|| Print ||
|Written by April Yorke|
|Tuesday, 23 March 2010 00:00|
I had a music teacher who used to tell us that the 20th century was the era of the musical footnote. He meant that 20th century composers often lifted phrases from previously written works and wove them into new pieces (Shostakovich used the William Tell Overture in his 15th symphony, for example). Modern-day movies and TV shows are much the same: endless references to that which came before. It's not so much simulacrum as it is a tip of the hat. When I watched the first season of True Blood, I didn't get Bill's answer when Sookie asked what animates vampires if not the same electric impulses than run through humans. Now I realize that his answer, "a kind of magic," is a Highlander reference.
That's the thing with Highlander (like all cult properties): so long as I never saw it, any of its seven official or unofficial sequels and movie spin-offs, the six-season TV series spin-off, or the single-season animated series spin-off, any reference to it -- particularly the idea that There Can Be Only One -- went right over my head. I hate it when things go over my head, so I finally sat down with the cult classic. I think can break down its popularity into three elements: sword fights, immortals, and the Kurgan.
The movie opens at a wrestling match at Madison Square Garden, but we don't hang around there. We follow some dude out the parking lot, so another dude in sunglasses (at night, in a parking garage) can appear and challenge him to a sword fight. That's right: at a fight in New York City in 1985, two grown men are going to meet up in the parking garage to try to cut off each other's heads with swords.
Either the men or their swords or the combo are so powerful that they send up sparks every time they connect and completely slice through whatever else they come into contact with. A few ruined cars and back flips later, and some dude's head comes off, igniting a lightning/light storm that ruins every car in the garage and gives the winner a hummer. Admit it: that was totally lame, and you want to know more. I mean, why are people running around with samurai swords hidden in their rain coats?
So, what was going on there with the beheading and the light show? The fight took place between two Immortals. Let Sean Connery explain it:
What's that? Still doesn't make any sense? That's because it never makes sense. At no point during the course of the entire movie is there any real explanation for how or why Immortals came to be, what the deal is with the Quickening (that's the lightning bit), or why There Can Be Only One. Though Ramirez (did I mention that Sean Connery is playing an ancient Egyptian who lives in Spain?) will claim that he has no idea where Immortals comes from or why they exist, he knows an awful lot about how they work and what will happen in the future. As he explains it, they're all headed for The Gathering: "When only a few of us are left, we will feel an irresistible pull towards a far away land . . . to fight for the prize." As for anything else, like why Ramirez and Fasil (the dead dude from the opening) are obviously physically older than Highlander (Christopher Lambert, who, in addition to never mastering a Scottish accent and having a default delivery of "petulant," has a terminal case of French face) and the Kurgan (Clancy Brown), how they know when they are in the presence of another Immortal, or even when Immortals will stop being born so that they can get down to business, your guess is as good as anyone else's. That's part of what makes watching and re-watching Highlander so much fun: every time you do, another giant plot hole reveals itself. Makes an excellent drinking game.
Despite how amusing I find the lame sword fights and lackadaisical approach to storytelling, the thing that really makes Highlander a worthwhile cult property is Clancy Brown or, as he's known in these parts, Clancy Mother*uckin' Brown. As Victor Kruger/The Kurgan, Brown comes from an ancient, violent people from the Russian steppes. For no specific reason, Ramirez explains that the Kurgan is the strongest of the Immortals (how would he even know? Has he met all of them? See what I mean about the plot holes?). All we know for sure is that the Kurgan is the most badass of the immortals, which is why this clip is appropriately named, "Most badass scene ever."
It may go against the grain to root for the villain, but the joy with which Brown just threw himself into that largely ad-libbed scene is so much more fun to watch than just about anything having to do with whiny and ridiculous sounding Highlander (as The Rough Guide to Cult Movies puts it, "You have to wonder if the language coach for Highlander ever worked again."). Heck, he makes carjacking an old lady look like fun.
There are probably other things to recommend Highlander: the score's a rad combination of Michael Kamen and Queen; music video director Russell Mulcahy's pop sensibility makes for fun watch; and, aside from the central romantic relationship between Highlander and Brenda (Roxanne Hart) and, you know, the accent, Lambert's actually pretty good in the role. The fuzzy logic surrounding the Immortals opens the story up to sequels (it's hard to call retcon when a framework is never established) even though the first movie tells a complete story.
And what is that complete story? Well:
After Highlander enjoys the final super Quickening, he essentially becomes one with all things: he not only can read all thoughts but also explain them to people. What's more, he's made mortal, a privilege he's glad to see bestowed.
Was it worth finally seeing Highlander? Hells ya. I may never get around to any of the sequels, but surely lives are enriched by exposure to the Kurgan. He safety-pinned the scar on his neck. What more do you need?
Tags: christopher lambert, cinema, cult classic, evolution, highlander, immortals, michael kamen, music, queen, sean connery, swords, the kurgan, there can be only one, true blood, vampires
Seriously, I wish he won. Clancy mother**'in Brown just threw himself into that part full tilt. I don't know who decided that our "hero" would be so bitchy the whole movie, including towards his "love interest" who he basically sneers at the whole time with his terminal french face. That creepy speech he delivers on their date about whiskey? Insanely not hot. Anyways, love this movie to death.
Lest we forget the sequels (actually it's probably best we do)