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Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: HIGHLANDER 2 (1 Viewer)

Michael Reuben

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Highlander 2 (Blu-ray)




Highlander 2 is a lousy film, but it exerts a train-wreck fascination. The film’s history has more twists than its overstuffed plot. After the unexpected worldwide success of Highlander, the producers were besieged by requests for a sequel, but they had a problem: Gregory Widen’s original story neatly concluded the entire saga of the immortals, with no loose ends. “Leave it to us!” said the producers and went to work with writers and cash.



It’s never a good sign when a producer takes a story credit. As director Russell Mulcahy would later put it, producer William Panzer and his scriveners dreamed up some “strange storylines” – and that’s being tactful. Among other things, they decided that the immortals were really space aliens from the planet Zeist. (Aliens and amnesia are sure signs of a desperate writer.) Then Panzer and his co-producer, Peter Davis, made the ill-fated decision to shoot in Argentina, which featured spectacular locations, cheap labor and no indigenous film industry. Since they were making a futuristic sci-fi feature, they had to import all their experienced crew from abroad, thereby nullifying most of the economic advantage of using local workers. Then, when the Argentine economy collapsed, costs skyrocketed to the point where the film’s bonding company shut down production, cut together whatever footage was finished and released Highlander 2: The Quickening to theaters in 1991.



I saw that version once. The plot made no sense, but there were some interesting action sequences. In that sense, the film was ahead of its time.



A few years later, Mulcahy, Davis and Panzer were able to reacquire control, shoot additional material, reedit the film and issue Highlander II: The Renegade Version on home video. This time, the plot made a lot more sense, but that didn’t help things. As soon as it became clear what story the filmmakers were trying to tell, you could see just how ridiculous it really was.



Finally, in 2004, the director and his two producers made one more attempt to civilize their wild child. This time they redid all of the effects, many of which had been rushed, with state-of-the art CGI. In addition, a few minor tweaks were included in an attempt to camouflage some of the more outlandish plot elements. The resulting version, now known simply as Highlander 2, is the one being issued on Blu-ray.





Studio: Lionsgate


Rated: R


Film Length: 109 min.


Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1


HD Encoding: 1080p


HD Codec: AVC


Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1


Subtitles: English SDH; English; Spanish; French


MSRP: $19.99


Disc Format: 1 50 GB


Package: Keepcase


Theatrical Release Date: Nov. 1, 1991 (U.S., “The Quickening”); May 20, 1997 (“Renegade Version” LD); July 20, 2004 (current version DVD)


Blu-ray Release Date: Nov. 2, 2010




The Feature:



Let’s get this over with. Familiarity with [COLOR= #0000ff]Highlander[/COLOR] is assumed.



It’s 2024. Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is an old man. He and Brenda didn’t have long together, because the ozone layer collapsed, exposing the earth to deadly solar radiation. Brenda was one of the victims. MacLeod worked with a scientist, Allan Neyman (Allan Rich), to create an electromagnetic shield to encircle and protect the earth. Today, The Shield Corporation, or TSC, collects fees from every government on the planet for the service of keeping their citizens alive. The cost of maintaining the shield takes priority over delivering basic services, and the world is a rundown place. Of course, top executives of TSC, like its president, David Blake (John C. McGinley), live in comfort and act like Wall Street hot shots (or what everyone imagines Wall Street hot shots act like).



A group of rebels known as “Cobalt” believe the ozone layer has regenerated itself and the shield is no longer necessary. They have been branded eco-terrorists. Their leader is Louise Marcus, who’s played by Virginia Madsen, because it’s such obvious casting that someone who rejects society and spends her life running from the authorities would look as glamorous as Virginia Madsen.



