Movie: "He is immortal. Born in the highlands of Scotland 400 years ago. He is not alone. There are others like him; some good, some evil. For centuries, he has battled the forces of darkness with holy ground his only refuge. He cannot die unless you take his head and with it, his power. In the end, there can be only one. He is Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander." These were the words in the prologue of a series known as Highlander from the early to mid 1990's. The show was a spin off of a cult classic movie starring Christopher Lambert, which followed the exploits of Duncan MacLeod, a manly man from Scotland who dies and comes back to life, learning that he's an immortal. There are other immortals and they can sense the presence of one another by virtue of a sixth sense. In their world, the immortals are engaged in a contest of sorts, one where only one of them will survive. They engage in sword fights, attempting to cut one another's heads off, whereupon the victor gains the power and knowledge of the loser, making them increasingly more skilled (and survivable). When they have one of these fights, the end result is an event called a "quickening" where lightning seems to strike them and they are momentarily stunned. Here's a quick rundown of the episodes in the third season:
Episode One: Samurai: (September 26, 1994):
Duncan repays an ancestral blood debt by protecting the descendant of the Samurai warrior who gave him his sword, and his honor, hundreds of years before. The episode had an audio and video commentary by star Adrian Paul.
Episode Two: Line Of Fire: (October 3, 1994):
An old girlfriend of Ritchie's claims that he's the father of her son; something impossible for an immortal to accomplish. While he deals with this problem, Duncan seeks to even an old score with an immortal that took the lives of his tribe from when he was an American Indian.
Episode Three: The Revolutionary: (October 10, 1994):
An old war buddy of Duncan's is up to his old tricks, instigating a rebellion in Bosnia using any means necessary. This episode introduced Lisa Howard as a recurring character.
Episode Four: The Cross Of St. Antoine: (October 17, 1994):
Veteran actor Brion James (Leon the replicant in Blade Runner) plays an immortal that killed a priest in the Old West that was under Duncan's protection. In the present, Duncan has a chance to retrieve it with the help of Amanda. This episode had an audio and video commentary by Gillian Horvath and Donna Lettow (two of the creative team behind the camera) but they really didn't add any insights to the show. On an up note, they were much better in their various interviews.
Episode Five: Rite Of Passage: (October 2, 1995):
Duncan trains a new immortal, the adopted daughter of a couple of his friends, who then falls under the spell of another immortal (who uses her to trap Duncan). Can Duncan save the girl as well as his own neck?
Episode Six: Courage: (October 24, 1994):
Brian, a very old friend of Duncan (from 1810 Switzerland and 1854 San Francisco), is suffering from burnout and resorts to booze and drugs in order to make it through the day. While suffering from the after effects of his latest bout with mood enhancers, he calls Duncan out. Duncan attempts to protect himself and his friend but will he be able to do so?
Episode Seven: The Lamb: (November 7, 1994):
Duncan and Ritchie take a child immortal under their wing, on the premise that he needs their protection. All is not as it appears though and Duncan soon suspects the child of knowing far more than he lets on.
Episode Eight: Obsession: (November 14, 1994):
An immortal, David, stalks a young woman after she spurns his advances. He told her his secret and she wanted no part of the lifestyle it involves. David confides in Duncan since they've been friends since 1825 in Philadelphia but when push comes to shove, Duncan must choose between doing the right thing and his friendship.
Episode Nine: Shadows: (November 21, 1994):
In one of the darker episodes of the show, Duncan is tormented by nightmares of his impending death. He goes to John Garrick, an immortal that has a deep knowledge of psychology, in order to obtain relief. While John be his savior or his executioner, with their hundreds of years long friendship in the balance? This episode had an audio and video commentary by director Charles Wilkinson, who discussed the psychological aspects of the episode.
Episode Ten: Blackmail: (November 28, 1994):
A mortal captures one of Duncan's fights on video and tries to blackmail him into killing his wife. When an old enemy of Duncan's (from 1805 England) enters the picture, the mortal quickly finds out he has bitten off more than he can chew. This episode had an audio and video commentary by Anthony Delongis, one of the character actors. He was actually pretty interesting compared to most of the others doing commentaries.
