Doomsday Reels: Highlander – The Source

Movies No One Mentions: Live Wire
March 13, 2017
Movies No One Mentions: 30 Minutes or Less
March 20, 2017

Doomsday Reels: Highlander – The Source

Doomsday Reels
Highlander: The Source (2007)

source

THE TRAILER

THE DIRECTOR
Brett Leonard

THE ACTORS
Adrian Paul (Duncan MacLeod), Thekla Reuten (Anna Teshemka), Christian Solimeno (The Guardian), Peter Wingfield (Methos), Jim Byrnes (Joe Dawson), Stephen Wight (Reggie Weller), Thom Fell (Giovanni)

THE CAUSE
Social Unrest

THE STORY
“Immortals… They have hidden among you for thousands of years… Drifting through time… locked in an endless and deadly game of combat… where death only comes at the loss of their head.  Unable to have children, their origins are shrouded in mystery.  Where did the immortals come from?  Why are they here?  Some believe the answers are to be found in The Source.  A legend whispered among them of where immortality began.  It is said that as the world descends into chaos The Source will again appear… Will it bring salvation… or death?  In truth no one really knows…” – opening text craw

THE RUNDOWN
Last time on this column, I made a somewhat controversial statement regarding Highlander 2: The Quickening: “The movie still isn’t quite as bad as people make it out to be and definitely doesn’t hold the title of “worst Highlander film…” I got a few people disagreeing with me because they probably stopped watching Highlander movies after Highlander Endgame, if they even made it that far.  But for those who pressed on into the late 2000s there was an even more disappointing attempt to make sense of all this nonsense and its name exists only in whispers amongst the darkest circles of Highlander fandom.  That film is Highlander: The Source.

So for the benefit of those who haven’t kept up or have no idea what is going on (deep breath): In the Highlander universe there are being called immortals who rise after dying a violent death.  These immortals do not age, can sense each others’ presence, and can heal from any wound except decapitation.  When an immortal is decapitated by another of their kind their soul and essence is absorbed into their killer by a chintzy and destructive CG lightning show called The Quickening.

The process of fighting is known as The Game and the immortals are drawn to fight one another until only one remains, wherein that one immortal will absorb the power of all the ones before them and gain The Prize.  The Prize changes slightly with each film but it’s generally summed up as complete universal consciousness, the ability to read the minds of all mortals, the ability to have children (immortals are sterile), and to become mortal.  Immortals are only allowed to fight one-on-one and cannot do battle on holy ground.  The entire wall of text between the next two pictures spoils the entire Highlander franchise.

Highlander Source - 03

The first film concerns Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) of the Clan MacLeod, a Scottish Highlander who is killed in battle and returns to life as an immortal.  He is trained by an Ancient Egyptian posing as a Spaniard named Ramirez (Sean Connery) and goes on to live a long and storied life culminating in a final showdown with the immortal who killed him initially, The Kurgan (Clancy Brown.)  Connor kills The Kurgan and gains the prize and in 1999 builds a radioactive shield to protect the world from UV radiation brought on by the loss of the ozone layer.

Connor grows to be an old man and then one night remembers that he was once a rebel on the planet Zeist where he, Ramirez, and a group of others fought against the tyranny of General Katana (Michael Ironside.)  After being caught, Ramirez and Connor were sent to Earth where they had their memories erased, became immortal, and were drawn to fight with other Zeist exiles for the ability to become mortal and return home.  For reasons unknown, Katana goes to Earth after 500 years and makes Connor immortal again.  Connor kills Katana.

Highlander 2 was critically panned and hated by basically everyone, so Highlander: The Final Dimension (you’ll notice the blatant lack of a number 3 in that title) ignores the movie entirely and shows Connor some few years after his victory against The Kurgan.  He finds out that he has not truly won the prize when the wizard Kane (Mario Van Peebles) escapes from the cave in which he has been entombed and comes after him.  Connor defeats Kane.

At some point Highlander became a viable enough property to be adapted into a TV show, Lambert was either unwilling or unwanted so the show took place from the point of view of Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) of the Clan MacLeod.  They could have easily made the show its own thing, completely unconnected to the movies it was based on (like The Crow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, or Weird Science) but for some reason they decided to make it part of the canon so Duncan is the descendant/cousin of Connor (who makes a few token appearances during the show’s run.)  At some point the show became as much if not more of a cultural phenomenon than the movies and it was decided that there would be a movie that would tie the movies and the show together, that movie is Highlander: Endgame.

