"If victory favors me, I will protect your child with my life."

"I ask you not to worry about that possibility. Because my son and I live on the Demon Way in Hell, we're prepared to descend into Hell through the Six Realms and Four Lives."

Highlander: The Source

I don’t know if HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME was ever supposed to be the end of the series, but it didn’t turn out that way. Since it lost money, obviously Miramax/Dimension didn’t want to be in the Highlander business anymore, and they sold the rights back to Davis-Panzer, who probly didn’t want to work with those shitheads again anyway. They weren’t making TV shows anymore and they wanted to keep their baby alive, so seven years later they figured out a way to make the fifth in the HIGHLANDER movie series, just without releasing it to theaters.

From the dawn of 1986 they came…moving stylishly down through the decades. Movies, TV shows, cartoons, struggling to reach the time of the reviewing, when Vern will write about the franchise

HIGHLANDER: THE SOURCE arrived in 2007 and is – at least for the foreseeable future – the final Highlander movie. It’s the only one that’s about Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) without Connor MacLeod, and therefore the only live action one without Christopher Lambert. It’s filmed in Lithuania with exaggerated digital colors and green screen FX, giving it a cheap but distinct look and feel. It’s not technically post-apocalyptic like the two animated spin-offs, but it does not depict civilization as doing great. The opening tells us “The world has fallen into chaos and decay. There is no law, no justice, only death and destruction. Some say it’s a sign of the coming of the apocalypse, a time that even Immortals fear.” This is illustrated by an alley where some barrels are burning and a guy is getting stabbed. I think another guy is buying drugs (gasp!).

Being in production at the same time, the anime spin-off THE SEARCH FOR VENGEANCE also opened by saying that the world “has fallen into chaos and decay.” I suppose the difference in levels of chaos and decay can be measured in their stadium scenes: THE SOURCE has an abandoned stadium used as a refugee camp, THE SEARCH FOR VENGEANCE has one that’s completely flooded. As far as societal collapses go, this seems a little further along than the first MAD MAX. The city is dangerous, but the rural and wooded areas are worse. Much of the movie involves driving on empty roads, hiding in abandoned cabins and trying to escape from roving cannibal gangs.

It takes place in “Central Europe,” and is narrated by Duncan’s ex-girlfriend Anna (Thekla Reuten, IN BRUGES, THE AMERICAN, RED SPARROW). She’s a mortal who he seems to have met since the last time we saw him – no romantic period flashbacks this time – and she’s unusual in that she has psychic visions. She’s just returned from “Eastern Europe,” where she’s found new clues in the search for The Source, not the influential hip hop magazine, but “a holy grail of peace and salvation to some Immortals.” Anna knows from her visions that The Source really exists, but Duncan believes it’s “a fairy tale, an illusion created to give hope where there is none.” Though they haven’t spoken in months, Duncan seems to spend all his time gargoyling around on top of buildings, waiting to leap in and kick ass whenever a woman who looks like Anna gets jumped by some leather jacket dudes in an alley.

Near the beginning I couldn’t remember if I’d ever known who directed this installment, so I checked. I learned it was Brett Leonard (STEPHEN KING’S THE LAWNMOWER MAN, VIRTUOSITY, MAN THING), and that this wasn’t a DTV sequel like I thought – it debuted on the then-correctly-spelled Sci-Fi Channel. Obviously I adjusted my expectations accordingly, but even if this is the weakest of the HIGHLANDER joints I don’t consider it a pathetic petering out. (I seem to be alone in this belief.) It has its own dreamy feel and weird new mythology to stand on its own and not feel repetitive. It also serves as a followup to the series, not only centering on Duncan but featuring the Immortal Methos (Peter Wingfield, CATWOMAN) and the watcher Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes, MY BOSS’S DAUGHTER). We’ve already established what a dedicated fanbase the show had, which accounts for the impressive extras even on this DVD, including a feature length making-of doc with footage and interviews from pre-production in London through filming in Lithuania.

Despite all the chaos and decay, some of the Immortals stay organized. Methos talks via Immortal Skype with computer expert or whatever Reggie Weller (Stephen Wight, MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL), sword guy Zae Jie (Stephen Rahman Hughes, Eastenders) and Cardinal Giovanni (Thom Fell, AN AMERICAN HAUNTING).

No joke, the password to the network is “There can be only one.” Reggie has noticed that all the planets are impossibly lining up and will kill everybody with radiation unless they find The Source. It’s a celestial doom prophecy type thing, not an environmental catastrophe, but it still reminds me of the sun situation in THE QUICKENING.

