Sunday, March 16, 2008

Highlander: The Source—A Review

I was born four hundred years ago in the Highlands of Scotland. I am immortal and I am not alone. Now is the time of the Gathering, when the stroke of a sword will release the power of the Quickening. In the end, there can be only one—Duncan MacLeod

Highlander: The Source is the fifth installment of the Highlander film series, and the first film of a trilogy on the SCI FI Channel, with Adrian Paul returning as Duncan MacLeod from the television series and the fourth film, Highlander: Endgame. Highlander: The Source is the first Highlander film in the franchise not to be released in American theatres; instead, it was shown on the SCI FI Channel on September 15, 2007 (Wikipedia). The tag line for the DVD movie reads: The Quest for Mortality Begins.

When M80 and Fox Home Entertainment asked me to review the latest Highlander movie by Brett Leonard, now on DVD, I said sure! I’d watched the original 1986 movie with Christopher Lambert as the long-haired (and extremely sexy) Conner MacLeod, who is an immortal, one of a race of many who can only die when the head is cut from the body. When one immortal takes the head of another, the loser's power is absorbed into the winner. There were enough fantastical elements in the dark and contemplative motion picture to interest me and the swordplay action was compelling. Thinking I would be treated to something at least similar to the original, I was disappointed. However, while I found this latest installation in the movie series (and TV show) disappointing, there are likely some worthy elements to be found for die-hard fans of the series, if not the general action-film crowd. In fact, one of the film’s redeeming features is that it makes an attempt—albeit feeble—at putting some thoughtful meaning into an otherwise empty, shallow-plotted story.

The DVD blurb reads: Immortals—they have secretly dwelt among us for thousands of years but their origins have been shrouded in mystery. The answers, prophets say, are to be found in the Source. The last band of eternal warriors, led by Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander, have set out on a treacherous quest to find the origin of their immortality. But to learn the truth, they must first defeat the Guardian of the Source, a powerful killer who will destroy all who seek its secrets.

For those of you not familiar with the Highlander trope, the Highlander Series is an English language fantasy/sci-fi television series featuring Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul), of the Scottish Clan MacLeod, as the Highlander of the title. An offshoot of the Highlander movies, Highlander: The Series centered on the life of Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul), who is a clansman to the main character from the movies, Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert). Christopher Lambert made a single appearance in the first episode to aid continuity, and his character is mentioned in several episodes throughout the six seasons. The series was a Canada/France co-production that was filmed in both countries. The primary Canadian location was Vancouver, British Columbia. So long as Duncan remains immortal, he cannot bear children. A small price for living forever. Perhaps and perhaps not.

The film begins with Duncan brooding over a chaotic world of ruin, bathed in garish shades of fire and death. Men and women run in fear along the cobbles and garbage, attacked by cruel mobsters at every corner in an amoral lawless world. Duncan listlessly prevents a rape then returns to his brooding. Perhaps he is reflecting how ironic and ultimately cruel it is, that he will forever and helplessly witness the slow decline of his world. We find that his wife, Anna (Thekla Eeuten), has left him because she wants to have his child and can’t. Duncan is hopeless and a rather pathetic character. It didn’t help that the acting was substandard. I must confess that I found Adrian Paul’s rendition rather one-note and lackluster. He more resembled a lost dog on the street than a great though troubled warrior.

Duncan encounters the Guardian (Christian Solimeno) of the Source, a slightly laughable shallow character meant to incite fear, who suggests that Duncan’s estranged wife is connected to the Source and in danger. Fearful for her, the Highlander joins a rather motley group of other immortals to find the Source, and hopefully his ex-wife. There’s the cynical and self-serving Methos (Peter Wingfield), the cavalier and amoral Reggie (Stephen Wight) and the righteous priest, Giovanni (Thom Fell). These immortals are not loyal to one another at the best of times. In fact, they wouldn’t blink an eye at betraying another to save himself. This is linked somewhat to the prophesy of the immortals, which decrees that “there can only be one”. Not a very nice bunch. And I am given the impression that Duncan is not much different. Even the righteous catholic priest, Giovani, finally succumbs to greed. This, soon after delivering his motivational speech to the others about pursuing their quest for the Source: “We were given the ultimate responsibility: free will. And what have we done with it; we watch generation after generation make the same mistakes. The Source is His gift to us. Through it one of us may be born into something more…” But he falls victim to his own words and makes the same mistake he, and those before him, has always made. Ironically, it is Methos who supports Duncan in the end, believing that the destiny to reach the Source belongs to Duncan.

