Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod

Since I'm months behind in reviewing Batman: the Animated Series, I thought I'd go ahead and start a new series of articles on Highlander. Hopefully this will somehow help me get back into Batman, and also let me explore another series I enjoy quite a lot.

Connor and Duncan MacLeod

Highlander began for me, as so many things did, while I was working at BYU while getting my Computer Engineering degree. For most of my time there I had an excellent job that afforded me the opportunity to get lots of studying and homework done, which I instead spent playing video games and watching TV. One of the many tv series introduced to me at that time was Highlander (other shows I became quite interested in or got to see a lot of include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, M.A.S.H., The Practice, Alley McBeal, and probably a few others I'm not remembering at the moment.

I was first introduced to the Series, featuring Duncan MacLeod, but was eventually able to see the original Highlander film (1986), featuring Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod, Sean Connery as Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (a Scotsman pretending to be an Egyptian pretending to be a Spaniard), and Clancy Brown as The Kurgan.

As I remember it, I was rather disappointed with the film, finding it didn't really have the feel of the series with which I was so familiar. It was slow placed, and very moody, and just such a departure from the Series (which came many years later.

Also, the ending was not great, in my opinion, and through the lack of foresight by the writers, neatly and completely tied off every loose end, by having Connor be the final Immortal (after all, In the End, there can be only One), and win The Prize, which was lame: mortality, the ability to sire children (not so lame, as many immortals wished for such a gift), and a telepathic/empathic link with all living things. Also, it was poorly portrayed.

Apparently, the film did well enough, or was interesting enough to spawn a sequel, Highlander II: the Quickening wherein the series went to hell. The Immortals are aliens from a planet called Zeist, having been banished to Earth. Sean Connery's character Ramirez is somehow brought back to life, Connor is somehow a mortal again, some strange cyberpunk doom and gloom of the future (the far future, 1999, being only 8 years after the film was released). Something about an evil Immortal still on Zeist played by Michael Ironside (which could be cool, since he's the voice of Darkseid in Superman: The Animated Series.

Anyway, the film is universally hated, some go so far as to say it is the worst sequel ever, and can never be supplanted, and I think by the time it was released on video there was already an alternate version (or more) that tried to make the thing more palatable to fans of the first film. There was a third film which I won't bother going into.

Back to the original film, I do like Christopher Lambert as Connor, though he seemed to be such a depressed person (which feeling was only reinforced by his appearance in Highlander: Endgame, the fourth of the film series). Of course, he does have a few reasons to be sad with his lot in life, as he lives forever, and everyone else he knows almost invariably dies. Connery was awesome (of course) as Ramirez, and he was a more fun character than Connor for sure, and being close to 2000 years older than Connor he had lots more stories and was more interesting in general. Clancy Brown is scary as hell as The Kurgan, who is so obviously evil and just an all around bad dude, that he's pretty fun to watch. Also, he voiced Lex Luthor in Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League, so that automatically makes him cool. Lambert has been in a bunch of stuff, but I've not seen any of it except the first and fourth Highlander films, and Mortal Kombat, where he's fairly amusing as Lord Rayden.

Somehow or other, a television series came into being. It stars Adrian Paul as Duncan MacLeod, a clansman of Connor MacLeod, from a hundred years or so later. It stars with him having distanced himself from The Game to pursue a normal life, living with a normal woman, wanting to grow old with her. However, The Game intrudes upon his chosen life, and he must take up his sword again, helping to weed out the evil Immortals who would use the power of The Gift to dominate and subjugate humanity.

Each episode crosses Duncan with another Immortal (awfully numerous they are, compared to the original film) who for one reason or another, Duncan must kill. Most often they are evil in some way, but there was quite a few variations on the theme, and the occasional non-Immortal episode at all. Towards the end Duncan even got to face off with something that can only be described as The First (Evil) from Buffy the Vampire Slayer who can take on the form of those that are dead, and is trying to convince Duncan to join its side. Throughout the course of the episode we saw flashbacks to earlier parts of Duncan's life (or the other Immortals occasionally) which have bearing on the current predicament, be it previous encounters with the Immortal of the week, or some experience that taught Duncan a lesson of some kind.

There are several recurring characters, both Immortal and not, some of note are Joe Dawson, Duncan's Watcher (Watcher? Maybe we ARE watching Buffy.), and Methos, one of the oldest Immortals (so old, he's not even sure how old he is, he says around 5000 years, as that's about as far back as he remembers, and of course, Richie.