Zae Jie knows he’s gotten close to The Source, because he’s being followed by The Guardian (Cristian Solimeno, UNSTOPPABLE, MOTHER OF TEARS), a big guy in S&M gear who zips around like The Flash and rips people’s heads off with his bare hands. He uses a sword for Zae Ji, though, first saying “There can be only me!” I guess he’s an Immortal, because it explodes the glass and gives him the Quickening lightning and everything. And he yells “THE QUICKENING!

(Note: Since his goal is to protect The Source, not to be the last Immortal and win The Prize, and the rest of the Immortals are working together, I would argue that ENDGAME really was the end of The Game and therefore not a misnomer like if it was called “THE FINAL CHAPTER” or something.)

The Guardian really doesn’t seem like a character that’s gonna turn out to be wacky, but later on there’s a scene where he’s perched up in a tree watching the other characters and laughing like he’s the farting demon clown in SPAWN or somebody.

Methos says that Duncan is “not the man he once was,” I guess because he doesn’t have any hope and spends his time brooding about Anna. But Methos still sends Joe to go convince Duncan to help. That turns out to be kind of redundant, because The Guardian (not the newspaper, but the character in this movie) has already found him and piqued his interest by for some reason saying “The female, Anna – she doesn’t belong to you.” But Joe finds Duncan and doesn’t “have time for this bullshit,” so he just shoots him and puts him in the car.

Both Anna’s visions and the combined wisdom of the Immortal computer pals network lead them to go talk to some ancient Roman guy called The Elder (Patrice Naiambana, “Head of Nation,” SPECTRE). He’s made up to be obese like Pearl from BLADE, but with rotten monster flesh. He explains that long ago he and a group of Immortals from different tribes found The Source. But “You cannot hide your heart from The Source,” and it cursed him to decay like this forever and his friend to be The Guardian.

He won’t tell them where The Source is, but he tells Anna to “follow the signs,” and the others to “follow the woman.” (Not the excellent 2011 horror movie by Lucky McKee, but the lady in this movie.) He also warns that they will lose their immortality as they get closer to The Source. Which is convenient for The Guardian because then he could kill them without even bothering with decapitation.

For a while it seems like he’s gonna zip around picking them off like it’s a slasher movie. There’s a part where they’re staying at a cabin and Duncan and Anna are up against a tree getting it on, in the tradition of Connor and Louise up against a brick wall in II. But instead of going after them The Guardian sneaks up on Reggie, who’s nearby standing watch. He doesn’t realize there’s someone behind him and he checks his shoes to see if he stepped in something. As far as I was able to catch this is the only indication that The Guardian smells like poo. But it’s a good detail.

During their journey, Joe breaks the Prime Directive of the Watchers and interferes, blasting The Guardian with a shotgun. Joe (SPOILER) gets one of those deaths where you get to lay on the ground and say a few emotional words to your friend first. Even though I didn’t watch the show and it seems weird that they have him tell Duncan he was his best friend, the performances of Byrnes and especially Paul make the scene pretty effective.

You might think this tragedy would galvanize the team to work together and win one for ol’ Joe. Instead it makes Duncan and Methos blame each other, and Duncan almost fights on holy ground over it. He has such a bad attitude he seems to stop believing even the mythology of the previous movies and TV shows. “The Source, ‘There can only be one,’ – it’s all bullshit.”

When they’re getting along, though, they do well. There’s a scene where they spot some guys they somehow know are cannibals in a shipyard putting tires around a guy (dressed in suit and tie!) to light on fire. Our guys are responsible citizens so they intervene, which involves sword fighting and a crashing/exploding fuel truck. Then it dissolves to the five of them walking in a slo-mo badass lineup…

…as a not-terrible metal cover of Queen’s part 1/series theme “Princes of the Universe” plays them into a travel montage. I didn’t expect that kind of flair to suddenly kick in after 45 minutes, but I applaud it.

(By the way, there’s also a part where The Guardian sings a little bit of “Who Wants to Live Forever.” I don’t know if his powers give him the ability to have heard the HIGHLANDER soundtrack, but I guess if the songs can be played on a jukebox in part II then people know them.)

The team’s bravado doesn’t always work out for them. In a scene that will later be mirrored in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, they come across someone strung up on a wooden thing, recognize that it’s a trap, but stop and try to help anyway.

