After five seasons of Highlander: The Series, Adrian Paul started to worry he was gonna have to play the fuckin Highlander forever. And he had dreams. He wanted to do movies and stuff, whether or not producer William Panzer considered that “somewhat delusional” (as he says on a DVD extra). Though Paul indeed appeared in John Landis’ SUSAN’S PLAN and a thriller called CONVERGENCE, it was preparations for his first appearance in a theatrical Highlander movie that really screwed with his TV filming schedule.
So rather than the 22-episodes of seasons 1-4 or the 18 of season 5, the sixth and final season of Highlander: The Series was lowered to 13 episodes, two of which Paul didn’t even appear in. But the producers were planning a spin-off about a female Immortal, and they decided to use the season as “a giant screen test” to find their new star. (read the rest of this shit…)
HIGHLANDER: THE FINAL DIMENSION (apparently also called HIGHLANDER III: THE SORCERER) arrived in late 1994 in the U.K., early 1995 in the U.S. It was only about three years after THE QUICKENING and already the producers were like, “I don’t know what you mean, ‘Planet Zeist.’ That’s not a thing that was ever mentioned in our movies.” And they made a new HIGHLANDER sequel that didn’t acknowledge any of that stuff – “a stand-alone alternate sequel to the original film,” as Wikipedia puts it. Of course, it takes place in 1994, so in my opinion it is for sure just an adventure Connor MacLeod had shortly before the ozone layer got real bad and he transitioned into the shield-building
industry and then years later was at an opera that reminded him he was from Planet Zeist.
But before they take us to Connor in the ’90s they fill in a piece of backstory that was skipped before. Turns out after his mentor Ramirez and then his wife Heather died back on the Highlands he wandered the world “searching for answers” until he “came to Japan, to the mountains of Niri and the cave of the sorcerer Nakano.” We see Nakano (motherfuckin Mako, CONAN THE BARBARIAN) forging Connor’s familiar sword. A ha*. Prequel.
It’s the early ’90s. Less than a decade ago, HIGHLANDER became a cult hit. Producers William Panzer and Peter Davis managed to make an ambitious sequel, but it was received disastrously. They found more success by lowering their sights to syndicated television, while planning a course-correcting part III. Highlander was now officially a franchise. Time to get the kids involved.
In September of 1994, the USA Network debuted the Canadian/French/American cartoon Highlander: The Animated Series. Like with the live action series, I’m not dedicated enough to watch the whole series. Instead, I took a look at HIGHLANDER: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS: THE ANIMATED MOVIE, a feature length video release made from the early episodes. (read the rest of this shit…)
Right now, in 2019, people sure do love a good TV series. Some claim that the premium cable and streaming shows are actually better than movies. As TV shows become more cinematic and cinema becomes more serialized, the two mediums seem to be growing into each other like a very respectable rat king. Big name real deal movie stars can star in TV shows or limited series and collect acclaim and awards instead of scorn for slumming it.
At the same time the industry is obsessed with “intellectual property” and franchises, so naturally we’re getting TV shows that prequelize or sequelize a popular movie/movie series. In recent years they’ve done Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Tremors, Taken, Transporter: The Series, Training Day, Limitless, Ash vs. Evil Dead, Cobra Kai, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp and Wolf Creek, and soon we’ll be getting new Star Wars and Marvel tie-ins and maybe Undisputed and all kinds of shit.
That wasn’t how it worked in the early ’90s, though. There had been a few genre shows connected to movies: Planet of the Apes (1974) (and the animated Return to the Planet of the Apes ), Beyond Westworld (1980), Blue Thunder (1984), Starman (1986-1987) and Alien Nation (1989-1990). None of these ran for very long, few are well remembered. TV was lesser than movies, you could never carry over the cast or the production value, and extending a movie series onto the small screen was not really a good bet.
But shit, HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING wasn’t a good bet either. And producers Davis and Panzer, stinging from that loss, weren’t ready to leave the blackjack table. Maybe a TV-sized saga of the Immortals could be more than the Starman of the ’90s. Maybe it could be the M.A.S.H. of the ’90s! (read the rest of this shit…)
Friends! I hope you’ve been enjoying the HIGHLANDER studies so far. On Monday we’ll continue with a look at the pilot of Highlander: The Series, which features Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod, reaching through the portal from real movies into syndicated television to hand off the torch. For those who have been asking, no, I’m afraid I’m not able to cover the full six seasons of television, but I look forward to your insights into the rest of it.
It is true that we’ve already covered the two best and most cinematic movies of the franchise, but trust me, there’s plenty more interesting stuff to enjoy and dissect. Before that I’d like to cap off this Russell Mulcahy portion of the programming with some EXCLUSIVE PATREON BONUS SHIT. If you are a current Patreon supporter or want to sign up, you can click the link below for my heavily illustrated look at Mulcahy’s most extravagant Duran Duran video, made two years before HIGHLANDER when he was trying to make a feature film out of a William S. Burroughs novel.
And this is my obligatory occasional post of gratitude to all those who have supported me on Patreon and in other ways. You very directly made it possible for me to work fewer hours at the day job and more at preparing this series, which I’m very proud of and excited to share with you. So I hope this extra post serves as a small thank you and/or enticement for new subscribers. (Reminder: you’ll also get access to my reviews of the entire TWILIGHT series, starring Batman.)
