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review added: 3/13/01



Highlander: Endgame
2000 (2001) - Miramax/Dimension Films

review by Brian Ford Sullivan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Highlander: Endgame Film Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/A-

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Director's Cut
100 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), double Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (by producers William N. Panzer and Peter S. Davis, editor Robert A. Ferretti and co-executive producer H. Daniel Gross), There Can Be Only One interactive game, Visual Effects: A Historical Progression featurette, 3 deleted scenes, 8 trailers (for Highlander: The Final Dimension, Scream DVD Box Set, Beowulf, From Dusk Till Dawn Box Set, The Crow: Salvation, Scary Movie, The Legend and Reindeer Games), DVD-ROM features (including character timeline and Script-to-Screen screenplay access), animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (13 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: An Earlier Cut
98 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), double Amaray keep case packaging, "behind-the-scenes" featurette, audio introduction (by producers William N. Panzer and Peter S. Davis, Editor Robert A. Ferretti and co-executive producer H. Daniel Gross), animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (12 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned


"There can be only one..."

Three films, two television series, an animated series and an endless parade of books and merchandise later, Gregory Widen and Russell Mulcahy's original Highlander has evolved well beyond the cult classic standing it had upon its original release in 1986. The original story centered upon Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), of the Scottish clan MacLeod, who became a member of a group of century-spanning immortals that live among us and fight with swords in order to take each other's heads off. These immortals battle until there is only one left... who is then granted "The Prize" (the knowledge and thoughts of all immortals preceding him or her - basically, almost god-like power). From its amazing fight scenes to its clever camerawork (and who could forget those catchy Queen songs), the original film ranks as one of the best B-flicks of all time. It makes sense then that, like all 1980s success stories, it was a franchise ready to be born.

Fast forward five years to the 1991 sequel The Quickening, or even 1994's The Final Dimension. Whatever coolness the original's incarnation had, was seemingly lost on what are agreed to be two of the worst films ever committed to celluloid. The key to survival of the franchise over the past decade has been the syndicated Highlander television series, which lasted from 1992 to 1998 and featured Connor's clansman, Duncan (Adrian Paul). The show sought to deepen the mythology from the basic framework of the original film (the series didn't take place before, after or during the original film, it simply exists on its own). While not a blazing success here in States, the series was nevertheless an international phenomenon that aired in 100 different countries. So it would only make sense that the next film incarnation of Highlander would feature a merging of the film and television universes (and all their characters) into what, one would hope, would be a revitalization of the franchise.

Enter Highlander: Endgame. Those expecting a grand magic wand to make sense of all the franchise's mythology should look elsewhere. If anything, this film is simply a "sequel" to parts of both the original film and the first television series. Furthermore, despite the makers' good intentions, those unfamiliar with the television series (and especially the original film) will find themselves lost to much of what occurs here.

Here's the gist. Tired of losing those he has loved over the course of his five hundred years of existence, Connor MacLeod (Lambert) plans to hide from the world by volunteering for "The Sanctuary" - a secret hideaway where immortals can enter a drug induced coma that keeps them "out of the game." Run by a group of humans called Watchers, The Sanctuary is the Watchers' idea of a living library, where they can ensure that no one will ever win The Prize. Evil immortal Kell (Bruce Payne), however, has other ideas. Still enraged by Connor having murdered his father, Kell has been at the root of all of Connor's troubles for centuries and isn't about to stop now. Thrown into the mix is Connor's clansman brother, Duncan (Paul), who is also at the forefront of Kell's revenge plot because of his connection to Connor. Still following me? Then let's move on. Also along for revenge is Kate (Lisa Barbuscia), Duncan's former seamstress wife, who he had murdered in order to make her immortal (did I mention that immortals are born like normal people and can only become immortal after suffering a violent death?). Not too happy with Duncan's decision, Kate has taken on the persona of "Faith" over the course of the past hundred years, and seeks to teach Duncan a lesson for his actions.

But wait... there's more. After Kell destroys The Sanctuary (and presumably Connor), the Watchers seek to forcefully keep Duncan hidden so that Kell can never win the game. Aiding Duncan in this is his rogue Watcher friend, Joe (Jim Byrnes), and Methos (Peter Wingfield), one of the oldest immortals still around. So it's up to Duncan to not only stop Kell, find his friend Connor and earn the forgiveness from his former wife, but to also evade a secret society of humans that want to seclude him from history. If you're lost, don't worry... I'm not sure I get it either.

