Highlander: History of a Genre
In 1986 the movie Highlander opened in theaters. The movie’s long tagline was: “He fought his first battle on the Scottish Highlands in 1536. He will fight his greatest battle on the streets of New York City in 1986. His name is Connor MacLeod. He is immortal.” The movie has a sound track by Queen. It has action and romance, good elements for a date movie. Despite this the movie did poorly at the box office. In spite of the poor performance the movie spawned 4 sequels, an animated series, and two live action TV shows. This article contains spoilers for the movies and some television episodes.
Highlander begins at a wrestling match. Russell Edwin Nash aka Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) watches the match. He seems uneasy and leaves his seat. He walks down to the parking lot. There Connor meets a man with a Spanish broadsword. Connor has a samurai sword. There is a combination cat and mouse game and swordfight. The fight ends when Connor decapitates the other man. Moments later there is a wind and electric show. Connor stashes his samurai sword. The camera pans upwards through the ceiling of the parking lot. Then the scene is 1536 Scotland. The MacLeod clan is going off to fight a battle against the Frasier clan. An 18 year old Connor MacLeod is excited to be going to fight in his first battle. A large armored foreigner, who would later be revealed as The Kurgan (Clancy Brown), agrees to fight on the side of the Frasier clan provided Connor MacLeod is left to him. The battle is joined but no one would fight Connor. The Kurgan confronts Connor and within seconds he mortally wounds Connor before Connor’s relatives can pull The Kurgan away. Instead of dying Connor recovers and his clansmen believe black magic is involved. Connor is driven out of town.
The movie switches between present time and centuries past. Ten years after Connor is driven out of his clan he has taken up residence in an abandoned castle. Then Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (Sean Connery), an ancient Egyptian, arrives on the scene. He explains the facts of Immortal life to Connor MacLeod. They are Immortals. They are ageless and can only die if they are decapitated. They can’t have children. How they came to be is unknown. In the future in a far off land there will be the time of The Gathering. In the end there can be only one. The last surviving Immortal wins The Prize.
Connor’s wife, Heather (Beatie Edney), grows old and dies. In 1986 Conner, as Russell Nash, falls in love with Brenda J. Wyatt (Roxanne Hart). She is a metallurgy expert with the New York Police Department. The movie ends with a swordfight between Connor MacLeod and The Kurgan atop the Silvercup Studio in Queens. Connor kills the Kurgan and wins the prize. The prize is getting extra sensory perception and to live as a mortal. He can have children and grow old with Brenda.
Highlander grossed less than 6 million dollars in the U.S. box office. Highlander cost 16 million dollars to make.
Highlander Fans Should Skip This Capsule
Highlander II: The Quickening came out in 1991. It is set in 2024. Connor MacLeod is a geriatric widower. The back story is Connor MacLeod backed a scientist who was able to block out the sun’s rays to prevent the earth from being scorched because of ozone depletion. This put the world in constant twilight. This made MacLeod an unpopular character. Highlander II explained Immortals came about when they were sent to earth as punishment for a failed revolution attempt on the planet Zeist. General Katana (Michael Ironside), leader of Zeist, was not satisfied with Connor MacLeod dying of old age. He sent down two henchmen to kill MacLeod. When the first henchman got decapitated The Quickening rejuvenated MacLeod. General Katana decided if he wanted MacLeod dead he would have to do it himself. Before the final showdown Connor MacLeod met Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen), a revolutionary who knew the shield was no longer necessary but was kept in place so a corporation can continue to make profits.
Highlander II grossed over 15.5 million in the U.S. box office. Unfortunately, it cost about $30 million to make. Many fans of the original movie didn’t like Highlander II and would prefer to forget this sequel. The movie was the beginning of a like/dislike relationship between the Highlander producers, Davis-Panzer Productions, and the Highlander fans.
