Highlander Reboot

The thing about Highlander is that it’s a great movie with a great soundtrack but it was made in the 80’s on a small budget and, loathe as I am to admit it, Christopher Lambert isn’t an exceptional actor.  Clancy Brown as the Kurgan holds up as an all-time villain, and Ramirez is a great character in one of Connery’s last decent performances.  And some of the aforementioned Queen songs rank as all time classics.

But even as an unabashed Highlander fan (I’m in the camp that likes the original film and none of the sequels nor the tv show) I think it is a film ripe for a reboot.  Here’s why.

1.  Music

In terms of the soundtrack to a possible reboot, surely Muse has to be at the forefront of the wishlist right?  Enough like Queen (especially something like United States of Eurasia) but also a rad band in their own right.  Lead singer Matthew Bellamy is a conspiracy theorist who would write incredible songs about immortals living a shadowy world “from the dawn of time.”

2. Conner Mcleod

Casting this role is tough.  For a while, Ryan Reynolds was considered, as apparently the producers wanted to find the one actor who would have been worse than Lambert.  It wouldn’t be surprising to find some flavor of the week Hollywood star cast in the role.  That would be a shame.  We already have a perfect actor for Mcleod.  Dustin Clare’s devil-may-care roguish Gannicus stole the show in the underrated Spartacus, and he would be far from the first Ozzy to play a memorable Scot, right?  He’s got the charm, the build, and the chops to nail this role.

3. Missed opportunities

To name a few:

  • Does anyone believe that Fasil–a middle-aged accountant looking dude wearing white sneakers and a trench coat–is one of the last Immortals left?  The possibility to make him much more interesting–and stronger–would be afforded by the remake.
  • Kastigar is the best side character, with the best lines, and yet we barely get to see him.  More Kastigar would be fantastic.
  • Fight Choreography has come a long way since the first film.  We could have much more exciting sword battles now.

4. Beyond the Highlands

I really like the idea of exploring non-Scottish settings. A “Highlander” film set in Viking age Scandinavia would be pretty cool, right?  Or what about an Ottoman immortal, who could battle Janissaries throughout Constantinople?  Or use the 30 years war as a setting, a plundered and broken Europe with a lone Immortal facing off against the might of the Hapsburgs?  History has such a rich tapestry, which is a big part of the appeal of the mythos, in my opinion.

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7 thoughts on “Highlander Reboot

  1. Personally, I’d rather see a NEW film, you know? I think Highlander’s fine as it is, and what we really need is a new story. But since you’re talking remakes… 🙂

    Ha, it was the music section that provoked my comment, so I’ll start with that: the one thing I really *hate* about the original Highlander film was the Queen songs. I just can’t deal with electric guitars and swords–it always feels like someone else’s cheesy D&D game session. (So, yes, I also can’t take the Ladyhawke soundtrack.) I think mainly it’s the anachronism: it’s like watching a scene set in a nightclub in 1953, but someone decided to use Chemical Brothers instead… except magnified by hundreds. (The overwhelming shittiness of the music choices in THE GREAT GATSBY comes to mind: jazz age story, with no actual jazz music? Bleah.) Somehow, even in a contemporary setting, flamboyantly “modern” (popular) music feels anachronistic to the emotional psychology of a methuselan/immortal character, to me; it always pulls me out of the story. For that matter, so does having characters in the year 2335 listening to 20th American century rock music. It feels like over-flattering 20th century 3-chord rock bands somehow: yeah, like the commercialized, homogenized, hypersimplified cultural products force-fed *us* represents the great eternal apex of musical evolution? Meh.

    Ahem. No offense, of course: I’m a curmudgeonly you-know-what, I know, but those kinds of musical choices in that kind of a film it just really, really turn me off. Grumble grumble.

    But anyway… since you suggest non-Scottish settings, I’ll confess that I’d actually like to see a Central/East Asian rethink of Highlander. Protagonist starts out in the age of Alexander, where the protagonist is some wandering feral steppe guy who understands he can’t die, but doesn’t understand why, and ends up being taken in by one of the Alexander’s soldiers (or, like, a standard-bearer or something in Alexander’s army), who is also (secretly) an Immortal, and who teaches him the ropes. From there, he could go anywhere you like, though I’d probably have him gravitate towards China in time for the collapse of the Ming Dynasty, and I’d probably have them, in the modern setting, somewhere like Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. Or bouncing from one to the next, hunting down the Superboss antagonist, or something.

