Highlander 2: The Renegade Version (1995)


When “Highlander 2” came out, people were mad as hell – I remember, because I was one of them. It was so stupid! Aliens? Who dreamed this rubbish up? But I find, as an older more jaded man, a film that was so completely OTT inspires fonder memories than some barely-above-average, much more sensible movie. Unluckily for me, the people behind this movie didn’t agree with me.


So, I’d like to give a crash course in Hollywood doublespeak. “Highlander 2” was filmed mostly in Argentina, but when they went over-budget (or, depending on who you believe, a crash in the value of the Argentine peso left them broke, a story which makes no sense) filming was stopped and the footage was taken out of the hands of the producers by the guarantors, edited as best they could manage, and released. What’s important to remember, and what the producer and director didn’t tell you in the featurette attached to the DVD, is that these insurance people didn’t write or film any new scenes. So when you see the first “Highlander” movie completely ignored to be a story about the immortals being aliens from the planet Zeist, and them handwaving away the death of Sean Connery in part 1, that was their plan from the beginning!


The theatrical version is considered one of the worst movies of all time, so in 1995 Russell Mulcahy, to his credit, realised he’d made a horrible mistake and secured funding to get the rights to the movie back, plus all the filmed footage. He re-edited, filmed a few new scenes, and released the “Renegade Version” – although if you watched the featurette you’d have no idea whose idea the stupid alien thing was (hint: it was Mulcahy’s). Filmed interviews from the set during the original filming even have Christopher Lambert saying “none of us wanted to do a sequel unless the story was right”, which gives the lie to the whole “it was the accountants’ fault” rubbish.


But anyway. What’s this version like? Rather than being aliens from the planet Zeist, all the immortals are just from Earth’s far-distant past (a past that has crashed space-ships in it, but don’t let that worry you). Ramirez (Sean Connery) and McLeod (Lambert) are the leaders of the resistance against the evil General Katana (Michael Ironside), and after being captured are given a rather bizarre punishment. Because they’re immortals, which not all the past-people are, they’re to be sent to the future, to fight with all the other immortals who’ve had a similar punishment, until there’s only one left…then that guy can either become mortal or go back to the past. This makes far less sense than just saying “they’re aliens” (did they wipe their memories? Why send them all back to different times?), and has the added bonus of being much more boring.


The majority of the film takes place in 2024, though. McLeod used “The Prize” from the first movie to become super-smart, it would seem, and goes from being an antique dealer to inventor of a giant red bubble-shield-thing which protects the earth from the destroyed ozone layer. This bubble has messed up everything, though, to the point the entire Earth looks like the sleaziest bits of “Blade Runner” (which the producers are careful to say they definitely didn’t rip off). Some environmental activists, led by Virginia Madsen, believe the layer has healed itself and the shield can be turned off; the guy in charge of the Shield Corporation, John C McGinley, naturally has another opinion. Katana sends some mean hombres forward in time to kill McLeod, but when they fail (at the same time, giving him their Quickening, turning him from an old man into prime young Lambert) he decides to go forward himself and finish off the job.


Undoubtedly, some of the edits and changes make it better. It’s longer by 18 minutes but that 18 minutes was needed – some motivation is fleshed out and there’s more of a sense of why people want to fight other people. It is, definitely, a more competent film. But when you’re cutting round footage that was intended to tell one story, and trying to tell another, joins will start to show. Virginia Madsen has a speech which was clearly intended, at around the halfway mark, to refresh everyone’s memory about the plot, but changing them to time travellers whose immortality is dependent on which time they’re in leaves it making zero sense.


One of my main problems, with both versions of the movie, is the lack of prime Connery and Lambert. They bounce off each other superbly, and while we get some awesome scenes of Connery adapting to 21st century life (although how he got on an intercontinental flight with no passport is never revealed), the two of them don’t meet up til 1:15, and Connery is gone by 1:30. Ironside tries, leaving no scenery unchewed, and Madsen is good in a thankless role, but it’s not the same.


Okay, it’s a “better” film. But it’s still not like it’s any good, really – going from F- to D+ isn’t that much of an improvement – and the original “Highlander 2” is so odd and incomprehensible that, in a way, it’s much more entertaining than the “Renegade Version” (ooh, those millionaire Hollywood directors and producers are “renegades” now?). But if you’ve ever read a recap of the original version and felt personally insulted, this could be the movie for you.


Rating: thumbs in the middle


Highlander (1986)

Highlander 01

Nostalgia has a lot to answer for. Chances are there are plenty of films you love that, objectively, aren’t all that great. For a lot of people, that’s pretty much the Star Wars franchise (as beloved as they are, none of these films are particularly well written, directed or acted). Highlander is very much in that category.

The 1980s appears to have spawned an entire range of films that are neither critical nor commercial successes but some have somehow gained cult appeal, leading to numerous sequels and TV spin-offs.

