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If you thought “Highlander 2: The Quickening” was astounding in its ability to be utterly incoherent and incomprehensible, wait until you get a load of “Highlander: The Source”, the fifth installment in the neverending franchise about immortal swordsmen determined to take each other’s heads so that the last man standing may become “the one”. Of course “the one” was supposed to have emerged at the end of 1986′s “Highlander”, with Christopher Lambert’s Connor Macleod bestowed the title. Supposedly. That was before the box office receipts came in. Enter 1991′s “Highlander 2: The Quickening”, where all that had come before was discarded in favor of a convoluted theory that posited the Immortals as having actually hailed from another planet, and given their immortality thanks to some form of punishment. I kid you not.
“The Quickening” was a disaster with fans, being equally dismissive of the original and basic human logic, but did prove that there was a fan base ready to lap out further “Highlander” adventures. This resulted in the creation of a syndicated action-adventure TV series, this time starring another Immortal named Duncan Macleod, played by Adrian Paul. The series proved a success, counting six full seasons and a failed spin-off among its accomplishments. With the series in mid-stream, “Highlander 3: The Sorcerer” continued the big screen adventures of Lambert’s Connor Macleod. To no one’s surprise, part three in the franchise jettisoned all the foolishness that had occurred in “The Quickening”, treating the previous sequel similar to how the musical Jackson family treats Black Sheep daughter LaToya — ignore it, never mention it, and maybe it’ll go away.
“Highlander” the series ended its 6-year run in 1998, and fans were ready for Duncan Macleod and star Adrian Paul to pick up his further adventurings on the big screen, supplanting Conner (and Lambert) as the movie’s #1 immortal. The much anticipated passing of the torch took place in 2000′s “Highlander: Endgame”, where Lambert’s Highlander was killed off to make room for Paul’s Highlander to assume the mantle of moviedom’s only Highlander. Alas, poor box office receipts, helped in no small part by a convoluted and terrible script, would seem to indicate that the franchise was headed for the junk heap. Then, years after “Endgame”, rumblings of a fifth “Highlander” film surfaced, one that would continue the big screen adventures of Duncan Macleod. And so, “Highlander: The Source” came to be…
On “The Source’s” official website, franchise producer Peter Davis refers to the version of “The Source” that I am reviewing today as “not the final producers’ version of the film”. But apparently it was a “final” enough version that the DVD was pressed and shipped to Russia, arriving as a Region 5 DVD before making its way to eBay, where a copy found its way into my DVD player for full price. (I’m so gullible.) So what exactly has five years of “Highlander” nothingness (the film having been completed late 2005) brought us? Sadly, I must say not a whole lot. In short: “Highlander: The Source” makes “The Quickening” look like a work of sheer genius. Yes, it is that bad. And yes, it will quickly put an end to “Highlander” as a viable franchise, because there will be no new fans generated from this latest installment, and it’s open to debate if even the hardcore fans will not jump ship.
“The Source” opens, according to the caption, somewhere in the near future, in Eastern Europe. (The dollar goes far in Eastern Europe, doncha know.) Duncan Macleod is a shell of his former self, taken to perching on building rooftops to watch what appears to be the fall of civilization. Well, the fall of civilization “somewhere in Eastern Europe”, anyway. It seems our Highlander is in a bit of a funk, his wife Anna (Thekla Reuten) having left him sometime ago for reasons she fails to divulge. Despondent, our Highlander spends his nights scoping potential crimes and pulling a Batman, except Adrian Paul is not the Adrian Paul of 1992, so the martial arts isn’t as crisp, the moves not as fast, and Paul not as badass.
Immortal business re-emerges in our hero’s life when an Immortal uncovers the secret location of The Source, the Holy Grail for Immortals, as it is believed to be the source of an Immortal’s immortality. (Hence the name, I would imagine.) But as with all good things, this very good thing is guarded by the appropriately named The Guardian (Cristian Solimeno), a wise-cracking, Jim Carrey wannabe who first appears like some nightmare out of Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator”, only to devolve into a bogeyman for the remainder of the film. And oh yeah, he’s really, really fast. I mean, literally. The guy moves like The Flash of comic book fame.
(Which is good news for those like myself still holding out for a Flash movie. If nothing else, at least we know that film technology has improved so much that the “speed” effect is quite cool and doable, even for a moderately budgeted film like “The Source”. Can you imagine what Hollywood dollars could pull off? But I’m digressing.)
