Monday, March 17, 2008

The Most Recent Installment In The Highlander Train Wreck

Of all the concepts in the fantasy genre, I have always been the most fascinated by that of immortality. As someone who is acutely aware the finite amount of time granted us, I would love the ability to take as much time as I needed and make new starts without ever having to worry about aging or dying.

I've been a fan of the Highlander series for longer than I can remember. I've suffered through the movies and I enjoyed the first five seasons of the television series. I even reluctantly accepted its blatant Fox ripoff series New Amsterdam due in part to the charm and dry wit of the lead actor and also the fact that it deals with immortality. Naturally, as you might imagine, I was excited to discover that a new Highlander movie had recently been released, even if it was direct-to-video and would inevitably suck.

As you might recall from my historic
Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys review, I am deathly loyal to any series I used to like. For example, I am still waiting patiently for the Quantum Leap movie Donald Belisario promised us not long after the television series ended. The Quantum Leap movie is sort of like God in that, as long as at least one person still believes in it, the possibility of it continues to exist. Hey, Christian Bale could make one hell of a Sam Beckett. Anyone who knows anything about Highlander knows that every single movie after the first one has been one big embarrassing slap in the face to the fandom, but I'll continue to watch them despite knowing beforehand that they're going to suck. Afterward I'll ridicule them for sucking so hard, just so my four bucks aren't completely wasted.

I've known about this current installment in the Highlander train wreck since before Endgame came out in 2000. Originally, it was going to be called Highlander: The Quest and was going to feature a group of Immortals totally unrelated to either the movie or television continuity, on a search for the origin of Immortals. So when I saw the title, Highlander: The Source, I already knew what it was going to be about, but I was comforted to find in the credits that the characters of Duncan MacLeod, Methos, and Joe Dawson had returned, along with newcomer
Thekla Reuten, a sufficiently attractive actress of whom Google Image Search turned up no nude pics.

Highlander: Endgame introduced the brilliant idea of combining the movie and television series continuities by reuniting Connor MacLeod with his clansman Duncan, and then executed it in every possible wrong way imaginable. I don't understand how the same writers and producers who created such a provocative TV series could get to the big screen and revert to what is, essentially, the plot of any Eighties cartoon series such as Transformers, G.I. Joe or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Was Highlander: The Source as bad as Endgame? It's hard to tell. They are both comparable in that they were both pretty bad. The problem with The Source was that, if it was just an episode of the television series, it would have probably been passable, but as an actual movie, well, there were reasons it was never released to theaters that had nothing to do with the box office returns of Endgame.

The movie opens to a world plunged into apocalyptic chaos, which is completely believable for the first five minutes until we cut to Methos' immaculately decorated Victorian home backlit by the golden rays of the sun glistening off the vibrant foliage outside. Apparently, only one portion of the world has been embraced by chaos and no one else really pays it any mind. Duncan MacLeod's refusal to depart the unidentified ruins is never really explained. Maybe he's too stubborn to leave, or maybe he just assumes that conditions are the same all over the world, which they are clearly not. No explanation is also given for this discrepancy, so I think it's safe for everyone to just assume that it's the result of careless scriptwriting. At least they extended us the courtesy of cleverly omitting the date that the story takes place, but it can't be too far into the future since the MacLeod's mortal friend Joe Dawson is still alive and virtually unaged.

This movie attempts to reveal the secret origin of the Immortals. The last time the producers of the Highlander franchise attempted to reveal the secret origin of the Immortals it resulted in a premise so foolish that it was later removed from the director's cut and ignored by fans and executives alike. In it, the Immortals were exiled to Earth from another planet and could come back to life at the mere call of their name. If Connor MacLeod could just reincarnate Juan Ramirez at any time, why did he neglect to do so for over four hundred years? Anyway, the explanation being offered here is equally ridiculous. Apparently, every ten thousand years,
the planets align and individually march down to kick Earth's ass. During the process, it opens up some sort of desert oasis in the middle of an undisclosed European forest, and quite frankly, I think it was just better left a mystery.

Possibly by scraping the bottom of the barrel for interesting new villians, we are introduced to The Guardian of The Source, a campier version of The Kurgan's retarded half-brother. The Guardian starts out fairly menacing, then quickly degrades into cartoonish triviality as soon as he starts talking. If they left him a chattering, motion-blurred knock-off of Pyramid Head, he might have been the first villian since the original movie to even approach the threat The Kurgan presented. Unfortunately, it becomes apparent as more of the plot is revealed that The Guardian doesn't actually want to kill our band of heroes, but sort of frighten them toward The Source so one of them can take his place and set him free from his curse. So we've essentially reduced what started out as the first actually impressive bad guy in four movies and seven television seasons to an overly aggressive tour guide.

