Why Highlander Is a Much Better Movie Than You Remember

The grubby uncle of Game of Thrones? Maybe, but it’s still a surprisingly engaging genre effort

«There can be only one…», is the victorious catchphrase uttered by centuries-old, sword-wielding immortals once they have lopped off the head of rivals for the ultimate prize (imaginatively entitled, The Prize). That saying could easily be applied to the quality control of a film series which spawned an infamously terrible sequel and a number of subpar spin-offs. But even if this outlandish 1986 fantasy adventure Highlander now resembles the grubby uncle of Game of Thrones, it’s still a surprisingly engaging genre effort.

Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert in a scene of Highlander.

It’s highly unlikely that the film would see the light of day in this modern age of genre cinema, where content is almost exclusively derived from established material, be it remake, sequel or literary adaptation. Highlander is a completely original product, and that’s precisely why the film has enjoyed longevity. The Joseph Campbell template is certainly adhered to and creator Gregory Widen spins a fun mythology with the kind of loopy premise that somehow works despite the many inconsistencies it throws up (for instance, why do the immortals vary in age if they’re supposed to be immortal?).

«I am Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I was born in 1518 in the village of Glenfinnan». Lambert and Beatie Edney.

It’s also a nifty narrative device of having the back story and origins of protagonist Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) play out during his contemporary adventures. Even in this digital age where anything can be conjured up for the screen, director Russell Mulcahy’s visual time transitions are still hugely inventive and breath-taking. Having a camera depart, in the same shot, from a downtown NY car park and resurface in the muddy battlegrounds of 16th century Scotland remains a thrilling cinematic feat to witness.

«From the dawn of time we came, moving silently down through the centuries». Ramirez and MacLeod.

There’s something refreshingly quaint about watching those skirmishes in the era of CGI, where a handful of enthusiastic extras have been employed, rather than of a huge legion of warriors being digitally pasted in there. This isn’t to say the film is without flaws, however. That flashy, hollow 80s aesthetic can’t help but date some aspects. And the film also loses momentum when the flashbacks have ended, and what essentially remains is a fairly standard damsel in distress tale.

Lambert with Clancy Brown in another scene.

Yet despite these hiccups, Highlander it’s still an immensely entertaining slice of sword and sorcery hokum, right through to the stunningly OTT final face-off between MacLeod and his arch enemy, the Kurgan (Clancy Brown is just as formidable as you remember him to be in the role). Highlander is the visual equivalent to rock band Queen (who supply a number of songs on the soundtrack) – big, brash and operatic filmmaking of the highest order.

  • Watch the music video for Who Wants To Live Forever by Queen from the Call Me By Your Name original soundtrack:

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