MacLeod is haunted by memories of his former life – not as a Scottish clansmen, but his former former life that never seemed to come up in the first film. In the original script, we learned that immortals were really aliens from the planet Zeist who, after an unsuccessful rebellion against the tyrannical General Katana (Michael Ironside), were banished into the future on earth, there to await the gathering, fight for the prize, etc. In this version, all references to “Zeist” have been removed, like an outdated fashion accessory, and we’re supposed to accept that the past in which MacLeod opposed Katana was earth’s. But no attempt is made to explain how Katana came by the time travel and other advanced technology he and his minions possess, and the whole effort to make Zeist disappear has an air of wish fulfillment, almost as if Mulcahy and his producers wish they’d never thought of the silly idea in the first place.



Wherever he’s from, Katana is so eager to have MacLeod dead after waiting five centuries that he can’t wait a little longer for nature to take its course and dispatches some immortal minions to finish the job. Bad idea. MacLeod manages to decapitate one of them, and the resulting discharge of energy “re-immortalizes” him.



Enough plot for you? But wait, there’s more! Back in Katana’s time, MacLeod had a comrade-in-arms, and it was . . . Sean Connery’s Ramírez! Now, some of you may be wondering how that can be when, in Highlander, MacLeod and Ramírez didn’t know each other until Ramírez came looking for MacLeod in Scotland. Well, repeat after me in your best Hollywood producer’s voice: “Details, details.”



So close was the bond between MacLeod and Ramírez that it transcends space, time and death. When old man MacLeod is attacked by Katana’s minions, he calls out for Ramírez to help him, having managed not to do so during every life-threatening crisis for the previous 500 years. Ramírez suddenly materializes halfway around the world in the middle of a performance of Hamlet in Scotland, then spends half the movie finding his way to MacLeod. This allows Sean Connery to do some genuinely funny scenes (especially his visit to a fine Scottish tailor) and earn several million dollars for a just a few weeks work.



Ultimately our two heroes and the requisite love interest must defeat Katana and take down the shield. The entire affair is larded with elaborate sequences with little or no connection to anything (Katana’s high-speed subway trip is the most egregious example). Even though the scale of the film is bigger than the first, it feels second-hand and derivative, with visual references constantly recalling other, better movies (especially Blade Runner and Tim Burton’s Batman). The best comment on the plot is delivered by MacLeod himself when, midway through the film, Louise tries to sum up the newly convoluted mythology of immortality, and he can only reply: “Something like that.”




Video:



I have not seen the 2004 DVD version of Highlander 2, and so I can’t comment on the degree of improvement offered by the Blu-ray. However, the Blu-ray is notable for the number of “aliasing” artifacts that appear on horizontal edges and in fine patterns such as grille work. It’s not unusual for these to appear occasionally in especially detailed areas of a Blu-ray image (or, for that matter, a film image derived from a digital intermediate scanned at 2K resolution), but the phenomenon is more prevalent in Highlander 2 than on any Blu-ray I can remember. I can only speculate on the cause, but I suspect it has something to do with the work required to replace the old effects while retaining portions of the original image and adding newly generated effects.



Artifacts aside, the Blu-ray does showcase the detail of the elaborate production design, which, IMO, doesn’t do it any favors, because it only serves to emphasize how derivative it is. But sequences like the assault by Cobalt on TSC’s facility at a giant dam look better than I’ve ever seen them, simply because higher resolution better conveys the scale of the location.



Black levels are somewhat inconsistent, varying from dark and stable (e.g., in most of the opening opera sequence) to grayish and “crushed” (e.g., the interior of the TSC facility). Colors appear to be accurate, although it’s hard to say what that means with a film that has undergone such a complete makeover. The shield used to be red; now it’s blue. Much of the film’s palette has changed accordingly.



Highlander 2 has never been infamous for grain the way its predecessor is, but there’s visible grain in numerous shots and no indication of any concerted effort to remove it (although, with so much digital manipulation already having been applied, how could one know for sure?).




Audio:



The DTS 7.1 lossless track is active and involving, with significant use of the surrounds. Gunfire, flying objects, dripping water, explosions and shattering glass are just some of the effects that come at you from around the room. The film opens with a performance of Wagner, and the soundtrack by Stewart Copeland (drummer for The Police) takes its cue from there; it’s sweeping, grand and orchestral. Bass extension is very good; so if you get bored by the silly plot, you can close your eyes and be entertained by the soundtrack.