Where was I? Oh, right. Duncan Macleod and his fellow Immortals, counting among them the legendary Methos (Peter Wingfield), rumored to be the oldest living Immortal (but apparently not, which we learn when the Guardian’s past is revealed), geek Reggie (Stephen Wight), who may be a Brit or a Scots judging by the accent, mortal ex-Watcher Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes), whose Watcher organization has apparently been disbanded, and last but not least, church man Giovanni (Thom Fell). Being a man of the cloth, we know that poor Giovanni is destined to show a very unfavorable light of himself. Remember, having a self-righteous man of the cloth (especially one with Giovanni’s hair) in your movie is akin to having a child molester in your movie — sooner or later he’s bound to prove himself a bad dude to hang out with. It’s a Hollywood Screenwriting law, doncha know.
Suffice to say, Duncan is soon reunited with his wayward wife, they end up on an island somewhere, and apparently the cosmos are, literally, lining up. Now you would think such a never-before-seen (and nay, improbable) cosmological event would draw worldwide attention, but apparently not. It seems only Reggie and his computer is aware of it. Man, astrology in the “near future” sucks. In any case, the Guardian begins to pick the party off one by one, and for a while I was convinced that director Brett Leonard (“Man-Thing”) had convinced himself he was making a horror movie. But no, this is still a Highlander movie. Well, sort of.
It would probably not surprise you to learn that “Highlander: The Source” is a terribly tedious bore with few redeeming qualities. In fact, quite possibly the only reason one should even pay attention to the film’s plot as it meanders from one listless plot point to another is the sheer incoherence of the whole thing. How could a film made by professionals, and directed by a man who has over 11 motion pictures to his credit, be such an utterly confusing mess? Even at barely 90 minutes, “The Source” is a chore to sit through, perhaps saved only by its final 10 minutes or so, where the walls of even the thinnest shred of movie logic crumbles in a final, grand, and babbling duel between Duncan and the Guardian, where the two men run around at super speed. The whole thing actually looks even more absurd than it sounds.
Even the one element that you could always count on from the “Highlander” films — its action — has been reduced to tragically unconvincing by-the-numbers fight choreography. At its worst, even the TV series could get by with decent action thanks to star Adrian Paul’s physicality, and the fact that the man really did seem to know what he was doing with his hands, feet, and yes, sword. Not the case here. Paul has either forgotten all of his martial arts and sword training in the intervening 5 years between “Endgame” and “The Source”, or Leonard can’t shoot convincing swordplay to save his life. I’m betting on the latter, as it seems implausible that Adrian Paul could possibly have forgotten what goes into making a convincing swordfight after 6 years on the TV series. Then again, having a villain that runs around at super speed probably required Paul and the cast to “sword fight” with a green screen much of the time.
Still, there are deeper problems with “The Source” that Davis and company will not be able to fix no matter how long they work on this thing in post. First and foremost is the script by Mark Bradley and Stephen Watkins, which is, generously speaking, hopelessly beyond salvaging. As was the case with “Endgame”, much of “The Source” feels like an extended 2-hour TV episode, stitched together with episodic adventures that inevitably get wrapped up with a rushed ending. The film never gets off to a good start, with poor background on why the loss of Anna would affect Macleod so much, or at least, any more than Macleod’s past loves — and the man has had plenty. It doesn’t help that Paul and Reuten have no chemistry.
I can’t see fans of the “Highlander” franchise being very pleased with “The Source”. The unanimous reaction should be, “Five years of waiting (plus two more for production and post), and this is all we get?” According to Davis, his “producer’s version” will be different from the Russian version. A case of unjustified hope springing unfathomably eternal, perhaps? How much extra footage can he add, and how many scenes can be moved, or remove, that would improve on this version? The problem with “The Source” isn’t so much a lack of clarity, but a general, overwhelming feeling of lack of purpose coupled with unconvincing storytelling. The script is highly suspect, the direction by Brett Leonard is listless, and try as he might, and despite my fondness for the TV series, Adrian Paul just doesn’t have the look of a man who has been waiting 7 years to finally get the “Highlander” franchise back on its feet.
It’s dead, folks. Stick a sword in it and let’s call it a day. Maybe Hollywood can pull one of their superfluous “re-imaginings” on the franchise. And this time, maybe they can actually put a couple of brain cells together and make sure the sequels actually have a shred of credibility. Or, at the very lease, save the aliens for another movie.
(Note 9/17/07: IMDB.com’s listings for the film’s writers have changed. Parts of the review and the below credit listing reflects this.)
Brett Leonard (director) / Mark Bradley, Stephen Kelvin Watkins (screenplay)
CAST: Adrian Paul … Duncan MacLeod
Peter Wingfield … Methos
Thekla Reuten … Anna
Jim Byrnes … Joe Dawson
Thom Fell … Giovanni
Cristian Solimeno … The Guardian
Stephen Wight … Reggie