Soon they’re surrounded by cannibals on motorcycles and horses who shoot them with arrows, tie them to crosses, then go have a party around nearby bonfires.

This turns out to be a good opportunity for Methos to mention that he saw Christ teach and that Giovanni is too selfish to be a real Christian. An accurate dig even if it’s also a brag. #Immortalbrag. A minute or two later Giovanni manages to get one arm loose, reveals that he has a knife hidden in his crucifix, cuts his ropes and leaves the others behind to die, giggling about “there can be only one” and God choosing him and shit.

Not like I trusted him anyway. Look at this fuckin guy.

Yeah, the guy on the left. I kept forgetting there aren’t vampires in the HIGHLANDER movies. This is the first ever guy to look like that and not be a vampire.

That reminds me that the frequent yellow tinting seemed like it might be intended to make this story of a team of rival magic warriors uniting for a greater cause seem a little like BLADE II. Which would be an admirable goal, at least. Either way, some of the shots are pretty cool looking.

Not having ever seen him on the show, I don’t feel much attachment to Methos. But I have to acknowledge that he gets the coolest action move in the movie when he throws his sword into a tree at just the right place to decapitate a cannibal driving by on a motorcycle. (I guess if you’re an Immortal then beheading is gonna become your go-to, even when dealing with people who can die other ways. Just like the cannibals probly roast people they’re not planning to eat.) And there is an arc to his relationship with Duncan here that works for the movie and probly better for sequelizing the show.

As you might expect, at the climax Duncan and Anna do end up at The Source, and Duncan must battle The Guardian while green-screened in front of some digital planets and magic and shit. I’m pretty fond of some of the more artificial looking FX shots in this movie because of their sci-fi paperback cover aesthetic. Here is a selection of my favorites.

Especially that one at the top. I really think that’s beautiful.

While they fight, The Guardian says stupid lines like “The Source. Intoxicating, isn’t it?” I wish I could somehow convey to villains like this how much scarier they would be if they just kept their dumb corny mouths shut. But I guess why bother being embarrassed about your shitty taunts when you know what kind of silly super powers you’re about to use? There’s a goofy sped-up, sparky sword fight that peaks when The Guardian spins around like Taz (or THE MASK) and drills himself into the dirt until only his head and shoulders are sticking out. It’s actually a really good trap because most Immortals would laugh at the dumbass and chop his head right off. But for the first time ever in a HIGHLANDER sequel he’s trying to solve a riddle, not win a death match. So, in the tradition of Luke Skywalker, Duncan decides he’s sick of this shit and refuses to kill him. And that’s the correct answer to “the test that generations of Immortals failed.” I always preferred Connor MacLeod, but I’m really proud of Duncan for this achievement.

As I mentioned in the review of the original HIGHLANDER, there was an earlier draft where Connor MacLeod had many children over the years, and it dealt with the pain of watching your son die of old age while you stay young. When they decided they didn’t want to go into that, it became narratively convenient to just say that Immortals can’t have children. Now that little story fix is so central to THE SOURCE that it’s one of the three rules of Immortals explained in the opening text/narration. It seems like a weird thing to bring up until it becomes clear that it’s important to the narrator, Anna, who considers Duncan “the only man I ever loved,” but left him because she wanted to have kids. She didn’t want to have someone else’s kids, though, so her choice doesn’t make anyone happy.

Luckily Anna understands that this whole thing is about that, and that’s why her visions involve a kid telling her things (shout out to Jacob in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD). “No. It’s not about death. It’s about life!” she says.

The Source differs from The Prize because instead of making him mortal, it gives him the ability to have children. So this is the only HIGHLANDER movie to end with conception and a computer animated fetus.

That’s the tell that this wasn’t designed to be the last one. If it was supposed to be a happy ending, not a cliffhanger, it would’ve been silent smiling couple holding baby, not CGI baby. Sure enough, the film’s official websight claimed THE SOURCE would begin a new trilogy “pairing Brett and Adrian” that the producers felt would “recapture the filming glory of the original HIGHLANDER.”

“THE SOURCE tells the story of Immortals as they quest to locate the Holy Grail of their world. The entire series of films will chronicle the origins of the Immortals.”