Highlander: Endgame concerns Duncan and Connor’s struggle with a group of immortals (most notably a pre-fame Donnie Yen) lead by Connor’s old friend Jacob Kell (Bruce Payne) and Duncan’s ex-wife Faith (Lisa Barbuscia).  Kell is a devout Catholic and believes that immortals are unnatural and hates Connor for accidentally unleashing his own immortality, Faith is angry at Duncan for murdering her on their wedding night so that they could both be immortal, thus robbing her of any chance to bear children.  The movie is the one that is the most tonally and stylistically similar to the first but it is poorly edited and solves the elephant-in-the-room dilemma that Duncan will have to die at some point so that the original Highlander can happen by just having Duncan kill Connor and take his power.  Duncan kills Kell and in the director’s cut we find out that Faith is alive; she forgives Duncan and they walk off presumably to live happily ever after.

Highlander: The Source is supposedly a sequel to Endgame but beyond the returning characters of Duncan, Methos, and Joe Dawson (who were all also in the TV show) there’s no mention of previous films.  Faith is never brought up, instead we have a new love interest in Anna Teshemka (Thekla Reuten): a mortal woman who Duncan married but abandoned because he knew that she would grow old and die.

Highlander Source - 01

We pick up sometime in the future, a dystopian wasteland in Eastern Europe where Duncan MacLeod is stalking the rooftops like Batman.  An immortal rushes into a radio tower to have a video conference with fellow immortals Methos (Peter Wingfield), a Sumerian and very possibly the oldest immortal in existence; Reggie (Stephen Wight), an annoying Brit who looks like Fright Night’s Stephen Geoffreys; and  Giovanni (Thom Fell) an Aryan Cardinal with a ridiculous rooster-like haircut.  The three men discuss the planetary alignment until the new immortal chimes in telling him that he has found “The Source” and awoken its Guardian.

Soon, the Guardian arrives and kills the immortal in the film’s only Quickening scene.  Duncan, who happens to be nearby, clashes with The Guardian until watcher Joe Dawson interferes in the fight and takes Duncan away.  They meet up with the other three immortals at a monastery where a bloated, rotting immortal tells them about The Source and how Duncan’s ex-wife Anna (who inexplicably has precognitive abilities) can lead them to it.

The immortals seek out The Source, soon finding out that when they come closer to it they lose their immortality and are thus terrorized by a roving clan of cannibals as well as The Guardian.  The group are whittled off one by one as they come closer and it appears that Duncan will have to be the one to kill The Guardian and take The Source for himself.

Adrian Paul does a perfectly capable job as Duncan MacLeod.  I know some people prefer Christopher Lambert but Paul is a better actor, a much better sword fighter, and being English he still isn’t Scottish but he’s at least from the same landmass.  He gets shit for being in a lot of truly awful straight-to- video and made-for-TV dreck (Highlander is arguably the most high-profile property in which he has ever been involved) but I’ve never found serious flaws in his acting abilities and he’s got a certain charisma that makes him a pretty good leading man.  He isn’t given a lot to work with here but he does his best to elevate the material.

Similarly, Peter Wingfield is wonderful as Methos.  Methos has always been a character that does very little in both the television show and the previous film.  Weirdly Methos is a rather aggressive character here, arguing with Duncan frequently and serving as the ersatz leader of the group of immortals.  I have no issues with Wingfield’s performance but the film writes him as acting very out of character and weirdly the wardrobe department puts him in a leather biker jacket with cowboy fringe on the sleeves for most of the movie.

Stephen Wight and Thom Fell are perfectly capable performers but their characters are by their nature pretty obnoxious.  Both Giovanni and Reggie get a good character moment each but they’re really just in the movie to serve as cannon fodder.  Thekla Reuten does a capable, if forgettable, job and Jim Byrnes is really just in this movie as a send-off to his character’s relationship to Duncan in the show.  That scene has laughably terrible dialogue and does not work at all.

