Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday Reboot: Highlander

Highlander was released in 1986 and stars, Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery and Clancy Brown. In the interest of transparency, I am going to say upfront that I am a huge fan of both the franchise and the soundtrack, which was done by Queen. That said, I still believe that Highlander has its share of problematic elements.

Conner MacLeod of the clan MacLeod goes into battle with his kinsman, and is killed by a Black knight named Victor Kruger. His kinsmen declare him dead and are not pleased when he awakes. They assume that his return to life is the work of the devil and drive him out of town.  He sets up home with Rose and is content until Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez appears and informs him that he is immortal and that he must learn to protect himself. Juan teaches him about the competition that they are all in and how to protect his head, because other immortals will try decapitate him in the hopes of gaining his power.  This of course introduces us to the catch phrase for this movie, 'there can be only one."  The last immortals will apparently all get drawn to the same location at the time of the quickening and the last one left alive will be heir to untold power.

Juan suggests that he give up Rose because of the pain that he will feel one day when she dies and because he cannot give her children.  Conner refuses to give her up.   Later that night, Juan is telling stories about his life to Rose when Kruger breaks into the castle and kills him and rapes Rose.

Much of Conner's history is told between flashback and present day.  In the present, Conner is an antiques dealer and goes by the name Russell Edwin Nash.  He comes to the attention of the police after he is found trying to flee the police after beheading  Iman Fasil.  Brenda J. Wyatt who works with the police finds a fragment of the sword that Nash used to kill Fasil and immediately starts investigating him.  She agrees to have dinner with him in order to entrap him, but Nash is onto her from the get go.

When she finally discovers that he is not who he claims to be by tracking birth records back to the 1700's Nash stabs himself in the stomach to prove that he cannot die and they end up becoming lovers. When Kruger kidnaps Brenda, Nash comes to her rescue as all good heroes and decapitates Kruger.  Nash yells there can be only one as the power leaves Kruger and enters him.  He believes at this point that he is the last immortal but with such a popular movie, there is no way they could leave it that and so we had several follow up movies.

Though this movie was set in NYC, people of colour were largely background characters with the exception of  Kastigir and old immortal friend of McClouds.  To ensure that the audience is aware that Kaastigir is different they had him wearing tribal clothing.  Really?  They didn't have Conner running around in modern times in a kilt but no problem for Kastigir. Kastigir quickly died and was clearly only even in the picture to give us the illusion of real inclusion.This is further made problematic by the fact that Conner played the role of chosen one.  There are very few films in which a man of color is put into this role and as Kastigir proves, they are more often set up as a token or a sidekick.

Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos was played by Sean Connery.  Juan was originally from Egypt and so to give him a darker appearance makeup had to be used. There is absolutely no reason a darker skinned person could not have played this role, but why give them work when a privileged White man with makeup can be used as a stand in. 

As for women in this movie, they really had a secondary role.  As I mentioned earlier, Rose was raped and it was deemed a crime against Conner.  Though Rose loved Conner, there was clearly an imbalance of power between them.  In one scene a group of young boys crash into Rose and grab her breasts and she simply laughs it off as the hi jinx of children. Umm, yeah that's assault no matter how old the boys are.  Brenda at first seems like the stronger characters because she keeps investigating Conner despite being warned off.  Brenda has a mystery to solve and she will not stop.  I did not like that Brenda was taken captive to draw in Conner and the scene in which she screamed repeatedly while being driven around by Kruger seemed to just highlight the idea that women exist to be victims and need saving.

There were no GLBT characters in this film despite the fact that it was largely set in NYC.  The director did include a gay slur.  I think if Hollywood is going to erase GLBT people, they should altogether and not throw in slurs.

I couldn't talk about Highlander without mentioning that Christopher Lambert who played Connor 'The Highlander' MacLeod / Russell Edwin Nash is a terrible actor.  For most of the movie he either had a goofy smile or a face that made him look constipated, which btw was his serious face.  

Highlander is 2 hours of pure cheese and to be honest, the special effects most certainly do not pass the test of time.  I think it's the idea of immortals battling it out for centuries that has captured and maintained my interest because it certainly isn't the acting in this film.  I love the soundtrack done by Queen and I love the catchphrase of "There can be only one."  I will probably be saying that for days to my family now that I have watched Highlander again. I openly admit that this movie just makes me say fuck it I like it, and sometimes that's just what you have to do.