Adrian Paul wasn’t any more happy with ENDGAME than Miramax were, so at first he refused to do another one. When Christopher Lambert proved to be too expensive to lure back, they offered Paul more money and a producer’s credit, so he agreed. The script is credited to “Mark Bradley” (a pseudonym for ENDGAME’s Joel Soisson, who I must mention did not use a pseudonym for HELLRAISER: HELLWORLD) and Stephen Kelvin Watkins (his only other IMDb credit is associate producer on a movie called CLAUSTROPHOBIA – not sure if he’s a pseudonym too). Lionsgate bought the movie, I think intending a theatrical release, before deciding to dump it to Sci-Fi. And I guess that’s what finally chopped Highlander‘s head off.

I’m not sure why they never continued the series, or restarted, but I have a guess. The movie is “Dedicated in Loving Memory of Bill Panzer,” who tragically died in March of 2007 after falling and hitting his head while ice skating. He was 64. Since the producer was there from the beginning, often given story credits and doing interviews for the DVD extras even on the TV shows, he seems to have been the passion behind the franchise. Maybe the plummet from beloved cult movie to little-seen TV movie was too much of an obstacle to climb over without Panzer there to keep pushing forward.

In 2008 Summit Entertainment (the studio behind TWILIGHT) bought the rights and started trying to remake HIGHLANDER. At first it was to be directed by FAST & FURIOUS guru Justin Lin. Then it was Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 WEEKS LATER). Then Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR). Ryan Reynolds was attached to play MacLeod. Vinnie Jones, Ray Stevenson and Dave Bautista were rumored for The Kurgan. Summit tried to get Tom Cruise to play Ramirez. Which isn’t bad. He does kinda seem like an Immortal.

In 2016, JOHN WICK director Chad Stahelski took over, and as of this writing he’s still trying to do it. Just recently he told our friend Fred Topel, “We get closer and closer every day. It’s a very thick property and again, I love it so much that I just don’t want to fuck it up, so we’re just taking our time trying to get it absolutely right before we jump off and we don’t corner ourselves in by doing something that doesn’t justify the vastness of the project.”

If it ever happens I think we can assume it will be a more carefully planned out Highlander mythos. It won’t have an ending that wraps everything up in part 1, it won’t kill Ramirez until they don’t need to bring him back, it won’t have Planet Zeist, it either won’t have Duncan McLeod or will establish him from the beginning. And if it’s Stahelski doing it it will probly be great and have far more spectacular sword fights.

Even so, there will never be anything quite like this original run of five movies, two syndicated TV series, one cartoon and one anime that make up the Highlander franchise. It starts with such a timeless standalone cult film and then crawls through the twists and turns caused by 21 years of shifting budgets, trends, filmmakers and mediums, an exquisite (headless) corpse creating narrative problems that are usually solved in the next one just by ignoring most of what happened before and hoping nobody cares. I love this crazy series. Heads hats off to the original Highlander franchise. THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!

CONTEXT:

Films that Lionsgate released theatrically in 2007 rather than giving to some goofy cable channel:

HAPPILY N’EVER AFTER, DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS, PRIDE, SLOW BURN, THE CONDEMNED, AWAY FROM HER, DELTA FARCE, BUG, HOSTEL: PART II, FIDO, SICKO, CAPTIVITY, BRATZ, SKINWALKERS, RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR, WAR, 3:10 TO YUMA, FIERCE PEOPLE, GOOD LUCK CHUCK, TRADE, WHY DID I GET MARRIED?, SAW IV

Other action-ish films of 2007:

SMOKIN’ ACES, SHOOTER, DEATH PROOF, SPIDER-MAN 3, D.O.A.: DEAD OR ALIVE, FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, TRANSFORMERS, RISE: BLOOD HUNTER, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, RUSH HOUR 3, WAR, DEATH SENTENCE, SHOOT ‘EM UP, RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION, THE KINGDOM

Other fantasy or sword films of 2007:

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, GHOST RIDER, 300, PATHFINDER (co-starring The Kurgan, Clancy Brown), ANGEL-A, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END, SHREK THE THIRD, DAY WATCH, HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, STARDUST, THE LAST LEGION, DRAGON WARS

You see what happened here? LORD OF THE RINGS and HARRY POTTER happened since the last Highlander installment, so all the sudden there are several times more swords and magic wizard beams and shit than in any previous Highlander year. I think it’s hard not to agree that 300 (though supposedly based on a true story) did the fantasy sword dude shit better than THE SOURCE, and PATHFINDER arguably did too. It’s hard out here for a Highlander in the 21st century.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 5th, 2019 at 9:56 am and is filed under Action, Fantasy/Swords, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

32 Responses to “Highlander: The Source”

  1. Too bad that Highlanderland came to an end. It was a fun ride and really me wanna check out the movies and the TV show again.

