Saturday, July 9, 2016

Princes of the Universe

Every so often I get the opportunity to review movies. Sometimes they're new movies about to hit the big screens, and sometimes they're older films that have resurfaced on shiny remastered bluray. But rather than just review the movie, I like to add a little context. After all, the site I used to write for has gone, so posting on my blog I like to keep it a little more personal. Review the movies that have touched me, or have a history with me. 

A little while ago I was notified of the 4k restoration of one of my favourite movies - Highlander - and was given the opportunity to see the new and shiny edition of the movie. Previous DVDs and blurays had not done the film justice, and I'm happy to report that the new edition is just as glorious, just as loud and just as immortal as it should be.

Highlander was one of those weird movies in the 80s. I went to see a lot of movies, and this was right when I was in my sixth form and trekking every saturday to the nearest cinema fifteen miles away on the bus to see just about everything with a slight science fiction theme. The poster immediately caught my eye, with its cool sci-fi typeface, and some guy in a trenchcoat carrying a sword. 

The original Highlander poster in all of its glory!

Looked pretty epic, but I had no idea what it was about until I paid my ticket money at the box office. 

Often, the best movies are experienced like this. I had seen some very brief ads on the TV for The Matrix before going to see it, completely unaware of what it was about. Sometimes, in fact often, not knowing can be part of the fun.

That said, the legendary tale of immortals battling through history until only one is left, can be confusing when you first approach it. The publicity images mixed 80's New York with scenes that are better suited to Braveheart. There's about three words said in the first ten minutes, and it's not until over forty minutes into the movie that you discover why we keep flashing back to the Scottish glens and the clan MacLeod. I always remember a classic TV listing for the movie in the Radio Times calling it a "time travel epic". Well, I guess the characters do travel through time, but linearly and at the same speed as everyone else! Maybe that guide's reviewer didn't get that far.

The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) all restored and imposing.

As a teenager, I was hooked. Amazing visuals, one of the coolest and most iconic villains in cinema with Clancy Brown's gravel voiced Kurgan. A fantastic soundtrack peppered with Queen songs. And Christopher Lambert playing the hero who mouths off to the cops, takes crap from no one, and has mastered the art of hiding a katana in his trenchcoat.

What's not to love? 

The more you look at the movie, the more you appreciate the visual flair of director Russell Mulcahy. From the opening panning shot swooping over the audience of a wrestling match at Madison Square Garden, long before the existence of drones that make such shots so easy now. To the brilliant transitions from present to past, from aquarium water level to Scottish loch, from the incapacitated and dying form of MacLeod in ancient Scotland suddenly being the subject of police camera flashes. Everything about it is beautiful, inventive and brilliant.

Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) about to square off against Fasil.

I bought the novelisation, bought "A Kind of Magic" Queen album, and did fencing in school sports, shouting "There can be only one!" before the teacher reminded us that foils were not supposed to be held two-handed and swung around our heads. (Wasn't long before we were at it again, shouting "You're not my father" while making lightsaber noises).

Highlander was one of those movies that stayed with you. I watched it so many times on VHS that I could quote it almost word for word, and eagerly awaited the release of Highlander II. I remember asking a girl out to go and see the second one, but she turned me down. I think she dodged more than one bullet that day...

When I met my future wife, and discovered she could recite the movie just as well as me I knew it was destiny. Our first real holiday away together we drove to Scotland and took in the locations, from the stunning Glencoe, to Castle MacLeod itself, Eilian Donan. We were both so sad to cross the border south again on the way home. 

The previous releases of Highlander have been less than perfect, with the bluray before looking like an upscaled VHS that looked so grainy that you wondered why you bought a bluray player to begin with. 

MacLeod and the Kurgan fight for the prize in the newly restored version

Thankfully, the new 4k restoration is glorious. While I don't have 4k capabilities, the bluray release of this restoration is as clean and clear as if the movie was released yesterday. Sure, you can see the wires during the finale (though not as bad as the initial release) but making up for that is the picture quality that really shines in both the rainy New York scenes and the epic vistas of Scotland. It just made me want to pack up and move to the middle of nowhere again, to hide from the world in that amazing landscape. One day, Debs... One day...

There are plenty of extras too, including a nearly two hour making of, interviewing the producers and writers, as well as new interviews with director Russell Mulcahy and Christopher Lambert, deleted scenes and a commentary by Mulcahy. 

It was wonderful revisiting Highlander, like being reunited with an old friend and discovering they are just as cool as when you last saw them. Now, if only they'd release the TV series on DVD in the UK... 

Highlander, the 4K restoration based on a 4K scan of the original camera negative, and restored by Deluxe London, under the approval of director Russell Mulcahy, is available on DVD and bluray on the 11th July 2016, marking the 30th anniversary of its release. God, I feel old now...

With thanks to STUDIOCANAL for letting me review it.

Seriously, you've all seen Highlander haven't you? If you haven't, here's the trailer for the restoration. Do yourself a favour and check it out.

Until next time, stay multiclassy. There can be only one!

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