Yeah I know, oxymoron right?
Did you know Highlander is 30 years old this year? Granted, not until August. So a few months away yet, but I was watching Highlander on TV recently and it got me thinking…
What the hell happened to Highlander?
I was thinking about film franchises that have gone really, really bad. Quite a few came to mind, but one franchise stood out more than any other and that was Highlander.
So here, I’d like to take a brief look at the film series. I know the franchise had other outlets like the various TV series, games and even books/comics. But I only want to concentrate on main films of the franchise here and try to work out how it all went so wrong so quickly.
If you’re have never seen any of the films in the franchise, then be forewarned as this will contain huge spoilers.
Best get stuck in as there is a lot to cover. So lets go back to the film that started it all.
Highlander: This film was not a huge box office success. However, it became a cult classic when released for the home market and is still considered one of the best films of the 80s.
The plot revolves around a young Scottish warrior named Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) from the 16th century who is wounded on the battlefield by someone known as The Kurgan (Clancy Brown). The wound is a mortal one and Connor declared dead.
Yet the very next day he is up and walking with no ill effects from his battle. He is outcast and ostracised by his village as being in league with the devil and forced to make a new life for himself. This is when he meets Heather who eventually becomes the love of his life.
The two make a life for themselves and are living happily until Connor receives a visit from a stranger called Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (Sean Connery), a Spanish (he’s not Spanish, he’s Egyptian) traveller.
Ramírez reveals to Connor that he is an immortal and will never grow old or even die unless his head is removed from his body.
Ramírez is also an immortal and there are many others around the world too. The Kurgan who tried to kill Conner previously is also an immortal. Ramírez goes on to explain that all the immortals have a destiny, that is to fight each other until only one remains (there can be only one).
As the immortals become fewer and fewer over the years, they will feel an unavoidable pull you one place to fight to the death leaving only one final immortal (there can be only one). This is called ‘The Gathering’ and that final immortal can claim ‘The Prize’.
Ramírez tells Connor he can not let The Kurgan claim ‘The Prize’ as he will use it for evil. So Ramírez begins to train Connor in sword combat and prepare for the fight ahead.
Eventually the immortals are killed off over the centuries until only a handful remain. They last few immortals including Connor and The Kurgan are eventually drawn to New York in 1985. The place and time of ‘The Gathering’.
As the last of the immortals are killed, leaving only Connor and The Kurgan left. They fight each other to the death where Connor eventually bests The Kurgan and claims ‘The Prize’ as Connor becomes the only immortal left alive…there can be only one.
Yes I know I have brought up that line a few times already and even titled the article as such too, but there is a very good reason for doing so which I will cover later…
As I said previously, Highlander was not a box office smash, but it has and still does have a strong cult following. It has become one of those quintessential 80s movies.
However, it was also a film that was pretty much self contained and really left no wriggle room for sequels, as…there can be only one!
Yet as the film did do so well after becoming such a cult classic and favourite. A sequel was commissioned and released in 1991.
Highlander II: The Quickening: Often regarded as one of the worst film sequels ever made. The original film was far from perfect and had several problems. What this sequel seems to have done is taken everything that was great about the first film and throw it out. Then just taken the remains of the crap and make an entire film from it all.
If you thought the plot of the first film was stupid (it kind of was), you ain’t seen nothing yet…
Set in the future of 2024…yeah, you’ve lost interest already haven’t you?
Connor is now an old man after claiming ‘The Prize’ from the previous film has allowed him to age. He has used his amazing powers from ‘The Prize’ to help develop a shield around the earth to replace the damaged ozone layer. Hey, I did warn you about the plot and it’s only going to get much, much, oh so much worse from here…
Anyway, where as the original film left a lot of ambiguity to who/what the immortals were. Here everything is cough “explained”.
Apparently the immortals are aliens from a planet called Zeist. Yes I did just type that, they are aliens from a planet called Zeist. However they are not immortal on Zeist, I’ll cover this next.
Planet Zeist is a horrendous place rife with poverty and war.
While on Zeist centuries ago, Connor MacLeod was part of a rebellion lead by Ramírez who plan to try and overthrow the big bad of this film General Katana (Michael Ironside) and his oppressive regime. However, Katana’s men attack and capture both Ramírez and Connor MacLeod and kill the rest of the rebels. Ramírez and Connor are put on trial by Zeist’s priests, who sentence them to be exiled and reborn on Earth as immortals in pursuit of ‘The Prize’ (the first film).
So the events of the first film happened, leading into the events of this film with Connor now an old man almost ready to die from old age…until for some reason General Katana back on Zeist (who hasn’t aged a day over the centuries) decides to send two more Zeist aliens to Earth to kill Connor. The two ‘assassins’ fail in their mission and get decapitated and this, for some reason, makes Connor young and immortal once more.
Hey, I did warn you about the plot remember?
Here is a conversation taken straight from the film itself to “explain”.
Louise Marcus: “Okay, now let me just see if I can get this straight. You come from another planet, and you’re mortal there, but you’re immortal here until you kill all the guys from there who have come here… and then you’re mortal here… unless you go back there, or some more guys from there came here, in which case you become immortal here… again.”
Conner MacLeod: “Something like that.”
Remember, that is the film trying to explain all of this.
Anyway, as General Katana’s minions failed, he decides to come to Earth himself to kill Connor.
Ramírez who was most definitely killed in the first film is back because…the script says so. Connor and Ramírez team up to kill Katana, and that’s about it really.
Highlander II: The Quickening is so full of problems (of which I’ll cover later) its just plain embarrassing. It really is one of the worst most lazily written films ever. There is a reason why this is considered one of the worst sequels ever, because it really, really is.
The film bombed and has gone on to become one of the most hated films ever made. So much so there have been several different cuts released over the years, one that even attempts to remove the whole aliens/Zeist thing completely, so if you have seen Highlander II and don’t remember any aliens, this is most probably why.
Yet it really does not matter which version you watch, its a bad film.
Even though this film killed the Highlander franchise before it began…another sequel was made.
Highlander III: The Sorcerer: Now this film is nowhere nearly as bad as the last one…though its still not very good.
This film flat out ignores Highlander II and pretends it never existed and many fans claim that this one is the true and proper sequel to the original film.
Onto the plot (ignoring the events of Highlander II).
The film tells to story of Connor who after the death of his wife Heather from the first film, travels to Japan to request training from the Immortal Japanese sorcerer Nakano. Another Immortal named Kane also wants to ‘learn’ from Nakano and finds the sorcerer in a cave, then decapitates him. The force of ‘The Quickening’ from Nakano causes the cave to collapse trapping Kane inside…and this is why he could not take part in ‘The Gathering’ from the first film.
Then in 1994, in Japan, two archaeologists start excavating the cave in an attempt to discover whether the legend of the sorcerer Nakano was based on fact. The excavations free Kane, who immediately sets out in pursuit of Connor.
This all leads to a final showdown between Connor and Kane which Connor eventually wins.
Highlander III: The Sorcerer is not a great film, but its a damn sight better then that other sequel.
I’ll end Part I here, but there is more Highlander silliness coming in Part II of this “There can be only one” look at the Highlander franchise as the sequels get worse, maybe even worse than Highlander II?
The Kurgan: “I’m in disguise!”