  2. Glad you found legit enjoyment in though but I will not be able to stand by you, this is an awful and ill-conceived movie on every single level.

    Not as boring as 3 but way more hilarious than 4. So I’d probably still watch this one before 3.

    I used to be pro-remake but then I started to really think about it over the years and, for reasons you mentioned, it just won’t be the same. Sure, all the non-anime sequels are crap (I won’t bring TV into this) but they are a special kind, a kind we don’t really get anymore. I’m willing to be proven wrong but I think we need to just accept that the original was this lightning-in-a-bottle thing and, much like trying to find the Source, it’s not worth going back there (unless they want to make more funny ones like this).

  3. I just realized the Highlander series has a lot in common with the Men In Black franchise. There’s the classic original, a pretty good TV show adaptation, a sequel that hamfistedly tries to bring back the hero’s mentor to recreate their charming dynamic, another sequel, and a fourth one that loses the original guy altogether to try and get things going with a new main character.

  4. An that talking Pug with the kilt is just too much!

  5. I never saw this or ENDGAME because I never saw the show. Those “sci-fi paperback aesthetic” stills are crazy!! Definitely peaks my curiousity!

  6. Didn’t Raiden (Christopher Lambert) say “It’s not about death. It’s about life.” in Mortal Kombat? Weird that the line comes up in the first Highlander movie without him.

  7. I loved this review series so much. It was so worth the wait and now we got a Planet Zeist shirt out of it!

    In an earlier interview I asked Stahelski if Highlander would be the John Wick Of swordfights. He didn’t exactly see it that way but I’m sure it’ll still be great.

  8. Four feature films, two television series, and an OVA, and not a single goddamn flying guillotine. If you’re reading this, Stahelski, you know what to do.

  9. Obviously, the remake has to up the ante on the quickening front. Tie it to natural disasters. Earthquakes. Tornados. Tsunamis. That’s how the intrepid reporter begins tracking the Immortals. When they begin fighting, it tears the world around them apart. And a way higher focus on the lore and magic angle. What happens when you live for 1000 years. How does your body change? Is there a blade style secret society? The ones trying to play the game and breaking from tradition and order.

  10. Wow, this movie has a very Children of Men lite thing going it seems.

    And ahhh 2007, man do I miss that year, one of my favorites years of my life, when I think back to 2007’s aesthetic I think of everything being… blue, lots of blue and kinda shiny.

  11. Tawdry, I like all those ideas. I also liked what somebody said about the TV series saying that fighting on holy ground causes natural disasters.

  12. I can see why Stahelski probably wouldn’t want to just make “John Wick with swords”, but dammit, if there isn’t at least one 10 minutes long swordfight, that will make asian action directors feel like they have to step up their game, I will most likely do nothing, because I’m not one of those entitled assholes who believe movies should be exactly like they are in their heads. But I still would be a little bit disappointed.

  13. Vern

    That’s an interesting take and a good idea, especially since a tv show can’t have natural disasters all the time.

    But the movie could do a thing where like, the immortals battles have shaped human history going way back because of the disasters. A sort of counter-factual conspiracy theory vibe, like the Transformers films, except not lame. Maybe there was a Quickening on the Hindenburg?

    And obviously, some immortals would become political leaders. Perhaps the main villain is a presidential candidate? Except, then you couldn’t do anything too ambitious with practical sword fights because the actor would have to be too old.

    I feel like the lead could be investigating some kind of political cover up related to the disaster-causing Quickenings and then these crazy dudes start chasing him. Think the Agents in the Matrix. At first, you think these bad guys are trying to kill the hero before he finds the truth of the conspiracy. Soon, another person/persons show up and rescue the hero (ala T2) but after escaping from the bad guys, the rescuers turn around and stab our hero in the chest, murdering him!

    Turns out, the investigative journalist is an immortal and the violent death awakens his immortality. The ‘Agents’ chasing him were other immortals trying to preemptively cut off his head And the people who rescued the hero are this movie’s Ramirez. Because I’m this version, there is no one trainer, there are two. A Morpheus and a Trinity type.

    Basically, I would just wanna do a version where the Highlander starts out like Neo in the first Matrix. You overlay that basic plot structure with some new, more coherent Highlander Mythology and I think you’d have a hit.