Highlander the Television Series – The First 2 Seasons
Christopher Lambert didn’t want to play Connor MacLeod[i] in a television series so Adrian Paul was cast as Duncan MacLeod, a clansman of Connor who was 75 years younger. Christopher Lambert agreed to play Connor MacLeod for the series opening episode, The Gathering. This made an excellent transition from the movie to the TV series.
The series begins with Duncan Macleod in a stable relationship with Tessa Noel (Alexandra Vandernoot). Richard H. ‘Richie’ Ryan (Stan Kirsch), a young thief, breaks into Duncan and Tessa’s antique shop/house. Duncan senses an Immortal and a shirtless Duncan, armed with a Katana sword mistakes Richie for an adversary. Moments later a real nemesis, Slan Quince (Richard Moll), enters. Connor MacLeod arrives. Immortal rules prohibit ganging up on another Immortal. Combat has to be one on one. Slan makes his exit. Later Connor and Duncan explain the “there can be only one” rule to Tessa, and to any uninitiated audience members.
In Episode 6, Free Fall, the genre had its first female Immortal. Rock star Joan Jett played the evil Immortal Felicia Martins. Her tactic when going after a man to kill whoever he cared about. This way when they fight the man has nothing to live for. Tessa took an immediate dislike to Felicia who was flirting with Richie. When Felicia came to kill her Tessa lit a blow torch and told Felicia while she couldn’t kill her “I’ll give you a facial you’ll never forget.” When the showdown and swordfight with MacLeod ended he spared her life at Richie’s request. Usually when a bad Immortal survived a fight with Duncan MacLeod the character came back in another episode so he could finish the job. The Felicia Martins character never returned.
Episode 13, Band of Brothers, introduced the character Darius (Werner Stocker), an ancient Immortal who was once an evil person but the Quickening, which gave him the knowledge and power of the good Immortal he killed, caused him to change his ways. Darius is living as a Catholic priest and was a father figure to MacLeod. Darius was a repeating character in the series until Werner Stocker died at age 38. The Darius character was killed off at the end season 1.
Episode 18, Lady and The Tiger, introduced Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen). She was a thief who brought Duncan trouble in the past and in this episode brings him more trouble.
The first episode of season 2, The Watchers, introduced The Watchers, an order of mortals who followed and recorded the lives of Immortals. They were to watch and record but not interfere. This episode introduced Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes). Joe was Duncan’s watcher. Some watchers had become renegades because they concluded Immortals were “abominations”. These renegade watchers hunted down and killed Immortals. Jim Byrnes became a series regular and a number of episode plots involved renegade Immortals.
One such episode was The Darkness, season 2 episode 4. A renegade watcher, Pallin Wolf (Andrew Jackson) would kidnap loved ones of Immortals as bait. Then would engage the Immortals in a dark room where night vision goggle would give him an advantage over the Immortals. The episode’s main plot shrunk to insignificance. Years earlier a gypsy (Lisa Vultaggio) read him palm and told him he would live a long time, have many lovers, but never marry. Duncan proposed marriage to Tessa. After killing Pallin Wolf he left Tessa with Richie. A drug addict came by and killed Tessa and Richie. Tessa Noel’s character died but Richie came back to life as an Immortal.
In the next episode An Eye for an Eye Richie faced his first Immortal challenge. Richie broke up a terrorist attack and in the process terrorist Annie Devlin’s (Sheena Easton) husband is killed. Duncan tried to talk Annie out of exacting vengeance. Instead Duncan and Annie ended up eulogizing their lost loves over a bottle of Irish whiskey. This began Duncan MacLeod’s legend as a womanizer. Duncan showed Richie a counter move to Annie’s favorite move. In the duel Richie disarms Annie but doesn’t kill her.
The Amanda character returns in the episode The Return of Amanda. Amanda became a recurring character and on again, off again lover of Duncan. Duncan gets into a relationship with Dr. Anne Lindsey (Lisa Howard). The relationship lasts for 22 episodes and ends when Dr. Lindsey decides she doesn’t want any part of the Immortal world.
