Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)

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Released 7-Aug-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Biographies-Cast
Filmographies-Cast
Gallery-17 stills from the film
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1991
Running Time 86:00
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Russell Mulcahy
Studio
Distributor
Avenue One Starring Christopher Lambert
Sean Connery
Virginia Madsen
Michael Ironside
Allan Rich
John C. McGinley
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $9.95 Music Stewart Copeland


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    "There can be only one."
These are prophetic words of wisdom that should have been heeded by those contemplating a sequel to the film Highlander.

    Reviewer bias warning:  Anyone who cares to donate even a passing glance at my bio page will be able to immediately ascertain that I am what is technically and medically referred to in cinema circles as "a Highlander nut". That is - I hasten to explain - I am, like many others afflicted with this same condition, a devotee of that original classic 1986 action/fantasy film based on the characters and story concept created by writer Gregory Widen. This medical condition also usually manifests in the symptom of a complete case of denial associated with subsequent elements of the Highlander franchise, where they contradict the original story concept, most specifically the sequels Highlander 2 and Highlander 3. This medical condition may well be worth bearing in mind when reading the following review. In other words, "pass the salt"...

    How could it be that the original film Highlander was such a resounding success on its initial release, and yet its sequel film Highlander II: The Quickening (note not the originally intended title), following 5 years later on the coattails of a large fan base, be such a disappointing, utterly forgettable, monumental, abysmal, embarrassing flop? Especially when this sequel at least had the consistency of being directed by the same talented Aussie director Russell Mulcahy and starring the same leading stars as the original film? Well, there are several reasons, which we can explore in a minute.

    The story of Highlander 2 takes up forty years after the ending of the first film, in the year 2025. Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is now an old man, mortal after having won The Prize by killing the last immortal, The Kurgan. We learn that Connor had used The Prize several years earlier to help protect the world from the complete loss of its ozone layer through global warming, the immediate result of which was the killing of millions of Earth's inhabitants (including, although we don't get to see it here in this theatrical cut, Brenda, who on her death bed had made Connor swear that he would help to stop others from dying from radiation). Together with his friend Allan Neyman (Allan Rich), the pair had designed and engineered a radiation shield, generated by a powerful force field on Earth and which now acts to protect the planet, although at the huge cost of blocking out the sky and creating a damp, cold, miserable existence for all of Earth's inhabitants living underneath the shield. Today, the shield is run by The Shield Corporation, the world's most powerful and rich corporation, run by a corrupt few content on keep the business running whether there is actually a continuing legitimate need for the shield or not.

    Despite the fact that they didn't know it in the first Highlander, we now learn that Connor and the other immortals in fact started their life 500 years ago on a different planet, the Planet Zeist (groan), and Connor now remembers back to this time when he and Ramirez led a resistance movement on Zeist against the deadly General Katana (Michael Ironside). It turns out that several immortals had been banished from their home planet back at that time to the planet Earth, to fight through the ages here as punishment, lured by The Prize, which we now discover is actually the right to choose whether to grow old and die peacefully on Earth or to return to Zeist (not The Prize as you thought it was at the end of Highlander, i.e. the ability to get scientists and diplomats to think together, "like a whirlwind in my head"). Now Katana, not realising that Connor has already chosen to remain and grow old and die on Earth, foolishly sends forward in time to Earth two henchmen to kill him. Why, when he didn't choose to try to kill Connor before this? And why bother, whilst ever Connor stays on Earth and poses no threat? And how exactly does Katana now have this power (previously it was just the Priests who had the power) to send his henchmen not only to Earth but also now forward in time to a precise date (noting that before, Connor, Ramirez and all other previous immortals were simply exiled in their own time 500 years ago)? Please don't ask all these difficult questions and let's just move on.....

