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Anchor Bay presents
Highlander Season Six: The Final Season (1997-1998)

"I've done things I'm not proud of."
- Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: February 07, 2005

Stars: Adrian Paul, Elizabeth Gracen, Peter Wingfield, Jim Byrnes
Other Stars: Peter Hudson, Roger Daltrey, Valentine Pelka, Stan Kirsch, Alexandra Vandernoot, Alexis Denisof, Dara Tomanovich, Alice Evans, Justina Vail, Sandra Hess, Claudia Christian, Martin McDougall
Director: Dennis Berry, Richard Martin

Manufacturer: Ambient Digital Media
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, sensuality)
Run Time: 10h:34m:15s
Release Date: February 08, 2005
UPC: 013131262193
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B-BB A-

DVD Review

As the Highlander television series drew to a close, star Adrian Paul was clearly losing interest and desiring to go on to other things. As a result, his participation, except for the first two and last two episodes, was minimal, with him often acting as a bystander to events and in one episode not even appearing at all! Some would consider this an ignominious ending to a once-highly popular televison series, but this sixth season still has some significant merits to it.

Duncan MacLeod (Paul) is the title highlander, an Immortal who can be killed only by having his head cut off. Losing friends and lovers has taken its toll on him, especially after the emotional finale to season five, and MacLeod no longer wants to take part in the great game, whereby Immortals confront each other, taking the life force of their defeated foes in an often explosive Quickening. Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes) is a member of the Watchers, a clandestine group devoted to following the Immortals, who has violated his code by befriending MacLeod works with Immortals Methos (Peter Wingfield) and Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen) to help revitalize Duncan's taste for life and confirm that he is meant for a higher purpose.

While Adrian Paul was bowing out, the producers had a commitment from USA Network for the spinoff Highlander: The Raven. The only problem was that they knew they wouldn't have Paul, and had to find a female Immortal to carry the series. Accordingly, five episodes of the meager 13 here really are pilot episodes for that series with a different "spinoff chick" (as one of the crew puts it in a comment) trying on a role to see what might work. The first few of these, featuring Dara Tomanovich, Alice Evans, and Justina Vail, don't work very well since they start off with pretty limiting concepts. As a result they make neither a suitable showcase for what a series could be nor a satisfactory Highlander episode. The last two, featuring Sandra Hess and Babylon 5's Claudia Christian, are more promising, with the former acting as a bounty hunter, and the latter as a freelance rescuer of unspecified means. While neither really rocks one's socks off, there were at least some story possibilities there. In the end, the producers went with the obvious answer, using former (1982) Miss America Elizabeth Gracen's popular Amanda as the main character; why that series didn't work in the end is a story for another day.

Even though nearly half of the run is essentially wasted on these stories, there are some real gems in this season. The first two episodes wrap up the supernatural Ahriman storyline from episode five, with MacLeod battling a spirit of the ultimate evil (oddly, the same ground that Buffy would tread six years later in her last season). It's a pretty satisfactory tie-up to the events of the prior season's finish, although the ultimate denouement is a little silly. Roger Daltrey returns as Hugh Fitzcairn in a very amusing episode, Unusual Suspects, a murder mystery set in 1929. He and Paul are a joy to watch together, and this episode is one of the most successful of the comedy episodes that the series engaged in from time to time. In that same vein, fans of the series will also enjoy the eleventh episode, Indiscretions, in which Methos and Joe Dawson must team up to rescue a young Watcher taken prisoner by an Immortal; a bit more of Joe's backstory comes out and the pairing of the two in what ends up as a buddy road movie is entertaining. They have a natural timing that's very enjoyable and helps distract one from the fact MacLeod is nowhere to be seen.

The series finale, the two parter To Be and Not to Be, finds Duncan at the verge of death and willing to surrender to it, when Daltrey returns as his spirit guide to show him what life would have been like without him. While it's clicheed to play It's a Wonderful Life at some point in a long-running series, it's carried out with a deep impact here, especially in the moving return of Tessa Noel (Alexandra Vandernoot), MacLeod's great love. Not a hanky will be dry for longtime fans of the series, but never fear, Duncan has to be able to return for Highlander: Endgame. It's a fitting end to a series that often delved into moral choices, the meaning of sacrifice and the consequences of one's actions.