[i] United States Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102034/?ref_=nv_sr_4), last accessed 1/16/16.
Highlander: The Animated Series was launched in 1994. It was set 700 years in the future and had little to do with the Highlander cannon. Highlander: The Final Dimension[i] was released in 1994. The movie’s premise is Kane (Mario Van Peebles), an Immortal magician, and two of his warriors (Raoul Max Trujillo and Jean-Pierre Pérusse) were trapped inside a cave centuries earlier. Connor MacLeod isn’t the last surviving Immortal. No attempt was made to reconcile this movie with what was happening with the television series. Many fans attributed the discrepancy between the movies and the television series as two separate timelines. The movie didn’t do well in the box office. It made a $10 million profit thanks to viewers outside the United States. The movie cost of about $26 million to make[ii].
[i] Its Original title was Highlander: The Sorcerer.
[ii] United States Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110027/business?ref_=tt_dt_bus), last accessed 1/23/16.
Highlander the Television Series – Season 3 – 6
In the 3rd season the series introduced the character Methos (Peter Wingfield), a 5,000 year old Immortal. Methos, who went by the name Adam Pierson, infiltrated The Watchers so he could avoid other Immortals. Methos had gone 200 years without killing another Immortal. Rather than being a storehouse of deep wisdom his advice was pragmatic. Methos was a popular character. He reenters “The Game” in the episode Chivalry. When Duncan doesn’t kill Kristin (Ann Turkel), his former lover, Methos shows up and does Duncan’s dirty work. In the two part episode, Comes a Horseman, it was revealed Methos had a dark past during the Bronze Age.
Season 5 ended with the episode Archangel where Duncan who was being haunted by an evil entity kills Richie. This outcome angered many fans. Many refused to believe Richie’s death was part of the canon. Season 6 was the last season and there was going to be a spin-off series. The spin-off series was to have a woman Immortal as the star. Six episodes introduced women Immortals as possible spin-off characters. Some episodes didn’t have Duncan MacLeod and other episodes had him as little more than a cameo character. Fans often talk disparagingly of this season. The series ended with the episodes To Be and Not to Be. These 2 episodes used the “It’s a Wonderful Life” format.
Highlander: The Raven
Rather than choosing one of the female Immortal characters featured in season 6 the spin-off series had Elizabeth Gracen playing the Amanda character she played in the Highlander series. The first episode, “Reborn”, had Amanda on a robbery spree. Detectives Nick Wolfe (Paul Johansson) and Claudia Hoffman (Torri Higginson) know Amanda is responsible for the rash of burglaries in the area. Their problem is proving it. The episode ended with Nick Wolfe killing a corrupt cop but not before the corrupt cop killed Claudia and Amanda. When Amanda “healed” she left the scene. This left Nick with a mystery. He also quit the force because he refused to be part of the police corruption cover-up. “Reborn” didn’t have a swordfight or a “Quickening”. Amanda revealed her Immortality to Nick in the second episode, “Full Disclosure”. In this episode Amanda had a swordfight which Mario Cardoza (Carlo Rota). Nick witnessed the swordfight, decapitation, and “Quickening”. This set up an uneasy partnership and budding romance between Amanda and Nick. In episode 3 “Bloodlines” Nick took on and decapitated the Immortal Morgan Kenworth (Cedric Smith). This established Nick as a mortal who had no problems taking on Immortals. In subsequent episode Nick would often help Amanda deal with evil Immortals, despite Amanda repeatedly asking him to stay out of Immortal business.
