Highlander: Vengeance (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, June 05, 2007



What They Say
The lone warrior Colin travels with the wise-cracking ghost Amergan across a desolate landscape searching for the immortal despot Marcus Octavius, who killed his lover Moya on the Celtic plains tens of centuries ago... Will Colin lead the people to freedom or become consumed by hate? The answer may lie with the beautiful yet tough freedom fighter Dahlia, who has a mysterious connection to Moya. Colin must confront Marcus in a showdown where the future of all men will be decided. There can be only one...

The Review!
After several films, a TV series and a cartoon, Highlander makes the shift to anime form with a new feature length film.

Audio:
The Highlander film is presented in its original language of English in two different flavors. The stereo mix is done at a decent 192 kbps encoding but it feels somewhat flat and without much impact to it. The English 5.1 mix, done at 448 kbps, provides a much richer sounding mix overall but still falls far short of what it could have been. The forward soundstage is well done with some good directionality and plenty of impact provided through the subwoofer but the rear channels are pretty much dead for the majority of the film. The lack of action there even in the big action scenes diminishes it overall as it feels like they just missed the boat. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we only had one dropout during the 5:45 mark or so where the disc seemed to hiccup momentarily.

Video:
Premiering in early 2007, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The visuals within the show feature a lot of high quality animation with a lot of detail but the resulting authoring as well as DVD limitations really hold it all back. In general this is a decent looking transfer and it will look good on most sets but it will end up hiding the flaws. With a lot of areas pushing the bitrate for the video close to the max that's considered safe, the backgrounds still show a lot of noise and macroblocking going on. With peaks into the nines and still having shifting backgrounds and visible blocking, there isn't much else that could really be done to make it look better. There's some visible banding in several scenes that's likely a part of the source but it doesn't feature much in the way of blocking along there. Cross coloration and aliasing is essentially minimal to non-existent for the most part. Watching this on our 70" set and then on the 50" set, it was harder to discern the background noise and blocking but it was still visible depending on seating distance.

Packaging:
With distinctive designs for the characters, the front cover artwork stands out strongly even as it mixes the light and dark aspects. Showing Colin between his two worlds is an obvious but good choice to use though the color schemes really don't appeal that much to me. With the standard logo font used along with the subtitle for the film, placing this in the rack next to the other films will certainly get it some attention. The back cover falls into traditional Manga Entertainment mode unfortunately. While it provides some good shots from the show and a decent enough summary, it fails in listing any kind of useful technical information. While mainstream consumers may not even think about Japanese language, there isn't a listing of what kind of languages are on here. And even then it only lists the 2.0 mix and not the 5.1 mix depending on how well you can decode logos. Aspect ratio is also completely missing from here which isn't a surprise. The discs extras and production information is clearly listed however. No insert is included nor is the cover reversible.

Menu:
The design for the menus for this release are painfully minimal with two windows providing animation. The foreground window, which also has the navigation strip along it, has a series of red filtered visuals from the film. The background window, which is just a larger view of the foreground window but far more obscured, is done in a hazy green filter. A bit of soft instrumental music plays along to it but overall it's fairly weak in design and doesn't exactly set the stage all that well nor feel all that in theme with the subject. With language and subtitle options being relatively non-existent, the disc defaults to the 5.1 presentation on the disc.

Extras:
The release does contain a few extras to it that are pretty much standard material but welcome nonetheless. The basics are here in the form of the trailers, both the regular and the teaser one, as well as a solid selection of artwork pieces. The stills are amusing since they're cropped pieces which are windowboxed. One good piece that I always wish would be longer is the Talk with Kawajiri special. This runs about nine minutes and covers some of his basic thoughts about filmmaking but also obviously about the film itself. Where it fails however is that Kawajiri is given a voice over for this instead of just letting him talk and subtitling it. The price of mainstream viewership. The other featurette on this release is the East Meets West one in which they talk about the collaboration between everyone and what was involved in it. Running about twelve minutes long it provides some good insights into how it all came together for those interested in such areas.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
To this day I can still remember the first time I saw Highlander, a growing cult favorite on HBO back in the eighties after its theatrical release. The idea of immortality designed around a contest of sorts that took in numerous aspects of various cultures and was embodied in what was to me a very charismatic actor was an immense draw in my teenage years. The first film was something that resonated on many levels and truly made me into a Queen fan through its music. While subsequent films and their various cuts as well as the TV series " both live action and animated " built upon that world they all had one thing in common. They rewrote everything to suit their needs. In the end, only the first film is what I consider "true" Highlander, but the others provide varying levels of enjoyment as long as I disconnect it from the source.

