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In 1536 Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) of the Clan MacLeod is mortally wounded by a mysterious 'dark knight' during a battle with the Clan Fraser. Although seemingly at death's door MacLeod makes a remarkable recovery from his injuries, which leads to accusations of witchcraft and banishment from the Clan. After wandering for a long time MacLeod eventually settles in Glencoe, where he becomes a blacksmith and marries the beautiful Heather (Beatie Edney). In 1541 he encounters another Immortal, Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (Sean Connery), who outlines the rules of the 'Game', a contest between Immortals that sees them fighting for an unspecified 'Prize' of unimaginable power. Ramírez explains that the dark figure who 'killed' Connor years earlier is known as the Kurgan, the strongest of all the Immortals, and takes it upon himself to instruct MacLeod in the way of the sword in order to prepare him for the Game.

One fateful night the Kurgan arrives at MacLeod's home while MacLeod himself is absent. Ramírez duels the Kurgan in an attempt to protect Heather, but although he succeeds in wounding him, he is eventually overpowered and decapitated. MacLeod returns to find his home in ruins and his mentor dead, but he remains in Glencoe with Heather until her natural death from old age. He then wanders the Earth for hundreds of years before eventually settling in America. By 1985 he has been drawn to New York City for the 'Gathering', a meeting of the last few remaining Immortals where the final battle for the Prize will take place. When MacLeod (under the alias Russell Nash) is questioned by the police over a series of murders by decapitation, he meets forensic scientist Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart), who becomes a valuable ally in his battle against the Kurgan.

Prior to this review I hadn't seen Highlander since the previous Studiocanal Blu-ray release back in 2009 (man, was it really that long ago?). Although a firm favourite of mine as a child (who didn’t like the film as a kid?), my rose-tinted glasses couldn't mask the uneven tone and hammy performances the last time I watched it and I still hold largely the same opinion after this latest viewing. The film’s biggest problem is Christopher Lambert, who can't act in the English language. He lacks the ability to sound even remotely like he could come from the Highlands, a problem that is exacerbated when Sean Connery's Egyptian-Spaniard Ramírez arrives and speaks with a Scottish accent. That the film's most interesting character, the Kurgan, has precious little screen time in the almost-two hour film is also lamentable. I spent every moment that he wasn't on screen wishing that he'd come back so that something interesting could happen. I'll admit that Highlander explores a number of interesting concepts, but unfortunately the whole fails to be greater than the sum of its parts, something even the writer seems to acknowledge in the bonus material. I'm sure I'm going to come in for some stick from the fans, but I don't think Highlander is a particularly good film. How it won the Oscar for 'Best Movie Ever Made' I’ll never know...

Video


This time around Highlander arrives with a 1.85:1 AVC encoded transfer (as opposed to the VC-1 encode of the erstwhile effort). As noted in my previous review, I’m not intimately familiar with the cinematographic process used for the film, but as always I’ll aim to provide a reasonably thorough description of the pros and cons of this new release.

In any case I think it’s fair to say that Highlander wasn’t the best looking film to begin with. A fairly low budget affair, the film always looked grainy and murky, so I wasn’t expecting miracles from this new 4K sourced effort. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the opening scenes and that surprise turned to satisfaction as things progressed. The scan breathes new life into the film, with obvious improvements in detail levels visible from the off. The old BD tried to mask the clumpy grain with noise reduction (which looked horrible), but here the grain is more finely resolved and as such is much less distracting in motion. The image is also very clean, with scarcely any film artefacts on show (there are a couple here and there). It’s definitely a cleaner, crisper and altogether more enjoyable viewing experience.

I remember being fairly impressed by the bold, natural colour rendition of the old disc, but after comparison with this release I can see now that it was actually a little overblown. In general colours are far more natural here, which should hopefully be obvious from the screen captures included in the review. Unfortunately black levels are still limited by the source, but they’re consistent with other films of the era and are satisfactory if not excellent. Show detail is fair. The telecine wobble present on the old disc looks to have been eliminated, but the wires supporting Christopher Lambert in the final duel are more visible than ever before.

On the negative side, while the majority of the film looks very good a few scenes do suffer in comparison, particularly one early on where the resolution drops dramatically (to what looks like sub-DVD levels). It’s pretty jarring, but would appear to be an issue with the source rather than a problem with the transfer. Compression also leaves something to be desired at times, which should be evident from the first screen capture in this review. In any event, this is still a pretty significant visual upgrade when compared to what’s come before. Highlander is never going to be the prettiest film on the block, but this is the release we should have had the first time around.

Audio


There are two English audio options on the disc: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, both of which were available on the last Blu-ray release. I can't in all honesty I remember if they are exactly the same tracks and I no longer have the original Studiocanal release to confirm. I chose to watch the film with the 5.1 soundtrack enabled for this review.

The mix is a lively one, with plenty of surround utilisation from the outset. Most of this is limited to the film’s score or Queen’s music, but every now and then the odd discrete effect will make its way into the rears (things such as rain, cars driving by, or the clattering of a pipe as it falls to the floor). Such effects are few and far between though. Like the video, I don’t think the original elements were in the best of shape to begin with, as fidelity is lacking even when compared to other films of this age and the somewhat limited dynamic range makes everything sound a little bit flat.

Dialogue remains intelligible above the effects, although within the boundaries of the overall quality of the track. Bass isn’t particularly potent, but it does kick in during a number of key sequences, specifically those with explosions (such as a couple of the sword fights). Still, I’m struggling to think of any really good examples of LFE utilisation. Obviously it would be foolhardy to expect Highlander to match the clarity, precision and power of a modern soundtrack, so allowances can be made for some of its shortcomings. I didn’t come away thinking that there was anything particularly wrong with the aural presentation, so odds are that most people will be happy with what’s on offer here.

Extras


This 30th Anniversary Edition includes almost all of the bonus material featured on Studiocanal’s previous release (just the old French language Christopher Lambert interview is dropped), along with a couple of new features. A complete list of supplements can be found below.

  • Interview with Russell Mulcahy (New)
  • Interview with Christopher Lambert (New)
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Making of Documentary in Four Parts
  • Audio Commentary with Russell Mulcahy
  • HD Trailer

The new interviews with Mulcahy and Lambert are both enjoyable and informative, as is the commentary (if sporadically, due to frequent bouts of silence). The deleted scenes will probably be of interest to die-hard fans, but I didn’t find them particularly interesting. The trailer is, of course, pretty self-explanatory.

Overall


Although I still contend that it hasn’t aged terribly well, I did find myself enjoying Highlander more than my last viewing. This was probably due in some part to the improved visuals, which despite a few shortcomings really do breathe new life into the picture (and let's be honest, with the majority of bonus material remaining the same as the 2009 release the improved visuals are probably the main draw here). Whether they warrant a repeat purchase will, I suspect, depend largely on your love of the film. Those who elected to ignore the 2009 disc because of its rather lacklustre reputation will probably feel vindicated right about now...

My relative indifference towards Highlander notwithstanding, I recognise that it has a large and dedicated following who will most likely be over the moon at the prospect of a new and improved version. If you fall into said camp I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this disc. To those unfamiliar with the immortal antics of Connor MacLeod, this is currently the best place to start.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

 Highlander: 30th Anniversary Edition
 Highlander: 30th Anniversary Edition
 Highlander: 30th Anniversary Edition
 Highlander: 30th Anniversary Edition
 Highlander: 30th Anniversary Edition
 Highlander: 30th Anniversary Edition
 Highlander: 30th Anniversary Edition
 Highlander: 30th Anniversary Edition


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