This particular cult film follows the exploits of Connor MacLoed of the Clan MacLoed, as played by the Frenchman, Christopher Lambert (complete with majorly dodgy accent). Connor is an immortal, one of a small number of people who can only be killed by decapitation.

Highlander 04

“This is just how the Kurgan greets people.”

These immortals are involved in a competition to be the last immortal alive (for reasons) and as the only way to kill them involves cutting their head off, this explains why they are all running round with swords.

Each time an immortal kills another immortal, they gain the power of all the people they have killed, until the last remaining immortal gains the Prize. You may well ask why they are immortal or why they are fighting for the Prize but don’t expect an answer in this movie as everyone is too busy having sword fights.

Highlander 07

And really, that’s the point of this film: people having poorly choreographed sword fights in various locations in New York City. The sort of thing that 10 year old boys think is super awesome.

We learn about Connor’s past through flashbacks, some of which are hilarious (like the 18th century duel with the French aristocrat who keeps stabbing Connor until he yields just to put an end to it). Connor is taught all about being immortal by Sean Connery, who is an immortal Egyptian who became part of the Spanish nobility (for reasons).

That pretty much sums up how little anyone seems to care in this movie. Neither Christopher Lambert nor Sean Connery make any attempt to mask their accent and just seem to have a lot of fun being larger than life immortal warriors.

"I'm not sure Sean Connery has ever really cared about what he stars in."

“I’m not sure Sean Connery has ever really cared about what he stars in.”

Add in Clancy Brown as the antagonist (who is an immortal giant because shut up), who is brilliant hamming it up as a pantomime psychopath, and you can see why this film wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed.

"So boss, he just stapled his own head back on."

“So boss, he just stapled his own head back on.”

And it really is a crazy movie that makes little sense upon close examination. For instance, the female love interest is a Police Technician (who is an expert in metallurgy, with a specialisation in ancient swords because shut up) who tries to get close to Connor and ends up falling in love with him (for reasons).

The whole film just seems to have been written by someone who just threw a load of ideas in that he or she thought would be ‘super awesome’ without making any attempt to explain it or at least make it plausible.

It’s the sort of film which could only have been made in the 1980s. It just seems to steamroller over things like explanations or reasoning by knocking up the ridiculous to the next level (for example, the final fight has a massive set piece on top of a building, which just looks amazing, despite being nearly 30 years old). And in that, it is glorious.

That said, Highlander hasn’t aged well. As I said earlier, the fight choreography looks pretty poor by today’s standards, the effects leave a lot to be desired having been animated by hand (not to mention the wires they fail to hide for one practical effect) and the foley artist has some really dodgy sound effects for the sword fights. Plus, Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery and Clancy Brown are all ridiculous.

"We'll just edit that out in post... in about 15 years time when such technology actually exists."

“We’ll just edit that out in post… in about 15 years time when such technology actually exists.”

And yet, for all that, it is still a highly enjoyable movie. From the fantastic soundtrack (original music provided by Queen, of all people) to the sheer craziness of it all, it is still a thoroughly entertaining movie.

I love the film and completely accept that I’m viewing it through rose-tinted glasses but if you have any interest in watching a cult ‘80s film, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Highlander. Just don’t go near any of the sequels. For your own sanity.

TL:DR “Bonkers 1980s movie about an immortal Scotsman who is trained by Sean Connery, who plays an Egyptian Spaniard, to sword fight a giant. That will tell you all you need to know about whether you’ll enjoy this or not.”

Movie Blind Spots: The Untouchables


Up until last Saturday afternoon I had never seen ‘The Untouchables’. It was a significant absence from the gangster movies of the eighties and nineties that I’d seen, the Godfather trilogy, ‘Donnie Brasco’, ‘Scarface’,  ‘Carlito’s Way’, ‘Casino’ and ‘Goodfellas’. For a working class lad watching these films were rites of passage. Everybody had the black and white ‘Scarface’ poster on their bedroom walls, we all did Joe Pesci impressions and when out on the town we strutted around looking for Michelle Pfeiffer and that white gold.

One of the first things that grabbed my attention was how the violence in ‘The Untouchables’ seemed cartoonish and unreal compared to say what we’ve seen in recent years in HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’. There was just something unreal about the way the bodies fell, particularly in the unintentionally cringey finale as Eliot Ness tries to stop a pram falling down a flight of stairs in the middle of a shootout.

I don’t know something else seemed amiss as the minutes ticked by, the performances seem out of sync, from what I’d heard about the movie De Niro is superb, but looking at his career as a whole just off his peak. What I saw was De Niro as fat and satisfied and not in the method sense of packing on pounds for dramatic effect. He presents Al Capone like Danny De Vito as The Penguin. He’s a villain in a superhero movie, grandiose, incompetent and over the top. Costner is a bit empty, De Palma seems in love with his face and Costner just doesn’t seem all that moved emotionally, even when his family are at risk from mob reprisals. Contrast this to the charismatic performances from Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone, the comedy of Charles Martin Smith and the electricity of Andy Garcia. The headliners bluff and blunder whilst the supporting cast are mind-blowing.