  14. Tawdry, I mean no disrespect when I say that I think it’s exactly this kind of fan imagining that kept the franchise alive for so long even in the face of a lot of mediocrity and outright badness. The idea of the Immortals is just *such* a fun, fertile ground for story and imagination that it’s easy to get caught up in even when not executed as well as it could have been onscreen.

    I think some stories have that special imaginative spark that just catches with people- STAR WARS and STAR TREK are definitely examples, for instance, where there’s something powerful about the very idea at their core which keeps people coming back despite movies and books of extremely varying quality.

  15. Ugh. No offense, you guys, but I hate all these ideas.

    Please forgive this rant. It is not directed at any of you guys, whom I’m feeling particularly warm-hearted towards this week.

    All motherfuckers do is complain about midichlorians, yet it’s apparently one of the most influential ideas in all of 21st century franchise filmmaking: “Let’s take an immediately intuitive and evocative concept and overexplain it so literally that it loses every hint of the magic that made it interesting in the first place.” The entire appeal of broad fantasy concepts such as The Force or The Game is to stimulate the imaginations of every individual viewer. Leaving intriguing material on the table for speculation keeps the story alive for the viewer in a much more personal and lasting way than just telling him how it all works. You start dissecting every last facet of the thing, you kill it. You remove the soul of the thing and leave yourself with a pile of parts.

    You want all the schematics and blueprints of how every last little nut and bolt fits together, leave the art of storytelling out of it and go buy the manual for the roleplaying game. I’m sure it will have lots of mechanisms by which all of your questions will be answered definitively, likely with hard number values attached so that there can be no speculation or debate. You won’t have to wonder about anything at all, in fact. I mean, isn’t that what the fantasy genre is all about? Never having to fantasize about anything ever?

  16. Mr. M- I’m not sure I understand what the last two sentences there are supposed to mean, but they seem needlessly cruel and dismissive, but that may just be me being sensitive as someone who quite enjoys roleplaying games.

    Anyway, I don’t think what you’re describing is really a new phenomenon caused by midichlorians, it’s just a natural consequence of any ongoing story that lasts long enough and passes through the hands of enough creators. I think the only way to eliminate it would be to kill the idea of sequels or ongoing stories at all.

  17. I don’t mean to knock roleplaying games. I’m saying roleplaying games are good for codifying the kind of fun and fruitful speculation that comes when fans are being inspired by an evocative fantasy concept. That is a fine extracurricular mind exercise that I partake in quite frequently, but I think it’s something that should be kept to a bare minimum in all storytelling mediums. The fact that it is generally thought of as inevitable is what leads to such notorious missing-the-fucking-point retrofits as HALLOWEEN 6’s Thorn Cult and yes, the Planet Zeist.

    That said, I do not think it is inevitable that every story must eventually burrow down into itself and devour its own essential DNA in order to survive. You just have to have creators willing (and allowed by the powers that be) to expand on the essential concepts in ways that don’t kill their sense of wonder and make them feel more knowable and thus mundane, but to expand and broaden the premise in ways that generate more evocative mysteries for fans to speculate about for years to come. The Midichlorian Method just slams the door on all that. I don’t think it’s the smart way to go.

    I’m not saying it’s easy to come up with new stories using old premises that inspire without demystifying. But who the fuck told these screenwriters it would be easy? But you know what’s really hard? Coming up with an original premise of your own that will inspire the kind of speculation and fan-wankery that movies like HIGHLANDER do. Actually creating your own masterpiece and not just doodling in the margins of somebody else’s. So cry me a river for these franchise hacks. They could be out there dreaming their own dreams, but they found it easier to take the money and clout that comes from colonizing somebody else’s. They get no sympathy from me.

  18. Well, this is the beginning of a whole other debate, but I’d argue that the rule structure of role playing games aren’t meant to codify imagination much as they are meant to provide a framework and inspiration for interactive storytelling among a group of people. It’s just a different set of structure for the story than, say, a novel or a movie, but RPGs are just as much about storytelling as either of those other mediums.

    Anyway, I have plenty of sympathy for the franchise hacks you’re calling out here. They’re just doing their jobs, and the mortgage takes priority over the art for pretty much every professional creator I have ever met.

  19. Well, this is the beginning of a whole other debate, but I’d argue that the rule structure of role playing games aren’t meant to codify imagination much as they are meant to provide a framework and inspiration for interactive storytelling among a group of people. It’s just a different set of structure for the story than, say, a novel or a movie, but RPGs are just as much about storytelling as either of those other mediums.