The idea of magical Immortals has never really interested me, and every movie villian after Highlander 2 has been. At least The Guardian's magical powers have a more plausible explanation than previous villians who apparently just had nothing better to do with their time than learn the black arts. Something else I've never really understood is why does civilization always seem to devolve into punk rockers in these visionaries' apocalyptic depictions of the future? Have you ever noticed that? Doomsday also features tribes of gaunt, pasty, pierced and tattooed, leather-clad degenerates leading the world, or at least, their little shithole slice of it, after civilization has been wiped out. Maybe we all have it wrong. Maybe the only things left after the nuclear holocaust won't be roaches and Twinkies, maybe it'll be a bunch of ecstasy-adled ravers. While I'm on the subject, how do cannibal tribes work? How do they decide who gets eaten and who doesn't? It doesn't seem like a very effective social structure to me. The only reason I bring these up is because a tribe of cannibalistic punk rockers is an essential part of the story for two-thirds of the movie. I'm not kidding you.

Also, either through the indifference or gross negligence of the sound editor, all gunshots in the movie sound like air rifles. If listed on Internet Movie Database, it could be argued that this was "incorrectly regarded as a goof" because there's no way to say that guns don't sound like air rifles five years into the future, but of all the things going on in the movie, that most strained my suspension of disbelief.

Unfortunately, guns that sounded like props in the final cut weren't nearly as distracting as what they had the audacity to do to the iconic Highlander musical tracks. As many a fan is well familiar, Queen and Highlander are so tightly related that let's just say it's a good thing that the MacLeods can't contract AIDS. Queen wrote the soundtrack for the original 1986 movie, and various selections were used repeatedly throughout the television and movie series. Unfortunately, The Source was no exception, except that this time the two song selections used were no longer performed by Queen. Instead they were covered by a guy named John Sloman. According to Wikipedia, Sloman most prominently fronted Uriah Heep for a grand total of three years. I'm sure they opted to cover the songs because Queen is hitting a resurgence in popularity, possibly meaning higher royalty fees, whereas given his career, this guy would probably be happy to do it for a few pieces of Beggin' Strips.

I don't think anyone could ever really replace Freddie Mercury anyway, although many have tried and few have come close, but this guy is basically digging up Freddie Mercury's corpse, stuffing it full of shit, and throwing it through Brian May's front windows lit on fire. I'd rather hear Vanessa Carlton or Mark McGrath or Bobcat Goldthwait sing these songs.
Kady Malloy did a better job than John Sloman singing "Who Wants To Live Forever?" and that performance directly resulted in her being voted off American Idol. Sloman's "Princes of the Universe" was even worse. Modern rock and Queen don't really mix, especially when sung by a guy who can't sing.

Aside from the mysterious origin of the Immortals, I think the main thing that no one, apparently save for those who produce it, really wants an answer to is how The Game ends. Although this movie doesn't really answer the former question, it gives a definite answer to the latter. These two things should be left to fanciful imaginations to be argued vehemently by overly obsessive fans of the series. I think nearly any Prize would have been better than the one they created. A few weeks ago, I amused myself by imagining an endgame scenario where the last Immortal gets the Prize only to realize that there actually is no Prize. Like, the word "END" could just flash in the sky like the end of the "Ghosts & Goblins" Nintendo game back in the Eighties. Could you imagine how disappointing that would be? He'd be like, "That's it?! I murdered my friends for this!!" I think even that would be better than the Prize they presented. MacLeod and Thekla Reuten get to make a baby together.

That's the Prize that everyone has been killing each other over countless millennia for, a baby. Now I know Immortals can't have children, but come on! I'd rather have the knowledge and power of all the other Immortals like at the end of the first movie. I think Duncan got gyped. What if the woman at the end doesn't even like the Immortal who gets the Prize? What if the Source is like, "Congratulations, now make a baby with her," and she's like, "Uh... no. You're fat and your penis is too small." What about the world being thrown into the grips of chaos? People are reluctant to have children when the stock market fluctuates too erratically; who would want to raise a kid in a post-apocalyptic war-zone with cannibalistic biker punks?

With any luck or lack of sound judgment, this is reported to be the first of three more movies, and as badly as the last five have sucked, I'll probably continue to watch each one because I am loyal to the point of self-punishment. Surely someday someone will be able to pen a good Highlander film with one hand without masturbating to pictures of his own inflated ego with the other, and I'll be there to see it. I might be the only one left to see it, but I'll see it. Little did anyone know that when the characters kept saying, "There can be only one!" they're actually referring to the callous elimination of their fan base.

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