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

By:Bryan Morton
Review Date: Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Release Date: Monday, July 09, 2007

What They Say
In revenge, patience is a virtue. And after a thousand years, Colin MacLeod doesn't give a damn about virtue... The lone warrior travels with the wise-cracking ghost Amergan through the ages searching for the immortal despot Marcus Octavius, who killed his lover on the Celtic plains tens of centuries ago. His quest takes him to a submerged post-apocalyptic New York where amongst the ruins, a monolithic fortress towers over the seas. Colin can save the survivors, but his sword only hungers for the blood of one man. Despite many lifetimes of training, Colin has failed to vanquish Marcus on the great battlefields of history. Can he finish what he started and stop Marcus? Will Colin lead the people to freedom or become consumed by hate? There can be only one...

The Review!
The latest instalment in the long-running Highlander franchise takes on an anime twist " but given the series ran out of steam after the first movie (for me, anyway), can a new animated instalment really restore some of its former glory..?

No Japanese track for this release (it's an American-originated idea, even if the animation was done in Japan), but you do get the English track in both 2.0 and 5.1 versions. I listened to the surround track for this review. Having been created with the big screen in mind, there's been some effort put into making the soundtrack suitably immersive " although it isn't entirely successful. There's good use made of the front channels to provide direction, while explosions and other effects are suitably impressive, but there's not much use of the rears. That's partly down to the show's presentation " it's very dialogue-heavy, with not as much action as you'd expect from a Highlander story " but it's still a bit of a disappointment.

Video is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect, enhanced for anamorphic playback. Again, having a theatrical budget lavished on it has produced a show that for the most part looks very good, with plenty of detail in the backgrounds and some very smooth animation effects. The transfer seems to be decent, too, with very little in the way of visible problems.

Colin takes pride of place on the front cover, naturally enough, with the image split between the past and the present to try and convey just how long his rivalry with Marcus has been going on. The rear has the usual disc information, screenshots and promotional blurb, while the reverse of the cover has a rather hard-to-make-out collage of action scenes " definitely not the best piece of artwork I've ever seen. An A5-sized mini-poster is included inside the keepcase.

The main menu features a scene from the film with Colin standing atop the rubble of a ruined building, apparently filmed with a shaky handycam, with lightning all around. Options are provided for Play Feature, Scene Selection, Audio Setup, Special Features and Trailers. There's a transition animation when an option is selected, which at about 10 seconds long soon becomes annoying. Apart from that it's logically laid out and easy enough to use.

There's a reasonable selection of extras to go along with this release. First up, there's a 13-minute "East meets West" feature, looking at the work that's involved when a Japanese animation studio takes on a Western project. There's also a 10-minute interview with film director Kajawari, giving his own insights on the project, a gallery of stills and production artwork, and Madhouse's original short trailer.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
The original Highlander film was released way back in 1986, and it's a film I've always been a fan of. Sure, Christopher Lambert's accent wasn't anything like a true Scottish highlander, but the premise " of immortals fighting over the centuries " was a good one, and the direction and Queen soundtrack were great. After that, Hollywood's unfortunate tendency to flog good ideas like dead horses has seen the franchise fall out of favour " before this incarnation, there have been 5 movies, 2 live-action TV series and an animated series. The TV series has its fans, but otherwise the rest of the franchise has been more noted for mediocrity than quality. For all that, the Highlander fan in me would be more than happy to see a new, quality addition to the list " and since I'm also an anime fan, what could be better that having Madhouse take a shot at the idea?

And so Colin McLeod joins Connor, Duncan and Quentin as the latest immortal to emerge from the Scottish highlands and join the fight. There are two groups of people who'll be watching Search for Vengeance: Highlander fans looking for the latest instalment, and people who are new to the idea. If you're in the former group, there's one important thing you need to do throughout this film: try not to nitpick. In common with every other spin-off from the original movie, this takes the basic rules of the Game ("There can be only one" and all that) but kind of ignores the little detail that the Game ended when Connor became the One himself. Treat it as a new, alternate-universe outing and you'll be okay.

The focus of the story here is on two Immortals with a very long history, going back to Roman times " Marcus Octavius, a ruthless & power-hungry man who killed Colin's wife a very long time ago; and Colin McLeod, who has been wanting to take his revenge ever since. The two have met & fought many times throughout the years " in feudal Japan, World War II Europe, and now in a future version of New York. The city has been partially flooded and ravaged by a virus. Marcus is the man in charge in the city, and uses the power that comes by being in control of the virus' treatment to make sure there are very few people willing to oppose him. Once Colin realises that his old enemy is within reach, the old search for vengeance takes over. He's helped in his quest by the feisty Dahlia, a New York freedom fighter who opposes Marcus' rule of the city, and by Amergan, an old ghost who acts as his guide and conscience.

The story plays out much like any other Highlander
story, with regular flashbacks to Colin & Marcus' previous meetings and important stages in Colin's life. It's perhaps a little too like previous stories, though, with a number of scenes that seem to have been lifted directly from other incarnations (such as when Colin is run out of the clan when his immortality is discovered) making this film a little too predictable for its own good. The characters don't really endear themselves to you, either " Colin is too focussed on revenge to really be likeable, Amergan rambles on almost in riddles, and the old anime tradition of having an annoying youngster on hand raises its head in the form of Joe, a contact of Dahlia's who hangs around to help Colin out. There's never a point in the film where you feel genuinely surprised at events " it's just Highlander by the numbers, with all the best aspects of the original film placed into this story, with the hope that they'll hang together and rework the old magic. You can almost see the production team checking the required elements off the list. The end result is sterile " enjoyable up to a point, especially for Highlander fans, but so predictable that you can't help but feel the bean-counters have won over the creative types when it came to putting the project together.

Where Search for Vengeance does impress, though, is in its production values " originally intended for theatrical release, it looks the part, with a very distinctive visual style that does give it something of its own identity. Style can't always save a show where the content isn't up to the task, but there are enough opportunities here to provide visual treats that it does hold back some of the disappointment that there still isn't anything that comes even close to the original film in pure entertainment value.

In summary:
Given every other Highlander spin-off has failed to really capture the magic of the original, I wasn't harbouring any high expectations for Search for Vengeance - which is just as well, as it wouldn't have met them. While visually very good, the story is so much a by-the-numbers affair that it's hard to really get into it, and a cast of unappealing characters only adds to the problems. There's enjoyment to be had here, especially for Highlander fans, but it's more of a rental title than a purchase.

English Language 5.1,English Language 2.0,East Meets West: Filmmakers Crossing Borders,Interview with Director Kawajiri,Stills, Drawings and Studies,Original Teaser by Madhouse

Review Equipment
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.

Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: Manga UK
MSRP: £19.99
Running time: 90
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Highlander