    Anyway, I have plenty of sympathy for the franchise hacks you’re calling out here. They’re just doing their jobs, and the mortgage takes priority over the art for pretty much every professional creator I have ever met. Saying all they have to do is come up with their own brilliant original idea that everyone loves is an easy thing to demand, but if it was so simple to actually *do*, well…

  20. Ah jeeze, sorry for the double post and half complete first comment. I gotta stop trying to type one handed on my phone while juggling an infant in the other hand.

  21. I haven’t had a lot to say about the Highlanders except where they intersect with Mr. M’s love life (though I’ve enjoyed the series, thanks Vern!). But I do have something I need to say about Brett Leonard.

    Guys, for the better part of two decades, actual human beings watched Brett Leonard movies, and then gave Brett Leonard more money to make further movies. It happened again and again, movie after movie, from 1989 to 2012! Wealthy, successful people, people in the movie industry, people who have spent their entire professional lives working with film, handed substantial checks to the director of HIDEAWAY and VIRTUOSITY (let alone LAWNMOWER MAN). Producers of a long-running cult series hoping to keep its legacy alive turned to Brett Leonard. Brian De Palma can’t get a movie funded to save his life, and fucking Brett Leonard has two movies in post-production right at this very moment, despite a quarter century of literally nothing but abject, comically overwrought failure. It’s fucking wild.

    What I’m saying is, is there really any doubt at this point that he runs for president on a GOP ticket?

    PS I also have this theory that “Brett Leonard” was an Andy Kaufman-esque performance art alter ego of an artist who eventually bored of the act after two decades or so and went back to directing real movies under his actual name, S. Craig Zahler. Why do I think that? Google pictures of both of them. They’re the same person.

  22. Roleplaying is a perfectly fine form of expression that inspires a lot of people. But I don’t think the methods that work for it translate to traditional storytelling anymore than the techniques of improv comedy have particularly lent themselves to film or the facets and tropes of video games have had any success in being adapted to cinema. The very nature of interactivity, I believe, is anathema to the kind of auteur-based storytelling I enjoy. Roleplaying and franchise-filmmaking are more about finding consensus among a group, not expressing a unique point of view. This is not true across the board, but I tend to like stories that could only have been told by the person who created it, because the plot and the tone and the characters and the whole mythology comes direct from some unknowable place at the inner core of that person. (Not all of them, of course—I don’t like most people so why would I like what most people’s inner cores have to say?) You can’t replicate that by putting six people in a room, all of them tasked with knocking the rough edges off each other’s ideas. I believe this kind of groupthink is where most of the superfluous embroidery of modern franchise storytelling originates. Give me one weirdo who knows he’s right over six professionals who have convinced each other they are.

  23. One day a super cute dental assistant asked me, in her quest to somehow make sense of me*, if I am a roleplayer. I almost replied with something honest about my sexlife, before I thankfully realized that she meant LARPing or D&D or stuff like that.

    That’s all. HIGHLANDERLAND is about our sometimes more, sometimes less flirty encounters with young women, right?

    *Not saying that I’m a super complicated person and a walking contradiction that defies the stereotypes of our society, but if you look at me and my long hair, sometimes shaggy beard and most of the time all black cothes that include a trenchcoat during fall and winter, you most likely suspect me to be someone that I am not at all.

  24. Honestly none of what you’re saying jibes with my experience with roleplaying groups. It’s not at all about finding some consensus (nor is that the case with improv, necessarily), it’s about telling a story together. I sympathize with the romance of the idea of the auteur, but nothing about a story one person tells makes it automatically better than a group endeavor. Take STAR WARS as an example- which movies are better, the ones where Lucas had the *most* control, or the ones where he had the *least* control?

    Additionally, no story you’ve ever enjoyed was really the work of *one* person- editors, script doctors, directors, set designers and more all contribute to the “final” product. Nobody ever makes it all on their own.

    Sorry, I feel like I’m getting a little defensive, but it doesn’t feel like you’re being very fair here. For instance, I’ve worked in a writers room where everyone is clicking and they *are* making each other’s ideas better- it’s exciting and it absolutely can produce better, funnier work than any of the individual writers working alone. I just think it’s super limiting to make the assumption that one method of creating is superior to another- there’s no magic art bullet that produces winners every time.

