Certainly it's easy to hogpile on the production of "Highlander: The Source" for its litany of offenses, and we'll get to that in a moment; but special attention must be paid to producers Peter Davis and the late William Panzer: two men who have made it their life's work to bleed the "Highlander" saga dry with a continuous display of harebrained sequels and other coin-hungry franchise ephemera. They've taken something that was once rousing and inventive and now have officially driven it right into the ground.
When "The Source," a cosmic place of origin for the Immortals, is located by a warrior, it awakens the curiosity within Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) to consider a chance to end his eternal curse. Teaming up with other Immortals, friend and "Watcher" Joe (Jim Byrnes), and ex-wife Anna (Thekla Reuten), Duncan's efforts to locate The Source are thwarted by the Guardian (Cristian Solimeno), a mutated Immortal who's out to stop Duncan and his team from achieving their objective.
"The Source" is noteworthy for being the first big-screen sequel (the fifth in the series, for those counting at home) to take its cues directly from the cult "Highlander" television show that ran in syndication from 1992-1998. There's no Christopher Lambert to be found here, and the absence of that level of widescreen ambition is immediately noticed. Director Brett Leonard has spent his life trying to position himself as a player in the virtual reality cinema landscape, and that's how he approaches his directorial technique for "The Source." He's made a cheap-looking video game, not a majestic continuance of what was once, at least in 1986, a lean, mean, and operatic action spectacle that introduced a fantasy mythology that radiated potential.
A majority of the problems plaguing "The Source" stem from the efforts the producers have made to yet again shift the focal point of endgame for the Immortals. I'll be fair and admit I haven't sifted through the hundred mutations of "Highlander" lore, but what was once a simple effort to embrace "The Quickening" and "The Gathering" has now turned cosmic and new age with "The Source." It'll make you dizzy trying to drink it all in.
Panzer and Davis have been ruthless trying to find an opening to relaunch Gregory Widen's original screenplay and continue the story of the Immortals, but every new sequel runs into a brick wall of confusion, stupidity, and foolhardy aspirations. "The Source" turns the characters into semi-superheroes, hunting around for people to save; far from the mournful, exhausted secret kings of the planet the Immortals were once envisioned as. The screenplay now has the characters leaping around the frame, engaging in mindless action, forgoing basic logic to arrange a vague notion of continuity to a television series that hasn't been on the air in ten years, to appeal to the remaining fans that have elected to stick around for this, the Hindenburg of genre movie franchises.
Somehow, star Adrian Paul manages to keep his dignity alive in the midst of all the nonsense. What with Queen inside jokes and atrocious Daughtryesque covers of "Princes of the Universe" and "Who Wants to Live Forever?" (a telling sign of the film's reluctance to write checks), effects that are anything but special, and a bulky villain that literally zips around the movie like a dime-store version of the Flash and spits out Jim Carrey-like dialogue more suited for "Ace Ventura 4" (I know the Kurgan, and the Guardian is no Kurgan), it's a miracle that Paul can even stand in the same frame with this malarkey without getting nauseous. Unlike everyone else in the production, Paul at least has some idea how an Immortal should move and suitably lament.
In the corners of "The Source" there are glimpses of the old "Highlander." I enjoyed Duncan's anger over the love he's lost throughout the centuries and his pain when the idea of fatherhood is presented as his ultimate heartbreak. It doesn't take long for Leonard to steamroll over these shadings with visual clutter and limited scope, but for a gasp or two, someone, somewhere was paying attention to the true essence of the series: the despair of facing a life that will never end.
Being a drab, low-tech movie to begin with, the anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation of "The Source" isn't a joyous visual experience. Detail remains strong throughout the transfer, often calling out the poor special effects and last-minute film reconstruction attempts. Colors are muted and black levels are satisfactory.
A 5.1 Dolby Digital mix gets a ton of mileage out of the action sequences, opening up the surround channels during appearances by the Guardian, other sword battles, and moments of destruction. It's a nice, layered track.
"Remembering Bill Panzer" (15 Minutes) is a loving tribute to the fallen producer, retracing his first industry steps and life as the "Highlander" curator. Archival interviews with Panzer make up the majority of this supplement, which, for obvious reasons, is very reverential to the man and labels him "one of the good guys."
"Highlander: The Process" (81 minutes) is an exhaustive, comprehensive look at the making of "The Source," covering the 2005 production in magnificent detail. However, this is "The Source" we're talking about, and it's criminal how much manual labor went into a film that's truly abysmal. Still, there's entertainment value in watching the production money men act like used car salesmen, selling the picture's cross-eyed ambition to anyone who will listen.
It's all here, folks: lighting and costume tests, pre-production discussion, first day of shooting, location work in Lithuania, green-screen work (plenty of that), stunt choreography, press conferences, and general on-set camaraderie. The whole principal photography shebang is offered here, and the detail of the documentary is extraordinary. Every film should receive such a treatment. Too bad the original "Highlander" wasn't offered such a luxurious document of effort.
"Storyboard-to-Scene Comparison" (7 minutes) is a standard series of action moments from the film and how they matched up to their initial conception.
"Highlander Video Game Sneak Peek" (1 minute) is a teaser for the Xbox 360/PS3/PC game due in May. Only cinema scenes are offered here, no gameplay. It looks awful.
A theatrical trailer has not been included.
Stripped of all sense of sword-wielding regality and epic posturing of emotions, "The Source" is nothing less than a parody of what has come before. If you've seen the previous sequels, you already know that's saying something. There is some relief that this franchise will finally be put out of its misery, because nobody in their right mind would try to keep this series going after watching just how boneheaded "Highlander: The Source" is.
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