    (Which is all giving me flashbacks to the old pulpy novel series CASCA: SOLDIER OF FORTUNE. You know, the Roman soldier who stabs Jesus, and ends up wandering the earth forever, always showing up at the right place and time for a military adventure in every one of the great wars of the last 2000 years… from the Golden Horde to the Vietnam War.)

    • Oh I agree that new films are preferable, but I sort of take it as a given that we live in an era of remakes and reboots. I guess that’s what you get when the people in charge are thinking less “how can I tell this amazing story” and more “what’s the quickest way I can buy a new yacht?” So yeah, I probably should have framed it as more of a necessary evil.

      I can understand the dislike for the Ladyhawke synth–the first time I re-watched it as an adult it was quite off-putting. I don’t reckon Queen is in the same category though. It is true that the Queen songs were played not only in the 80’s, but as the sort of “voice of Connor” I thought it was a nice way of framing how he looked back on the past, as framed by his current circumstances. I never saw Gatsby (can’t stand Luhrman) but that does seem like quite the missed opportunity.
      While anachronisms are sort of par for course for an immortal story, I’m not sure it follows that their emotional psychology is compromised. I can listen to a new song and have it frame my past experiences–in fact, many new songs I enjoy for that very reason. That’s one great thing, to me, about rock, is that the songwriter is talking about personal experiences in a general way and connecting with people in very different yet specific ways. Plus Muse, my suggestion for the soundtrack, is fairly far from “commercialized, homogenized, hypersimplified cultural products”–though you do hear them on the radio.

      I love the idea of Visigoth warrior hanging with Arrian, et all and especially seeing him in the 20th century as Malaya became Singapore and Malaysia. I would read that novel, go to see the movie on opening night, and even pirate the show  I think that’s what excites me most about the Highlander idea is the multitude of characters and stories that span known history. Perhaps a film isn’t the way to go about it. A tv show maybe where each season focuses on a different character, with future leads playing hard-to-spot extras at first. Then we could go back, see them wander from the pub or whatever and begin their story? Anyway, I digress, but that’s what I mean about Highlander–it’s a great vehicle for storytellers with an interest in history.

      • Yeah, I know what you mean about the inevitability of remakes, and yachts and so on. As I said, I’m a curmudgeon. *shrug*

        Lucky you not seeing Gatsby!

        As for the discussion of soundtrack music and character psychology: I’m very well aware of the fact that my position is a weird, minority one. I mean, I’m the kind of guy who is thrown out of a movie when characters are speaking modern English instead of Middle English, or slightly archaic French, or whatever; of all the (many!) bad things one could say about Mel Gibson’s Jesus violenceporn film, the fact they made an effort to do it in the original language was, to me, a rare positive. But I know that most people are much more comfortable suspending disbelief and going along with all kinds of anachronism that bothers me, and I don’t expect everyone to agree…

        That said, I think we’re coming from different angles: I think when someone uses modern (say rock) music to represent a character’s internal feelings or mood or state, what they’re really doing is translating. Your Ming-era Chinese general’s emotions wouldn’t be represented well by a Mando-pop hit, or even Chinese heavy metal music, but the music approximates for your average modern viewer the kind of feeling that they’re supposed to have and then map onto the character. Which is, the familiar is used to kind of bridge across to the unfamiliar or the defamiliarized. That’s fine, but to me, it jolts me out of the story because most of the (popular) music used for that purpose doesn’t really speak to *me* (and, frankly, *does* sound interchangeable with anything else that could be chosen for the purpose)… so I feel like I’ve been hit square in the face with the blunt anachronism that it probably wouldn’t speak to the character either. (I mean, did your parents get into Beastie Boys? Mine didn’t, and they were only in their 50s. Imagine being in your 500s and hearing the crap kids listen to today!)

