The 2nd Dimension

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Viewing Journal: Highlander - The Search for Vengeance

Movie Overview
DVD Info

Overall= C-
Story = D
Video = B+
Audio = C


Colin MacLeod, the immortal Scottish Highlander, travels with the wise-cracking ghost Amergan in search of the immortal despot Marcus Octavius, who killed Colin's lover on the Celtic plains centuries earlier. The once great city of New York is now submerged under water, with only one dominant fortress towering over the sea, the fortress of Marcus Octavius. MacLeod is torn between saving the survivors of New York and hunting down his nemesis. (Source: ANN)

It seems like it should be a great idea. You take an established story from the US and put it in the hands of Japanese animators; the goal being to have a movie that is familiar to western audiences, but also has the best of the action-oriented animation of the east. It's been done before with varying success; but for this Highlander anime, the parts don't mesh well together and it ends up seeming like a forced patchwork of ideas instead of a cohesive story.

As I watched this movie, I could almost hear the writers in the background as they composed the script: "Okay, it's anime right? So that means it'll be graphically violent. And of course there has to be a post-apocalyptic setting. And impractically-but-suggestively dressed women. Yeah, that's pretty much the definition of anime. And since it's Highlander we have to have a ghost advising the hero; and everyone has to be blurting out 'There can be only one' like every three minutes. ... No, we don't need to explain what any of that stuff means. It's Highlander, so it'll all be self-explanatory. Right? ... Right!?"

I'm not saying that it's a bad thing to have those elements in a movie. It's just that in this case, they are there without any much explanation or build up and as a result they seem out-of-placed and/or forced. The point being that the story is more focused on including easily recognizable (and marketable) stereotypes from both anime and the Highlander franchise than on making a cohesive story.

Here's another example: Marcus and Colin have countless battles over a number of centuries. And every time, Marcus wins and comes within millimeters of cutting off Colin's head only to have some convenience save him -- mainly ending up on "holy ground" where immortals are forbidden to kill each other. I can understand this happening maybe two or three times... but every time throughout centuries!? Of course, this is really done as an excuse to show how the pair survive through the past and into the future. It's nice idea; but such a string of conveniences just kills the tension in the story because it makes the hero seem ... well... immortal -- but more due to plot contrivances than his own longevity.

The animation itself is flawless. The action is smooth and the overall art is clean. I'd expect nothing less form the legendary directory of Ninja Scroll. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the animation is too good for the story. Let me explain....

Japanese have a very different way of telling a story than the west does. Anime tends to have character-driven stories that focus on relationships. The west tends to have plot-driven stories that focus on conflict. Neither is inherently better than the other, but I think the character-driven nature of anime is part of what gives it so much energy, and is the reason why it matches well with the dynamic animation. And, to me, a western-style story -- which doesn't have as much energy -- seems like it's limiting the potential of the animation itself. So while the animation quality is great, it looses a lot of the intensity that it would have with a more Japanese-type of story.

So in summary, this movie has great animation, but everything else suffers from weak and forced storytelling. On the bright side, I heard that there is going to be another version of the movie coming out early next year in which the Japanese director had more control (before the US producers got their hands on it). That might be interesting to see, but honestly I'd really have to work up motivation to spend another couple hours with as much of a disappointment as this version was.

1 comment:

The Question said...

It was better when I watched it because it was on the Sci-Fi channel, so I was all like "Dude I just wanted to watch Sci-Fi and got Highlander, Sweet!"lol