Thursday, December 3, 2009

Age of Legend: The Highlander

PERHAPS THE GREATEST reason for the success of the Highlander concept is that it embodies the age-old desire of the human being to live forever. Immortality entails a plethora of other eternal dreams involving youth and strength. Duncan MacLeod, in one of the episodes, encouragingly details the life as being whatever one wants to be. And in his four-hundred-year life, he has been, as the narration goes, “a warrior, a lover, a wanderer”—and a chopper of heads, because being his kind of an Immortal forces him to engage in life-or-death struggles with others like him, for the death of one such being brings to the victor something called “the Quickening”: an uncanny transference of power with the manifestation of thunder and lightning amidst a ripping whirlwind.

No matter how old the dream of immortality has been, the Highlander movies, television series, and books have successfully profited out of the concept. The inspiration that brought the Highlander to life came in 1980, when Gregory Widen concluded a summer vacation in Scotland where he came face to face with what to him was a handsome suit of armor, triggering his imagination about what would it be like for a knight to live in our present age. The knight immediately translated into an immortal, and the foundation was laid for a story he was to make entitled “Shadow Clan,” the script of which he later sold in 1982 that landed in the hands of director Russell Mulcahy.

Although the first Highlander film failed to draw instant success in the United States, it was different in Europe and other places internationally where a notably wide and persistent popularity developed [1], to quickly elevate the movie into cult classic status. The Film As Art review awarded it with four out of four stars, hailing Highlander as “a classic film that will continue to be cherished and watched as the world of movie-making continues to grow and change” [1]. fearlessly toasted to as “the greatest action film ever made” [1]. This tremendous popularity may have pre-echoed its advent as the casting was joined by acting living legend Sean Connery, one of the very few today whose very presence is a prophecy of forthcoming renown. This renown gave birth of four more sequels and a television series that lasted six seasons.

Adrian Paul surpassed Highlander: The Series producers by competently portraying one of sci-fi's greatest characters; and directing two of the show's best episodes of all time. Despite these, however, there remains a large part of Paul's skills that is underrated, if not unexplored.

Like The Highlander movie of 1986, Highlander: The Series blazed a six-season trail on television that critics like DVD Verdict called “unique and inspiring” [2]. For each season, DVD Verdict respectively graded Highlander: The Series with a 92 for the first; a 93 for the second, the show’s highest ever reached; a 90 for the third; again, a 92 for the fourth; an 87 for the fifth; and a 70 for the sixth, sadly its lowest. The last season seemed to be a launch pad for the new spin-off series the producers were experimenting on entitled Highlander: The Raven, which featured Elizabeth Gracen, a regular guest in Highlander: The Series, in the lead as Raven. As a result, a number of episodes only featured Duncan MacLeod in cameos and two did not even show him at all. It was also said that Adrian Paul was seeking lesser involvement in the series in that he was gearing up for a career in the movies.

The Series rocketed to success despite casting a virtual unknown in playing the lead role of Duncan MacLeod. The producers, somewhat finding the ruggedly handsome Adrian Paul as a young Sean Connery [2], proved their choice unquestionably wise in that Paul revealed competence not only as The Series’ flag-carrying character but in also directing the episodes “Homeland” and “Revelation 6:8,” both hailed as among the four best of the entire series. Paul’s portrayal of Duncan MacLeod placed the character on TV Guide’s eleventh in a list of 25 Greatest Sci-Fi Legends in its August 2004 issue [2].

The Highlander Universe

Highlander II: The Quickening Christopher Lambert and one of the movie world's living legends Sean Connery.

The Highlander stories follow a powerful scheme, a scheme so attractive in its apparent simplicity but engages the aficionado into a very stable, layer-after-layer sub-structuring mythology. First, it features immortals: beings born into the world who look every bit human but are generally endowed with eternal life. Ironically, however, in spite of this gift, the immortal is vulnerable to experience his life momentarily expire under certain threatening situations, particularly accidents. In most of the stories, it was through such conditions that an individual realized his gift. And usually, there was an older immortal awaiting his resurrection to adopt him and train him in the ways of immortal survival, for, again, in spite of the gift of eternal life, an immortal can be killed forever.

There is a ritualistic way of slaying an immortal and this is perpetrated by most immortals engaged in an activity called “The Game,” wherein two—and only two—immortals attempt to decapitate each other in a duel. This concept regarding the beheading of an opponent may have been borrowed from an ancient Celtic belief that a person's head is the seat of his power. Taking a warrior's head, therefore, meant taking his power. It was traditional for the ancient Celts to impale their victims' heads on top of poles or spears, in addition to casting and carving the images of human heads on certain accessories, including the hilt of their swords and daggers.