        But I know this isn’t a popular position. Most people love to hear familiar songs in movies: for me, it’s mostly a distraction unless there’s a VERY pressing reason for THAT song to be there. (And it usually feels like some tie-in deal with a record company that wants to rake in a little more cash off a soundtrack or something. That was how I felt ALL the way through Guardians of the Galaxy, for example: thoroughly irked… but I know most people *loved* that film’s use of music.)

        The other way of going about it–the one I vastly prefer–would be to use music from the character’s frame of reference, and expect the viewer to extrapolate what kind of feelings it’s supposed to evoke. I come to SF (or weird fiction or whatever) *for* the cognitive estrangement, and like the feeling of being exposed to weird WTFness. Though I’m usually okay with some happy medium, which is what a lot of film score music is supposed to do, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms since film score music is essentially watered down orchestral music, and its transparency sort of grows from an assumed universalization of European culture and tradition.

        (If you’re curious why I’d say that I don’t think Muse and, say, Coldplay or 소녀시대 are all that different, well: it’s because the elements that differentiate them are mostly not musica, and don’t interest me. That’s not a dismissal (though for some reason people do seem to get all offended about this stuff), but it’s a whole bunch of cans of worms and that most people kind of freak out over it for some reasons. It took me five posts to explain it here, so I’ll just leave that link, if you’re curious, and you promise not to get mad at me.)

        Anyway, it’s not a big deal, I was just putting my 2 cents in, and I know my opinion is pretty far out in left field compared to how most people feel. Personally, I think a much bigger change that the Highlander world could use more of the inclusion of some *female* immortal combatants. Apparently there were some in the TV show, but like you I prefer to acknowledge only the first film, and it’s kind of a glaringly noticeable omission there.

        I like the idea of a loose, semi-ensemble TV series too–especially if it was done with a budget like A Game of Thrones or American Horror Story, but with more diversity. (I actually started going on about the idea of a miniseries or series and then cut it as my comment was getting really long!) The only problem is that it’d hard to do anything within budget and do a good job of all the different times and places… and that it’d probably get canceled before the big climactic final showdown season.

  2. I don’t think one approach is wrong and one is right. While it is true that some immortals would be stuck in their time plenty would adapt to their current circumstances and culture. There are plenty of grandmas out there who love Bieber; my mom does love the Beastie Boys, along with Modest Mouse and the Chili Peppers and Milky Chance and plenty of other new bands. So not all Immortals, based on human nature, would be like “Music has never been the same since the 1620’s” or whenever.

    Though your point about “translated” music is well-taken and something that I also wish was less prevalent. I didn’t much like the soundtrack in Guardians either, although at least Gunn had a built-in excuse to use those songs. Again, agreed that it would be far more interesting to see a character’s personal soundtrack, untranslated as it were, especially when we’re talking about lifespans of 1000 years or more. (Though I suspect a character from, say, medieval Scotland would be far less inclined to think of things in terms of song lyrics etc. The nature of music, I suspect, has changed greatly even in the last 100 years.)

    SIDETRACK: If you’re linking Muse with Girl’s Generation I think that goes past basic curmudgeoness and veers into straw-manning and over generalization. I’m not mad (Muse is far from my favorite band), but surely basic factors like a) playing their own instruments b) writing their own songs c)not being swapped out for younger singers every couple years d) working for 20 years as friends in a band rather than being created from producers in a realpolitck cashgrab must make some kind of difference. You know a lot more about music than I do, but if those basic facts don’t inform how you differentiate than no wonder you dismiss so much modern music!

    Back to stuff I agree on: a female immortal character could be quite interesting. Definitely worth a season or two on our tv show! (We’re doing that someday, right?)

    • Ha, well, I suppose we could also make up theories about why Immortals might be more willing/able than mortals to keep abreast of cultural changes. I mean, if they live forever, maybe they “moult” neurologically, or something. (Thus sidestepping the declining neuroplasticity that tends to fix most people’s tastes in most fields: i.e. why the songs and films and books first encountered and embraced during youth so often, for so many, always enjoy a certain special importance.)

