Highlander is an American film which opened on March 7, 1986. The film is set in 1985 with flashbacks establishing the backstory and the characters' relationships to one another. The film has inspired a number of sequels, television series, novels and comic books.
Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) was born in the year 1518 "in the village of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel." In 1536, his clan is in conflict with the rival Clan Fraser, and Connor rides along into his first battle. The Frasers have employed a towering monster of a man known as The Kurgan (Clancy Brown), who apparently recognizes that Connor is a fellow Immortal, though even Connor himself has not yet discovered this, although he feels the pain from sensing the Kurgen's proximity. The Kurgan manages to mortally wound Connor in battle, but the MacLeods recover the body before he can decapitate it. The MacLeods mourn Connor, but he revives shortly after his "death." Accusing him of witchcraft, Connor's clansmen beat him, and are preparing an execution, but his cousin Angus MacLeod (James Cosmo) persuade them to exile Connor instead. He escapes with his life, but is banished from his clan and birthplace.
Connor eventually settles as a blacksmith in Glencoe, where he marries Heather (Beatie Edney). In 1541, he is located by a much older Immortal, who introduces himself as Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (Sean Connery). Ramirez soon appoints himself Connor's tutor in the situation of being Immortal, their pursuit of The Prize, and the rules of an age-old "Game," noting that "in the end, there can be only one." He also explains that his own name was just his current alias, being Egyptian by birth. He adopted it while serving as Chief Metallurgist for Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (also King of Spain between 1516-1556). His sword is a katana he received in Japan in 593 B.C. by his (then) father-in-law Masamune. Masamune was the father of Princess Shakiko, Ramirez's third wife, a genius far ahead of his time in the forging of swords.
Ramirez tells MacLeod to leave his wife or face heartbreak, explaining that "I was born 2,437 years ago. In that time, I've had three wives. The last was Shakiko, a Japanese princess... When Shakiko died, I was shattered. I would save you that pain. Please, let Heather go."
Connor refuses to leave his wife, though he trains under Ramirez to prepare for Immortals like the Kurgan. However, the Kurgan manages to arrive at Connor's home while MacLeod himself is absent. The Kurgan and Ramirez duel, with the frightened Heather their only spectator. The Kurgan manages to decapitate Ramirez, and proceeds to rape Heather, in the belief that he was further humiliating his old enemy (Ramirez) and "his woman." Connor soon returns to find his residence in ruins, his mentor killed, and his wife alive, but traumatized. She never tells him about the rape, and Connor never learns of the event until 1985, when the Kurgan mocks Ramirez's memory:
Connor remains with his wife until her death. Dying in Connor's arms, she confides that her only regret was not having his children. After burying Heather, MacLeod burns their residence and wanders the world, journeying as far away as Japan, and - like the rest of the Immortals - finally ends up in America. These travels include an 18th Century duel on Boston Common (in which a drunken MacLeod was repeatedly run through by a sword, to no effect, by an insulted husband), and killing a Nazi officer during World War II, rescuing a young Holocaust survivor in the process. His experiences over time have left him a bitter, cynical man.
The action then shifts to 1985 New York, where the few surviving Immortals are drawn in "The Gathering," a final series of confrontations to determine the winner of "The Prize." Eventually, the last two surviving are Connor, under the alias of "Russell Edwin Nash"; and the Kurgan, under the alias of "Victor Kruger." Meanwhile, the Spike in what appear to be murders by decapitation has drawn the attention of the police, who suspect Connor as the sole person responsible (however, he is in fact responsible for at least one of the deaths being investigated). Among the investigators of the case is forensic scientist Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart). Her investigation reveals MacLeod's apparent longevity through different names, and she eventually falls in love with him. This does not escape the attention of the Kurgan, who abducts her to force Connor into a final confrontation. MacLeod battles the Kurgan, finally defeating him (with a little help from Brenda), and apparently wins The Prize, which is revealed to be mortality, the ability to sire children, and a telepathic/empathic gift wherein he can communicate with and influence the greatest minds or most powerful people on the planet (hence Ramirez's warning to Connor as to what horrors someone like the Kurgan could bring to the world, should he win it).
