Highlander: The Ultimate Collection – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Cast:
Adrian Paul… Duncan MacLeod
Stan Kirsch… Richie Ryan
Joe Byrnes… Joe Dawson

The DVD

In 1986, the Highlander franchise was born. After one good movie and a couple of not so good movies, the franchise gave birth to a TV series. Unlike many TV adaptations of movie franchises, the lead character (in this case, Connor MacLeod,) was not recast and instead Adrian Paul was brought in to portray another MacLeod (also referred to as Highlander). The series had a six year run and even got a short-lived spin-off out of the deal. Now fifteen episodes have been selected to make a ‘Best of’ collection. Is the box set, entitled, Highlander: Best of the Best worthwhile? Or is even the best the series has to offer still not all that good? Read on to find out.

For those who know nothing about the franchise, here’s a bit of a primer. There exist many, many immortals in the Highlander universe. Despite the name, immortals can die if their head is separated from their body. If one immortal kills another, they gain the power of that immortal, as well as the power from any immortals that one had killed. In theory eventually there will only be one immortal left. Said immortal will then have enough power to rule the Earth for all eternity.

The series chronicles the adventures of Duncan MacLeod, a 400-ish-year-old immortal. At the start of the series, Duncan is trying to live a quiet, peaceful life with his mortal lover. Of course, he quickly is drawn back in to a more adventurous life. Sometimes he’s hunted by an immortal who wants revenge and/or Duncan’s power, sometimes one of his friends (mortal or not) get into trouble and other times Duncan just happens upon not so nice immortals.

One of the problems with virtually any episode of Highlander is the climax. It was established, long before the TV series was ever created, that the only way to kill an immortal is via decapitation. As the show is very PG, they obviously aren’t about to show gruesome decapitations. So whenever an immortal is killed (often at the episode’s climax), the actual killing part of the killing blow always takes place off-screen. Sometimes the show does a pretty good job of conveying that someone’s lost their head, regardless; other times, not so much.

The decapitation is then followed by a quickening. A quickening, for those who don’t know, is the process in which a defeated immortal’s power flows into the one who defeated him. The power transfer takes the form of lightning bolts, storm clouds and random explosions. The lightning bolts strike the immortal as he/she yells and generally overacts (though you can’t really blame the actors for that. I can’t imagine a way of depicting you are receiving large amounts of energy from lightning strikes that doesn’t involve overacting). As a result of its cheesiness, the quickening sequence often turns a satisfying and effective climax until a lot of eye-rolling and/or chuckling. They couldn’t remove the sequences completely without violating established canon but they really should have edited them done to last only two or three seconds in most cases.

The episodes included seem to be in a general countdown from 15th best to best as the quality does ramp up as you keep going. Unfortunately if you’re new to the series, you’re probably going to have a tough time making sense of everything. With the exception of a couple two-parters, none of the episodes directly follow any other episode and you’ll often get the episode introducing a character several episodes after you first meet them (for instance, Methos features prominently in the first two episodes of the first disc, but you don’t see his introduction until the episode on the disc (called “Methos,” appropriately enough).

Even if you were to watch the episodes in the order they aired, you’re still likely to have problems. Highlander, unlike most TV shows, had a lot of cast changes over the years. During the show’s six season run there were ten different characters who were prominent enough to appear in the credits, but never more than three or four in a given season. And that’s not even getting into the vast number of recurring characters. For the most part, none of the episodes where a major character is written off and/or killed are included here and in a lot of cases major characters will disappear during the gap between episodes, and may not even be mentioned in later episodes. If you’re already a fan of the show, that won’t be a problem, but if you’re new, it will be more than a bit confusing.

While the complexity of the Highlander character universe presents a challenge for anyone new to the series, it’s also a great strength of the series. There are a lot of well-developed, likable characters that emerge over the run of the series. Even though a lot of episodes are very MacLeod centric, the camaraderie between MacLeod and his friends is believable. When MacLeod’s in trouble and one of his friends comes to his aid (or vice versa), it doesn’t feel like they’re doing it just because it’s in the script.

Another plus for Highlander is its willingness to kill off major characters. The deaths didn’t always go over well with the audience but it instills a genuine tension into the series; the audience doesn’t know that everything will be all right by the end of the episode because sometimes it won’t be.

As a side note, there’s a few blatant errors in the DVD presentation. On the back of the case the wrong season is listed for two of the episodes (“Methos” and “Deliverance”); on the DVD itself there’s a space missing for one episode (So we get “The ReturnOf Amanda”) and a title screen during one of the special features mentions “Straitaigy.” None of these detract from the experience of watching the episode, but still, a little quality control should have been used.

Highlander‘s a fun show. Sure it can be cheesy and formulaic at times, but it grows on you. I hadn’t seen the series in years, but I found myself going through each DVD more quickly than the last. While I’ve just re-watched many of the show’s best episodes, I would love to see the whole series again. The Best of the Best set didn’t make me love it enough to want to go out and buy all six seasons, but if the reruns were airing in syndication, I’d be all over it.

The Episodes

For the convenience of those who may want to watch these episodes in chronological order, I’m including the season and episode number beside each episode’s title.

Disc One

“Comes a Horseman” (5×12) – Remember the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse? Well it turns out they were immortals and now one of them is back and he’s brought a dark secret from Methos’ past along with him.

“Revelation 6:8” (5×13) – The Horseman Reunion Tour continues as Kronos manages to track down the remaining horsemen and get them to go along with his plan for some fun with biological weapons.