    As these two immortal henchmen arrive on Earth, Connor finds his own immortality suddenly returning (although a small scene was edited out of the theatrical cut that would have made this more clear), as with other immortals now on the planet Connor must now eliminate them too in order to regain The Prize - I hope you're still with me. However, these two henchmen prove to be very easily dispatchable to anyone who can ride a hoverboard and find a piece of razor-sharp rope conveniently tied at one end and lying around on the street. Connor quickly does the deed and in the process rejuvenates himself into a young immortal again (presumably back to the same age he was when he first won the prize, although this is not explained). Turning into a younger immortal has several immediate advantages for Connor, namely dispensing with the expensive old-age makeup and the still-to-be-perfected Marlon Brando voice. Turning into a young man and walking out of a huge fireball explosion (without letting your trench coat catch fire) is also a neat trick that impresses Connor's newfound lady friend Dr Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen) no end. Dr Marcus is a stunningly attractive environmental terrorist, seeking out Connor's help when she discovers that the Earth's ozone layer appears to have repaired itself, to the extent that the energy-zapping shield may no longer be necessary. There is more to Louise than meets the eye, and not to be outdone by Connor's fireproof trench coat trick, she impresses him in return with her ability to conduct dangerous terrorist missions in a scuba suit one minute, and then change into evening wear without damaging her hair-do the next. Naturally, the pair hit it off straight away. Meanwhile Katana, now realising his mistake in sending two idiots to Earth to do a man's job, decides to make the journey to Earth (and through time) himself to rid himself of his old adversary once and for all.

    But now, as if this convoluted Zeist storyline wasn't confusing enough, before we can say "inconsistency", we also now find out that through "a kind of magic" that bonds Connor and Ramirez, Connor can call on his old friend at any time he gets into trouble, simply by calling out his name. (This is of course despite the fact that Ramirez died in Highlander and despite the fact that no other immortals can avail of this trick - as I've already explained it's a kind of magic - I do hope you are keeping up and not asking questions.)  Connor does this, but Ramirez inconveniently reappears at his point of origin in Scotland (but I thought he was Egyptian?) and so has to spend more than half of the movie travelling from Scotland to New York in order to join his friend. Still, this little journey provides much needed comic relief (over and above the plot) along the way.

    And so the story is set from here: newly immortal Connor and newly reborn and immortal Ramirez must join forces to battle the evil immortal Katana, who has travelled interplanetary distances and time in order to battle it out again for The Prize. And this time there can be only one, again. Then, Connor must help overthrow The Shield Corporation and destroy the oppressive shield that is stifling life on Earth.

The story behind Highlander 2: why did it fail and what went wrong?

    The original Highlander was a success for millions of fans around the world because it was a uniquely written and crafted action/fantasy film that, quite simply, just came together. It featured a refreshingly unique story concept created by recently graduated UCLA Film School graduate Gregory Widen. The plot of a group of reticent immortals battling through the ages until only one remained was highly imaginative and delivered an intriguing mix of fantasy, action and drama that captured the imagination of modern audiences. The story was solid. This well conceived story idea was brought to life for the screen by a talented young Aussie director, Russell Mulcahy, bringing with him the benefit of his own trademark visual style born of years of experience rising to prominence in the competitive world of directing popular music videos. Next, the film was well cast, with solid acting performances delivered by the charismatic Christopher Lambert and the never-fail acting talents of Sean Connery highlighting among them. The film was also beautifully shot by a relatively unknown cinematographer, Gerry Fisher, showcasing breathtaking location shoots in the Scottish Highlands. Finally, the stunning visuals were complemented in an equally powerful style by a majestic, anthemic and heart-felt soundtrack provided by the rock group Queen (Russell Mulcahy was quoted as saying "I could think of no one else as suitable to approach"). All in all, the film that hit the screens in 1986 all came together as a stand-out action movie, winning over cinema-goers around the world. The film became so popular that pretty soon pressure started mounting from Hollywood for a sequel project. And therein lay a problem, as the story as written by Gregory Widen was completely self-contained - it had a beginning, a middle and a definite resolution at the end. There was no intention of, and little room for, any follow-on film.