Episode 12, “A Matter of Time” had Nick meet Joe Dawson who explained The Watchers to him. It was the first of a two part episode. This episode had the genre’s first Immortal “cat fight”. Amanda fought the Immortal Crysta (Ellen Dubin). The fight’s conclusion was off camera. Nick saw “The Quickening” from a distance. At Amanda’s request Joe Dawson told Nick Amanda was the one killed in the fight. The series changed its venue to Paris for the episode’s second part, “The French Connection”. There Nick found Amanda alive. The series had poor Nielsen ratings and was canceled at the end of the first season. In the last episode, “Dead on Arrival”, the Immortal Evan Peyton (Thomas Lockyer) gave Nick a slow working poison, ala D.O.A. a 1950 movie. After Amanda defeated Evan Peyton, with some assistance from Nick, she went over to a dying Nick. She shot Nick dead and moments later he healed. Amanda told him he was alive and an Immortal. Everything seemed well until Amanda explained to him Immortality is triggered by a violent death. Had he died from the slow working poison he would not have become Immortal. The series ended with Nick leaving Amanda and Nick narrating, “How is love possible when there can be only one?”
The movie Highlander: Endgame came out in 2000. It had Connor and Duncan MacLeod as the protagonists and also had the characters Joe Dawson and Methos in the movie. The movie cost less to make than the previous Highlander movies, $15 million.[i] The modest budget made it a profitable venture.
Highlander: Endgame had Connor MacLeod, and some other Immortals, took themselves out of “the game”. They did this by allowing The Watchers to keep them in a comatose state. The Watchers did this so an evil Immortal couldn’t win The Prize. The main antagonist was Jacob Kell (Bruce Payne), who had an entourage of Immortals. These Immortals made short work of the Watcher guards and killed all of the other Immortals. Kell spared Connor because he wanted Connor to suffer more. In 16th century Scotland Kell was a priest who burned Connor’s mother at the stake for witchcraft. In a bid to rescue his mother Connor killed another priest and Kell. This triggered Kell’s Immortality.
Many fans had problems with Highlander: Endgame. Kell’s entourage included Faith (Lisa Barbuscia). Duncan MacLeod knew her as Kate some 200 years ago. They married, a violation of the canon set by “The Darkness” episode, and Duncan killed her on their wedding night to trigger her Immortality. Kate’s love turned to hatred for Duncan. She threw in with Kell because she appreciated his capacity for “pure hatred”.
Joe Dawson told Connor and Duncan Kell had taken more Immortal heads than the two of them combined. This made Kell an almost unbeatable opponent. Connor made Duncan take his head so Duncan would have a chance against Kell. Towards the end Kell killed his entourage, except for Faith. Some Highlander fans accepted as canon that Faith was killed.
In the final battle Bruce Payne’s lack of sword fighting skills showed. An earlier fight pitting Duncan against Jin Ke (Donnie Yen), a member of Kell’s entourage, was much better than the final battle. The movie ended with Faith no longer hating Duncan but not ready to rekindle her romance with him.
The SyFy Channel broadcast the movie Highlander: The Source in 2007. It is set in the near future. In a narration Duncan introduced the mortal Anna Teshemka (Thekla Reuten) as his true love. Considering his history his statement lacked credibility. The movie’s swordfights used camera tricks rather than the typical credible sword fights used in the Highlander genre. The movie had Duncan win “The Prize” when he found “The Source”. As he and the other Immortals came close to “The Source” they became mortal. The movie also killed off Joe Dawson.
[i] United States Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0144964/business?ref_=tt_dt_bus), last accessed 1/31/16.
Is a Highlander reboot a good idea?
There is a reunion show that is available on hulu[i]. In this 16 minute show Jim Byrnes (Joe Dawson), Peter Wingfield (Methos), and Elizabeth Gracen (Amanda) reprise their roles. There is a plot. The show is all dialogue. There is off camera swordplay.
Highlander: The Watcher is a 2015 fan-made movie. Davis-Panzer Productions gave full authorization to the project. The main protagonists are David Quinlan (Heath Cates), a Watcher, and Ian Campbell (Michael Jason Chandler), an Immortal.
A Highlander remake is also in production.[ii]
[ii] United States Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1235529/?ref_=fn_tt_tt_3), last accessed 2/6/2016.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Robert Sacchi