The series spawned two movie sequels, Highlander: Endgame which brought back Christopher Lambert as Connor MacLeod, who eventually gave his head to Duncan, a move which sorta made sense in the movie, but still kinda galls me, and Highlander: The Source in which they were going to find the Source of the Immortals, but which advance reviews of were so terrible that I haven't bothered seeing it.

It also spun off a television series, Highlander: The Raven, starring Elizabeth Gracen as Amanda (a friend/lover/associate of Duncan). I really enjoyed The Raven, and was disappointed to learn it only made it one season.

There was an animated Internet series based on Methos that ran eight episodes, which I should see someday, and there was talk of a live action series, but nothing ever came of it.

Back to Highlander, the series ran for six seasons, Oct 3, 1992 to May 16, 1998, for 119 episodes. According to Wikipedia it starred Adrian Paul (Duncan), Alexandra Vandernoot (Tessa Noël), Stan Kirsch (Richie Ryan), Amanda Wyss (Randi McFarlane), Jim Byrnes (Joe Dawson), Philip Akin (Charlie DeSalvo), Michel Modo (Maurice), Lisa Howard (Anne Lindsey), Elizabeth Gracen (Amanda), Peter Wingfield (Methos). It takes place primarily in Seattle, Washington, Vancouver, British Colombia and Paris, France. The first half of each season generally occurred in Seacouver (so called because it was filmed in both Seattle and Vancouver), then switched to Paris for the remainder, with flashbacks taking place all over the world.

The theme song is Princes of the Universe by Queen, and several other Queen songs appear throughout the show. Now, in general, I dislike Queen, but I really love the theme song, as well as Who Wants to Live Forever? and the mood they convey about the life of an Immortal. Princes is an upbeat anthem, and really fits the fight scenes it's paired with in the opening sequence, while Who Wants to Live Forever? really emphasizes the loneliness of someone who lives to see all their loved ones age and die, over and over again.

One last thing to mention. Bob Anderson. The man behind countless sword fights throughout movie history. Among the many influential movies he's been involved in are: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back as an Imperial Officer and Vader's Stunt Double, Star Wars (A New Hope), Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, The Guns of Navarone, From Russia With Love, Casino Royal (1967), Superman II, Highlander (1986), The Princess Bride, The Three Musketeers (1993), The Phantom, The Mask of Zorro, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, and more, in the capacity of Stunts, Stunt Double, Fight Arranger and Sword Master. The guy is awesome, and the fact that he was turned 80 while working on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy while training a main cast of 9 actors, plus hundreds of stunt fighters is amazing.

One more last thing. Pictured above are the three Official Highlander Katana Replicas. The sword are made by Marto of Spain, and used a previously existing design. The one in the middle is Connor MacLeod's katana, the one he inherited from Ramirez. If I recall correctly (and come on, you know I'm a big enough nerd to remember reading this a couple of years ago), the TV series was originally going to be about Connor, but for whatever reason it was changed to be a clansman of his (so he could still be a Highlander from the Highlands of Scotland).

Anyway, they contrived some reason that Duncan should have a katana of similar make to Connor's, and even based it on the same sword. Both swords have the same hilt (arranged so the when the dragon heads are oriented the same (as in my pictures) they are showing opposite sides of the hilt, with a dragon head attached to the end, with Connor's also getting a serpentine body wrapping around part of the hilt. The tsuba (handguard) of Duncan's sword has two roosters encircling it, and is bronze, while Connor's is gold and just has a nifty design.

As you may notice, there are actually three swords in the above picture, with the two outside swords "belonging" to Duncan. I don't remember if it was right from the outset, or if sometime during the life of the show someone designed the nifty dragon hilt of the top sword, to be Duncan's Official Sword (I believe the replica is marketed as the Official Dragon Sword), but he didn't like the feel of the hilt, the unevenness of it compared to the hilt used on Connor's sword, for swordplay, and so elected to use (or keep using, whatever) the sword based on Connor's. But since it was already designed, somebody decided a replica should be released and see how many suckers would pay the retail of $330-ish for it. Not me, I got a good deal on it on eBay and paid around $100. I quite like the design, and the feel of it in my hands, but I'm no swordsman, so I don't know which I would prefer to use if I were.

I love all three swords, and while I much prefer the shiny gold and neat design of Connor's sword's tsuba, I prefer the dragon head on Duncan's katana, and the heavier (darker) emphasis on the detailing of the hilt, and it's the one he actually used in the series, but the Official Dragon Sword is my favorite of the hilt designs, and if for some horrible reason I was constrained to get rid of two of them, I'd probably still keep the one Duncan used in the show.

Duncan's Katana on the left, Connor's on the right.

Remember Kids: There can be only One! Unless you want to have sequels and maybe a TV series or two.

