Saturday, September 22, 2007

TV Movie Review: Highlander: The Source

Highlander: The Source

In Brief: What's Good

  • Because it was originally meant for theatrical release, the production quality is higher than a typical Sci-Fi Channel original movie.

In Brief: What's Not So Good

  • Weird, unclear plot.

  • Lame villain.

  • Unsatisfying, anti-climactic, nonsensical ending.

  • No historical flashbacks, a trademark element of the previous movies and TV show.

F Story
C Acting
C Directing
C Visuals

Duncan MacLeod, from the Clan MacLeod, is the Scottish Highlander immortal. In an apparent near-future setting, the world has turned to crap, and Duncan is now a brooding, drinking loner somewhere in a perpetually-burning Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, his human ex-fiance named Anna is having visions of planets aligning and is hearing something in her head about the Source. The Source is, well, I just watched the movie, and I still don't totally understand what it is. But, I think it's supposed to be some supernatural energy that is the source of immortal power and contains a special "gift" to the one most worthy to receive it (I won't give away what the gift is).

Duncan, Anna, and three other mortals go on a "quest" to find the Source. Along the way, they face further visions, fights, betrayals, losses, a weird motorcycle-driving woodland cult, and the Guardian. The Guardian is--if I "understand" correctly--another immortal who is so old and so powerful that he has the ability to move super-fast. Despite being powerful and "evil" (I guess), he's also almost laughably corny. Basically, he's an immortal, a WWE wrestler, and The Flash, all wrapped into one.

The worst thing about the Highlander franchise is that it shouldn't be a franchise. The very first movie, way back in the '80s, is self-contained and should permanently wrap up the mythology of the immortals. But, every movie ignores the one before. Highlander 2 is, without any doubt whatsoever, one of the most painfully bad movies in cinematic history, and Highlander 3 is just okay (thanks to totally ignoring Highlander 2).

The never-should-have-been franchise was redeemed somewhat, however, by the TV show about Connor MacLeod's immortal clan cousin, Duncan. I actually liked it and probably saw every episode. It ignored the ending of the first movie, leading to something astoundingly retconish {retroactive continuity -ish} in the first Duncan-based movie, Highlander: Endgame.

Well, as if the Highlander franchise wasn't self-destructive enough already, Highlander: The Source breaks the rules even more. When an immortal takes another immortal's head, there's a series of explosive energy bursts called the Quickening. Despite several heads being taken in this movie, there's only one Quickening. Is the lack of Quickenings an appropriate element of the story, or is it simply a budget constraint? Perhaps both. There's also a scene where Duncan draws a sword on another immortal while on holy ground, a *huge* no-no. His characteristic Japanese katana, which he wielded with sufficient coolness throughout the entire TV series, is broken at some point in the movie, leaving Duncan to fight with two dinky short swords, and occasionally no sword at all.

There are also several logic flaws and inconsistencies in the movie:

(1) When immortals take heads, they supposedly gain the "power" of the immortals they kill. Very rarely, usually only with villains, have we seen the "power" manifest itself as super-human abilities or strength. Immortals, despite their rapid healing, lack of aging, inability to have children, and ability to sense the proximity of other immortals, are relatively human in other ways. But, there's a scene near the beginning in which Duncan MacLeod jumps off a high building and lands flat on his feet, like he were a comic book superhero or kung-fu action star.

(2) Anna and her accompanying immortals keep looking up at the night sky to see the planets aligning. The planets look enormous, as if they're millions of miles closer to the Earth than they actually are. If they were close enough to see that well, as they are in this movie, the gravitational forces would probably rip Earth apart, or at the very least cause some gargantumongous tsunamis.

(3) There's one point in the movie in which the Guardian is able to sneak up on an immortal, something immortals can't do since they can detect when other immortals are around. One of the characters even asks why the Guardian was able to bypass their detection? In the very next scene, all the immortals do sense another immortal around, and it's the Guardian. So, can the Guardian be detected by other immortals or not?

(4) This last nitpick may be less of an inconsistency and more a case of the writers playing around with timelines or alternate realities. The setting for this movie appears to be a post-apocolyptic future. It's at least a few years in the future because Methos and a couple other immortals are using holographic communication technology that does not exist currently. Plus, there's been enough time for almost all the Watchers (a secret organization of humans that observe immortals and record their history) to be wiped out, leaving Duncan's ex-Watcher Joe Dawson as one of the few--if not only--surviving Watchers. But, despite the futuristic setting, Joe Dawson doesn't look much older than he did in the TV show, even though the show has been off the air almost a decade. You'd think they'd have made Joe look about 10 to 20 years older to explain the timeline jump, but he seems to have aged pretty slowly in a harsh world.

Nitpicks aside, the story is very disjointed. Duncan MacLeod, as a brooding, defeated mess who's lost his woman and his favorite sword is not as interesting to watch as the noble and honorable hero we're used to seeing. The quest he and his companions are on seems underdeveloped as this Source that they're after feels very vague. We really don't know until the end what the point of the Source is supposed to be, and even that is explained using a series of clips from earlier in the movie, a voice-over by Anna, and a handful of light-bathed images. The revelation at the end is not satisfying, spits somewhat in the face of the Highlander mythology (unless this is mercifully the last installment of the franchise), and is revealed only a minute or two before the end credits, leaving no time to reflect or follow up on this new change in Duncan's life.

Despite all the negatives, the movie just barely redeems itself from absolute failure by inducing less boredom and having slightly higher production quality than the usual Sci-Fi Channel original movie. It's also nice to see old TV characters Duncan MacLeod, Methos, and Joe Dawson again, even if I don't like what happens to them. It's oddly comforting in a way to see them again even if the story surrounding them is crap. It's kind of like finding an old college sweatshirt in the bottom drawer of your spare dresser: The sweatshirt doesn't fit the same as it used to and has that weird been-in-a-drawer-for-years smell to it, but it's still warm and soft to the touch. You can't quite bring yourself to donate it to Goodwill yet, but you don't want to wear it again either. (Is this a weird analogy? Okay, I won't use it again.)

Fun Facts from Wikipedia

The movie was filmed in 2005 and faced a series of delays in being released. Originally meant for theatrical release, it finally premiered as a direct-to-TV movie on Sci-Fi Channel on Saturday 15 September 2007. Plans for The Source to be the first of a new Highlander trilogy are now up in the air.

Bizarre Facts from Internet Movie Database

Joel Soisson's version of the script had Duncan MacLeod living at a gas station, next to a run-down airplane, in the middle of the desert. Also in the script, MacLeod smoked, wore cowboy boots and a hat, and had a pet monkey named Connor. {Wow, this version of the movie sounds even worse than what I just watched.}


scifirantergirl said...

OMG!!! I can't believe you put so much effort into this movie review. You are a good man. :) I think your review was better than the movie. Love your layout!

scifirantergirl said...

...wait... this was supposed to be a theatrical release??? Yeesh...

umberhaven said...

I can't believe I put this much effort on the review either. I didn't even think I had that much to say about it. Sometimes on reviews, I draw a blank, and sometimes I get on a roll once I get started.

The Wikipedia entry on this movie states that the producer's cut was meant for DVD and/or theaters. I think a producer's cut is the first version of a film to be released.

Also, you may have noticed the S, BS, and F words getting censored out, so it was definitely not intended to go straight to basic cable. The intetion to make this the first of a trilogy also implies higher ambitions for it.

Chris Knight said...

"There should have been only one."

Anonymous said...

I just saw this on cable.

Well, that's 86 minutes of my life I want back. I kept trying to turn it off, but it was like watching a train wreck.