‘The Untouchables’ is comic book take on the myth of Eliot Ness. This is a film with hardly any grey areas during a time that was one giant grey area. Despite the law and justice system being corrupt and everything being morally ambiguous ‘The Untouchables’ basically boils down to goodies vs. baddies, Ness vs. Capone.

I don’t want to beat a classic movie down, because it’s a fun, engrossing watch, and the film looks great. The costumes, the locations (particularly the border scene) but the film’s biggest flaw is that it seems to add authentic grit. Costner’s Ness is a damp squib of a man, a square. He almost resembles Josh Brolin’s character in ‘Gangster Squad’, a pale descendent of ‘The Untouchables’. Is that the legacy of the movie, that it spawned such poor imitations? ‘The Untouchables’ perhaps hasn’t aged well, or maybe I’ve fallen out of love with the Gangster movie genre.


The Anderson Tapes (1971)


Directed by Sidney Lumet

Surveillance can be ridiculously dull. Last week I had to spend an hour trying to establish whether or not a fifty something man had concealed some meat in a bright orange bag for life. I felt like I was going over the Zapruder footage, as I kept rewinding and fast forwarding, just to attempt to get some confirmation that a theft had occurred. Was this man innocent or guilty of low value theft?

It was during the seventies that CCTV systems began to be used specifically for private security purposes. Sidney Lumet’s ‘The Anderson Tapes’ contains a great deal of what was at the time, cutting edge technology, in terms of CCTV and covert audio recording. But ultimately this is a heist movie about a roguish criminal opportunistically looking to pull off the big job that will set him up for life.

Sean Connery plays Duke Anderson, who after leaving prison hooks up with an old flame, a Barbie doll Bardot piece of blonde fluff called Ingrid. She lives in a swanky apartment block that contains many wealthy residents. Duke gets a hunch; maybe he could rob the place. The security seems lax, with some podgy concierge on the door and a few cameras on the wall.

Carefully plotting what loot is available Duke gets his antique expert buddy played by Martin Balsam (with Liberace mixed with Nathan Lane from ‘The Birdcage’ levels of camp) to scope out the joint and find out where the valuables are. Duke assembles a gang of slick criminals to help him carry out the job which includes a very young Christopher Walken. Even back in ’71 Walken had it. The car crash effect, his acting method and delivery is twisted and mangled yet you must watch his every move and listen to each word.

‘The Anderson Tapes’ is a Grade A seventies classic, the dialogue is snappy, bold and almost perfect. The supporting cast are magnificent, and not a single role is wasted. The tension is gripping, and I think it must be considered alongside another great film of that era that utilized technology ‘Three Days of the Condor’. Speaking bluntly, the film is also cool as fuck. Dig the Quincy Jones score. Marvel at Connery strutting around as an alpha male. This is how men used to be.

I mentioned the supporting cast earlier and what adds to the story most is the accounts of the apartment residents who have survived the robbery – the little asthmatic kid, the elderly woman who revels in the excitement and the bloodied bitter husband who learns that when push comes to shove his wife doesn’t really love him and actually wants him dead. What happens in the robbery is recounted by the recollections of these people.

To fund the robbery (hiring the removal truck and the getaway vehicle) Duke gets a loan from a Mafia boss. As part of the deal he gets an extra present, a psychopathic brute called Socks. Only Duke has to kill Socks because he’s too much trouble. There is a funny scene in a sauna when a sweaty Connery meets Socks. Socks stands in the sauna in his suit and fully intends to discuss business in the sweltering sweat until Duke advises him it would probably be better to get changed.

Anderson is monitored at every turn. But aside from Ingrid’s jealous wealthy benefactor nobody is really paying attention about what he is up to. The Feds are watching the Black Panthers, the IRS are on the case of the Mafia boss and although everything is covered the fact that a big crime is being planned seems to escape all these agencies.

This was the role that allowed Sean Connery to avoid being typecast in Bond-like action adventure roles. He oozes masculinity like a discarded sponge that was found in the shower room of the York Hall. Like any smooth talking criminal he is able to charm his way into believing that he is somehow in the right. We want him to pull off the job. Contrast this to my punching the air celebration at the end of the ropey Ben Stiller film ‘Tower Heist’ when Stiller goes to jail, I almost cried when Duke… actually I won’t spoil it.

Sidney Lumet uses New York sparingly; the film is set there, but it isn’t a presence in itself, unlike many of his other works, this film could be set in any densely populated American city. This isn’t a New York tale. More a story about how men make mistakes, despite their good intentions.


The Anderson Tapes on IMDB
Buy The Anderson Tapes [DVD] [2003]