Highlander comes to Blu-ray with a brand new theatrically correct 1080P picturein a 1.85:1 ratio. I have probably reviewed this film more than any other over my years as a reviewer on various sites. I reviewed the original US DVD, the US immortal edition DVD, and the UK immortal edition. When writing about the latter I still remember clearly to this day writing the following :
Highlander will never look good on any home format. The inherent problems with the grain level and the way the film is shot means that it will always only look passable. The film was low budget and it shows. This will be the best the film will ever look, but it is still a pretty disastrous picture.
Well, ladies and gentleman I have to eat my words. From the first frame to the very last this new transfer of Highlander brings the film to life in a way that has simply not been possible before. In fact I would go so far as to say if there is anyone in your life who has ever said “I can't see the advantages of Blu-ray” you need to show them the DVD of this and then the Blu-ray.
From the moment the distinctive red on black credits appear on the screen at the start it is obvious just how much of an upgrade this disc is. Gone is the grain present in all previous releases, to be replaced with a crystal clear font. This is carried over to the first wrestling scene. Detail simply pops out of the screen from every frame, and as someone who has seen this film many times before - I was simply not prepared for the level of detail present here. Every manic face, lost in the lust of the faux battle in front of them, is clear and their expressions can be seen. As the camera pans across the ceiling of the massive stadium, twirling and spinning, there is no motion blur at all, and the depth of detail is just breathtaking.
This depth and detail is even more obvious in the highland scenes. The vistas disappear into the distance behind the action, the colour never losing its vibrancy, the action never becoming indistinct in the foreground however many enemies are battling. The colours are so vibrant it is unbelievable - blood spurting in crimson arcs, every stitch in the uniforms clearly visible.
Now, it has to be said that if you are not a veteran of previous Highlander releases you may not understand why I am waxing so lyrical about this transfer. But anyone who has seen the film before, I am confident will be completely blown away by what Optimum have achieved here. Despite my long experience with Blu-rays, I can honestly never say up to now I have seen a long cherished movie with completely new eyes. But I have here.
Black levels are deep and inky, and the contrast simply pops compared with what we have seen before. The vibrant colour is present all through the film - the New York scenes present a hitherto unexpected neon nightmare. Look, for example, at the scene where the Vigilante is hunting the Immortals. Look at the detail on his car, look at the brightness of the neo signs. Phenomenal stuff.
So, the perfect transfer then? Well, it is as near as dammit - but there are still flaws and I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't point them out. Take the central park scene where Macleod meets Castigear. This is like a microcosm of the transfer in one scene. The long shots reveal the depth to the image, the detail in the bridge they are standing on, and the close up shots reveal the details in their faces. But then, we cut back to one final long-shot and the level of grain is suddenly prevalent and distracting. It is a very brief scene, and the flaw only pops up very briefly in other scenes as well - but it is noticeable..
Having said this, however, I really cannot praise this transfer highly enough. Very rarely do I say without any shadow of a doubt in these credit crunch times that existing owners should upgrade. But the picture alone is absolutely worth it. But will the sound live up to the level of the picture?
Optimum present us with a DTS HD Master Audio track for this Blu-ray and oh boy does this offer a significant upgrade again!
From start to finish sound is meticulously placed and steered. Dialogue is always clear, and easy to hear - and well anchored to the front speaker. The front stereo separation is wide and expansive, really allowing the viewer to hear details in the mix that had not been heard before.
The rears also are used extensively throughout the film - whether it be for ambient noise during battle, right up to background sounds of the city outside Brenda's apartment. The beauty of the rear use in this mix is how directional it is. A great example of this is in the aforementioned central park scene on the bridge. Cyclists zoom past the characters, and you can hear them going off into the distance, perfectly placed right and left of your viewing position. There are many wonderful subtle moments like this.
Again my praise does have a caveat, and in this case it is that there is a certain muffled quality to the sound. This is present all the way through and is present all through the dynamic range. People who are coming new to the film will feel this means the mix is not that good at all, but those of us who have seen previous versions will again realise what a sterling job has been done here. Just as much as visually it is like watching a new film, it is also like listening to it afresh. Quite simply the dynamism, the reality of the mix, is so far ahead of anything we have heard before.
Optimum present us with all the extras that appeared on the original immortal edition and then round the package off with some enticing extra features exclusive to Blu-ray - including deleted scenes which are something of a holy grail for Highlander fans. In fact, the only thing missing are the Queen videos that were on the original Queen edition on R1 DVD, and the extra Queen CD that was included in that package which also included an exclusive extended mix of One Year Of Love. It is a shame these are missing, but it is a bit churlish to complain when you consider what we do get.
We kick off with a three part documentary on the making of Highlander. Divided into three parts A Legend Is Born, The Visual Style, and A Strong Woman. This has German titles, but plays in English. It certainly offers and in depth look at the film, lasting 1 hour and 25 minutes and offering lots of fascinating insights along the way. You can choose to watch each segment individually or watch the whole film. Anyone who still needs convincing about the quality of the upgrade can watch the extracts in this documentary and see exactly how poor previous versions have looked. The documentary doesn't go into a huge amount of detail about the troubles of the production, but certainly does tell us a lot about the genesis of the project. This is well worth a watch.
Next, we have An interview with Christoph Lambert. Running eight minutes, and conducted in French with subtitles, this gives Lambert's interesting if rather brief perspective on the film.
Then we have a commentary with Mulcahy who is an entertaining guide into the world that he has presented on screen, and a trailer.
And then to the deleted scenes. When Optimum were preparing this disc from a brand new master, they found something that had long been rumoured but never seen - extensions of existing scenes. These had no sound, so what they have done is presented them here with musical backgrounds. I am not going to go into great detail as to what they contain, as I have no wish to spoil them for fans. But they are certainly well worth checking out.
And there we have it. Or do we? Well, not exactly. I was playing around with my disc, and as the German releases were famous in the past for being Highlander mad I wondered if there might be anything extra if I chose German as my option. To my amazement - there is an extra option on the menu which is not present on the English version. As of yet, I have not seen this mentioned anywhere else. This option seems to be some kind of BD-Live Highlander content. Sadly, I have yet to connect my new player up to the internet (it is a long way from my modem) so I have been unable to check this option out. Please rest assured that I plan to do so asap and I will update this review as soon as I have.
So, is Highlander worthy of a purchase, and is it worthy of an upgrade? Personally I find the film an endlessly rewatchable mix of violence, beauty, and emotion. It may be rather silly in places but this only adds to the charm in my opinion. If you have never had the pleasure of watching the film, then you can really do a lot worse than pick a copy of this up.
The audio and visual upgrade is quite simply the biggest jump I have yet seen between SD and HD in my reviewing career. There may be flaws here, and someone coming to the film afresh may not see what all the fuss is about, but if you have grown up with the film on DVD - prepare to be blown away by what is presented here. I have said this several times during my review, but you will really feel like you are watching and listening to the film for the first time. It is that much of an improvement.
All the extras from the original Optimum releases are here, and the whole package is presented in an attractive steel book with the summer edition of the Optimum mini-magazine included.
Any fan of the film should rush out and buy this new version immediately, and any fan of the fantasy genre who has yet had the pleasure should really take the plunge. You are likely to be glad you did.
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