Highlander is a film I’ve seen a couple of times before now, but it’s been a long time since I last saw it and, 30 years on from its theatrical release, it’s good to reconnect with a classic from what feels like the not-so-distant past. I’ll also say at this point that I’m one of the few people who really enjoyed Highlander II, particular in the director’s cut “Renegade Version“. I have the on Region 1 DVD, but for Blu-ray, there’s never been a UK release. There are others around Europe and US, and the Blu-rays should not be region-locked so you can still enjoy them over here.
With Christopher Lambert in the lead role, from the highlands of Scotland to a very lush pad in New York, ‘Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod’ (since you cannot say his name any other way) has done alright for himself – except for when the price of immortality is such that he outlives his totty, and they die in his arms while he’s still boring them into ennui with his dodgy Scots accent). Currently living the live of antique shop owner Russell Nash, with the late great Sheila Gish as his secretary, he’s about to fall in love again – not with that major MILF (he missed a trick, there), but with investigative author Brenda (Roxanne Hart), whilst forever plagued with the knowledge that “there can be only one”, since all other of his kind will have to die – only by having their head chopped off, and then the one remaining can finally grow old and shuffle off their mortal coil.
The major baddy this time round is The Kurgan (Clancy Brown, who brilliantly hams it up, although for entertainment value, I did enjoy more the ‘baddie’ turn from Michael Ironside in the sequel), who pays a visit to Sean Connery, around the halfway mark, as the health and safety inspector, to point out the burning issue that there’s no handrail on the stairs, before demolishing his lovely house quicker than a dodgy repair job on Homes Under The Hammer.
As it heads towards the inevitable ‘final fight’ conclusion, there’s a lot of fun to be had in this film, but note that despite the flashy header on the box, the disc may be struck from a 4K master, but this Blu-ray does not contain a 4K version because it’s a regular 1080p high-definition Blu-ray (or standard-definition DVD if you bought that).
The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high definition, and for a remastered disc, there are far more problems than I would expect to see. Even if a lot of them are down to how the film was originally made, and/or shot – and so film stock won’t improve over time, fans are now used to blistering-quality flaw-free prints that you expect with modern digital recordings, and they won’t get that here. There may be spoilers as I describe the problems.
First off, the image is quite hazy in the opening car park scene, and is really bad just after Connor’s been stabbed and it goes ‘into his eye’ at the end of the flashback around 16:30. In addition, while the action-sound FX are accurate, the dialogue is just slightly out of sync – but not uniformly so. When I had this with the review disc I received, I contacted the PR company, who sent out a finished Blu-ray disc, but oh dear, Studiocanal, since staggeringly, that IS how it is. It’s not the only recent release for a 30-year-old film that’s had such problems – Absolute Beginners also suffered, but again, since the sync issues are not always the same delay in time, I figured this is the only print that was available. I’ve since learned from a friend who showed a 35mm print of this film once, that the original print is “notoriously all over the place”. Ideally, I would say that before putting this out as a high-profile release, surely steps should be taken to get it right, but as he told me, “it’d probably cost too much to fix and I don’t think the original camera negatives exist anymore.”
Once this settles down, about 20 minutes in, there are glorious locations which look stunning in 1080p, and Russell Mulcahy is a very impressive director with his sweeping visual shots. Of course, now what we need is a true 4K release (and I need such a TV). Given how some studios are putting out true 4K discs, I feel Studiocanal have missed a trick not doing this with Highlander, given how much they’ve trumpted the ‘4K Restoration’.
The sound is also a hit-and-miss affair. On the plus side, there’s great split-surround effects with the buzzing electricity in the car park, plus other scenes where the same thing happens, as well as when Kurgan waves his magic sword about in his motel room, and brilliant atmosphere when Kurgen trashes Connery’s house and other such scenes when all hell is breaking loose. There’s also a wonderful original score from Michael Kamen, which I’ve always preferred to Queen‘s album, A Kind of Magic, and no doubt Freddie Mercury is spinning in his grave as the title track is being used to hawk the cheesy wares of a furniture company.
Alas, there’s those sync issues with the dialogue, and even the quality of the sound is a bit iffy, such as when Connor goes to Brenda’s apartment. That’ll be down to the original audio elements and may not be able to be corrected, but for anyone who doesn’t realise, it may give the wrong impression of an unfinished audio remastering.
The menu mixes a brief segment of Mr Kamen’s soundtrack with clips from the film. There are frequently dodgy subtitles, such as Lieutenant Frank Moran (Alan North) says “This one came unassembled”, around 20 minutes in, this is shown on the subtitles as “This one came to assemble”. Elsewhere, ‘boats’ is spelled ‘boots’. In addition, there are a bog-standard 12 chapters, which isn’t very special.
The extras are as follows and comprise mostly of pre-existing content, but there are two brand new interviews with this release:
- Interview with Christopher Lambert (19:44): A brand new interview in which he talks about what led him to do this movie, and how it was only his second English-speaking role following Greystoke. In addition to talking about Queen making an entire album for this film, he’s still passionate about films, and of course, this movie, but he doesn’t sound particularly well.
- Interview with Russell Mulcahy (22:06): Another brand new interview, where the director talks about his career, how Lambert came to be in the film, and how they only had Sean Connery for seven days, which is something I never realised.
- The Making of Highlander (1:55:41): A feature-length extra, mixing clips from the film with a great deal of insight into the movie. Presented in standard definition, this was originally released in 2007. While most of the extras have a few chapters (even the short interviews), this one – which is separated into four segments: A Legend is Born, The Visual Style, A Strong Woman and The Producer’s Point of View – is superbly chaptered with 22 to run through. Now, why couldn’t the film be given such treatment??
- Deleted Scenes (6:13): 5 of them, but they’re not what you expect (unless you’ve seen them on a previous release) as they’re just footage where the original soundtrack was no longer available, so random music has been put on top of it.
- Archival interview with Christopher Lambert (8:32): This time, he speaks in his own French tongue, with English subtitles. Well, he doesn’t speak the subtitles but… yep, you got what I meant.
- Trailer (2:31): In the original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, with that deep-voiced announcer.
- Audio commentary: with director Russell Mulcahy.
All that said, can we have a UK Blu-ray release for Highlander II: Renegade Version, please?
Running time: 116 minutes
Released: July 11th 2016
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen: 1.85:1 (35mm, J-D-C Cameras)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Producers: Peter S Davis and William N Panzer
Screenplay: Gregory Widen, Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson
Music: Michael Kamen
Connor ‘The Highlander’ MacLeod/Russell Edwin Nash: Christopher Lambert
Brenda J. Wyatt: Roxanne Hart
Victor Kruger/The Kurgan: Clancy Brown
Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez: Sean Connery
Heather MacLeod: Beatie Edney
Lieutenant Frank Moran: Alan North
Det. Walter Bedsoe: Jon Polito
Rachel Ellenstein: Sheila Gish
Sunda Kastagir: Hugh Quarshie
Kirk Matunas: Christopher Malcolm
Iman Fasil: Peter Diamond
Dougal MacLeod: Billy Hartman
Angus MacLeod: James Cosmo
Kate MacLeod: Celia Imrie
Chief Murdoch: Alistair Findlay
Garfield: Edward Wiley
Father Rainey: James McKenna
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.