It's quite obvious from the start, that this film has a lot stacked against it. Virtually everything I've explained here (and much more) is barely addressed beyond passing bits of dialogue. Nevertheless, despite the quantum leap needed to fully understand the story, there's still quite a bit to enjoy here because the film gets back to the original's roots. Those who enjoyed the Connor and Ramirez (Sean Connery) camaraderie in the original film will be happy to see the same type of enjoyable relationship in Duncan and Connor. While the Conner and Ramirez dynamic was more father and son, Connor and Duncan are more brotherly. There's also quite a number of flashbacks (a mainstay of the television series) used to develop the backstory of both Connor and Duncan. Plus, it's nice to see the original actors (from both the original film and television series) reprise their roles. And let's not forget the always fun Celtic ballads, like Laura Creamer's Bonny Portmore, to add some historical flair.

Buena Vista's double-disc DVD edition contains two versions of the film. Disc One contains the "director's cut", which features 12 minutes of new footage not contained in the film's theatrical release. Sadly, none of the new footage involves those stunningly absent special effects sequences seen in the film's trailer (which is also surprisingly absent from this disc). We'll talk more about that in a second. What is added are mostly bits of dialogue and extended action sequences. The only major addition is a shockingly different ending, that concludes one of the film's plot threads in a completely different way. On Disc Two is another, "earlier cut" of the film that includes (you guessed it) quite a bit additional footage. This cut is straight out of the Avid editing machines so it's a little hard on the eyes - none of the colors match, it features a temp score and a time code is almost always present. While the running time of the earlier cut is shorter than the director's cut, it actually ends up running substantially longer (as none of the opening/closing credits or special effects sequences are included). This cut features even more excised footage, including yet another different ending and an important expansion upon the Watcher subplot from the director's cut. Again, we'll talk more about this in a moment.

Let's talk quality. The director's cut looks stunning, as the anamorphic widescreen picture is sharp and detailed. It's very crisp and clean, and it's obvious that a lot of post-theatrical work has been done to clean up some of the special effects sequences. I could spot a few print flaws, especially during some of the smoke-filled encounters, but nothing too distracting. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation is also very nice, despite a few moments where dialogue is lost behind some of the sound effects. Those looking for a home theatre workout should have some fun with the sword fighting and "quickening" sequences. The "earlier cut", on the other hand, is exactly what it says it is - an early cut. The full frame video is quite fuzzy and unclear most of the time, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is irritatingly muddy. This isn't a huge problem though considering that this is supposed to be a rough cut, and none of the post-production sweetening (color timing, sound mixing, etc.) has been done. It's just nice to have it available at all.

Have you ever wondered why films like this turn out to be a mess? Well... the extras on this DVD release provide an extraordinarily insightful and educational look into why this film is the way it is. First off, there's a jawdroppingly intriguing audio commentary by the film's producers and the film's editor (strangely, director Doug Aarniokoski is absent). All four participants display a frightening lack of knowledge about the previous films and, especially, the television series. They're more concerned with how long a shoot took, or where the location was (don't bother counting how many times someone asks - "Is this Romania?"), or what the food service was like... than discussing how this film came to be and why certain choices were made.

Building on this is an hour-long featurette about the making of the film, that features interviews with the entire cast and crew. It's interesting to see stars Adrian Paul and Christopher Lambert both mention that they have no idea how the movie is going to shape up, as the script was constantly rewritten and new sequences were constantly being added. In a similar vein is a 40-minute look at the film's special effects sequences. The featurette takes you through many of the film's effects in every stage of development, from dailies to the final product, and includes a few sequences that never made it to the final cut of the film. Those craving even more new footage can also check out three brief deleted scenes (in all, this 2-disc set offers literally over an hour of new footage). Also included is a goofy interactive game, called There Can Be Only One, where you can defeat Kell and win The Prize by answering questions about the movie. If you take the time, you can also find a few Easter eggs (six to be exact) that will help you win the battle. There's also a character biography/timeline, where you can find out more about the secondary characters in the film. There are eight trailers for other upcoming Miramax releases (including another Christopher Lambert direct-to-video feature - Beowulf). And for those of you with DVD-ROM capabilities, there's an interesting script-to-screen feature that lets you see the producers' and director's comments on the original script.

Despite the fact that this is not a good film, I have to admit that this DVD set is one of the more interesting releases I've seen in a while. Anyone who, like myself, is curious as to why films like this (and sequels in general) usually turn out poorly will be completely blown away by the amount of evidence to be found here. Given that each of the Highlander films have more versions than you have fingers and toes, this disc should also offer some insight into the previous films, their various "cuts" and so forth. So if you're willing to take the plunge, you might find, somewhere buried in the excised footage and ideas presented on this DVD, what could have been a better film. It might even be enough to remind you why you liked the original Highlander in the first place. Or... maybe not.

Brian Ford Sullivan
bfsullivan@thedigitalbits.com




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