Few genre films from the 1980s ran on such preposterous fun as Russell Mulcahy’s 1986 cult classic Highlander. Take a whacked-out script about sword-wielding noblemen that transcend time and space, add the punchy and expressive direction of Mulcahy from his music video days, then finish it all off with a rocking Queen soundtrack and endlessly committed performances from all involved to get a true gem. A gem that’s now available on 4K Blu-ray from StudioCanal with a native 4K Dolby Vision HDR transfer that puts all previous releases to shame. Multiple new bonus features have been produced for this release, plus it comes in StudioCanal’s hardbox packaging with a ton of physical goodies inside. This release comes Highly Recommended!
Freddie Mercury belted “We’re the princes of the universe!” over the opening credits of Highlander to set the stage properly for the kind of brash, loud, propulsive entertainment you’re about to witness. Many tales of immortals have been told over the years, though the tale of Connor MacLeod has littered video stores and pop culture at large for decades now with the many sequels the original film has spawned. The story is a rather lurid hodgepodge of genre tropes and cocksure action, following an ages-old war between immortal warriors who can’t die unless they’re beheaded. But where it gains the proper gumption for such whacked-out proceedings is from the pitch-perfect mix of Russell Mulcahy’s resourceful style, some terrific production design despite the limited budget and Sean Connery playing a 2,437-year-old swordsman originally from Egypt. It’s all hooey, but boy is it committed and given the proper stage.
When Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is confronted by an old enemy in the parking garage of Madison Square Garden, his destiny starts on a path he may never return. After winning the confrontation, the film utilizes flashbacks to tell of how Connor fought against the great Fraser Clan in Scotland circa 1536. A mysterious, towering warrior named Kurgan (Clancy Brown) tries to kill Connor in a war with the McLeod Clan, yet fails and Connor recovers from his wounds miraculously, forcing his family to extricate him on charges of witchcraft. So, Connor ambles through the years until he meets Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez (Sean Connery), who informs Connor that he is in fact immortal and destined to battle other immortals, as there’s a prophecy that the few immortals left will be swept off to a faraway land for the Gathering, the final battle for the Prize. What’s the Prize? The power of all the immortals through time.
Highlander represents the collision of so many genre filmmaking sources that it’s kind of baffling. Originally a production by Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment, a company imploding during the mid-80s and sold to Alan Bond, who then sold it to The Cannon Group. Oh yes, Cannon being the kind of perfect company to be behind something like this. Then, we have the case of Russell Mulcahy, the Australian film director who cut his teeth on music videos and carried that frenzied-yet-composed style right to Highlander. That’s probably why it should come as no surprise that the film itself frequently looks like a music video, with the camera illogically moving and quick cutting to emphasize the ephemera of the era. And yeah, sure, it doesn’t all work, nor do I think the film pretends to think it should all work.
The rollicking action sequences give the needed bombast to the story, like the big battle on the roof by SilverCup Studios sign, and all the beautiful location work gives the needed footing to the antics at play. Highlander has every reason not to work and you’ll probably spend most of the time wondering why it doesn’t, but this lightning-in-a-bottle actioner continues to charm with its madness.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Draw your sword and get ready for battle with Highlander’s two-disc (BD-100 for the 4K disc and a Region B locked BD-50 for the Blu-ray) release that comes housed in a folding digipack with new art (more on the physical goodies later). The 4K disc boots up to a language selection screen, then proceeds to the menu screen where you can select options to play the film, browse scenes, set up audio and video, or select bonus features. A static banner image of the new art seen on the box of this release is shown with a short clip from the score playing over it and on a loop.
There can be only one! One stellar presentation of Highlander that is, and that’s exactly what we receive here with a pleasing 2160p image aided by Dolby Vision and offering a very sturdy HEVC codec. The film was originally shot rather cheaply, which you can tell from all the grain thickening and softening depending on the lenses and other optical add-ons. That being said, this presentation reveals incredible depth of detail in those grainier shots, maybe even too much since it sometimes reveals the budgetary limitations in terms of physical special effects and makeup effects. But that doesn’t take away from how great everything looks here, as the film has always looked a bit rough and uneven visually in the optical effects-laden sequences.
In particular, there’s this VHS-esque shot of Connor towards the end of the film that looks terrific despite being obviously low-res and jarringly dissimilar from the rest of the film, but StudioCanal’s encoding handles it all wonderfully. I was taken with those stunning vistas of the Scottish Highlands this time around, with Dolby Vision really pulling the most out of those primaries. Those expressive reds and blues that Mulcahy loved during his music video days are on full display here as well. Overall, this looks wonderfully filmic and doesn’t have the kind of yellow/green color grading wash that some other StudioCanal 4K discs have had lately.
Highlander may be a full-on assault of genre tropes and Queen songs, yet it’s never had the most expressive audio presentation at home. While that can mostly be attributed to the low budget of the film and the fact that the film doesn’t have the kind of full-throated action soundtrack we’re used to nowadays, we get two decent audio presentations to choose from here. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is given the slight edge, as it offers a bit more oomph to the dialogue over the score than the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track does. I found the 5.1 track to boost Queen’s music a touch too much and didn’t find the surround channels to be used all that well with ambient sound and other effects.
With all that said, both tracks are free of damage and sound remarkably clean.
Compare all the previous Blu-ray releases of Highlander to this new collector’s edition and you’ll be pleased to see that this release compiles previous features and adds four new featurettes, including an hour-long documentary comprised of interviews with cast and crew. The Immortal Attraction of Highlander is that hour-long doc and has a treasure trove of facts of and opinions on the film, in particular Clancy Brown shows up energetic and self-effacing when talking about his work, adding to the sheer joy that this genre classic has clearly brought out of people since its theatrical release. It’s a really pleasing documentary and Mulcahy is still so passionate about the film, which comes across clear as day here. For fans of the film, I think you’ll be really pleased with this feature.
The solo Clancy Brown interview titled There Can Only Be One Kurgan is especially fun, with Brown talking about how hard the makeup and effects team had to work to cover the massive canvas that is his body. He points out a few gaffes in the film that just add to your appreciation for the production. Plus, the four new featurettes are offered in high-definition with Dolby Vision HDR as well.
As mentioned previously, this edition comes in StudioCanal’s hardbox packaging that they use for their collector’s edition. The hardbox with new art on the front and back is a holster for the fold-out digipack within. The digipack holds both the 4K and Region B Blu-ray discs, as well as a 63-page collector’s booklet with concept art, critical appraisals of the film and a piece on Russell Mulcahy. In the digipack is also set of four buttons with popular quotes from the film, plus a comic book titled Highlander: Way of the Sword. Four collectible art cards and a two-sided poster are also included.
Highlander stands as a lighting-in-a-bottle genre film that runs on a wavelength completely all its own but is influenced by so many different genre sources. This new 4K Blu-ray and Blu-ray collector’s edition from StudioCanal provides a stellar new 2160p presentation aided by Dolby Vision HDR and comes with both archival and newly produced featurettes to celebrate this whacked-out gem. If that isn't enough, the new deluxe packaging offers enough fun extras and swag items to make a truly worthwhile Collector's Edition to dig through. Highly Recommended!