There could be no more than two immortals in the battle and it could not be waged on “holy ground,” which may mean a temple, a graveyard, a church, a mosque, or probably any place dedicated to religious activities. In this effect, immortals make holy ground their refuge should they seek temporary or even permanent withdrawal from The Game.

Every immortal is equipped with a precognitive sense that buzzes when he comes within certain radius of another immortal’s presence. This alarm mechanism, called The Buzz [2], was felt by Connor MacLeod the first time he encountered Kurgan in the field of battle. According to immortal mentors, the Buzz tells one to prepare. For battle.

From Highlander II: The Quickening, Michael Ironside and Christopher Lambert duel it out for the head.

When an immortal faces the fatal misfortune of defeat, when his head flies off from his neck by the victor’s blade, transference of “power” termed “The Quickening” takes place where the victor receives all of the victim’s abilities, skills, talents, wisdom, and experiences good or bad. It can be hinted that the loser’s personality, good or bad, may even be absorbed by the winner. If this is true, then it can be also implied that an immortal’s soul may evolve for better or for worse throughout the process of winning matches.

The Quickening, also said to be destructive to electrical and electronic devices that happen to be stationed within the area of the event. (PHOTO CREDIT:

As earlier explained, The Quickening is evidenced by a rush of elemental disturbance of mostly thunder, lightning, and a strong whirlwind that surrounds the victorious immortal. The Quickening occurs every time a beheading takes place whether or not another immortal is present to receive the victim’s power. An example is a weak-willed immortal that solitarily devises and carries out a way to decapitate himself. Another is when an immortal is executed by a mortal, as what happened to the old immortal Darius when he was slain headless by the renegade watcher James Horton. In this situation, a manifestation of The Quickening may have been triggered, but because a mortal can neither absorb an immortal’s power nor be transformed into an immortal by it, the spiritual transference dissipated.

The Duncan MacLeod in the fitting, all-familiar ending to an exciting swordfight.If you happen to have left your documents in an area where a Quickening took place, you may have better luck finding it in, oh, Kansas? (PHOTO CREDIT:

The Game has been “played” by many immortals since time immemorial. Some immortals, like Darius, Methos, and even Duncan MacLeod, with their own unique reasons and motivations, chose to stay away from the deadly struggle. The first one, in a sincere decision to follow the way of peace, preferred to be a Catholic priest. The second admittedly lived a life in hiding, fearing the fact that, through the years, head-hunting immortals have grown more skillful in their deadly craft and that his sword skill was not enough to save him from them. Duncan did it for love.

Peter Wingfield as the old immortal Methos, a character that took over Darius as Duncan MacLeod's dear friend. (PHOTO CREDIT:

In the pilot episode of Highlander: The Series, Duncan is introduced living a simple life with a stunningly lovely wife by the name of Tessa Noel, played by Alexandra Vandernoot. They ran an antique shop called the MacLeod & Noel Antiques. Connor—Christopher Lambert himself—one day appears to urge Duncan to rejoin The Game and aid the cause of good to triumph over evil (a concept dealt earlier regarding the evolution of the immortal's soul). Because of love, Duncan was disinclined to agree. The arrival, however, of the evil immortal Slan Quince who was currently after Duncan’s head forces this lover to re-don his katana and receive the rush of The Quickening once again.

What immortal heart or eye dare resist thy lovely symmetry? Moving on after Highlander: The Series, the ever-lovely Belgian actress Alexandra Vandernoot, once donned—and fittingly donned!—the character Tessa Noel: the mortal greatly loved by Duncan MacLeod.

Yet though Duncan had rejoined and experienced rush after rush of The Quickening from countless opponents, he had developed no taste for The Game. As a matter of fact, he seemed to have despised it, though he was resigned to the truth that these deadly one-on-one battles would soon culminate into a final war called The Gathering. The concept of The Gathering is like a Ragnarok wherein, as all the Viking deities battle to the death, so will all remaining immortals. But unlike the Ragnarok where no one is meant survive, The Gathering will yield a victor, the “only one” spoken of in the beginning narration of every Highlander: The Series episode, who will claim The Prize.

Boy, don’t you just love these capitalized-and-articled common nouns—The Buzz, The Game, The Gathering, The Prize, the Only One, and here's one more.Until The, er, the movie Highlander: The Source (2007), no one had a clue what The Prize was. (PHOTO CREDIT: http://upload.

