Highlander: Search for Vengeance (DVD film, 2007)
Oh dear, why can’t they leave poor Highlander alone? First film brilliant, the rest, well, not so much. Although this anime is actually quite good. Better than Highlander: The Source, at any rate.
This piece includes an interview with writer David Abramowitz. From Death Ray 3.
Film: THREE STARS Extras: TWO
2007/ 80 mins/ £16.99
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Writer: David Abramowitz
The Highlander franchise continues its jerky corpse-dance, like a zombie being cruelly poked with sticks. Why they couldn’t just leave Highlander alone after the first film is unfathomable – it was, after all, an almost totally self-contained a story. I’m not a fan of the follow-ups, though the series has its adherents. They all just seem to spoil what would otherwise be a great cult film.
However, this anime take has a few good things going for it. First off, the broader Highlander idea, though a bit of a cobbled together narrative monstrosity, is a robust one, and can accommodate this sideshow to the Clan Macleod story – Colin, a Celtic warrior from the second century AD, has spent 2000 years hunting another immortal, the Roman Marcus, for crucifying his girlfriend. The big problem for Colin is that he’s let his quest for vengeance dominate him to such an extent that he’s not been after the prize, and is consequently much weaker than Marcus, who has roundly thrashes him at every meeting (though why Marcus hasn’t dispatched him long ago remains a mystery). Animation also allows lots of spectacular flashbacks, one of Highlander‘s biggest strengths.
Secondly, this is a film by Kawajiri, a respected director who is expert at putting top action on screen. Visually, this is very good anime. It’s also good to see another eastern cartoon where you can follow the story, rather than squeaking ‘Eh?’ at an endless barrage of unfamiliar cultural references.
Still, it’s dreadfully cliched, both in terms of fantasy (wizard-like spirit mentor, oaths of honour, ludicrous coincidences), and anime (girl living in a sewer wears PVC and stockings all the time). It also suffers from the problems that all Highlander projects do in that it doesn’t really make any sense in the context of the story as set out in the original movie. But enjoy it as a dazzlingly directed anime sword-fest and you can’t go wrong.
Extras The finished disc will include an interview with Kawajiri, a photo montage and the original teaser trailer. These weren’t on the disc we reviewed, so we can’t tell you’re what they’re like.
Did you know…?
The film depicts a Roman-era battle between Colin and Marcus where both ride horses equipped with stirrups. This is a common mistake in fiction – stirrups were not introduced into Europe until after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century.
David Abramowitz is the man behind the script of the new Highlander anime. He’s had a long attachment to the franchise, being a producer and writer on the series. He’s also one of the writers on the yet-to-be released film Highlander: The Source (out in September, 2007).
GH Highlander has a very complex and contradictory chronology, what with the film, its sequel, the series and two other sequels that followed on from the series and the first film, but not Highlander II – how do you approach that in the anime Highlander? Where does it fit in to the Highlander universe?
DA There are also comic books! I like to think that each forms exists in a separate but equal universe where sometimes there can be some form of intersection. In some cases the chronology and ‘The Rules’ of Immortality were bent a little. I tried to keep both as straight as possible.
I think the anime fits somewhere between the first movie and the TV series. It’s like the movie because the story follows the life and loves of a single immortal as he moves through history. It’s like the TV series because it is based on a theme. In this case, it is the price and value of vengeance. Steve Gagin the first production designer on the TV series said that Highlander was a Talmudic discussion with ass-kicking. When we were at our best, I think he was right.
GH This anime has been described as the true successor to the original film. Why do you think that is?
DA First…I’m flattered. They have similar structures and use flashbacks in the same way, they are both mano a mano movies with clear singular bad guys – the first movie had the Kurgan a larger than life villain, the anime has Marcus. Both heroes learned about the pain of Immortality from a wise and colorful but sometimes irreverent character. They both lose the love of their lives early only to find them later in the final conflict with the villain.
GH The film is very much an anime, as opposed to a western animation. Do you think anime is a more suitable manner of telling this story than a US cartoon?
DA Hard to say, but I do think the stylized violence of Anime fits Highlander better.
GH The story-telling traditions of the far east can be different to those we employ in the west. How was it working with these differences in approach?
DA I haven’t read many anime scripts, so I really don’t know. There were differences between myself and the director. Some were cultural, others were of creative judgement. We had a reasonable give and take, but in the end it is the director’s movie.
GH Do you think we’ll be seeing more Highlander anime?
DA I hope so…I think so…I’m working on a concept now…
GH Will there ever be another Highlander live-action project, do you think?
DA I have no idea…There is talk about another TV series involving an Immortal who is 3,000 years old. but only looks 16 and can’t buy a beer. Hopefully it will happen. I believe it’s a great franchise and still has legs.