A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the abundant violence in this fantasy includes, most famously, the bloody beheading of several characters via swords. Other characters, some gifted with miraculous healing powers, others not so lucky, are stabbed, shot, slashed, impaled, beaten, drowned, etc. There is one darkened sex scene montage and hints of prostitution. Some scenes involve immortals indulging themselves in dangerous and reckless behavior, including one getting repeatedly stabbed while drunk (immortals do seem to enjoy their liquor). This inspired a series of movies, some (like the first sequel) going further with nudity and profanity than this one does.
What's the story?
In modern Manhattan, a youngish antiques dealer (Christopher Lambert) confronts a challenger in a parking garage of Madison Square and beheads him in a ritualistic swordfight. Flashbacks reveal this extraordinary duelist was born Connor Macleod, in Scotland in 1518, and is heir to a mysterious, spontaneous condition of virtual immortality. He and the scattered few like him, hailing from all around the world, never age, have children, or ordinarily die, and can only be slain via decapitation in personal combat; then the winner gains a mystic boost from the victim's life force. The ultimate victor remaining after these fights will be endowed with all the power, and this climax is now being reached in NYC. As frustrated cops puzzle over the murder and paranormal mayhem and a pretty forensics scientist gets close to the truth, Macleod faces an old, old adversary, a gleefully wicked immortal called the Kurgan (Clancy Brown), who desires to be the only one left.
Is it any good?
Acting and action are properly bigger-than-life here. With rock-operatic flash reminiscent of MTV music videos (believe it or not, still a fresh idea in 1986 A.D.) and a compelling, time-jumping premise, HIGHLANDER managed to appeal to worshippers of Queen music, sci-fi f/x fans, and those medieval-costumed re-enactor types whose idea of a romantic weekend is staging Robin Hood-esque antics. One memorable clash completely knocks down a stone castle.
While there is a compelling theme of how the gift of immortality could feel more like a curse (having to lose all your loved ones), you wish more thought had gone into laying out the subculture of these immortals in detail. The sequel, Highlander 2: The Quickening, was so lame (turns out they're...aliens! Huh?) that the filmmakers apologetically re-shot and re-released a Highlander 2: Renegade Director's Cut that made measurable improvements and is the preferred home-viewing choice. Also on DVD: a Highlander TV series, starring Adrian Paul as a different Macleod (Christopher Lambert made guest appearances) that more fully explored the mythology, added the bonus of female immortals, and toned down the bloodshed and swearing. A 2007 Japanese-animated Highlander spin-off also exists.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the dilemma of immortality that this premise sets up. How would an immortal be expected to behave living through the centuries, watching loved ones die and the world change? You might research legends and folklore about "real" immortals, like the Wandering Jew and Saint-Germain. Some of the brighter vampire movies (and the Harry Potter stories) are concerned with the pursuit of immortality at any price as well. Ask kids what they would do with (or for) eternal life, and what are their favorite fictional treatments of this theme.
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