Until the fifth Highlander movie, one could only guess what The Prize would have been. One disadvantage of being an immortal was the inability of one to produce an offspring. It could be gathered from the stories that it was the mortals as well that produced the immortals. Duncan MacLeod once sarcastically commented that the only role of the immortals was to kill each other in the shadows while the mortal multitude advanced and developed in life. MacLeod then was speaking in context to The Gathering, which he soon won in Highlander: The Source. The Prize was The Source: the mother of all the immortals and with whom Duncan became one with in marriage to thus begin a race of immortals, possibly on earth.

Duncan MacLeod surviving The Gathering and winning The Prize could have been easily concluded in the beginning narration of each episode of The Series: “In the end, there could be only one. He is Duncan MacLeod. The Highlander.” And in the end, after all related movies, television series, books, audios, and multimedia games, The Highlander has become a twenty-plus-year-running documentation of the winner of The Game of immortals.

I am Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod. Check thee out my awesome blade. And check thee out how I brandish it! Feel the wind split in its keenness! Yeah! Yeah, indeed! (PHOTO CREDIT: Baverel Didier/Corbis Kipa. Spin blur enhancement mine.)

The Deadgame Endgame

WHAT CANNOT BE SOMEWHAT easily absorbed was how the story of Connor MacLeod ended. In Highlander: Endgame (2000), both starring Lambert and Paul, Connor forced Duncan into a duel leading to the first one’s decapitation. Connor was convinced of three things: that Kurgan was far more than a match for either him or Duncan; that it would take his power and Duncan’s combined to defeat Kurgan; and that between Duncan and himself, Duncan was the better fighter. So Connor forces his clansman into a duel where Connor meets his end. The Quickening merges both clansmen’s power into a force to match Kurgan. Connor’s death failed to convince some fans of the soundness in martyring the original Highlander, much like with how Duncan’s sidekick Richie Ryan, in the television series, was killed off, most of all by Duncan’s sword. To this day, many are those who argue whether the death of Richie was necessary at all. END?

Stan Kirch as Richie Ryan, one of the costliest casualties of producer discretion. An original cast member, he was introduced as Duncan's sidekick in season one's first episode. Then the producers one day decided, Hey, why not make him an immortal? After all, he too handsome an' we wouldn't want all those good looks going to waste, now would we? And the legend of Richie Ryan grew. And then one day again, they concluded a meeting to kill him off. Repercussions? Richie's death was supposed to be the fifth season's cliffhanger for the start of the sixth. But with him gone by then, with fandom in an uproar, and with Duncan's appearance starting to languish, The Series quickly drifted into cancelville. Before being killed off, Richie Ryan had already been making scarce appearances throughout the episodes after becoming an immortal, cultivating some speculation that he may have then been ripe for a Highlander spin-off. A spin-off series was indeed launched—Highlander: The Raven—but had nothing to do with Richie. What would have it been like if his character lived the course of his immortal life, long enough to have his own spin-off series? Highlander: The Legend of Richie Ryan?


1. http:\\wiki\Highlander (film)
2. http:\\wiki\Highlander The Series


  1. A very fine analysis of the film. Thank you, it is a line of appreciation producers and diretors want to extract from viewers.

  2. The write-ups so finesse and insightful, one got to read and check, seeking some more.

  3. This was a great review of the show and the movies. And your addition of the spinning blur effect was a nice touch on the picture. I was always a big fan of the movies and show, well except the Source but I have seen one glaring fact that not a lot of people liked that movie. I got the bug a couple weeks ago to watch the series again, at least now that I want to watch it I have the Blockbuster movie pass for my rentals, and they have everything. Even The Source which the wife says we have to rent because we can't watch it all without watching it all or something. We just got season 3 in today, which is nice because I felt I got my $10.00 monthly charge out of them this month, and I found the original movie to stream as well, so this should be a fun weekend after I get off work tomorrow morning from my night shift at DISH. I hope the wife is ready to sit down and zone out on the television for a while so we can get this urge dealt with.

  4. Hail, Brother of the same cult! Really glad to know that you and your wife share the same excitement on TV/movie choice, The Highlander at that. Is she a fellow believer too or just tolerating people like us? Anyway, grab the best this final weekend of the year and here's praying we get the best of the coming year, Shaun. May the Source be with you. Love those movies!

  5. Thank you for the great write-up, Jan Mythos.