Episode Eleven: Vendetta: (January 30, 1995):
Duncan runs afoul of his past once more when an old gangster seeks revenge, not knowing Duncan was the man who screwed him over 60 years prior (and not a grandson). Leading him to his fate is another immortal, Benny, who trades Duncan for his own neck, so to speak.
Episode Twelve: They Also Serve: (February 6, 1995):
In an unholy alliance between a Watcher, Rita, and a new Immortal, Michael, the couple has an arrangement that threatens the balance of order in the Universe. Why is she using him and what is her ultimate goal? Duncan must answer these questions before he finds himself without need for a hat ever again.
Episode Thirteen: Blind Faith: (February 13, 1995):
When a religious zealot, John, dies and returns from the dead, Duncan knows another immortal is in town. Little does he realize that it's an immortal he has known since the Spanish Civil War in 1937; one with questionable morals and a willingness to sell out anyone if the price is right.
Episode Fourteen: Song Of The Executioner: (February 20, 1995):
In the first of a three-part arc, Kalas, an immortal enemy of Duncan's for hundreds of years, seeks revenge. Kalas is more powerful than Duncan and the Highlander must flee to save his head.
Episode Fifteen: Star-Crossed: (February 27, 1995):
While on the run from Kalas, Duncan retreats to France where an old friend, Fitz (aptly played by rock legend Roger Daltry),, picks him up. It isn't long before Fitz is framed for murder and Duncan suspects Kalas is behind the plot, trying to flush Duncan out into the open. Fitz's abilities are somewhat lesser than Duncan so what chance will he have against as powerful an immortal as Kalas? This episode had an audio and video commentary by show producer Ken Gord and added some thoughtful commentary to the show.
Episode Sixteen: Methos: (March 6, 1995):
Kalas continues to track down Duncan and soon plans a new way to kill the Highlander. He will use the Watchers to find a legendary immortal, Methos, who is reported to be the oldest immortal to walk the Earth. With the added power of this immortal, Kalas would be invincible. This episode had an audio and video commentary by Peter Wingfield (former Stargate SG-1 regular) and Stan Kirsch (the actors playing Methos and Ritchie, respectively).
Episode Seventeen: Take Back The Night: (April 24, 1995):
When an immortal, Ceirdwyn, watches a gang gun down her mortal husband, she takes revenge on them, hunting them down one by one. Duncan finds out about it and tries to intervene since she's an old friend of his. The theme of immortal responsibility raises itself again, both with the main story and a sub-plot with Ritchie.
Episode Eighteen: Testimony: (May 1, 1995):
Anne gets involved in a drug smuggling ring when she tries to help a drug runner's girlfriend after Duncan tells her his secret. As events quickly get complicated, Duncan must decide between saving Ritchie and saving Anne from the drug kingpin. Duncan closes the dojo and parts ways with Ritchie for the time being.
Episode Nineteen: Mortal Sins: (May 8, 1995):
Duncan attempts to help a priest with a dark secret, he had seemingly killed a nazi decade's prior but the man shows up at his church. The nazi is an immortal and only Duncan can save the priest and Anne when the foe seeks vengeance. This episode had an audio and video commentary by Gillian Horvath and Donna Lettow (two of the creative team behind the camera) but they really didn't add any insights to this episode either.
Episode Twenty: Reasonable Doubt: (May 15, 1995):
Kagan, an immortal that Duncan nearly defeated a long time ago, is suspected in a robbery that ended with the death of some guards. Duncan attempts to uncover the truth when the robbers try to ransom the valuable painting to his friend. In the end, will Duncan act on his instincts or rely on stone cold facts?
Episode Twenty One: Finale I: (May 22, 1995):
Kalas escapes prison and matters are complicated when the widow of one of his victims (a Watcher) threatens to expose the entire network of watchers and immortals. The season quickly heads towards some revelations as Duncan and Methos prevent Dawson from killing her.
Episode Twenty Two: Finale II: (May 29, 1995):
Kalas prevents the story from leaking to the press by doing what he does best, killing people, and offers to keep quiet if Duncan will fight him in a duel. Having little choice, Duncan accepts the offer, knowing full well that his chances are not good. This episode had an audio and video commentary by star Adrian Paul that added some replay value to the show.
