Tag Archives: Sean Connery

CAPSULE: HIGHLANDER II: RENEGADE VERSION (1991)

DIRECTED BY: Russell Mulcahy

FEATURING: Christopher Lambert, , ,

PLOT: Opposed by a ruthless corporation, an Immortal investigates whether it’s time to remove the ozone shield blanketing the Earth, while he’s being hunted by another Immortal.

Still from Highlander II (1991)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Highlander II is just crazy enough that it actually has a long shot to make the List—but not in this “Renegade” version. Word has it that the original, pre-director’s cut theatrical release (Highlander II: The Quickening) is even more incoherent, and if a Highlander II makes the cut it should be the most illogical edition in existence.

COMMENTS: Confession: I haven’t seen the original cult classic Highlander. I think this makes me the perfect candidate to review Highlander II, because when I tell you this movie sucks, you can be sure that I am not just some fanboy whining because the sequel violated some obscure point of Highlander canon law (like bringing Sean Connery back from the dead or changing the Immortals from mythical beings into space aliens). No, I can assure you that Highlander blows on its own terms, that it’s internally as well as externally inconsistent, and that it violates the conventions of professional moviemaking as rudely as it breaks the rules of the Highlander mythos. For a movie to go as spectacularly bad as Highlander II, multiple things have to go wrong; director Russell Mulcahy takes as many wrong turns as someone following handwritten directions to the Dyslexia Association’s national convention. The movie’s first issue is its dual-plot (plus subplots) structure; not a killer flaw on its own, but a good substrate for growing other problems. Our ancient Highlander is being hunted by Immortals from the ancient past who want to decapitate him; that makes sense, I guess. Simultaneously, however, he’s dealing with a shield he helped build around the Earth to protect it from a hole in the ozone layer; the atmosphere may have fixed itself, or so eco-terrorists seem to believe, but evil Shield Corporation wants to keep their monopoly on protective barriers despite the fact that their product keeps the Earth in perpetual darkness. This seems like a totally different, though equally brain dead, sci-fi script that was jammed together with a Highlander sequel screenplay to make a new movie. Forget the obvious problems, though—like the fact that you couldn’t grow crops in the endless night caused by the ozone shield—nothing in Highlander II makes sense from a basic storytelling perspective. Characters motivations aren’t explained. Their attachments aren’t developed: after our immortal beheads a pair of twitchy goggle-faced time traveling punk assassins, he grows forty years younger, which makes potential love interest Madsen throw herself at him and start dry-humping in an alley—they’ve just met and they’re already a couple. To make things even worse, Mulcahy seems to have his heart set on making a comedy instead of an action movie, including sequences with ancient Spaniard Sean Connery interrupting a modern staging of “Hamlet” (which he thinks is real, yuk yuk) and a comic haberdashery montage. Yes, I said “Spaniard Sean Connery”: Connery plays a character named Ramirez, who’s Spanish but speaks with a Scottish accent, while the French Lambert plays a Scotsman named MacLeod, who sometimes sounds like a Frenchman trying to do a Don Corleone impression while he has a small piece of walnut shell caught in his throat. Everything is wrong in this movie, but the most memorable and ill-considered scene has to occur when bad guy Michael Ironside, fresh arrived from the past, commandeers a subway train; for no good reason he uses his magic powers to make it go really fast, exposing the passengers to G-forces so powerful that most of them are violently hurled against the back wall of the train, and causing one guy’s eyes to pop out of his head (?) There are about a dozen reasons this scenario makes no sense, but nothing that happens in Highlander II much resembles our reality. Hell, the goings-on in Highlander II‘s universe are implausible even by the standards of Hollywood action movie reality. Sean Connery would have been embarrassed to appear in this mess, if not for the fact that his fully clothed appearance here was a step up in dignity from his turn in a red diaper in Zardoz. Highlander II is nonsensical, but it’s not boring; you’ll shake your head the whole way through, wondering why producers shelled out tens of millions of dollars for that Industrial Light and Magic blue lightning effect, but not one cent for a continuity supervisor.

Highlander II: The Quickening was the version of the film that played in theaters; in it, the Immortals were aliens from “planet Zeist,” not mystical demigods from Earth’s past. In 1995 Mulcahy re-cut the film to make the “Renegade Version,” adding about twenty minutes of additional footage and removing all references to Zeist. There’s no logical improvement in having the Immortals be time travelers rather than aliens, other than better matching the first film. The Quickening version seen in theaters came out on VHS, but as far as I can tell all DVD releases of the film have been the “Renegade” cut. It’s hard to believe there’s an even more incoherent and illogical version of Highlander II running around out there somewhere.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the most hilariously incomprehensible movie I’ve seen in many a long day – a movie almost awesome in its badness.”–Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

78. ZARDOZ (1974)

“When I see the film now, I’m astonished at my hubris in making this extraordinary farrago.”–John Boorman in his 2001 director’s commentary for Zardoz

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: John Boorman

FEATURING: Sean Connery, , John Alderton, Sara Kestleman, Niall Buggy

PLOT: Zed is an Enforcer, a warrior and slaver who pillages the countryside and takes commands from Zardoz, a floating stone head, in a distant barbaric future.  One day Zed sneaks into the head and is carried away with it to Vortex 4, a land filled with technologically advanced people who never seem to age.  Zed is a curiosity to them and becomes both a slave and an object of scientific study, but his presence disrupts their society in profound ways.

