Saturday, February 27, 2021

Free Association: Highlander, Christopher Lambert, Tom Skerritt, Mark Hamill, Duran Duran, via CGS

In their latest episode, Comic Geek Speak did a retro movie review of one of my all-time favorite films --- Highlander! In fact, Highlander is my #3 film, all-time. I love it! And I enjoyed the episode, even if a majority of the geeks were less than enthused by its quirky attributes. 

Certainly, Highlander can be seen as a low-budget cult classic, but there's so much more to it, for me. The romance of the film, the settings, the over-the-top craziness (especially from The Kurgan, as played by a young Clancy Brown), and the questions they leave unanswered, particularly surrounding the origins of the immortals. It's all fantastic in my book! 

Highlander co-stars Sean Connery, who was only available on set for seven days, meaning they needed to get all of his scenes done swiftly. Despite that small window, they manage to imbue Connery's character of Ramirez with a breadth and depth that is impressive. It is also noteworthy--as noted on the movie posters--for music provided by Queen, a fact pointed out rather out of the ordinary by Adam Murdough on the CGS episode noted above. But it makes sense, in a way. Highlander was a new property, directed by Russell Mulcahy whose only other film credit was an Australian movie titled Razorback, and MTV (in 1986, when Highlander debuted) was in its ascendancy. Duran Duran noted in an interview that they could tell where MTV was readily available, in those early days of the channel, because sales of their albums were far higher in those areas than the rest of the United States. MTV basically made Duran Duran the superstar band they became. So, tapping into that ready-made audience enjoying music videos, by spotlighting Queen's involvement with Highlander, makes complete sense. And Russell Mulcahy would have been able to make that connection easily, since he started out directing music videos. 

Of course, Highlander stars Christopher Lambert as the titular Highlander, Connor MacLeod. His distant stare (a result of his myopia) and intriguing accent (brought about in this film as much from his French heritage as his then lack of English language skills) made him an engaging star, launching a successful action star turn for Lambert, which led me down the rabbit hole of seeking out his movies at the local movie rental store. From Fortress to Knight Moves to The Hunted, I saw them all for a short while, there in the 90s, and I still like to check in on Lambert's work, most recently watching him in the Criterion release of Claire Denis's White Material. Most of those action films were enjoyable shlock, with some memorable scenes, though I wonder how they would hold up today (Knight Moves is a film I would certainly like to revisit, as I appreciated the premise and felt it was a fairly competent thriller with some good acting on the part of Lambert, Diane Lane, and Tom Skerritt). 

Watching these films--and making note of Knight Moves--led me to a theory that Tom Skerritt is a terribly underrated actor who elevates just about any film he stars in (though he couldn't save Wild Orchid II). Knight Moves sparked that idea. From there, you look at Alien, Top Gun, A River Runs Through it -- all great movies, but Skerritt certainly brings a special something to his roles in these films and adds to what is being produced. Whenever Skerritt pops up on something, I'm excited. 

A second, parallel track I followed, with Lambert's low-budget science fiction and action thrillers in the 90s were similar films from another sci-fi hero, Mark Hamill. After Star Wars, Hamill seemed to fade away a bit. Sure, I watched the episode of Amazing Stories Hamill starred in (Amazing! pun intended), and I was excited when he played the Trickster in the 1990 series, the Flash (which, it should be noted, is my favorite superhero of all-time), but there wasn't much in theaters starring Hamill. For that, I needed to peruse the shelves at Blockbuster, seeking out Time Runner (a title with a "coincidentally" similar sound to a science fiction film starring Harrison Ford) and The Guyver, a live-action adaptation of a Japanese manga series. These films . . . were not that good, but I loved Hamill in both of them. The Guyver, especially, suffered from a dichotomous tonal juxtaposition, with Hamill playing his character hard-edged and straight, while his co-star Jimmie Walker played his part as if he were just reprising J.J. from Good Times. A bit of a mess. But still, I'm glad I saw them so I never have to again. 

Which brings me back to Highlander (I stated this was "free association" in the title). I love this film, unabashedly and unironically. Despite it not being "a hit," it managed to spawn four sequels (three of which starred Lambert), a television series (in which Lambert reprised his role for the initial episode), an animated series, and an anime film. I've seen some of these -- the second and third films are trash, the TV series is pretty fun, the animated series didn't intrigue me, and I never realized there was an anime -- but it's noteworthy that the advice that should have been taken (artistically, if not fiscally) was in the tagline for the first and best film:  "There can be only one."