Do You Remember The First Time? – Highlander

I saw the decapitation-fest fantasy film Highlander at the cinema in Rhyl with friends and a very recently ex-d girlfriend sitting with her friends a few rows behind me on November 1st 1986. It was also the same day I bought Sheer Heart Attack by Queen on vinyl for the princely sum of £4. The day sticks in my mind and the reason I know the precise date is that I used to keep a diary back then.

The fact that my ex was sitting a few rows back made the love story contained within the film all the more touching and the fact that Queen had performed the songs used in the film meant that it was essential viewing for me, despite the fact that I didn’t really enjoy their previous film ‘outing’ in Flash Gordon. I liked the single ‘Flash’ but the film kinda sucked, despite what Mark Wahlberg and Ted would have you believe.

I watched Highlander for the umpteenth time (twentieth?) about a week ago, but for the first time on Blu-ray. The special effects now look dated but I still enjoyed the story and had forgotten how darn funny and visually interesting it is. Yes you can still see the wires holding up Christopher Lambert at the end (the film predated digital wire removal) but the final silhouetted sword fighting scene with big camera tracking shots is still as awesome as ever (and much copied – I’m thinking of Skyfall and Kill Bill. But I guess there’s some Japanese films and a few pop videos that used the idea before Highlander) and the bit where he says “there can be only one” directly into camera in his funny accent is awesome.

Talking of pop videos I didn’t realize that the director, Russel Mulcahy, started out doing Duran Duran videos (‘Wild Boys’ for instance) and that Highlander was only his second film. I have his first film Razorback on my rental list but haven’t seen it yet. I’ve heard it’s a gas. Mulcahy pulls quite a few excellent scene-changing tricks such as moving up ‘through’ a car park ceiling to behind a wall in medieval Scotland to reveal (the now much filmed) Eilean Donan castle on its tidal island and later moving up from an aquarium in Nash’s modern New York apartment to the surface of a loch where Ramirez is teaching the young Connor Macleod to balance in a rowing boat.

For me the film is helped immensely by Sean Connery’s role as mentor to Macleod and Clancy Brown’s turn as The Kurgan which mixes comedy and evilness to great effect. I was recently delighted to recognize him in the film Homefront (see earlier post). Roxanne Hart’s character was unfortunately rather two-dimensional and I would rather had seen more of Heather Macleod or the enigmatic Rachel who Macleod rescues from the ‘master race’ in an excellent scene based in WWII.

The storyline is fairly standard ‘hero’s journey’ fodder with a twist of Interview with a Vampire immortal existentialist angst and similar time-hopping. Highlander was for a long time my number one film and I watched it so many times on video the tape wore out and I knew the dialogue pretty much word for word. The Kurgan of course got the best lines and these were used a bit on Queen’s A Kind of Magic album that contained the songs from the film.

The film was loaded with a fair amount of emotional baggage for me and having read a few diary entries about events that happened around that time in 1986 it was no surprise that it occupied a special place in my heart and mind. It’s kind of cool to look back at the younger me and want to travel back in time and help myself out and on the other hand be able to sit here with a wry smile on my face and think ‘nothing really got broken’.

To bring the tale up to date Siggy walked in on the final scene of the film where Nash and Brenda are drinking wine on a breezy heather dotted hillside in sunshine and asked me ‘where’s that?’  I replied ‘it’s called Highlander the clue’s in the name… Scotland obviously…’ Then I watched the extras and discovered that the closing scene is actually filmed in Wales. A formal apology has been issued.

I am not willing to talk about Highlander II, thought Highlander III was okay and didn’t see any of the television series. Maybe someone will do a remake one of these days?

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