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Highlander Season 1 Box Set DVD Review

Highlander Season 1 Box Set

October 2, 2003

Director: Ray Austin,
Starring: Adrian Paul, Alexandra Vandernoot, Stan Kirsch, Amanda Wyss, Elizabeth Gracen, Roger Daltrey, Anthony Head, Christopher Lambert,

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DVD Review

When it comes to Highlander and its legion of undaunted fans there most certainly can be only one, incarnation of Highlander that is – and it’s not the films. The T.V. series that started in 1992 and ran for 6 seasons saw Conner Macleod’s clansman Duncan Macleod hack n’ slash his way through an onslaught of immortals week after week, long before Joss Whedon’s Angel ever thought to sport a sword and drive a black T-Bird.

We’ve talked at length in our Angel season 1 review about the similarities between Highlander and the vamp with a soul, so we’ll skip that part this time and go straight to Macleod.

Adrian Paul, a man who was actually born in England as opposed to a Frenchman who had only recently learned to speak English, plays the role of the dark broody immortal with more of a chequered history than most vampires can only dream of. Sorry, I know I said I’d leave it. Adrian’s athletic physique and long dark hair gave the ladies something to swoon over, and the guys something to aspire to as they sat in their Sci-Fi adorned bedrooms clasping their replica swords and uttering ‘there can be only one’ whenever their parents would speak to them.

Highlander was a series that was destined to create a cult following. The immortals were cool; they were, well, immortal. They lived alone, for the most part, and had hundreds, sometimes thousands of years of experience of fighting with swords. People modelled themselves on Macleod and co long before Angel… I’ll stop this at some point.

You get the picture, so what was the series about? Basically Highlander the series picks up where the first Highlander film left off, but changes the fact that Conner Macleod had become the last immortal and won the prize. Now he had just dispatched yet another immortal in the shape of the Kurgen, and there were in fact hundreds of immortals still left wandering around the Earth. It is still the time of the Gathering though, yet it’s oddly moved a few thousand miles from New York to L.A., I guess to be near the studio. Duncan Macleod has left the game and is trying to settle with his mortal love Tessa. She knows he’s immortal, but doesn’t know anything about the whole ‘there can be only one thing’. Mac didn’t want to scare her.

Yeah right.

Naturally some big scary immortal attacks later she’s up on the whole thing; and the arrival of a still relatively young looking Christopher Lambert just for the duration of the pilot manages to escalate the first episode into something of a recap for the audience on the whole immortal deal.

For those that also need the recap; immortals walk the earth challenging each other to duels until only one remains. Decapitation for one spells death and the victor takes his powers and experiences by the power of ‘the quickening’. The last immortal will then claim ‘the prize’, have the power of every immortal that ever lived and rule the world.

Naturally every Sci-Fi show needs a streetwise kid so that the non geek viewers can have someone to identify with; and this is where Stan Kirsch comes in playing Ritchie Ryan. Ritchie witnesses some swishing blade action; and a little resurrection trick from Lambert that opens up the world of immortals for him. It’s actually a little cleverer than that because Ritchie’s presence is important to the series but it’s not until season two that you find out why. One of the interviews on the disc actually states that they didn’t really know themselves where they were going with his character, but a well chosen line in the pilot episode worked out quite nicely for them.

These three characters then form the basis for the series, as each week some threat befalls them that may or not be immortal related. More often than not it is due to some sword wielding acquaintance of Mac’s that can only be settled in the last five minutes with a good old fashioned duel.

Each episode would also use the medium of the flashback from Mac so that the arrival of an immortal could be given context. This was over used somewhat as there seemed to be at least two flashbacks every episode, each one in a slightly different time period. Angel, and I’m going somewhere with this, only uses flashbacks occasionally and they tend to be more significant and certainly more memorable than Macleod’s.

As with all great science fiction, the series developed as it went on. Starting off in L.A., it moved to Paris for the second half and became progressively darker. The story thread of experiencing a bad quickening was suggested where a good immortal could defeat an evil immortal and subsequently become evil when he takes his power – something that is explored further in later seasons. Plus the watchers are introduced, yet you don’t find out that that’s what they are until season 2.

Immortals have existed for several millennia, and they thought in secret!

There are also a series of celebrity guests that crop up, including a Fine Young Cannibal and Roger Daltrey.

One episode even stars a pre-Buffy the Vampire Slayer Giles (Anthony Stewart Head). He is for some reason playing an American, but while his accent is undeniably accurate his mannerisms are unmistakably English. You can almost see him cleaning his glasses and telling Buffy that he’s most disappointed.

Strange that Anthony Head would appear in a show that has watchers, yet not play one himself. I guess his Englishness would have grated on the American audience as they weren’t ready for his brand of uncertain behaviour.

Special Features

Each episode on this set features an intro regaling you with stories of the production. These genuinely are interesting and make you realise just how little money they had, and what a tight schedule they were on.
The episode menu screen also has a ‘Q’ symbol on it taking you straight to the moment of the quickening. While this is a nice feature, if you’re new to Highlander or haven’t seen if for a while this will give away the fact that Macleod chops off some guys head at the end of the episode.

You also get a bloopers reel that shows off Adrian Paul as being a director’s nightmare to work with. He seems to spend most of his time deliberately messing up shots for the sake of a gag. At one point he even enters a scene with a nurse sporting a large pink dildo hanging out of his trousers. All credit to her she carried on, but on a yet to be established T.V. series you can bet the producer wasn’t laughing on the inside.

The final feature is the original promo film used to announce the series to the American public. This is as cheesy as you might think it to be and is more in keeping with the tackiness of the later films rather than the T.V. series.

Some of the episodes do have the left over eighties look despite being a 1992 production, but more often than not it looks better than the films – the sequels at any rate. Highlander represents one of the leading Sci-Fi shows of the nineties, and clearly was a template for Whedon’s Angel. Those of you put off by the films need not fear, this is the only Highlander worth watching, and there are five more seasons yet to be released. We can’t wait.

Darren has enjoyed an interest in film for many years, studying the subject at Newport Film School where he worked on the film ‘Cop on the Edge IX: Prelude to Justice‘ in a directing and acting capacity. The official site can be enjoyed here. Darren setup WhatDVD.Net in 2003 to further his love of films and to write passionately about the movies he enjoys, and about those that he doesn’t.

Although his day-to-day activities mean that he now has less time to review movies than he would ideally prefer, he still tries to review new releases, and DVDs from his extensive collection, whenever possible.
view all DVD reviews by Darren Jamieson

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Rating: 92%

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