Special Features:



Not included is the commentary recorded by Mulcahy, Panzer and Davis for the “Renegade Version”. This appears to have been dropped for the 2004 DVD as well. Also missing is the feature listed on the 2004 DVD as "The Deconstruction of Highlander 2" and described thus: “When prompted by an on-screen icon, the viewer can choose to be taken to an alternative video stream that reveals the making of that scene. Once finished, the viewer will be taken back to the point in the film from which he left. This feature utilizes never-before-seen footage.”



Fortunately, this disc returns to Lionsgate’s standard practice of allowing the user to insert bookmarks.



Highlander 2: Seduced by Argentina (SD; 4:3) (50:05). Through interviews with Mulcahy, Panzer, Davis, Lambert and others, this documentary traces the history of the project from its inception, through the troubled shoot in Argentina and then through the various releases of Highlander 2.



The Redemption of Highlander 2 (SD; 4:3) (13:46). Effects supervisor Sam Nicholson discusses the film’s CGI makeover.



The Music of Highlander 2 (SD; 4:3) (9:05). Stewart Copeland discusses the film’s soundtrack (and himself).



The Fabric of Highlander 2 (SD; 4:3) (10:07). Costume designer Deborah Everton, who had just finished The Abyss, another famously difficult shoot, discusses her approach to dressing the film’s cast.



Shadows and Darkness: The Cinematography of Highlander 2 (SD; 4:3) (5:51). Interviewed on set, cinematographer Phil Meheux talks about the challenges of lighting Mulcahy’s vision. Meheux would go on to photograph several more giant productions, shooting Goldeneye, Casino Royale and both Zorro films for Martin Campbell.



Deleted Scenes (SD; 2.35:1, enhanced for 16:9) (5:48). Five scenes are included, of which the most interesting is an alternate “fairy tale” ending.



Original Cannes Film Festival Promotional Reel (SD; 2.35:1, enhanced for 16:9) (9:29). Really an extended trailer, but the best part is the concluding title card, which reads: “Still Shooting in Argentina”. Not for long, as it turned out.



Trailers. The trailer for “The Quickening” version is included as a separate extra. At startup the disc plays trailers for Apocalypse Now on Blu-ray, The Expendables, an “anthology” trailer for films by the cast of The Expendables and Kick-Ass. These can be skipped with the chapter forward button and are also separately available from the features menu.




In Conclusion:



Every time the filmmakers revisit Highlander 2, they try to make it better. I respect their dedication and their intentions, but every time I watch it, in any version, I find it more laughable. Strictly for completists and lovers of bad movies.





Equipment used for this review:



Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)


Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)


Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough


Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier


Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears


Boston Accoustics VR-MC center


SVS SB12-Plus sub
 

Adam Gregorich

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Very entertaining review. I find it funny that Highlander was on sale for $13.99 at Amazon, while this one is $17.99. The completist in me may need to pick this up, but I can wait for a heavy discount first.
 

joshEH

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This is film is a strange beast. Don't get me wrong, the film's problematic. "$300,000,000-and-The King of the World-couldn't-fix-this" kinda problematic. But...

..."problematic" is MUCH better than, "I-could-never-watch-that-piece-of-fucking-garbage-again-for-as-long-as-I-live." Which is what many people thought of this film prior to watching this cut.

It's different from the "Renegade Version." It has a definite pace. It has tonal consistencies with the first film. The opening mimics and mirrors the opening of the original in a way that could even be described as "witty." Different musical cues (some of Kamen's Highlander score, and Copeland reprising elements of the Wagner piece from the opening) manufacture a sonic throughline.


The film is edited to mimic the flashback structure of the first movie (again, something that the footage lends itself to from the start -- witness MacLeod looking at his safety glasses with a smile as the shield goes up), and some truly pleasing revisionist effects work elevate this from unwatchable garbage to interesting curiosity.

