Monday, 21 February 2011

80s Movies: Highlander (1986)

Highlander is a fine example of not just film-making, but legend-making. In a single movie it created a world that has become easily recognisable from a single image (Sean Connery atop a ruined castle; Christopher Lambert surrounded by lightning) or line ("There can be only one."). As a story, it spawned a franchise including the greatest number of straight-to-TV movies that I can easily bring to mind. There always seems to be a MacLeod running around decapitating immortals on one satellite channel or another.

Christopher Lambert is great in this movie. I think it's fair to call it a career-defining role for him. Sean Connery plays a pretty important part, given that his actual appearances throughout the film are relatively few in the grander scale of the storyline. The two of them easily dominate the film, in the best possible way, with the kind of friendship that only a shared burden - that of the immortals - and an off-screen camaraderie could produce.

In fact, friendship plays a recurring theme throughout the film - given the seemingly solitary nature of being immortal, MacLeod manages to befriend a number of his counterparts, which leaves me wondering how the plot might have unfolded if they were the only ones left (given that "there can be only one"...).

The Plot

As I may have mentioned above, this is the story of the immortals. Born to human parents at different times throughout history, they cannot die by ordinary means; they must be decapitated. As they come together, a process called the Quickening takes hold - unleashing abilities bordering on telepathy and superhuman strength. Ultimately, the immortals must meet at the Gathering, where they will fall one by one until the 'prize' goes to the last man standing.

It would be easy for Highlander to look like a Mortal Kombat film - or even to resemble DOA: Dead or Alive - given that its storyline demands a sequence of bigger and bigger fight scenes. But it's not really shot like that - the fights aren't from that side-on video game perspective, instead opting for over-the-shoulder angles that put the viewer into the action. They're also written into the story pretty well, rather than serving as combat cut scenes.

For those reasons - and the two or three truly great scenes (such as the montage of MacLeod living a lifetime as a young man with his ageing lover Heather, to the backing track of Queen's Who Wants to Live Forever) put the star after this movie's A-grade.

The Queen Songs

Highlander is, for me, synonymous with Queen's contributions to the soundtrack. None is more directly associated with the movie than Who Wants to Live Forever, at least in my mind - it's a truly haunting, moving song intended to portray the tragedy of living and loving as an immortal, watching the people you love grow old and die. I may not be immortal, but for me it's become something of an anthem anyway - a reminder to live each day and make it count.

The track Princes of the Universe seems to resonate strongly with many of the film's die-hard fans, and it's easy to see why. It has an epic and fairly uplifting tone to it, as opposed to the melancholy Who Wants to Live Forever - making this the anthem for fans of the film's wider story, rather than its more introspective elements.

Finally, one I didn't realise was written for Highlander - A Kind of Magic. Again, like many Queen songs, this is an epic anthem which, on reflection, does reference the film over and over again - notably with the lyric "there can be only one". As is pointed out elsewhere, the album A Kind of Magic is actually about as close as there is to a Highlander soundtrack.

80s Movies

In February, POPSICULTURE are dedicating the month to a look back at the iconic films of the 1980s - a decade whose films continue to draw massive audiences when they are shown on TV. To follow posts in this series, check the 80s Movies label or sign up to the dedicated RSS feed.

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