The Kurgan and Ramírez duel, with the frightened Heather their only spectator. After an extended duel, which destroys the house, the Kurgan manages to decapitate Ramírez, and proceeds to rape Heather, as a further humiliation to his old enemy (Ramírez) and "his woman." MacLeod soon returns to find his home in ruins, his mentor killed, and his wife alive, but traumatized. She never tells him about the rape, and MacLeod never learns of the event until 1985, when The Kurgan mocks Ramírez's memory.
MacLeod remains with his wife until her death from old age. Dying in MacLeod's arms, she confides that her only regret was not having his children. After burying Heather, MacLeod burns their residence and wanders the world, journeying as far away as Japan, and finally ends up in America. These travels include an 18th Century duel on Boston Common (in which a drunken MacLeod is repeatedly run through by a sword, to no effect, by an insulted husband), and killing a Nazi officer during World War II, rescuing young Rachel, a Holocaust survivor, in the process. His experiences over time leave him a bitter, cynical man.
In 1985, in New York City, the few surviving Immortals are participating in "The Gathering," a final series of confrontations to determine the winner of "The Prize." Eventually, the last two surviving are MacLeod, under the alias of "Russell Edwin Nash" and the Kurgan, under the alias of "Victor Kruger." Meanwhile, the spike in what appear to be murders by decapitation has drawn the attention of the police, who find MacLeod leaving the scene of an earlier duel and bring him in for questioning. However, as their evidence is circumstantial, they can not arrest him, though he becomes their prime suspect. Among the investigators of the case is forensic scientist Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart), who has an intricate knowledge of swords. Samples taken from the crime scene reveal the sword used is nearly 2000 years old (MacLeod is now using Ramírez' sword) and she begins investigating him, primarily over interest in the sword.
Eventually, her investigation reveals MacLeod's longevity through the use of different names, and she confronts him about it. He reveals his true nature to her and she finds herself falling in love with him. This does not escape the attention of the Kurgan, who is now being hunted by the police as their murderer after being identified by a 'mortal' he has stabbed during a recent duel. He abducts Brenda to force MacLeod into a final confrontation. MacLeod battles the Kurgan, finally defeating him (with a little help from Brenda). He wins "The Prize" which is revealed to be mortality, the ability to sire children, and a telepathic/empathic gift described as "you are at one with all living things", and "each man's thoughts and dreams are yours to know". He and Brenda embark on a new life together.
|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|
|Celia Imrie||Kate MacLeod|
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, "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, saying: "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, saying: "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 said, "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, said: "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."
While the U.S Director's Cut is based on the European cut, there remain differences in dialogue. In the American cut, when Connor falls from the boat and end up on the sea floor, he says "I'm alive", whereas the European version expands upon that: "I'm alive...I can breath..." Shortly followed by; "I'll split you in half!" (spoken while drawing his sword under water).
The French theatrical version of "Highlander" is mainly the same version as the U.S theatrical. It does add the World War II flashback but it also 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.
While an album specifically tied to the Highlander movie was never released, Queen's 1986 album A Kind of Magic features most of the songs from the film, as well as other music on the same theme. Notably, Queen's version of "Theme from New York, New York" (playing while The Kurgan drives Brenda through New York) was never released by the band.
As well, parodies have been made of the film, copying the plot and visuals while comedically substituting known personalities as the characters in the film. Among these, another Cartoon Network animated series, Robot Chicken, parodies the film using Hollywood as the setting, and several teen idols such as Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes and Hilary Duff as Immortal characters.