    The top 5 reasons why Highlander 2 failed miserably?

  1. The story, the basis on which the film would ultimately be credible or not, was not written by Gregory Widen. Mr Widen wisely realised that it couldn't be done and so had already moved on, busily completing the script for what was to be his next successful project, Backdraft. Others did try to write the sequel however, and after several unsuccessful story pitches and draft script ideas rejected outright by Christopher Lambert, a finally acceptable story concept was penned by original Highlander co-producer William Panzer and then fleshed out with a paid writer unrelated to the first film. It must be said that Panzer's story concept of the shield around the Earth and its effect on life underneath it was indeed a good start, as it at least provided a backdrop explaining what Connor had done with The Prize and what happened to Brenda to inspire him to this end. But the problem was always going to be finding a way to write Ramirez back in. The concept of the immortals now coming from the Planet Zeist and the inconsistencies this raised met with such outrage from the fans that, several years later, the producers and director were laden with enough guilt that they found a way to eliminate all reference to the Planet Zeist subplot in the director's cut (see other region's comparison below). But even putting Zeist aside, there were numerous other inconsistencies and contradictions to the first film to raise the ire of Highlander nuts around the world.

  2. Next, and this is the real clincher, for reasons never really articulated and best known only to the producers, the decision was made to shoot the film Highlander 2 in Argentina. Bad move. Extremely bad move. Whilst "the people were nice to deal with there", filming such a big budget production here at this time was fraught with logistical concerns and meant a lack of local crew experience and a lack of locally available technology. While Highlander 2 started life blessed with a budget double that of Highlander, a large proportion of these funds was wasted before the production even started, having to have all manner of large camera equipment, lighting rigs and other gear flown in from the US to Argentina, as this equipment and crew were not available locally.

  3. On top of this, a disproportionately large share of the film's budget was spent building a simply massive outdoor set for the film's first major action sequences, involving the street fight in which Connor regains his immortality. The set was a huge full-scale street scene, complete with numerous rooms running off the main set, in which scenes like the bar scene could be filmed, and even full-scale train tracks with a real train running through the centre of the set, plus a complex system of overhead wire-tracks to facilitate the infamous hoverboard fight sequence. It is not disclosed exactly how much was spent on this one set, but many cast and crew remarked that it rivalled the Batman set for sheer scale.

  4. Inevitably, as a result of the above, the film ran over budget. And not just by a little bit. So much so that the studio's insurance company was forced to step in and assume control of the production. Russell Mulcahy, struggling on with principal photography like a trooper in amongst the producers' lack of fiscal control, arrived on set one morning preparing for his last 2 weeks of principal photography only to be told by the insurance company that he now had only one day left to complete the picture. The insurers put a big red pen through swathes of the script, eliminating back-story, "non-essential plot scenes" and scenes not yet filmed or completed. This also meant that large chunks of the script would need to be rearranged to get around partially completed scenes and maximise the use of what footage was completed.

  5. Neither the director nor producers had final cut of the film. What eventually screened theatrically as Highlander II: The Quickening (not even the title the director wanted) was a badly edited hash of the minimum amount of footage necessary to justify a feature length film, with the overriding objective of cost minimisation in post production to get a completed product. It didn't matter that the story was completely disjointed and hard to follow, with now unrelated scenes edited together. It didn't matter that the story didn't really make sense anymore. It didn't matter that the film displayed incredibly poor post-production values, such as poor matte matchings and B-grade special effects. What mattered was getting a product into the theatres, no matter how poor, and recouping at least some of the lost money at the box office. Minor considerations like the director's vision and story integrity were cast aside.

    This hopefully goes some way to explaining why Highlander 2 was not only pale by comparison to its predecessor film, but in the end a colossal, embarrassing, unmitigated disaster.