      Oh, and I’ve no doubt there are Bieber-loving grannies, but I doubt they’re really the majority. Far more who believe the golden age of music was… well, whenever they were 20, or 16, or 12. I’ve actually read scientific papers by researchers trying to figure out why so many people’s musical neophilia shuts down so early in life, so it’s a known phenomenon, if not universal.

      Anyway, I don’t want to belabour the music stuff,so I’ll try keep this simple as I can:

      In many ways–pop music as a hybrid form, music as an industry, instrumentation, recording technology, marketing, the relationship between music consumption and identity, and so on–one could argue the nature of music has changed more in the 20th century than in any preceding time. But in musicological terms, pop music actually represents a radical simplification and a radical shearing away of musical innovation compared to the rest of Western musical theory. Pop music is–in terms of harmony, rhythm, stylistic features, ornamentation, and so on–stripped down to the bare musical minimum, which can be mastered in very short time by anyone who truly wants to do so. There are good reasons for this, the main one being that pop music isn’t primarily a musical performance medium, but a hybrid one where theatre, fashion, and text (lyrics) take preeminent importance, and music is accompaniment… and as such, accompaniment to visual spectacle is always necessarily simplified. (A fact I had painfully to learn while working on film soundtracks, and learning basically to force myself to “speak” in the musical equivalent of monosyllables, which is to say, I had to learn to shut up and take an accompanying position, because the music was secondary to the visuals.)

      Actually, this was reinforced by a funny experience back in my rock band days: I would show up with songs I’d written that included half-diminished or diminished chords, or these funny modal or whole-tone-scale melodies–the kind of thing jazz and classical musicians use not infrequently. But those harmonies, and those weird melodies, required a special voicing to avoid a clashing sound; I was used to jazz musicians who knew how to do this, but the rest of the band, having no jazz background, looked at me like I was crazy, because they didn’t know what to do with that stuff. Even when I tried to explain, they were kind of baffled and said, finally, “I don’t think we can play this.” We tried with more mainstream harmonies, but it sounded insipid. The harmonic language required for those songs wasn’t even particularly complex: it took me, like, a couple more months to master, all told, than the harmonic vocabulary of rock. Kids routinely internalize it by age 14 or 15, even if it takes a little longer to really master it. But rock musicians often don’t learn even that stuff, because it has been stripped out of the mainstream pop music vocabulary, and nothing comparably complex has been added.

      (In other words, as my sax teacher advised me when I said I wanted to learn rock sax: “If you learn jazz, you can play rock; if you can only play rock, you can’t play jazz.” He wasn’t dissing rock, he was stating a simple fact about how the theoretical and musical skillset needed for playing jazz is actually bigger than the more limited one needed to play rock. For me the transition to playing rock was a “cultural” transition, not a musical one: learning that most rock players don’t exult in improvising; learning that a long solo is seen as “showing off”; learning that bands often practice with the goal of sounding reliably the same every time–both anathema and boring to a jazz-trained musician.)

      But I want to reemphasize that all of the stuff I’ve said above is not a dismissal, it’s just me trying to state simple facts, akin to saying that most genre fiction is written in first or third-person past tense prose in a “realist” mode. (ie. Not in surrealist, or postmodern style; not verse but prose; not second-person or third-person full-omniscient.) It may sound absurd for me to say this, but in musicological terms, Muse and Girls’ Generation essentially speak the same harmonic, rhythmic, melodic, and paradigmatic language: they could cover one anothers’ songs–or the songs of bands I enjoy, such as Yo La Tengo–without much difficulty, and certainly without having to master new musical vocabulary or developing any new virtuosic mastery of their voices or instruments, the way they might if they wanted to do a cover of Ornette Coleman’s “Blues Connotation” or, I don’t know, some chunk of a Wagner opera. It’s impossible to say who would do a better job on sucha project–Muse can actually play their instruments, but that also makes it harder for them to get outside help in pulling off a passable cover the way Girls’ Generation would be able, sneakily, to do–though personally I’d rather hear Muse’s attempt. But I’m fairly sure the material of Coleman and Wagner would be equally alien to both groups’ daily working vocabulary.