Production values are quite high as always, with the period flashbacks of Duncan's prior lives convincing as usual. The pyrotechnics budget is blown out in the last couple episodes, since there was nothing more to film, and the last couple Quickenings stack up pretty well. Visually, it's still up to its high standards; the sixth season just hurts a bit from the absence of the primary cast and some problem scripts. It's not a good sign when two deceased characters (Daltrey's Fitzcairn and Peter Hudson's renegade Watcher, James Horton) get sigificantly more screen time than the second-and-third-billed Gracen and Wingfield. These are, once again, the longer and slightly steamier European cuts running nearly 49 minutes.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture, shot on film, looks quite good once again. The same lack of shadow detail is present here, as well as a fair amount of grain, due to the frequently shadowy picture. It's probably as good as the source material permits, and I didn't notice much in the way of digital artifacts.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The beefed-up 5.1 DD audio has acceptable impact, without much hiss or noise to distract. Dialogue is clear (and center-bound), though some of the minor French actors are plainly dubbed into English. The music sounds quite good, with Queen's theme songs providing much of the bass; the Quickenings don't have the boom power that one would anticipate for a 5.1 track full of explosions.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 91 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English (closed captioning only) with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
6 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
Screenplay
Production Notes
6 Documentaries
17 Featurette(s)
4 Feature/Episode commentaries by Richard Martin, Jim Byrnes, Peter Wingfield
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
8 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
  2. Watcher Files
Extras Review: Once again Anchor Bay provides eight discs (seven DVDs and one CD-ROM), even though there are only half the number of episodes this time out. That means a ton of extra material, even moreso than one usually finds on these jam-packed sets. Where to begin? Four episodes bear commentaries, with three from director Richard Martin. He has an unfortunate tendency to narrate his way through an episode, though he does occasionally provide an interesting tidbit. Jim Byrnes and Peter Wingfield team up again on their episode, Indiscretions, and they're pretty entertaining. Once again, there's a choice of the full audio commentary or a shorter, tightly-edited video commentary. I'd recommend going with the video commentary for Martin and the full audio commentary for the actors. Every episode has a featurette running from about six to ten minutes, featuring interviews with cast and crew. There's some honesty about what works and what doesn't, though Paul doesn't really talk about why he wanted to depart the series, and the producers don't discuss the decision process for the spinoff very much. Four episodes feature behind the scenes footage, and there are seven deleted or extended scenes, including an alternate ending to Not to Be. Finally, the program discs include the Watcher Files again, with background information about the various Immortals and mortals that cross MacLeod's path over time. These are worth checking out, since there are often surprising relationship between characters that put their actions in a different light.

But there are still three more discs, with six documentaries that serve primarily as a retrospective. There's a tribute to sword master Bob Anderson, who also worked on the films (and doubled Darth Vader in some of his swordfights). A 25m:36s program looks at the filming of Finale (the episode from an earlier season featuring Kalas, not the series finale). Immortal Memories (24m:44s) collects some of the favorite sword fights, flashbacks, episodes, villains and moments of cast and crew. Favorite Quickenings could and does fill a documentary (27m:55s) of its own, with plenty of footage of great moments, with particular emphasis on the Eiffel Tower Quickening from Finale. Four Hundred Years collects some (but disappointingly few) of the flashbacks and puts them in chronological order to make a tapestry of Duncan MacLeod's life before season one. I for one could have stood a much, much longer aggregation of these flashbacks to see how (and whether) MacLeod's life really fits together. Perhaps it doesn't bear that close of a scrutiny. Finally, a 49m:49s documentary on La Carrera Panamericana looks at Adrian Paul's participation in the six-day road race of souped-up 1950s-vintage cars across the length of Mexico. It will probably hold the most interest for racing fans and those who obsess about Adrian Paul; it has little to do with the series proper.

The final disc is a CD-ROM that has a special interface that allows one to read all of the season six scripts, trivia and production notes (including reproductions of casting and location sheets), filmographies and bios. It's a thorough package that helps sell the set by weight.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Duncan MacLeod bids the small screen adieu in a short season that's half excellent and half pretty poor. Are these six excellent episodes worth the high price for this set? Probably only rabid fans will think so, although Anchor Bay makes the decision harder by including three discs of bonus materials.

 


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