Thursday, September 24, 2009

Culture Shock 09.24.09: After four bad sequels, 'Highlander' gets the reboot

What part of "There can be only one" is so difficult to understand?

I'm guessing it's the "only one" part, otherwise I wouldn't have read a press release Tuesday announcing a remake of "Highlander."

It was only a matter of time, I suppose. Just about every other movie series of the past 30 years has undergone some sort of reboot. Starting over from scratch is the next step after the sequels — and prequels — stop making money.

The studios behind the "Halloween," "Friday the 13th," "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Star Trek" franchises cranked out movies until no one cared anymore. Then they hit the reset switch, with varying levels of success. A remake of the original "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is set to join the extreme makeover crowd next year, and Fox is looking to restart its "Fantastic Four" franchise after just two films, the first of which is only four years old. And I'm not even counting Universal's "Hulk" reboot, because the original version didn't spawn any sequels.

Granted, not all reboots turn out badly. "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" are an improvement on the Joel Schumacher "Batman" films. And on television, the new "Battlestar Galactica" beats the frak out of the original. But when you remake a movie that has attained the status of cult classic, you're just asking for trouble. Rob Zombie's "Halloween" remake comes to mind.

The original "Highlander" is just the sort of cult classic that filmmakers would do well to leave alone. It's a film that shouldn't have worked in the first place. Yet, amazingly, it does.

And now, the plot of "Highlander" in 30 seconds: Connor MacLeod, a 450-year-old Immortal from Scotland, must battle other Immortals for a vaguely defined "Prize." Whatever the Prize is, it must not fall into the wrong hands. Immortals have been dueling with each other for the Prize since the dawn of time, and the only way to kill an Immortal is to cut off his head. Ultimately, when only a few Immortals remain, they will come together for a final battle called "The Gathering." As Sean Connery's character says, "In the end, there can be only one."

"Highlander" director Russell Mulcahy hasn't made a decent movie since, while the film's star, Christopher Lambert, has spent most of his post-"Highlander" career in one dreadful direct-to-video movie after another. Yet for one golden moment, Mulcahy seemed like a visual genius and Lambert was a rising star. It was a kind of magic. "Highlander" was perfect. Too perfect.

Even though "Highlander" didn't leave room for sequels, its unexpected success made them unavoidable. The first — and worst — was "Highlander 2: The Quickening."

The subsequent films ignore "Highlander 2" entirely, which is for the best. And as soon as the Food and Drug Administration approves the memory-erasing technology of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," the rest of us will finally be able to forget "Highlander 2," too.

So, after a total of five movies, two television series, an animated cartoon and other sequels and tie-ins that I'm leaving out, "Highlander" has finally reached the reboot stage.

Like Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, the "Highlander" franchise is immortal — at least until it loses its head.

Who wants to live forever, anyway?

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