Monday, March 27, 2017

Highlander: "The Gathering"

I am Duncan MacLeod, born 400 years ago in the highlands of Scotland. I am Immortal, and I am not alone. For centuries we have waited for the time of the Gathering, when the stroke of a sword and the fall of a head will release the power of the Quickening. In the end, there can be only one.

Thus begins the opening of each episode of Highlander: The Series, which leads into the song Princes of the Universe by the band Queen. This is all quite familiar because the movie Highlander begins with similar text and the same song, although the TV show edits the song to emphasize the heavier aspects of the track, which is unusual given that heavy metal was quickly falling out of favor in the pop world of 1992. Of course, the track is timeless (or immortal, if you will), so it works in any era. The original movie was basically an open and shut case, storywise, but given the cult popularity of the film, it led into this series as well as two sequels, the third of which was released around the same time as the show.

The film featured Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, while the series featured Duncan, born 100 years later in the same clan. The series premiere decided to guest Connor (fairly recognizable French/American actor Christopher Lambert) to bridge the gap between movie and series, which is odd because officially(?) the movies exist in an alternative universe from the series...and then lmuch ater on, there was a movie with both MacLeods, and at one point there was a Highlander cartoon set in the future, I think...essentially, the Highlander universe is more convoluted than the X-Men universe.

We'll put all that aside. The series premiere was feature length, about 90 minutes long, and directed by Thomas J. Wright, a TV sci fi veteran last known for working on Castle. It was written by Dan Gordon, who was hot off co-writing the Wesley Snipes vehicle Passenger 57. They fairly effectively spun the TV universe out of the movie one, by suggesting the time of the Gathering was larger in scope than initially realized in 1986.

The show lays out the major players, which includes Duncan (Adrian Paul) and his girlfriend, Tessa Noel, a French character played by Belgian actress Alexandra Vandernoot. It's not clear if the producers assumed North American audiences couldn't tell the difference, but in reality, we can't. Vandernoot didn't have much of a prolific career, but I won't judge; maybe she didn't want one. Richie Ryan is also introduced as a young vagabond, played by Stan Kirsch, also of nothing inparticular; his career went silent in 2005.

A Kurgan-esque (see the first movie) villain by the name of Slan Quince comes hunting for Duncan, who is in turn being hunted by Connor. Quince is played by Richard Moll of Night Court fame, but his performance leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn't even look like he's enjoying the role. Lambert, on the other hand, offers his usual charm and brings the movie character to life for the small screen, reminding us how great and ridiculous Connor MacLeod is as a character.

Ritchie breaks into the antique store run by Duncan and Tessa, sees a big sword fight between Slan and the MacLeods, and freaks out but remains intrigued after Duncan refuses to press charges. After a lot of sweaty practice fights between Connor and Duncan, which appear to take place in a sawdust factory, Connor knocks Duncan out to go fight Slan. Connor is winning the fight until Slan cheats with some kind of sword-gun, but Duncan shows up and - SPOILERS - wins. The best part about this series is that the sword fights are usually pretty good, and there's usually a decapitation. Slan is killed by this method, as it is the only way to kill an immortal, and Duncan takes his life force or whatever the nebulously defined energy is that one immortal absorbs after killing another.

The movies and series are plagued by ill-defined rules and concepts, but if you let your mind go, it's OK. After the fight ends, Duncan goes looking for Connor, which apparently takes all night, as he drags him out of the water during sunrise. So...maybe 6 hours? In any event, the MacLeods see Ritchie watching, and basically that means he becomes the kid sidekick for the series.

Finally, one more note - there is a police officer named Sgt. Powell, played by Wendell Wright, a minor character actor who has appeared in many projects over the decades. You may not recognize him, as he plays minor roles like "Economist #1" and "1st Cop." Sgt. Powell will appear in two more episodes and then disappear forever.

Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
Forever is our today
Who lives forever anyway?

1 comment:

Gorilla Bananas said...

I seem to remember a computer game based on this show. It must have involved a lot of sword fighting.