Some franchises never seem to go away. They may ebb and flow, but they do not disappear. Some franchises appear to be immortal.
Such has been the case with Highlander, a franchise that started with a film in 1986, has had three other theatrical releases, no fewer than three television series, animated features, novels, comic books, and last fall a made-for-television movie that is being released on DVD on February 26.
This latest feature film to enter the canon, Highlander: The Source (directed by Brett Leonard), follows the story of Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul), the lead character in the Highlander television series. Without a basic knowledge of the other movies or television series (the latter helps far more than the former), everything that takes place in this film is wholly indecipherable. A bigger problem is that even if one is aware of what happened in the various series and films, there is little present to care about here.
The movie picks up an unspecified number of years from the last film, Highlander: Endgame, in a dystopian future where gangs and violence seem to run rampant. Duncan has turned away from his quest to become the final immortal in the world, preferring to brood after losing the love of his life because, as an immortal, he can't father children.
He is soon convinced by an old friend, Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes), to team up with several other immortals, including Duncan's old friend Methos (Peter Wingfield), in a quest to find “The Source.” The Source is the mythical, and alleged, root of their immortality which is protected by The Guardian. Also along for the ride is Duncan's ex-love, Anna (Thekla Reuten) who has been receiving visions about the location of The Source. Exactly why Anna gets these visions is never explained by the film.
In fact, very little is ever explained by the film. It just jumps from one scene to the next, with the immortals constantly faced by marauding gangs and the incredibly obnoxious Guardian (Cristian Solimeno), who has the amazing ability to run very quickly. The Guardian is present every step of the way on the immortals' quest, always mocking and making fun of them, but rarely ever going for the kill. By the end of the journey, Duncan is the last immortal standing and has to go one on one against the Guardian whose power seems to ebb as Duncan's grows (again, why this happens is never made clear).
In the vast majority of the franchise's incarnations, Highlander weaves a present- (or future-) day story alongside one from the past. The immortals' lives seem to repeat themselves, and it is through a reexamination of where they came from that they are able to progress. While there is a 30-second portion of the film that deals with the past in this movie, it serves more as a brief explanation of The Guardian's origins than anything else.
Additionally, the Highlander franchise has placed a premium on swordplay (immortals can only die by losing their heads, so swords tend to be their weapon of choice against another immortal). While the immortals in this film do carry swords, there is little to no swordplay present.
Between that, the ultra-low budget appearance of the special effects, uninspired directing, woodenness of the acting, and paper-thin story, the franchise has seen better days than what Highlander: The Source has to offer. The film adds nothing to the mythology of the immortals (and in fact negates things that have come before) and no one except for the most die hard fan of the franchise will find their time well spent.
The DVD release of the film contains a feature-length documentary on the making of the film, a tribute to Bill Panzer (a producer and writer on several of the entries into the franchise), and comparisons between storyboards and actual scenes in the film.
It is entirely possible that there is still some life in the Highlander series (I, for one, hope there is), but The Source marks a low point from which the producers may find it hard to escape. If it is true that “there can be only one,” this isn't it.