“Homeland” (4×01) – After finding a bracelet at an auction, Duncan returns to his homeland. Coincidentally enough, an immortal who killed Duncan’s father is back in town as well.

Disc Two
“The Samurai” (3×01) – Duncan is called upon to fulfill a promise he made over two hundred years ago. In the past, Duncan visits Japan and ends up finding an origin story for his katana.

“Indiscretions” (6×11) – MacLeod’s on vacation or some such leaving the rest of the cast the responsibility of having an adventure. Fortunately a young watcher, who happens to be Joe’s daughter, is captured by an immortal who holds a grudge towards Methos. Joe and Methos go all wacky buddy adventure in an effort to save her.

“The Gathering” (1×01) – The very first episode sees an immortal in a goofy mask tracking Duncan. It seems that Duncan’s been in hiding for twelve years now and goofy mask man (with the equally goofy name, Slan Quince) is eager to find him and steal his tasty power. Fortunately, the other MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is around to give his former student some help.

Disc Three
“Methos” (3×16) – Another watcher is caught by an immortal. Unfortunately for him, nobody cares enough to rescue him and so he’s forced to reveal some information. Kalas is determined to track down the legendary Methos, the oldest immortal, to steal his power. In a completely unrelated (and seemingly unnecessary) B plot, Richie tries his hand at motocross racing.

“The Return of Amanda” (2×07) – As the name suggests Amanda (first seen in the season one episode, “The Lady and the Tiger” which turns up on Disc Four) returns to pay Duncan a visit. Interesting note: the villain of this episode is none other than Don S. Davis (better known for playing General Hammond on Stargate: SG-1).

“Duende” (5×15) – An immortal with a penchant for marrying young women and arranging accidents when he grows tired of them once again crosses paths with MacLeod. One of the more effective villains of the series in this episode.

Disc Four
“Timeless” (4×11) – Duncan is shocked to learn that the person who is trying to kill a piano savant, Claudia Jardine, is his old friend and fellow immortal. In the past, Duncan and said immortal (Walter) reenact Taming of the Shrew. Also, Methos falls for a waitress at Joe’s bar; unfortunately, she’s dying.

“Legacy” (2×19) – Amanda’s mentor is killed by a former student, Luthor (though it was her own fault for foolishly vowing to never leave her husband). When Amanda fears she may be next, she decides to spend more time hanging out with MacLeod.

“The Lady and the Tiger” (1×18) – In Amanda’s first appearance on the series, a former partner she betrayed breaks out of prison. He’s going to kill Amanda until she offers him the head of Duncan MacLeod. It turns out that Amanda and MacLeod have an on-again, off-again relationship going back a few centuries; for some reason, she and Tessa don’t hit it off.

Disc Five
“Deliverance” (4×14) – Oddly enough this is the second part of a two part story. The ‘previously on Highlander‘ does a pretty good job of letting you know the only important part from the first episode though. It seems that sometimes if an immortal absorbs too much evil it can overwhelm them in what is called a ‘dark quickening’. At the end of the previous episode MacLeod killed a friend who had been overcome by evil and now MacLeod finds himself overwhelmed by dark impulses.

“To Be” (6×12) – In this first part of the two-part series finale an old enemy of MacLeod’s kidnaps Amanda and Joe. After nearly dying in a rescue attempt, Duncan ends up having his very own ‘What if you never existed?’ experience hosted by his good friend, Fitzpatrick. Unlike many similar what ifs, this one is semi-interactive.

“Not to Be” (6×13) – Duncan’s trip through “What If Land” continues as he checks in on Tessa, Methos, Richie and others. The episode ends with a montage highlighting moments from the series; the fact so many of the moments come from the episodes included on this set shows they did a good job of picking episodes to feature.

The Video

The episodes are presented in 4:3 though the special features are in widescreen (oddly enough the clips from episodes featured in the special features are also in widescreen format, but the episodes aren’t). The video quality is not so great; from time to time there are scratches on the film and the video’s not all that sharp at any point.

The Audio

Not surprisingly for a TV show from the 90s, the audio is in Dolby Stereo. While you’re not going to be blown away, everything sounds fine and there’s never any problem hearing what’s going on.

The Extras

Highlander in Paris
This 23-minute piece has executive producer Bill Panzer and director Dennis Berry touring some of the many areas in Paris featured during the run of the series.

The Cutting Edge
Creative Consultant David Abramowitz, Swordmaster F. Braun McAsh, and actor Anthony De Longis talk about many of the weapons from Highlander. The latter two demonstrate many of the weapons and give a brief rundown of some sword fighting techniques. The feature runs about 25 minutes.

Highlander Worldwide
David Abramowitz hosts this feature of a recent Highlander fan convention in Leeds, England. Unlike most conventions for genre shows this one is rather light on cosplay and predominately female.

Highlander Gameplay
A look at the upcoming Highlander game. The game wasn’t very far into development but will be mostly action-oriented, featuring a new MacLeod and many different time periods.

Marto
A look at the company who made the swords for the Highlander series. At times this feels almost like an infomercial for Marto but there are some interesting tidbits.

The Inside Pulse
If you’re a fan of the Highlander TV show, but don’t want to buy the entire series’, Highlander: Best of the Best is a solid choice. It would have been nice to have gotten some episode commentaries and some participation from some of the principal actors but the episode selection is solid, without even a single questionable inclusion for the ‘Best of’ category.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for
Highlander: Best of the Best
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE EPISODES

7.5
THE VIDEO

5
THE AUDIO

6
THE EXTRAS

4
REPLAY VALUE

5
OVERALL
6
(NOT AN AVERAGE)