The 1980s were full of fantasy films. There was no shortage of high-fantasy films like Dragonslayer, dark fantasy like Legend and The Dark Crystal, or adaptations of existing properties like Conan the Barbarian. Many times they brought the synth-heavy soundtracks so popular during that decade, which spilled over from the genre films of the ’60s and ’70s into the mainstream of the ’80s.
Then, in 1986, came Highlander. Right from the opening scene, taking place at a professional wrestling event in Madison Square Garden, set to Queen’s thumping Princes of the Universe, Highlander was a rock-infused kick in the teeth.
Viewing the special features, many released for the first time in this 30th anniversary edition, that rock-and-roll attitude should come as no surprise. This edition features recent interviews with director Russell Mulcahy, best known at the time of Highlander‘s production as a pioneer in the early music video scene, and actor Christopher Lambert. Both talk about how Queen was under contract to provide a single radio-ready song for the soundtrack, but after an advance showing of the movie decided to write an entire album inspired by and used in the film. Also noted is how composer Michael Kamen worked with the band to create an orchestral score for the film based off the band’s songs, weaving together a musical tapestry that infuses the film with raw nerve.
Don’t get me wrong. The synth is still there, but it takes a back seat to the rock.
In addition to the film’s rock attitude, the interviews point to the tragic and romantic elements of the story as the main component that sticks with audiences 30 years after the film’s theatrical release. The four-part making-of-Highlander documentary included in this edition talks with the film’s writers and producers about how these reluctant characters, burdened with immortality and a terrible destiny, set Highlander apart from other swordplay spectacles made in the 1980s.
The five deleted scenes included are five existing scenes that were pared down in the theatrical cut for the sake of time. None of these scenes have existing audio, so pieces of score that roughly fit the mood of these scenes were added to create the deleted scenes for this release. If you’re looking for some missing piece of dialogue that makes Highlander 2 make more sense, you won’t find it here. However, these missing or deleted scenes are cut together from both color and from black and white footage, leaving me hoping at some point for a full black-and-white release of the film.
While the extras are excellent additions for the Highlander enthusiast, what matters here is the film itself. How well does the movie hold up 30 years after its initial run? I’m a little (okay, a lot) biased in my opinion. I love Highlander. The original is the high-water mark in the series. I love it enough to sit through Highlander 2. Once. I love it enough not to run away from the franchise after Highlander 2, but return for Highlander 3, the syndicated TV series, and the subsequent direct-to-video feature-length releases. Compare that to Star Wars, where the number of good films outnumber the bad entries in the series, and you start to get an idea the amount of goodwill that the original Highlander garners in my heart.
A Frenchman who spoke no English when he was cast playing a Scot, opposite a Scot playing a Spaniard who is originally Ancient Egyptian, with a young Clancy-frackin’-Brown as the villain? What’s not to love?
Highlander: 30th Anniversary Edition is on sale today at Amazon or your favorite purveyor of physical media.
Disclaimer: a copy of the 30th anniversary edition of the film was provided for review. All opinions and unmitigated man-crush for this film are my own.