      (Incidentally, I learnt *this* lesson in a funny way: a buddy of mine, a bassist, was an ardent pop music fan. He played a recording of his band doing “a cover” of an “awesome song” and he played it for me. It was a pretty convincing metal tune, some metal love song, though it sounded vaguely familiar. When I asked who did the original, he grinned his “I told you so,” grin and told me: ” The New Kids on the Block.” Likewise, there’s a reason Johnny Cash was able to do a convincing rendition of a Trent Reznor song, and it’s nothing to do with sensibilities or personality: the instrumental accoutrements between their versions wildly differed, but the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic vocabularies of their genres almost completely overlap.)

      Which reminds me, regarding your comment as far as the rapidity of musical change: well, certainly instrumentation and recording technology, certainly in terms of branding, and in terms of performance and the hybridization of music with various dramatic forms, yes, all that has accelerated. In terms of the structural, melodic, harmonic content of the music itself? Actually, in (Western) popular music not much has actually happened in the last fifty years, since rock unseated jazz.

      As far as I can tell, the nature of Western music actually changed fastest when something approaching modern musical notation was invented and developed, at the end of the middle ages and into the Renaissance. As soon as people started writing stuff down, everyone went to crazy-town experimenting with bizarre, bewildering juxtapositions that weren’t possible when people were spontaneously singing together from memory. It’s a bit like how some of the the earliest vernacular novels—Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy—are among the most bizarre and “postmodern” of all novels, while most writers today (including me!) tend to write straightforward “narratives” in a plain old, accessible, reliable third-person limited omniscient past-tense voice. I remember looking at some of the scores from that period and feeling actual panic: they were juxtaposing rhythms you no longer see outside jazz or Indian classical music, and different voices were singing in different languages (but the vowels lined up across languages). Or, like with a composer like Ockeghem, there are these hidden achitectural tricks going on that you can’t hear on first listening, but when you check the score, it’s like this amazing, gorgeous fusion of mathematics and architecture and sound. Audacious and intimidating as hell, but beautiful. It was a crazy, crazy time in music. (Then we got equal temperament and tonality and things slowed down for a long, long time before they got crazy again.)

      So anyway, obviously I don’t exactly lump Girl’s Generation in with Muse in the way you’re suggesting, and for the reasons you give: one’s an actual band, and one’s a glorified can-can line. It’s just that this refutes something I wasn’t saying (that all popular music is interchangeably crap), anyway.

      But it’s interesting to take a step back and question this idea of Muse’s higher “authenticity” above Girls’ Generation, on the grounds you mention. Sure, the girls who gyrate on stage don’t write the songs (or, for that matter, actually sing them as heard on albums—that’s auto tune all the way). But the fact that corporations cynically and greedily erase songwriters, choreographers, and musicians from the presentation of the product doesn’t nullify the group’s dependence on those musicians or the (arguable) musicianship of those erased participants, much less the inescapable fact of their manifest participation. I mean, one of the main reasons corporate rock sucks is because of how it fucks over real musicians and songwriters, by cutting them out of the picture. (Who cooperate for whatever reason: financial necessity is one reason at least some of the time, the hostility in the industry towards creatives who don’t look like models is another). If we look at Girls’ Generation (or any such group) more realistically, they’re really a can-can troupe accompanied by a stable of Actual Musician serfs whose fingerprints, though wiped away, remain on the product.

      But every musician ends up being dependent on outside creativity, and there are always musicians who are less so, which is why authenticity is a very tricky place to stage a claim for musical superiority. Muse’s members don’t build their own instruments (like the members of Mouse on Mars do, for example–to get away from the homogeneity of a limited set of technical tools available on the market) and Muse is also known for doing covers (sing other people’s songs). The first time I heard Muse was a cover version of a 1967 Frankie Valli hit, in fact (though, notably, one that was manufactured in much the same way Girls’ Generation songs are: written by other people, supported by a band regarded as interchangeable).

      Meanwhile, string quartets and orchestras and, say, the Hilliard Ensemble are no less dependent on outside help for musical material than any K-pop group: they use music by dead white guys that half the orchestras or early music ensembles or string quartets in the world have played before, in some cases for hundreds of years (so, at the very least, no more “original” than your average Beatles impersonator group). If Muse is like most rock bands, their live shows are focused on the recapitulation of their studio tracks in a form recognizable and relatively similar to the original recording (a process I found painful in my experience playing rock!), whereas jazz musicians are expected to spontaneously produce hours of absolutely original, musically interesting material *at every show*.