The film was directed by Russell Mulcahy and scripted by Peter Bellwood, Larry Ferguson, and Gregory Widen. Upon initial U.S. release, it was not well-received, but it gained increasing popularity in non-domestic markets, and on home video.
Today, it remains arguably the best-known film of the Highlander series, and the one perhaps best-received by the public. The themes and concepts introduced by the film were further explored by many of the later movies and the TV series.
The original movie features a soundtrack by Queen, including "Princes of the Universe," which is also used in the Highlander television series title sequence. Queen saw an early screening of Highlander, and decided to compose music for the film's entire non-symphonic soundtrack. They wrote many of the songs specifically to match the mood of the scenes when the songs were played, notably Brian May's "Who Wants to Live Forever," concerning the doomed love of Connor and his original, mortal Highland bride.
While an album specifically tied to the Highlander movie was never released, Queen's 1986 album A Kind of Magic (a phrase spoken twice in the movie by Connor) features most of the songs from the film, as well as other music on the same theme. Notably, Queen's version of "New York, New York" (playing while The Kurgan drives Brenda through New York) was never released by the band.
All of Queen's songs in Highlander were purposely written for the movie, except for "Hammer to Fall," which had been previously released on their album The Works in 1984.
Alternate Cuts and Deleted Scenes
The European and Japanese cuts of the film contain scenes not found in the U.S. cut.
The Director's Cut is 8 minutes longer than the U.S. cut. It includes, amongst other things, a flashback to World War II that further develops the character of Rachel Ellenstein.
A number of deleted scenes from the film were lost in a fire. One such scene introduced an Asian immortal named Yung Dol Kim, who was beheaded by the Kurgan. Another featured Connor and Kastigir in a night club with Detective Bedsoe. A few stills from these sequences, some in color and others in black & white, did survive.
In the scene where MacLeod rescues Rachel, the Nazi SS officer is speaking German, but in the English video versions, no subtitles are provided. The text goes as follows:
German: "You should be dead!"
MacLeod: [in English:] "Move!"
German: "No! First you'll have to shoot me!"
MacLeod: [laughs; in English:] "Whatever you say, Jack. You're the master race." [shoots him]
Master Shake from the animated series Aqua Teen Hunger Force considers Highlander to be a documentary, and the events that happened were in real-time. He also believes that jumping off a magical cliff will make him a Highlander (despite being told that one is born a Highlander, rather than becoming one), and uses this plot to make the suicidal Happy Time Harry suffer.
Robot Chicken, an animated series airing on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, made a parody of Highlander, using Hollywood as the setting, and several teen idols such as Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, and Hillary Duff as Immortal characters. The initial duel in the sketch, set in an office, may be a reference to the "lost" duel between the Kurgan and Yung Dol Kim (see above).
In the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell's character, Ricky Bobby, compares the intense rivalry with NASCAR driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) with the plot of Highlander. While explaining the movie to Girard, a Frenchman, he states that it won the Academy Award for "Best Movie Ever Made." Later in the film, Girard claims he had seen the movie, and said "it was shit".
In the popular MMORPG World Of Warcraft, located on a small island just off the coast of The Barrens' port town of Ratchet, there is a non-player character called Klannoc MacLeod, and is referred to as "The Islander."
A popular quote from Dane Cook's Harmful If Swallowed standup routine is, in reference to the movie's tagline, "There can only be one Highlander!"
In the collectable card game Magic: the Gathering, one popular casual variant of the game is called Highlander, named after the movie. In the Highlander variant, players can build a deck using only one of any given card other than basic lands (in reference to the movie tagline, "There can only be one").
The Hasbro miniatures battle game, Heroscape, features a Scottish hero, Alastair MacDirk. MacDirk's special ability is an Overextend Attack. In addition, a common squad of Scottish Warriors, the MacDirk Warriors, are featured in Heroscape. On their unit card is featured two ability descriptions. Highland Fury contains this clause: "There can be only one Human Champion for all the Macdirk Warriors you control."
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