“It’s weird how they built a huge franchise off of the first film. I can’t quite understand it. It’s like they say in the film ‘There can only be one. ‘ In a genre film you can create any scenario you like, but once you break your own rules, the audience feels betrayed, which is what happened with HIGHLANDER II.”–Russell Mulcahy to Money Into Light, 2016
“The more cornered we were, the more stupid things we had to come up with.”–Christopher Lambert
I missed out on being disappointed by HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING with the rest of the world in 1991. Somehow I never watched the HIGHLANDER movies until the 21st century, at which point I’d lived many years knowing part II had been universally rejected and mocked. And when I did watch it it was the re-edited and 19-minutes-longer “Renegade Version” put together for DVD in 1997, and I’ll be honest – I liked it! I’ve always been one for weird, not-taking-the-easy-road sequels like BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, BATMAN RETURNS, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME, BRIDE OF CHUCKY, RETURN TO OZ, JASON X, etc. So I was into the idea of Connor MacLeod in a dystopian future city working with rebels to, uh… blow up a shield around the earth, because it’s not necessary anymore. I mean — sure. Why not? (read the rest of this shit…)
HIGHLANDER is the 1986 cult classic about immortal warriors of different nationalities waging a battle across centuries, and its opening is a clash in its own right. It starts with Sean Connery narrating flowery fantasy movie text, cuts to credits rhythmically cut to a rockin Queen theme song, and before we know it the gorgeously grainy cinematography of Gerry Fisher (WISE BLOOD, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, DEAD BANG) and the orchestra of Michael Kamen (DEAD ZONE, BRAZIL) are lavishing cinematic glory on a super-powered sword fight between trenchcoated acquaintances in the Madison Square Garden parking garage during a professional wrestling match. The stadium rock band influenced by opera butts up against the rock arranger turned classical score composer for a sword-and-sorcery meets urban-action cage match. And somehow this all feels perfectly natural.
THE SWORDSMAN is an only-on-VHS Lorenzo Lamas joint from 1992. Coming two years after the end of Falcon Crest (for which Lamas was the only actor to appear in all 227 episodes), this was a particularly productive period for the actor and Taekwondo and karate black belt. His other films released that year were FINAL IMPACT, SNAKE EATER III… HIS LAW and CIA CODE NAME: ALEXA.
I’ve only seen one of those, but I bet none of them open with text about a king in ancient Greece:
“2300 YEARS AGO ALEXANDER THE GREAT INHERITED A LEGENDARY SWORD BLESSED BY APOLLO. WITH THIS SWORD HE FELT INVINCIBLE AND LED HIS TROOPS INTO BATTLE CONQUERING THE KNOWN WORLD. UPON HIS DEATH, ALEXANDER HAD THE LEGENDARY SWORD BURIED WITH HIM AS HE BELIEVED HE WOULD RISE AGAIN.”
Lorenzo Lamas plays Andrew, a cool long-haired homicide detective who has psychic visions when he touches blood and in his spare time dreams images of himself in a robe looking at old statues and swords and fighting a guy with a hood hiding his face. Then he’ll wake up, add a sketch to his dream journal, and tie his hair into a ponytail.
Andrew has a comic relief partner named Leo (Frank Crudele, BLACKJACK, STEP UP ALL IN, one episode of Highlander: The Series) and a therapist (Michael Copeman, THUNDERGROUND, SCANNERS III, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER II, six episodes of Highlander: The Raven including the pilot) who you can tell is kind of a cool ex-hippie type because he has grey hair but wears a colorful Hawaiian shirt and is into experimental therapies. (read the rest of this shit…)
In AVENGEMENT, Scott Adkins creates one of his best characters yet, though I don’t necessarily expect to see a franchise around this one. Like French in THE DEBT COLLECTOR, Cain Burgess is a regular working class British fighter who tries taking an illegal job to pay for a gym. In this case it’s a quick gig for his older brother Lincoln (Craig Fairbrass, CLIFFHANGER, RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER, THE BANK JOB, HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN), but it goes wrong and he ends up in prison.
We hear the story in pieces throughout the movie, as Cain reveals it to a captive audience at the members only pub he barges into after escaping custody during a supervised visit to his dying mother (Jane Thorne, THE FOREIGNER). Only one of them, Hyde (Nick Moran, LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS), has ever met Cain, who has been through such a thorough metamorphosis he’s barely recognized. If rehabilitation was the intention of Cain’s incarceration, the opposite effect was achieved. A nice guy with no record and nothing but regrets for his actions was forced to develop his fighting skills and a “callused mind” to withstand the years of stabbings and beatings made possible by the perfect storm of a price on his head, a corrupt staff and a clueless prison board. He returns to the old neighborhood sporting cheap metal replacement teeth, a scar across his eye and napalm burns on half of his face, like a gnarled Frank Miller drawing. He describes himself as “A hardened, rusty nail.”
I don’t want to raise anyone’s expectations too high. I know some are saying JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM is fun but lesser, and that could very well end up being the conventional wisdom. In my mind, though, it’s more than that. It’s an outstanding achievement, a new action classic that outdoes the excellent CHAPTER 2 in both garish spectacle and elaboration on the strange mythology of this secret world of elite assassins.
Like all JOHN WICK movies, it’s full of things you never knew you needed to see, things that are ludicrous, but treated with knowing seriousness, increasing their level of awesomeness. For example, you know that cliche where a character you like gets shot and drops to the ground and you have to wait and hope for the reveal that they were saved by a bullet proof vest? That happens with a dog.
And what about John Wick walking through a desert, but dressed like John Wick? If James Bond goes out into the desert – hell, even if Batman does – he wears different gear. But there is no Desert Action John Wick. When he treks through Moroccan sand dunes he wears the same suit and tie we just saw him wearing in a New York downpour. I suppose maybe he cancelled his debit card when he came back and doesn’t know how to buy new clothes without access to his usual services. But I think it’s more because he’s an icon. That’s his uniform. That’s John Wick. And because director Chad Stahelski knows it’s surreal to see this guy in drastically different settings across the world without changing his blood-stained clothes. (read the rest of this shit…)