I first discovered Highlander via City TV’s Late Great Movies. I was 11 years old, recovering from surgery and couldn’t sleep. First up was Conan the Destroyer and even as an 11-year-old, I knew it wasn’t very good. Then Highlander came on. Right off the bat, I got pro wrestling followed by a sword fight. Then there was flashbacks to the past and it had kick-ass songs by Queen.
How had I not heard about this film?
I mean, it had Sean Connery in it!
When I got back to school, I talked to all of my friends about this oddball movie that was so cool. Some of them thought I had dreamt it. Others had never heard of it.
Not to sound like the old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn but before the internet, cult movies made their rounds by word of mouth. Or maybe you’d read about them in a book about cult movies. Or you’d discover them late night on t.v. when you couldn’t sleep. That’s what made them cult movies. Only a few people knew about them and those who did, really dug them.
Today, with the internet, it’s similar in terms of word of mouth but instead of two of your buddies, you tell 200 or 2000 “friends” on facebook or twitter.
The following summer, I would mention it to my Uncle Bill who was the first person I knew who knew what I was talking about. He even had a copy of it. Okay, he had a copy of a copy but that was good enough.
There was something weirdly amazing about the film, especially when you break it down to it’s parts. The weird casting, for example. They have a Frenchman (Christopher Lambert) playing a Scotsman, a Scotsman (Sean Connery) playing an Egyptian that made a pit stop in Spain, and an American (Clancy Brown) playing (if the dialogue is to be believed) a Russian. And not a SINGLE ONE OF THEM CHANGES THEIR ACCENT. Due to Lambert’s… shall we say challenged English at the time, some of the dialogue comes off a little wonky.
As much as the film should be failing, it kind of makes it charming. While the score by Michael Kamen is decent, the music from Queen just stands out so much. I’m almost of the mind that had the film not had the Queen music to back it up, it very well could have disappeared from the radar.
That’s kind of the story behind Highlander. It’s a franchise that, much like its main character, seems immortal despite doing it’s best to get its head cut off.
Take the sequel for instance.
Highlander 2: The Quickening came out when I was twelve and it’s the first time I remember seeing a trailer for a sequel to a film that I loved and did not want to see it.
Between 9 and 10, I had this weird completest thing with movie franchises. If I saw the first one, I had to watch the rest of them. To be perfectly honest, I still have the lingering effects of that phase. If I own two out of three movies in a series and I see the third in a story, I will temporarily think about buying it before my brain kicks in and reminds me that it was garbage.
Anyways, I had sat through every Star Trek and every Superman, yet Highlander 2 just looked wrong. Why was Ramirez back? Hoverboards? More immortals? It was a sequel that even from the trailer you knew something had gone off the rails.
Highlander 2 should have killed the franchise. I know what some of you are going to say: “The film was taken away from the creative people and finished by the insurance company. You should watch the director’s cut.” I have seen three different versions of that film and none of them are any good, make any sense or are worth your time unless your drunk and you have friends over who want to put on a bad movie. It’s terrible and by all rights, that should have been the end of it.
Then a year later we got a t.v. series that completely ignored the events of the second movie (or I guess they didn’t happen yet… at any rate, the immortals are no longer aliens). The series was okay to start but actually got to be pretty good. Two years into the series, there was a third Highlander film with Lambert that sort of restores the ending of the first film via a loophole. Once again, the immortals as aliens have been dropped. Highlander 3 is better than 2 but still isn’t that great.
The t.v. series continued until 1998. When it ended, we got one season of a spin-off: Highlander: The Raven. It too was not very good.
Finally, in 2000, we got the team-up film where we saw Duncan McLeod partner with his cousin, Connor, to fight the bad guys. This film was alright, not great but at least attempted to pull together the mythologies of both the film and television universes.
Then we got another movie that as far as I know, never had a proper North American release beyond airing on the Sci-Fi Network in the states. In between these, there were a ton of mediocre books, an animated series for kids (that was terrible), an an anime for adults (that’s actually pretty good if you kind of ignore the film series), and a decent comic book series that was short-lived.
Somehow, the franchise still manages to live. There are talks of a big budget reboot (out of everything out there that could use a solid reboot, this is it) and IDW has recently started publishing a new comic book series that’s actually pretty decent.
BUT HOW DOES IT KEEP GOING?
The power of Queen hasn’t been able to hold together this entire thing. It’s a franchise that’s kept together by chewing gum and shitty dollar store string at this point. Yet it still manages to keep bring out something new every now and then and fans still seem to be interested. I know because I’m one of those people who will always take a look at the new material. I may not buy into it or go beyond a glance but I will at least take a peek. The new comic book series from IDW is a perfect example. I didn’t know anything about the creative team or even the story. I just saw the Francesco Francavilla cover and had to see. As it turned out, it’s pretty good. But why did I give it a chance when so much other Highlander material has been garbage?
I think at the end of the day, Highlander oddly hit all of our nerd buttons. It has swords. While it doesn’t have time travel, we do see the characters in other time periods. There’s a bit of mystery surrounding the fact that these immortals exist for no apparent reason but yet someone told someone else that they had to cut each other’s heads off for a mysterious prize.
Or maybe we just like the decapitation thing.
Or maybe that’s just me… and maybe I should go into therapy.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!