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Lions Gate presents
Louise: OK, now let me see if I can get this straight. You're mortal there but you're immortal here, until you kill all the guys from there who've come here, and then you're mortal here. Unless guys from there come here, in which case you become immortal here...again.
DVD ReviewIt's tough enough making a sequel to a popular motion picture that has an ending that doesn't seem to allow for the story to continue. That's made doubly if not triply difficult when there's interference with the production from the completion bond company and the creative people behind the picture aren't allowed to finish their work. Such was the case with the notorious Highlander II: The Quickening (the surtitle unceremoniously dumped from video releases years ago), which has undergone several different edits in order to make the incomplete picture hang together a bit better. This version pretty much retains the "Renegade Version" that was released on DVD and laserdisc some years ago as the "Director's Cut," but adds state-of-the-art special effects and a revamped soundtrack.
In this version, the origin of the Immortals, who can be killed only by lopping off their heads, is revealed to be the distant past. Immortal Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), leader of a revolt in the desert against the evil warlord General Katana (Michael Ironside), is captured with his friend Ramirez (Sean Connery) and propelled into the future, where they are condemned to single combat against each other until there is only one left. Intercut with that tale is the story of MacLeod in 2024. Having saved the world in 1999 by building an electromagnetic shield to take the place of the vanished ozone layer, he is now mortal and aged. Terrorists led by Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen) get in contact with MacLeod and tell him that the ozone layer has repaired itself but the Shield Corporation (TSC) is keeping the fact secret lest it lose its monopoly on world protection. Before MacLeod can investigate, he is attacked by Katana and his underlings, who have come from the past to eliminate his enemy, so MacLeod, his immortality restored, calls upon the spirit of Ramirez to come to his aid.
Originally, the Immortals were revealed to be from the planet Zeist, rather than Earth's past, and pretty much all traces of that story have been eradicated here. Although the interplanetary answer to the riddle of the Immortals was widely derided by the Highlander fanbase, the solution adopted isn't significantly better. More questions are raised than answered, frankly (first among them, why does going into the future make one Immortal?), and there are huge inconsistencies both with the first film and the subsequent series that don't allow for ready reconciliation. Foremost among them is the return of Ramirez, which is nakedly a deus ex machina move just to get Connery's marquee value on the screen. There are plenty of other issues with the script as well, such as the utterly unmotivated romance between MacLeod and Louise Marcus, which comes out of nowhere as they meet and immediately begin humping in an alleyway.
On the positive side, the film is beautifully designed, with a 1940s sensibility to the clothes and automobiles and deco architecture despite the futuristic setting. There's a heavy noir sensibility straight out of Blade Runner that works very well for the dark thematic material. The production values are excellent, and the pyrotechnic effects are often breathtaking, with one sword fight that explodes an entire city block on the screen. Connery is reliably wry and entertaining and Madsen is an attractive female lead, though she doesn't have much charisma paired with the wooden Lambert. Why exactly the casting of a guy with a heavy French accent as a Scotsman, and another with a Scottish accent as a Spaniard, struck someone as a good idea is beyond me. Michael Ironside's villian is so over the top that he makes Jack Nicholson's Joker look like Miss Manners. It's a screwball scenery-chewing performance, but it's entertaining in its sheer operatic bravado. Taken to a similar extreme is John C. McGinley's portrayal of the CEO of TSC as a complete sociopath. There are some gems of comedy scattered about as well, such as a particularly terrifying air safety film and a commercial for "The Psychic Cook." The action sequences are extremely well done, with plenty of swordplay to gratify the action fans.
The picture is certainly ambitious in its scope and photography. There's a parallel of Wagner's Götterdammerung from the opening scene that reflects the stride of the Immortals as giants amongst mortals. The camera work is often spectacular, with a big crane shot through a large hospital that mimics the famous shot from Gone with the Wind. The big scope is leavened with some clever humor, most notably Ramirez' efforts to get a suit made at a Scottish tailor shop. But despite the ambitions and the admittedly improved effects work, the end result still doesn't quite hang together to form a satisfying whole. The picture has the feel of a sci-fi script about the shield that was arbitrarily pulled into service as a Highlander vehicle, though the principals deny that in the accompanying documentaries. In any event, it's better than it has been, but that doesn't mean that it's good.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture generally looks decent for the most part. Aliasing is frequently visible, and artifacting with pixelation can be seen at times despite the relatively high 7 Mbps bit rate. The color, almost entirely blue, is vivid, and shadow detail is relatively good for such a dark film. I didn't notice any added edge enhancement.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Three different English language soundtracks are provided: a pedestrian Dolby Surround track, plus house-shaking DTS ES 6.1 and DD EX 5.1 versions. All are relatively clean, but the DD and DTS tracks put the DS version to shame with their directionality and impact. Bass extension is very low throughout, while the frequent crackle of lightning is highly immersive. Absolutely nothing to complain about with these effective mixes.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Layers Switch: 01h:49m:37s
These goodies are further supplemented by the promotional reel shown at Cannes in 1990 while filming was still going on in Argentina, an anamorphic widescreen trailer and a "deconstruction" feature on the first disc. The latter feature allows one to see 11 behind-the-scenes segments, either through an onscreen icon during the film, or through a separate menu that permits direct access. This is good DVD design and quite welcome. Some more of the Zeist footage can be seen here, including Connery's toast "To Zeist", now eliminated from the picture. Although the chapter listing in the keepcase and on the menus lists 24 chapter stops, there are actually 36 stops on the disc itself, making navigation a little confusing if you're looking for a particular sequence.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsRevamped special effects help make this a bit more palatable, but Highlander fans will probably still be frustrated with this oddity that really doesn't fit in with the rest of the mythos. A disc full of interesting extras help put the troubled production into perspective.
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