When this series originally aired, I didn't see more than a handful of episodes from the first season. To be honest, I always thought the episodes to be very generic in nature: Duncan would always win after remaining true to his ideals and principles with the episodes being set up in similar fashion week after week. The characters never grew and nothing noteworthy happened differently each week. I'm glad I saw this third season since I think it was far better than the random batch of episodes I saw over ten years ago. Duncan's growth was detailed through the flashback method established in the original Kung Fu series; whatever moral or ethical dilemma he encountered each week would be mirrored by a series of flashbacks, all set in a multitude of costume period pieces, from the 1600's to WWII.
While the various historical data may have wandered, quite liberally at times, from the truth as we know it, I liked that so much of the writing attempted to make Duncan's character have some consistency. For example, each flashback was labeled with a time period and his character evolved throughout the course of the show, even though the flashbacks were not always presented in linear fashion. Duncan's life prior to Samurai, for example, had him much more impulsive (not to mention lacking his favored katana) and prone to a headstrong manner of addressing problems. I think the flashbacks were done a bit mechanically most of the time but they were usually more interesting then the present day sequences so it all worked out in the end.
The direction varied a bit, as did the quality of the episodes themselves but most of the supporting actors acquitted themselves reasonably well, much like the regulars. Dawson, Duncan's Watcher, was especially talented (much like he was in Wiseguy) and it was good to see him in a recurring role. Adrian Paul may not be on anyone's short list for an Oscar but he fit the role as well as anyone else would have done. For a fantasy television show, there was a lot to like here and I can see why it developed a large fan following. On the down side, I don't think Mr. Paul's comedic abilities were evident and the many attempts to show his skill in this area fell flat.
I'm going to rate this one as Recommended due to the positive attributes and replay value as much as the great set of extras but it would've been rated higher if the basics were better attended to. The picture was lacking in most cases and I'm sure fans would rather pay a bit more to have a better picture (since sacrificing extras isn't likely to draw a favorable response). I'd kind of like to see the first two seasons based on this boxed set, as well as the later volumes since my initial impression of the show appears to have been faulty.
Picture: The picture was presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio full frame color that it was shown in on television. Of all the other factors combined, this was the weakest of the set. The compression rate to fit the show on the eight DVD's (and one CD-ROM) was probably not the best way to go here. While the original material was never all that great looking, often looking like it was filmed in Canada on a tight budget (which it was), I would've hoped it could've been remastered to look better than this. There were compression artifacts on a semi-regular basis, mosquito noise, edge enhancement, some soft focus used too often, and a host of other visual defects. In its defense, I think it looks better than it did on cable television when it aired but not by much.
Sound: The audio was presented in a remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital surround English and a more conventional 2.0 Dolby track. The 5.1 track had some solid separation and the rear channels were used more than a little bit throughout the action sequences. The vocals and music were reasonably well done and substantially better than the picture although not top of the line by any means.
Extras: The DVD set had a lot of solid extras to boost of. The best of these for me were the multitude of interviews and audio commentaries as well as the Watcher Chronicles on each disc. I would have preferred a commentary track on each episode, as well as more quality to what was on them, but the fact that so many of the cast and crew participated on them, even though the episodes were made so long ago, pleased me. There was a nine minute long blooper reel on disc seven that apparently was also included in the first season set (it gets explained at the beginning of it by one of the show creators, who tells us that the reel had a lot of third season antics and belonged there). Disc eight had a three minute long season finale reel of behind the scenes footage and a few more minutes of promotional materials (with lots of bloopers). There were some sketches, character profiles, and a photogallery to round out the DVD's with the CD-Rom containing the actual scripts (all of them), production notes, biographies, trivia, fight scripts, and shooting schedules. The DVD box was similar to other series in that it was the fold out style with a separate cardboard sleeve for the CD.
Final Thoughts: Other than the picture quality, this was a fine boxed set for fans to truly appreciate. The violence was always stylized in order to keep censors at bay, with no actual beheadings done in full graphic glory. It was generally a darker themed show with a lot of social commentary about a variety of topics for those who looked beyond the surface of the show. I think future sets should spend more time on improving the picture quality but keep the extras, since they often helped explain the background better than the episodes themselves (at times).