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Highlander: The Raven

Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // June 14, 2005
List Price: $89.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jeffrey Robinson | posted June 5, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Complete Series

Highlander: The Raven is a spin-off series from Highlander: The Series. The Raven stars one of the more provocative reoccurring characters from the original series, Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen). She was a character adored by fans, both her wit and beauty amazed. In The Raven, Amanda is given a chance at her own series. From the very first episode, it was looking bleak and after watching a few more, things did not look much better. At first I did not find the show appealing at all. The problem was the show is not Highlander and it tried to move in too many different directions. For the most part it tended to be a cop show with immortals. This is something Elizabeth Gracen points out during one of the interview featurettes as a difficulty with the series. Basically, at first it is hard to grasp where they were going with the show.

Once the series was about halfway through, my opinion began to change. I found the show was getting more entertaining as it started to fallback to the traditional format of Highlander. By the end of the last episode, I felt cheated there was not more because the finale ends with a cliffhanger that would have been a great lead into a second season.

Again, if you are familiar with the original series Highlander, then you are familiar with the first leading character of The Raven, Amanda. Amanda is an immortal and in the world of Highlander that means she can only die by decapitation. Immortals wander the earth trying to find other immortals and challenging them to a battle to the death. At the end of the battle the winning immortal undergoes a quickening and absorbs the other's power. In the original series, this was a pretty big part of the show, as the main character Duncan would typically fight evil immortals and take their heads at the end of an episode. In this spin-off series, heads are taken, but not as many.

The other leading role is Nicke Wolfe (Paul Johansson). In the series' first episode, we learn Nick is a cop with twelve years under his belt (five years as a detective and seven years as a beat cop). He gets caught in a case that involves Amanda and leads to some crooked cops and the death of his partner. Disgusted with the way his department handles the situation, he goes freelance and fulfills a variety of law enforcement related duties, but without a badge.

In the first episode, the two main characters develop a relationship and understanding. Amanda reveals her secret of immortality to Nick and in the later episodes he calls upon her to help him with his latest case. In a typical episode, Nick and Amanda team up to thwart thieves and murderers. In most cases there is an evil immortal character included, but several episodes only feature Amanda as an immortal. At first the series unfolds a lot like a cop show. What does not work about this approach is it completely wastes the world created in Highlander. There is a lot of fun material and direction the series could have gone by including the pre-created science fiction. Instead the first half of the series tends to be a cop show and the stories can be pretty bad.

The second half of the series is more interesting. The show starts to fallback to the Highlander format, where Amanda runs into evil immortals and stops them from their maddening acts. The episodes also feature more flashbacks into Amanda's past. However, while I did start enjoying the series at this point, I still had several issues with it alone. From getting to know Amanda in the original series, it became apparent she was not always the heroine type. And they really try to portray her as a heroine type in several of the episodes. Of course, there are a few that reveal her true nature as a thief. In the original series it worked because Duncan was a hero with a natural instinct to do the right thing. The way they tried to show her character in this series just didn't work in mind. Another problem I had with this series is Johansson. I think he is a great actor and seeing him in One Tree Hill is really something. In this series he is given some shoddy dialogue and it's a shame.

The show also incorporates several reoccurring characters to spice things up. The first is Lucy (Patricia Gage). She has a small motherly role and tries to guide Amanda. She appears in the first half of series. The next character is Bert Myers (Jannes Jaenicke). At first he plays a fairly small role and you can't really tell if he is a guy you should like or not. There is a lot of mystery surrounding him. His role adds some character to the series, but the role is pretty generic and could be filled with just about anyone. In the second half of the series he becomes a lot more important. The next character is an immortal named Liam (Robert Cavanah). Liam is an immortal turned priest and he is actually an interesting guy. He plays a small role as a fatherly figure to Amanda.

As for individual episodes, there weren't many that stood out. I think the last two episodes were the strongest. "War and Peace" was an episode about Liam. It revealed his past and exactly why he is a priest. I liked getting to know more about this character. It's too bad we'll never see him after this episode. The series finale "Dead on Arrival" is also an eye-opener. The story itself is not really what makes it interesting, but the developments in the series this one episode adds. Had this series continues into another season, this one episode would have opened a gateway to some great stories. There is a two-part episode, where the first part has a familiar face. In "A Matter of Time (1)" Amanda and Nick run into the Watchers. Jim Byrnes reprises his role from the original series as Joe Dawson. I think it was nice to see a familiar face, but his part in the episode was pretty sparse. I would have loved to have seen more guest stars from the original series.

Overall I feel Highlander: The Raven is entertaining, but the series was doomed to fail. Its initial approach did not work out very well and by the time the series started to use the format from the original series, it was too late. While I do not think this is the most impressive series, I am sorry to have seen it so short lived. Towards the end of the season the show started to get really interesting and it ended with something that could have made for a great lead into the next season. But still, the stories are pretty mediocre and unrealistic, the acting performances are not always convincing, and the dialogue is sometimes poor. The bottom line, this is great for a rent if you really enjoy the original series. However, if Highlander was never your thing, then this spin-off series will more than likely not be too exciting.

Episode Guide
1. Reborn
2. Full Disclosure
3. Bloodlines
4. Immunity
5. So Shall Ye Reap
6. Birthright
7. Crime and Punishment
8. The Unknown Soldier
9. Cloak and Dagger
10. Passion Play
11. The Devil You Know
12. A Matter of Time (1)
13. The French Connection (2)
14. The Rogue
15. Inferno
16. The Frame
17. Love and Death
18. Thick as Thieves
19. The Manipulator
20. The Ex-Files
21. War and Peace
22. Dead on Arrival


The video is given in letterbox format with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The overall picture quality is good, but it more often than not the presentations has noticeable defects. Often the picture tends to look slightly rough and grainy, especially during darker scenes. There are also noticeable compression artifacts. While not great, it looks a lot better than its parent series on DVD.

The audio is given in two formats, 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound and 2.0 Dolby stereo sound. Both tracks are in the English language. Overall, the 5.1 offers the best experience. It is more dynamic than the stereo track. The track does not take full advantage of the surround sound setup, but handles left and right channel separation pretty well. As with most TV on DVD releases, the dialogue is pretty flat, but the sound effects offer some richness. This release also supports closed captioning.

The most interesting extra is the eight-part Interview Featurette. The featurette covers a wide variety topics relating to the show with cast and crew. Perhaps the most interesting is when they talk about the lack of chemistry between Elizabeth Gracen and Paul Johansson, as well as some of the reasons the show failed to succeed. The other extras include audio/video commentaries for episodes "Reborn", "The Devil You Know", "The Frame", and "Dead On Arrival". There is also a photo gallery on disc 1. Next there is a Bloopers Reel, which is worth a quick laugh. The final extra is the ninth disc, which is a bonus CD-ROM that contains scripts, bios, trivia, production notes, and storyboards.

Final Thoughts:
Despite I have not given the highest marks to the last three seasons of Highlander (season 4 - recommended, season 5 - rent it, and season 6 - rent it), I get pretty excited when I sit down to watch an episode. With this spin-off series Highlander: The Raven, I was really excited. Unfortunately the series turned out to be less than thrilling. The first half of the series was very slow and hard to get through. Eventually it picked up in the second half once the show started to follow the format from the original series. Still, the characters themselves weren't completely convincing and the stories were pretty generic. I think it is too bad the show didn't last another season or two, but at the same time, after watching the complete first season, there is more than enough reason why it didn't get that chance. Overall, this DVD release is probably best suited for the fans of series (and the original series) as a rental. I enjoyed watching Highlander: The Raven, but not enough to recommend it.

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