  25. I think writers rooms work on TV but, with certain exceptions, not for movies. On TV, you have room to explore multiple viewpoints. In movies, you don’t, so you just end up watering down all of them if you try. You only have to watch any given spectacle film to see how they often try to do everything and end up not doing anything particularly well. Instead of a bold, primal idea expressed efficiently,you get a dozen ideas fighting for space and watering each other down. If you want to make the argument that the practice of revolving door screenwriters and script doctors and studio notes and lead actor demands has improved cinematic storytelling, I would love to hear how.

    I’ll not saying collaboration is bad. Of course it’s not. I’m saying it’s better for somebody (or multiple somebodys working as a team) to have an idea worth exploring rather than to be charged with coming up with the most commercially palatable expansion pack for a preexisting idea that everyone already thought was just fine as it is, simply because the money men need new product to put on shelves.

  26. I mean, I feel like we agree basically, just weighted in different directions. I think our personalities are a little bit different in that I’m more generally disposed to like people (and movies for that matter) as a rule unless they give me some specific reason not to, so I’m more kindly inclined to think on the idea of artistic collaboration being a warm and wonderful thing, but I definitely don’t think it’s *always* the right choice, or always produces the best results. I think studios *can* give good notes, just like actors *can* have good insights into a character. Not always, sure, but don’t completely close yourself off to the concept is all I’m saying.

    To address an earlier point you made first, though- I work in theater a lot, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the ephemeral nature of that art and I think that’s something I was bouncing off of in your posts as well. I’ve written a number of plays over the years and had them performed in front of audiences and sometimes I’ve even been lucky enough to have multiple runs of those shows, but they’ve never been published or anything like that, so now they basically only exist in people’s memories and on my various thumb drives. To me, there’s a certain value in that, in only being able to see this thing in a specific time and place, the “live”-ness of it, that a movie can’t match. The same thing is true of a really good concert, or stand-up set, or (IMO) RPG session. So I think that’s what was setting me off, was I kind of perceived your comment as an attack on the validity of that. And hey maybe that’s just me fooling myself because that’s how I waste my precious time on this ol’ earth, but still.

    And not to say that I think those things are the *same* as movies- they’re definitely not. They’re just different things but, I think, equally valid, just like novels or paintings or a real nice bronze sculpture of a horse with the mane streaming in the wind and it looks like it’s galloping.

  27. Mr. S: holy shit!

    In honor of HIGHLANDERLAND being over:

  28. Kurgan: Yeah, I think I went kind of far afield of my original point, which is just that I wish we had more creators and fewer embellishers, because coming up with that perfect pearl of a great idea is the most rewarding thing for artist and audience alike, while slapping a bunch of bells and whistles on one is bound to reach the point of diminishing returns sooner rather than later. Everything else is just me bullshitting about the possible causes and symptoms of this problem. I didn’t mean to accidentally denigrate any worthy art forms that don’t fit into my preferred paradigms.

    Thanks, man. Good talk as always.

  29. Kurgan

    No idea why your comment would offend me. You’re completely right. The things happening just outside of frame are the core of Highlander’s appeal it presents a delightful riddle that 5 sequels clearly demonstrate cannot be solved.

    Mr M

    The thought exercise is predicted upon playing within the rules of Hollywood narrative tropes and commercial demands. I’m totally cool with the original, unexplainable story, but if you were to try and expand and reshape such a thing, how would you do it? It’s a different kind of puzzle and one that tickles my brain.

  30. This flirts with the danger of overcomplicating a relatively straightforward premise, but I would love to see a Highlander reboot lean more into the urban fantasy thing it’s got going. I mean, without Deist the only explanation for the stuff in these movies is magic. Is the only magic out there related to the immortals? Or are there other magical beings? I don’t want to see elves and orcs and shit. I don’t want Bright 2. This larger world of magic can be mostly implied, but it would be cool if our world was just the candy coated toping.

  31. There can be only one post, Kurgan. :)

    I have to agree about overexplaining mythology but the world of John Wick gives me faith that Stahelski knows how to craft a compelling world without explaining everything. Plus, the immortals wouldn’t understand everything about their magical biology. They just know what happens if they cut off someone’s Head.

  32. I’d love to see the first-ever Quickening. Like, the immortals feel a compulsion to fight, but there’s no way they could possibly expect the Quickening to occur upon decapitation of the foe. Would it be like a young teen discovering masturbation? There is a sexual awakening IT FOLLOWS kinda angle you could take. I’d love to see David Cronenberg’s Highlander.

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