Highlander Source - 02

Now, let’s talk about The Guardian.  There’s been an unwritten rule of escalation in the Highlander series that each villain needs to be progressively more overacted than its predecessor.  Michael Ironside made Clancy Brown’s chuckling psychopath seem well-adjusted and Mario Van Peebles made Ironside’s unhinged grinning nutcase seem Shakesperian.  It could be argued that Bruce Payne’s fey and soft-spoken Jacob Kell wasn’t quite as over-the-top as Peebles’ wisecracking sorcerer, but I disagree.  So there were big shoes to fill going into this movie and Christian Solimeno’s performance as The Guardian filled them and then some.

I hesitate to call The Guardian the only good part of Highlander: The Source.  There really is the skeleton of a good story at the heart of this movie, the fight scenes are wonderfully choreographed, and the main cast are mostly doing a great job so I’m willing to lay most of my gripes at the feet of writing and production on this turkey.  That being said, while The Guardian isn’t the only good part of the movie he is the only part that makes the movie worth watching.

The Guardian is the most cited issue with the film.  He looks ridiculous, his super-speed power is stupid looking, he is not the least bit intimidating and his performance is reminiscent of John Leguizamo in Spawn.  But don’t let that fool you, Christian Solimeno is wonderful in this film.  No, he’s not intimidating but I really don’t think he’s meant to be after his initial appearnce in the film.  Admittedly the visual aspect of the character fails on all fronts but that’s not down to the actor playing the role.  He’s a genuine delight every time he speaks and if he wasn’t in this movie to keep things interesting it would be tortuously boring in addition to being irredeemably terrible.  Feast your eyes on this wonder:

Now that I’ve skirted around all this, let’s get into what’s wrong with this movie.  The CG is bad and the movie is overly reliant on obvious green screen, the super speed moves of The Guardian are comparable to Benny Hill comedy sketches.  The costumes are all various shades of ridiculous.  The story is somehow childishly simple and nigh-incomprehensible at the same time and the characters are either acting completely uncharacteristic or just annoying.  The plot progression is slow and plodding, this is further complicated by some really janky editing.  The soundtrack and the way it is used is almost as bad as Beowulf and this cover of Queen’s Princes of the Universe is a genuine atrocity.  The ultimate reveal of The Prize at the film’s end is laughably anticlimactic and I smirk every time I read about how this was meant to be the first in a new trilogy rather than a lackluster capper to the entire series.  Someone actually found a way of explaining immortals that was worse than telling us that they’re aliens from the planet Zeist.

The only nice thing I can say about the climactic battle between The Guardian and Duncan MacLeod is that it’s interesting how Duncan switches to daggers halfway through the movie.  It adds a little bit of variety to the sword fighting but the fight lasts for only about two minutes and then when Duncan has The Guardian immobilized and at his mercy the film goes into a bizarre trippy dream-battle sequence so hilariously awful that I had to get a GIF:

Highlander Source - GIF

Highlander, as I said last time, is a franchise that a fan can love even though it will never love them back.  The entire franchise is fraught with problems from beginning to end and while I’ll agree that Highlander 2 was the low-point of the Christopher Lambert years, Highlander: The Source serves as a reminder of what greater depths that movie could have plunged to with a less capable group of people working on it.

I feel a little bad for picking on this movie because I sincerely doubt (and also severely hope) that this was not the movie that anyone involved wanted to make.  Making movies is hard and I try and celebrate the good things in even the most abysmal movies.  I hope I’ve given credit where it is due to this movie which really does have a few things going for it.  But none of these good things add up in any meaningful way that works to the film’s advantage and it is thus a failure on every conceivable level.

This seems to be the movie that made everyone realize that there was nothing left to salvage in the Highlander franchise and it was better to just start all over again with a more coherent plan for multiple stories set in the same universe.  Whatever the series may or may not hold in the future, let us never forget the series of unfortunate events that led to this movie’s existence in the hope that we never have to see its like again.

THE SHILL
Highlander: The Source is available on DVD and Amazon Instant if you feel like wasting nearly two hours of your life.

NEXT TIME ON DOOMSDAY REELS
“What do these things have in common: lighting rods, Fig Newtons, escalators, ball-point pens, and Vaseline?”

Highlander Source - 04

Discuss this and other Doomsday Reels columns in the forum.