(Second or third viewing, On TV, January 2018) Whew. I remember watching Highlander in what must have been high school and thinking that it was an awesome movie. I’m not a teenager anymore, but I have to say that Highlander still carries a punch. No, it’s not the best movie ever. Yes, it has visibly aged and remains a film deeply steeped in the mid-eighties. But the rock video aesthetics of the film do lend it an enviable flair even today. The film may have wanted to portray the degeneracy of the time with its emphasis on heavy metal and entertainment wrestling as opposed to the nobility of an immortal Scottish highlander, but it works. Christophe Lambert has seldom had a more iconic role, and Sean Connery is perfectly used as a cranky mentor. (Clancy Brown is good enough as the antagonist, and so is Roxanne Hart as the love interest/audience stand-in.) The clever script is just good enough to earn our interest quickly, and develop the premise with effectiveness. Swordfights in modern rainy New York City? Bring it. Still, it’s director Russell Mulcahy who gives the biggest boost to the film by adapting then-unusual music video elements in service of a longer film—the impressive visuals are still striking (ah, that shattering-windows climax!) and the music is a strong component of the film. In retrospect, after numerous inferior sequels and a long-running TV show, there’s something about the admirably incomplete lore of the film’s premise. An immortal, a prize, a few big sequences signifying the progress of the quickening … it doesn’t take much more, and over-explaining it all rather ruins the experience. While Highlander does lose some of its appeal once viewers grow out of their teenage years, it’s still a good fantasy/action film, and a rather effective time capsule of the time. Just ignore the sequels.
(Second Viewing, On Cable TV, December 2017) I’m not sure if I first saw Mortal Kombat in theatres or on VHS (probably theatres, and probably because there was a girl involved), but after twenty years the biggest memory I kept from the film was its soundtrack. (I kept the CD in heavy rotation in my late nineties playlist.) Watching it again shows a film that has visibly aged, but perhaps not as much as I had feared. The early-CGI special effects are clearly dated, showing a lack of sophistication and restraint that calls attention to the effects rather than their usefulness. The dialogue is not particularly good, and the plot is a serviceable way to get characters moving from one action set-piece to another. On the other hand, the actors are likable: Robin Shou is terrific once the action starts, Christophe Lambert gets a great excuse to play a cackling version of his own persona, and one of the few things I did remember from the movie was Bridgette Wilson’s film-long progression from ponytail-headed tough professional to curly-haired blonde kitten by the time the film ends. Visually, director Paul W.S. Anderson made a splash with this Hollywood debut and much of the film still holds up decently well even after the wave of arthouse martial arts movies of 1999–2009 from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Hero. While I acknowledge that a heavy dose of nostalgia in a big factor in re-watching Mortal Kombat, I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I’d be by the result.