      All of which is why I tend to avoid authenticity as an argument of whether something is “good” or “bad”: often we see “authenticity” where we want to, and authenticity, too, gets folded in the whole commercial marketing racket of the music industry (or, for that matter, publishing, or any other creative industry), and manufactured, and synthesized, and so on. The problem is that depending on something so ill-defined, one ends up in the middle of arguments that are ultimately *very* suspect.

      But anyway, all of that is a much longer sidebar than I expected. Ah well. Had I more time, I’d shorten it, but maybe it’s interesting as it is? Or at least it might illustrate that my curmudgeonliness is not quite of the type you may have imagined? 🙂

      Back to Highlander: hell, I was thinking the other day about how I never noticed the all-male Immortals in the first film, as a kid. I suppose that’s just the Bechdel Test and gendered assumptions and so on. But now I’m curious to see what an all-female version of Highlander would look like, as a lark. I doubt it’d ever get made–well, unless they were all half-naked all the time–but it’s fun to imagine an all-female-Immortals remix of Highlander, a la Kill Bill I suppose.

      Still, were we to make a TV series (sure, call me when you sign a contract!) I would definitely want to have female Immortals. In fact, I’d be likely to insist that there were a reasonable proportion of female Immortals. The origin story, I’m guessing, is some woman who, were she not Immortal, would have died in childbirth. Her stillborn child still inside her, and she just… won’t… die. She finally pulls the poor thing out, and still… doesn’t… die.

      The other thing I thought was interesting in the original film, but could stand to be fleshed out in a TV series, is the idea of a fleshed out, hidden society, or societies, of Immortals. You know… alliances and such that are shifting? But like, imagine whole hideen bureaucracies, Immortal politics, Immortal cover-up teams, Immortal-run research labs with Immortal scientists searching for things like poisons that have fatal effects on Immortals, and so on. Some of that is really a bit like what Vampire: The Masquerade did with vampires, I suppose, but I think something like that could flesh out the long, driing buildup over N-1 seasons prior to the final showdown-countdown season at the end of which “There Can Only Be One.”

      Actually, hell, now that I think of it, I suspect it’d make a really cracking World of Darkness RPG concept… especially if you roleplayed back and forth between a few specific time settings–jumping back to ancient Egypt, forward to modern Singapore, back to the Golden Horde on the edge of Europe, forward to turn of the century (or 1950s?) San Francisco… something like that.

      • I actually kind of like the moulting idea, although again I think there should be both kind of immortals. As to the music changing, I meant more that it seems to have a far more entertainment value. Living in the 19-21th century, I suspect, means it’s more likely that you’ll have music in your head. Sure Connor Mcleod had pipers, but (again, I suspect) music was more ceremonial to him. Not to mention that friends and lovers throughout the years would expose them to new music.
        Anyway, I reiterate that you know far more about music than I do. I am impressed and more than slightly awed at the breadth of your knowledge here. And yet it seems like you are saying something like Jazz is complicated and rock is easy, therefore all rock is the same. Perhaps, in the way that Mieville or Vandermeer or Wolfe or Peake are the same as Goodkind or Anne Rice or Piers Anthony. And indeed that’s what many non-genre readers feel. They’re not wrong, exactly, but probably guilty of overgeneralizations.
        Totally agree that “good” and “bad” are pretty silly distinctions, and that “best” is used far too interchangeably with “favorite.”
        On to Highlander–I reckon your woman still has the baby in her. Big season finale reveal! And I do think the show did have more of a society of immortals, it was just that they cast Duncan with a very uncharasmatic dude. And added a kid, always a bad move.

        I actually played a Highlander RPG for a few years back in late high school/early college that was converted Werewolf. I played it one-on-one but with a party you’d have an interesting “there can be only one” kind of realpolitik underlying everything. Looks like you can still find the rules, but the page is either temporarily down or completely gone. Lots of fun though!

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