    It would not be until many years later that the director and producers got the chance to have another crack at this film, in the form of a new director's cut - Highlander 2: Renegade Version, discussed under the other region comparison below. If you want to judge this film, you really cannot do so until you have at least seen this director's cut.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The DVD distributor Avenue One cops a pretty hard time on this site. Consistently sub-standard output has led to the entirely unique situation of the distributor itself being inducted into our Hall of Shame. This is to my knowledge the first time I have come across Avenue One and so I was determined to approach this disc as I approach all discs for review, with no preconceived opinions about the quality of the content. So let's wipe the slate clean and pretend we are reviewing a disc from a brand new distributor, with every expectation of a high quality transfer effort.

    ...Unfortunately, after getting only 15 minutes into the transfer, I have seen enough to appreciate that if this product is in any way indicative of the wider population of output from this distributor, then Avenue One does indeed fully deserve to forever wallow in the Hall of Shame. The quality of this transfer is just appalling.

    Firstly, the presented aspect ratio is 1.33:1 pan and scan, compared to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The fact that only a pan and scan transfer could be summoned for this DVD release is the first big cross of laziness against this distributor, when clearly a widescreen ratio source was available if they wanted to track it down. Indeed, in a mark of hypocrisy, the DVD assails us with 30 seconds of excerpt footage in 2.39:1 widescreen format at the beginning of the disc, in an introductory sequence leading into the main menu. Given this is the first thing we see on the disc, yet not representative of what we are about see for the feature, I would say this is extremely misleading. Presenting a pan and scan transfer of a 2.39:1 film means we only get to see half of the film (56% of the image, to be exact), and this is simply inexcusable for a modern, popular action title such as this.

    To add insult to injury, the transfer has been sourced from a very poor quality, dirty film print. All aspects of luminance and chrominance in this transfer score poorly.

    Resolution is very soft, hampered by the poor quality, low contrast ratio source print and substantial amounts of noise and pixelization in the transfer. Shadow detail is also very poor, having to battle against the often excessive amounts of noise and pixelization. The entire transfer is excessively dark, with low levels of contrast available between the brightest and darkest elements of the image. This overly dark appearance is particularly noticeable when comparing this transfer to the Region 1 transfer.

    Colour is also very poor. The entire transfer is extremely washed-out, giving it an entirely dull and lifeless appearance. All colours are insufficiently saturated. Black levels fair only a little better, being OK in some scenes, but this being the exception to the rule, and for many scenes resort to weak charcoals, combating for attention against low level noise.

    The transfer has been handled poorly. MPEG artefacts are noticeable in the form of obvious pixelization and posterization, and also macro-blocking in the background of several scenes. Film-to-video artefacts catalogued include excessive chroma noise and also aliasing on many fine lines. The transfer is also riddled with film artefacts, including flecks, scratches and marks, both positive and negative on the print.

    There are no subtitles available and the disc is single layered.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    This woeful video transfer is accompanied by a barely satisfactory audio transfer.

    There is only one audio track, being English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (encoded at the low bit rate of 192 Kb/s).

    Dialogue quality is at least OK, a bit harsh in the mix at times but otherwise quite discernable. Its sync with the video wanders, with the ADRing being very obvious at times in this theatrical version of the film. (This is not a criticism of the DVD transfer, but rather the poor editing and lack of effort in ADR process in the film's original post production.)     

    The music score for this film was provided by Stewart Copeland, previously of The Police. He has done some decent film soundtracks in his time, but this isn't one of them. The music comes across very harsh and bright in this transfer. Turning up the volume to anywhere near reference level will reveal punishing limitations of the quality of this audio transfer, so it necessitates listening to at a more conservative volume level. Whilst there is a decent use of the front left and front right speaker channels during songs, outside of this the sound effects and the majority of the audio collapses into a very front-centre weighted mix. There is also amplified audio hiss and other distortions in the centre channel to contend with in places.