Highlander: The Search for Vengeance is the latest entry in the franchise and the one with the most awkward title at that. Can you really search for vengeance? Regardless, much like the other entities in the franchise this one stands alone within the continuity but it builds upon similar aspects as it borrows judiciously. The core concept is the same as we're introduced to a group of immortals who can only kill each other by cutting each others heads off. Doing so gains them the power that the other had built up over the years by killing others as "there can be only one" in the end. The prize isn't quite so much mentioned but it's certainly understood by its longtime fans.

The story for this film revolves around two primary immortals who have been battling back and forth for over two thousand years now. The origins of this feud goes back to the days of the Romans as a man named Marcus is intent on building an empire of his own through them. Ranking high within the empire, he's been able to slowly grow his plans as he spreads Rome's conquest of the barbarian lands around them. During one of their conquests a feud is started wherein Colin's wife at the time ends up dying in an attempt to give herself to Marcus so that she can kill him and save their people. Colin's attempt to get revenge by killing Marcus himself unleashes his potential as an immortal and sets the stage for repeated battles between the two for the next two thousand years.

These battles and aspects of his past relationships are all brought into connection with the present. The world has essentially collapsed under the weight of viruses, floods and general mayhem. Much of the east coast of the United States is flooded but there are pockets of civilization left, or at least what qualifies as it. One of those areas is where Marcus has set up shop as he's built a massive golden fortress and citadel in the heart of New York City. From there he demands obedience to all who live there as they do his bidding. Those who don't end up in the slums around the rest of the city, searching for scraps to live and mostly just waiting for the day that the virus infects them and kills them off.

As is expected, Colin ends up coming into contact with a group of resistance fighters there that are waiting for their chance to stop Marcus. He's little interested in such things as he's simply continuing his search for Marcus after eliminating a bounty on an immortal he came across. Naturally, it doesn't take much for him to find the connection to Marcus within the city that gives him the focus he requires. Mixing in numerous flashbacks to the past as well as a lot of well done nods to the original film in terms of how the transitions are made, the most basic comment that can be said is that of Marcus himself; "The more things change the more they stay the same." The similarities, intentional of course, of how Colin was sneaking into the Roman camp two thousand years prior and that of his moving into the New York compound are profound. Though there are plenty of changes in the way of the world, it's still much the same as it was then.

With so much Highlander material behind it, there isn't exactly anything original here in terms of the plot. Nor is there much original in the design and feel of the film either if you've come into this with a good anime background. For mainstream Highlander fans this may be something radically different though. Even with its predictability, there is a lot to enjoy here as it's a very slick looking production with some great values to it. With a budget of over five million dollars, there is a real beauty to the fluidity of the animation and the overall design of it. The amount of detail to the backgrounds and the atmosphere that's created is breathtaking at times. With so many scenes flashing back to various periods in time, each of them provides a solid snapshot of a battle then that makes you want to see more of it.

What's most familiar about this however is that this is most definitely a Kawajiri film. With Hisashi Abe's character designs and the very manly feel of it. Kawajiri's films tend to have a similar look and this fits right in with his Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust film. It's a strong visual presence which has a style that comes from the eighties but is very much refined for today. Very few films have this harder edge to them these days but with Kawajiri it's easy to imagine he's still making the kinds of films he set out to back with Wicked City but with some nods to today and with more advanced animation techniques.

In Summary:
If they had changed it the title to anything else and omitted a couple of lines of dialogue it would have been thought of as a very good anime film. With the Highlander name attached to it and it being in English only it's not surprising that a lot of anime fans will pass on it. To me this is a solid blending of the two things and while the overall result is predictable it's no less so than every other incarnation of the franchise, right down to the original. This release has its flaws but it's pretty solid all around and was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. This is a show with manly men who have no problem doing what needs to be done. Kawajiri has done a great job of taking on this franchise and giving it something new with his trademark style. I certainly hope that he is able to tackle another one of these in the future.

Features
English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,Teaser Trailers, A Talk With Kawajiri, East Meets West: Filmmakers Crossing Borders, Photo Montage

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 480p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Manga Entertainment
MSRP: 19.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Highlander