There is no mention of Zeist, and there is footage to support the notion that someone involved in the production was looking to remove the idea altogether. There's a subplot added that now has one of the dumbest things in the original, butchered version of the film (the prison break-in) make total sense.

There is some stuff that occurs that widens the scope of the movie, giving you the feeling that we've got a minor epic on our hands -- you know -- like the FIRST Highlander?

Definitely worth a look. It makes you wonder why Mulcahy isn't handling bigger work nowadays...he really is a sharp visual stylist. He's hell on a Louma Crane, that's for damn sure.
 

mattCR

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I am a huge highlander fan. I've seen all the films, the TV series, the animated series, read the books..


Highlander (the first film) was brilliant and smart with the moment of "Who knows, it just is what it is" That speech by Sean Connery set the film apart. But the sequels really took the damage on.


The animated series, which is a pox on everyone now (700 years in the future....) But I always felt the best approach was the one that in earlier interviews they discussed and then backed away from; that is to just say "who knows what happened; one journey ended, and now, having won the prize, eliminated all the immortals of his time, new immortals come to be" Just as Conner became immortal in Scotland, new immortals "just popped up". They dealt with that concept far more effectively in the series then any of the movies.. and then that went derailed.


But the core concept was great. I have very little desire to revist Highlander 2. I regard it as a somewhat "proof" that sequels aren't necessary. In my Highlander universe, there is only "Highlander" and the Adrian Paul series. That's it.

But as a matter of interest, I find it very amusing that while we are often on the home theater forum demanding films reappear in their full, original theatrical view "STOP MUCKING WITH STAR WARS!!" flame threads, I have yet to see anyone leap to the defense of "STOP MESSING WITH HIGHLANDER2!! Leave it as I remember it, a complete turd!!"


But I will say I hope somewhere they have preserved that version, because like it or not, it is one of the best examples of how to nearly destroy a franchise.
 

ManW_TheUncool

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RE: the completist comment, I'm already doing that w/ the Alien Anthology -- sorta forced that be


_Man_
 

Ferdinand Hudson

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Disappointed about the quality although not surprised to tell you the truth. I bought the Dutch BD release back when that was issued earlier this year and was disappointed by the PQ of it. Michael's review of the Lionsgate BD mirrors it so I think I now what to expect when it arrives here. The DVD of this was certainly not among the best looking DVDs and the Dutch BD was certainly not much of an upgrade, at least the Lionsgate ports over the majority of the extras. Too bad that they didn't include the finished fairytale ending on it and not just the green screen version.


I'd welcome a Blade Runner/CE3K type of release which collects all four official versions of Highlander 2, knowing full well that would never happen. But one can dream, right? I do own them all on DVD though so can always pull them out when I feel the urge. I'd love to see them all restored to look the best they can.


Originally Posted by Adam Gregorich

Very entertaining review. I find it funny that Highlander was on sale for $13.99 at Amazon, while this one is $17.99. The completist in me may need to pick this up, but I can wait for a heavy discount first.


If one ordered Highlander 2 early on at Amazon, as I did, the price was $13.99, just like the original. The price went up a short while later and has stayed solid at $17.99 since while the first remained at $13.99.
 

Ferdinand Hudson

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Originally Posted by joshEH

It's different from the "Renegade Version.".


You mean The Quickening, aside for the new CGI and losing a short scene with Louise Marcus the Renegade Version and the 2004 Special Edition are identical.
 

ManW_TheUncool

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For those who still want to order this, you can try the B&N site. IIRC, they actually have it for less than $14.

_Man_
 

Cees Alons

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Originally Posted by Adam Gregorich

Very entertaining review. I find it funny that Highlander was on sale for $13.99 at Amazon, while this one is $17.99. The completist in me may need to pick this up, but I can wait for a heavy discount first.


And I couldn't stop myself when I did buy the first one, after giving it some thought (reading Michael's review of that one)...

So, yes, both BDs are heading my way.


Thanks, Michael, as usual. You nailed it again.



Cees
 

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