Despite its many failings, the film presents some interesting paradoxes worth considering. The most obvious paradox lies in the actual search of these immortals for the Source, which “as you get closer to [it the immortal] will grow weaker and lose [his] immortality.” Immortals in search of mortality. Eternal life in search of death. Or is it peace?

“It’s not about death,” Anna, Duncan’s wife, said. “It’s about life.” Again, another paradox. Duncan must achieve mortality (the ability to die) to be re-united with his wife; to create new life and have a son or daughter. As an ecologist, I understand the paradox of “dying to live”. The paradox resolves itself, of course, in the act of reproduction. Salmon spawning, spiders and praying mantis mating. These are all examples of organisms that literally die in the act of reproducing to create new life. Daring to assess the characters metaphorically, Giovanni’s fall to greed after clinging so long to his righteous beliefs aptly mocks the crumbling and shallow values of our traditional ways. Reggie’s fall to the Guardian represents the death of hedonistic amorality when confronted with the truth of being. It is left to the cynical Methos, our cold but pure-minded “scientist” to recognize that Duncan, whose humility and selfless giving-spirit, must take the mantle of “giving his eternal life” to become mortal and create new life. In an uncharacteristic act of reciprocal support, Methos saves Duncan after Duncan has saved him from an attack. And, so, like the perpetual ourorobos, in a cycle of “creative destruction”, Duncan MacLeod becomes mortal after passing the final test: of showing mercy in an unmerciful world.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

This isn't a series I ever gelled with. I think I saw the third story. To really get into it, I'd have to see it all. It's like I'm a fan of 'Lost'...only because I've seen everything and know exactly what's going on!

sfgirl said...

I know the feeling, Jean-Luc. Lost is a good example of a show that needs to be watched in its entirety or you lose a significant part of its raison-d'etre and become (pardon the pun) LOST. I felt that Farscape, a much misunderstood show if you hadn't followed it from the beginning, was maligned by those who dropped in willy nilly and expected to like it. While some shows work that way, basically providing a series of little shallow stories to be enjoyed in isolation, Farscape built its plot lines on character-building, shadows of the past, intrigue and development of larger story arcs. It played out like a giant movie that had to be seen from beginning to end.

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blackburn1 said...

I also saw the original Highlander, mostly because of Lambert, who had recently been impressive in Tarzan... if I recall correctly. Even as a fan of sci-fi and fantasy I thought the plot of Highlander was thin, and didn't keep up with subsequent efforts.

Hollywood seems to be in a holding pattern recently. Maybe I'm just getting old, however it seems like there's a lot of expertise being developed in the art of flogging dead horses.

Which is no reflection on your blog... another enjoyable read!

sfgirl said...

yes, blackburn1... I think most series like this are created for the wrong reason-- opportunistically to satisfy a fan base, rather than as part of a story arc conceived at the outset. The quality--or lack--of the art shows as a result.

dcr said...

I found it disappointing as well. I am continually amazed at how they always seem to find new ways to trash any quality they manage to build up with the series.

The first movie was good, then they followed that up with a second movie that essentially belittled the ending of the first, then made them immortal because they were aliens. Which was then followed by a third film, which ignored the second.

The TV series started out good, but then started to go a little loopy towards the end. And, I feel Adrian Paul's talents have just been wasted in the movies.

It's almost as if TPTB sit around trying to figure out ways to ruin the series.

Shaun said...

I had heard about how disappointing this movie was from friends, so I had never seen it until recently because of that. My wife however is a huge Highlander fan, and I didn't mind the series or the earlier movies at all. So using our blockbuster movie pass we got all the movies in queue in order, then the series seasons. I still don't understand what the writers were smoking when the wrote the second movie, but whatever it is, I do not want any. The last two movies though, Endgame and The Source had a total made for television feel to them, and the ruined them off the bat. Endgame though did dome to redeem itself somewhat, but I found The Source very poorly written. I do like that fact that they brought it to a close in a good light. But I feel like Blockbuster should take a dollar off my 10 monthly bill this month for thanking me for even renting the movie. I just didn't like the poor script, they could have made this into a good movie, but seemed that they were happy to crap on the ending. But at least now that they are all done after I get done working at DISH tomorrow we can start season 1 of the series.

SF Girl said...

I totally agree with you, Shaun ... they took what I felt was a promising premise and didn't explore it sufficiently or even intelligently.