    Surround presence is sporadic, but when it does comes into play there is a healthy use of the surrounds to embellish sound effects and occasionally to help with the music score. It's just annoying that the surround use is not more consistent, as the coming in and out with the rear channels is distracting.

    Subwoofer use is very minimal, even for scenes which are meant to showcase LFE, such as Connor MacLeod's first quickening sequence, involving an oil tanker explosion, huge window explosions and lightning effects.   

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Extras are minimal.

Menu

    The menu screen is static 1.33:1 with no audio.

Biography text screen

    Available for Virginia Madsen (3 pages), Christopher Lambert (6 pages) and Michael Ironside (3 pages). An interesting enough read.

Filmography text screens

    This should have been tacked on to the end of the above bio text pages for each star, as would be the norm. Instead, they are listed separately to give the impression there are more extras on the disc. The filmographies are for the same three stars mentioned above. At least they are comprehensive listings.

Picture gallery

    17 stills simply taken from the film. They are not behind-the-scenes shots or publicity shots, so are of no additional value.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This film is still available in its theatrical edit (Highlander II: The Quickening) in Region 2 in a similar format to the Region 4 release. In Region 1, this version of the film has been (wisely) recalled and the film is now only available in Region 1 as a Director's Cut (Highlander 2: Renegade Version). (Note that it was never intended by the film-makers that the film title carry the by-line "The Quickening". This was added to the title by the studio as an afterthought just prior to the theatrical release, to prompt a more direct connotation for audiences to the original film. I now think of this woeful theatrical version as "Highlander II: The Quick Version" in order to distinguish it. The never-intended by-line has been officially dropped from the film's title by the film-makers in putting together their 1997 director's cut, the "Renegade Version".) 

    The Renegade Version boasts numerous advantages over the Quick Version, notably the addition of some 19 additional minutes of restored footage and the complete re-arrangement of events and re-edit of the film in order to convey the plot and sequence of events as they were originally intended by the director. The result is a 100% improvement over the hackneyed theatrical edit, which made absolutely no sense at all and had glaring continuity and plot inconsistencies as a result of the re-arranging of the sequence of events. Apart from restoring the full plot so that the film now makes (somewhat) more sense, steps have also been taken by the director and producers in the Renegade Version to appease fans' loud screams of anguish over the Planet Zeist plot, and so in the Renegade Version all references to the Planet Zeist have been completely eliminated. Instead, now the immortals are simply from "a long time ago" here on Earth, and when they are exiled from their time they are simply exiled into the future on Earth. This removes the single largest cringe-factor for Highlander nuts. It still doesn't explain or excuse numerous contradictions with the first film, mind, but it at least eliminates the biggest single element of ridicule from the sequel's storyline. The Renegade Version also restores various sequences as flash-back sequences (a trademark of the first film), rather than just a single, boring, chronological run of events as it was hackneyed together in the Quick Version.

    In comparison to the Region 1 Renegade Version, Region 4 misses out on:

    It is an obvious choice.

Summary

    Highlander 2 was a complete mess, made all the worse by this theatrical cut of the film. With inconsistencies galore, it would be a completely laughable and dismissible film, had it not inherited such an important legacy for many fans worldwide.

     This DVD is also a disgrace. Only pan and scan, so we only see half of the film, sourced from a poor quality print and then botched in the DVD transfer. Video and audio poor, extras minimal.

    Ever wonder why this DVD was on sale for $7.95? Now you know.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Friday, January 30, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen rear projection TV. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationElektra Theatre 150 Watts x 6 channel Power Amplifier
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Renegade Version is the only way to watch it... - REPLY POSTED
utter lack of sympathy regarding going over budget... - REPLY POSTED
Well... - REPLY POSTED
I got this version as a freebie 18 months ago... -
This is the only movie I've ever walked out on ... - Cassidy (The bionic man)
scotland makes sense - REPLY POSTED
television video transfer? -
Renegade Version now available in R4 -
New version is Director and Producer approved - BruceM (read my bio)