Still from Zardoz (1974)

BACKGROUND:

  • Zardoz was John Boorman’s first film after being nominated for an Oscar for Deliverance.  Boorman had been trying to get an adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” off the ground, but the project fell through.
  • This was Sean Connery’s second role after completing his run as James Bond with Diamonds Are Forever in 1971 (although he would return to the role for a one off in 1983’s Never Say Never Again).
  • Burt Reynolds was originally slated to play Zed but fell ill.
  • According to Boorman the film’s budget was one million dollars, $200,000 of which went to Connery’s salary.
  • Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth also lensed 2001: A Space Odyssey, among many other films.
  • Boorman later co-wrote a novelization of the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Try as he might to fill his film with unforgettable visions of giant floating stone heads vomiting firearms and of humanity’s entire cultural heritage projected onto the half-nude bodies of immortal hippies, the one image that adorns almost every review of Boorman’s Zardoz is a simple one: Sean Connery standing in the desert, pistol in hand, ponytail insouciantly thrown over one shoulder, dressed in thigh high leather boots and a red diaper with matching suspenders.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:   This sci-fi spectacle starts with serious ideas and weighty themes,


Original trailer for Zardoz

but gets weighed down under an avalanche of self-indulgent dialogue, a confused script, low-budget psychedelics, and consistently bizarre directorial choices.  Fill a talented young director’s head full of anticipation of adapting Tolkien, then pull that opportunity out from under him but instead give him Sean Connery and carte blanche to make whatever film he wants, and the result, apparently, is Zardoz.  (Oh, and LSD might have had something to do with it, too).

COMMENTSZardoz is introduced by a floating head weaving through a void, slowly Continue reading 78. ZARDOZ (1974)

37. TIME BANDITS (1981)

“…Gilliam fearlessly brings the logic of children’s literature to the screen.  Plunging headfirst into history, myth, legend, and fairy tale, Gilliam sends his characters—a boy and six good-natured if rather larcenous little persons (i.e. seven dwarves)—careening through time-twisting interactions with Napoleon, Robin Hood, and Agamemnon (played, respectively, by Ian Holm, John Cleese, and Sean Connery).  The landscape is populated by the giants, ogres, and sinister crones of legend and fairy tale, all in the service of Gilliam’s weird, ecstatic vision.”–Bruce Eder, “Time Bandits” (Criterion Collection essay)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Terry Gilliam

FEATURING: Craig Warnock, David Rappaport, David Warner, , Michael Palin, Shelley Duvall, Sean Connery, , Katherine Helmond,

PLOT:  11-year old Kevin is largely ignored by his parents, who are more interested in news about the latest microwave ovens than in encouraging their son’s interest in Greek mythology.  One night, a gang of six dwarfs bursts into his bedroom while fleeing a giant floating head, and Kevin is swept up among them and through an inter-dimensional portal in their scramble to escape.  He finds that the diminutive and incompetent gang is tripping through time robbing historical figures using a map showing holes in the space-time continuum of the universe that they stole from the Supreme Being; things get complicated when Evil devises a plan to lure the bandits into the Time of Legends in order to steal the map for himself.

Still from Time Bandits (1981)

BACKGROUND:

  • Time Bandits is the first movie in what is known as Gilliam’s “Trilogy of Imagination” or “Trilogy of Dreams.”  It deals with the imagination in childhood; the second movie, the bleak Brazil (1985), with adulthood; and the third, Baron Munchausen (1989) with old age.  Gilliam did not intend from the beginning to make three films with similar themes; he only noticed the connection between the three films later, after fans and critics pointed it out.
  • Gilliam began the script in an attempt to make something marketable and family-friendly, since he could not find anyone interested in financing his innovative script for Brazil.  The success of the idiosyncratic Time Bandits allowed Gilliam to proceed making imaginative, genre-defying films.
  • The film was co-written by Gilliam with his old Monty Python’s Flying Circus mate Micheal Palin, who is responsible for the snappy dialogue.
  • Ex-Beatle George Harrison helped finance the film, served as executive producer, and is credited with “songs and additional material” for the movie.  Only one Harrison composition is featured, “Dream Away,” which plays over the closing credits.
  • Gilliam shot the entire movie from a low angle to give an impression of a child’s-eye view of the world.
  • Sean Connery was not originally intended to appear in the final scene, but was meant to appear in the final showdown with Evil.  The actor’s schedule did not allow him to appear when the battle was being shot, but Connery suggested that he could play a role in the final scene.  His second, quite memorable, role consists of two shots, filmed in an afternoon.
  • A low budget release, Gilliam’s film cost about $5 million to make but grossed over $42 million.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The avenging floating head of God appearing out of a cloud of smoke.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  As an utterly original blend of history, comedy and theology


Original theatrical trailer for Time Bandits

wrapped in Monty Pyhton-eque verbal sparring and presented as a children’s fable, Time Bandits starts with a weird enough design.  As the film continues and the bandits journey from history into myth, the proceedings get more mysterious and existential, until the flick winds up on a shatteringly surreal climax that is bleak enough to supply the most well-adjusted of kiddies with years of nightmares.  As the tagline says, it’s “All the dreams you’ve ever had—and not just the good ones.”

COMMENTS: Sandwiched between the Biblical parody of Life of Brian (1979) and the Continue reading 37. TIME BANDITS (1981)