14 comments:

Marissa said...

The swords are pretty cool. I remember them being about $150 each, not $100. (of course, I'm probably wrong)
The pictures do a good job of showing the great detail.

Marissa said...

When Katie saw these pictures, she got all excited because those were Dad's swords!

Anonymous said...

Great picture of those Katana.

Actually, out of my experience, if I had to pick one of the Katanas for use, I´d rather go for Duncan´s. I only can judge here by look and not by balance, weight or actual handling.

Why would I prefer that one? Because the hilt is a rather even one all over the complete length, the dragonhead top of the hilt is the one that seems to offer the most convinient feel to the palm of a hand (to push the sword forward additionally by the palm of the hand that doesn´t grab the hilt - Duncan actually did this some times during the fights. I never would like to make such moves with Connor´s - ouch, that one would rather pierce the palm and lead to a very weak move).
I´d say Duncan´s offers the preconditions for the smoothest moves.
Besides, I rather like the more authentic look of the bronze tsuba.

(And I need to mention I have a great regard for Bob Anderson, the one and only Silverblade)

Anonymous said...

I always liked Connor's sword, which I read somewhere is supposed to be a lion's head or something. I rather liked the original film, which I saw before I even knew of the series, but the series is rather cool. Duncan has a cool sword of his own, and the second sword - which as you mentioned Adrian Paul didn't care for - is pictured on certain posters and the DVD cover of "Endgame". I really want both the fake and real versions of all three swords.

Todd Unwin said...

I refuse to acknowledge that top sword as a Highlander sword. Was used or filmed so it doesn't exist to me.

Don't know about a Methos animated show but the Highlander: The Animated Series was from Canada and went 2 seasons. It was about Quentin Macleod. The third one of the clan Macleod to become immortal.

Todd Unwin said...

Sorry, wasn't used or filmed

ryanlb said...

Geez, I really wrote far too much in this post, didn't I?

I'm pretty sure it was used on screen at least for a few episodes of Season One, but I haven't watched it in several years, and I'm not bothering to look on Wikipedia.

Quentin MacLeod said...

I had both Highlander katanas Duncan's before Connor's. Both had a golden hand guards. Then I had to move so I had to down size things I could take with. After seeing this I am cocidering some day to search out the Highlander katanas and buy 'em. Another sword but from Rurouni Kenshin is his Sakabatou katana.

Quentin MacLeod said...

As for the swords pictured above, the middle (Connor's) & the bottom (Duncan's) were respectfully used according to the movies/series. I used to get the Highlander catalog back then and clearly remember the top sword dubbed as "Duncan's" katana, yea right what ever because it never looked like the one used in the series nor the crossover movies.
It would be very unique if either or both of Duncan's / Connor's swords would have a hardened resin handle with pin not the cheep ass molded shell handles like the ones I had. Those would be keepers for sure.

Quentin MacLeod said...

Back then in the same time period, I also had a Noble Collection catalog that had a black handled katana with the creature holding onto a black ball supposedly a crystal ball with a humanoid like head probably a demon rather a dragon for the handle design. If Kane's sword from Highlander the Final Demention, it sure could be collected as Kane's katana.

Quentin MacLeod said...

Back then in the same time period, I also had a Noble Collection catalog that had a black handled katana with the creature holding onto a black ball supposedly a crystal ball with a humanoid like head probably a demon rather a dragon for the handle design. If Kane's sword from Highlander the Final Demention, it sure could be collected as Kane's katana.

Quentin MacLeod said...

As for the swords pictured above, the middle (Connor's) & the bottom (Duncan's) were respectfully used according to the movies/series. I used to get the Highlander catalog back then and clearly remember the top sword dubbed as "Duncan's" katana, yea right what ever because it never looked like the one used in the series nor the crossover movies.
It would be very unique if either or both of Duncan's / Connor's swords would have a hardened resin handle with pin not the cheep ass molded shell handles like the ones I had. Those would be keepers for sure.

Quentin MacLeod said...

I had both Highlander katanas Duncan's before Connor's. Both had a golden hand guards. Then I had to move so I had to down size things I could take with. After seeing this I am cocidering some day to search out the Highlander katanas and buy 'em. Another sword but from Rurouni Kenshin is his Sakabatou katana.

Quentin MacLeod said...

I had both Highlander katanas Duncan's before Connor's. Both had a golden hand guards. Then I had to move so I had to down size things I could take with. After seeing this I am cocidering some day to search out the Highlander katanas and buy 'em. Another sword but from Rurouni Kenshin is his Sakabatou katana.