‘A Kind Of Magic: Making Highlander’

❉ David Geldard laps up the definitive history of the cult ’80s fantasy.

“Jonathan Melville’s ‘A Kind of Magic – Making the Original Highlander’ is an absolute joy to read and an absolutely essential purchase for any Highlander fan. His enthusiasm for the subject matter really comes across to the reader.”

If you were to ask a group of movie fans about great science fiction/fantasy movies of the 1980s, the chances are that Highlander (1986) would be amongst the first mentioned. When you think of the amount of love and respect this film has in the hearts of millions of movie fans around the globe, you could easily be unaware that it was actually somewhat of a Box Office flop.

This particular writer was dying to see it at the cinema in 1986 but with the film having a 15 certificate (I was 12 at the time), I had to wait a few months before it became available on VHS rental. It was on this format that Highlander became a huge cult hit.

Directed by Russell Mulcahy (who was best known for his work on music videos for the likes of Duran Duran and Ultravox), the film focuses on the Highlander, Connor McCloud (Christopher Lambert) who during a battle alongside his clan in the year 1536, discovers he cannot die. He is taken under the wing of another immortal, Ramirez (Sean Connery) who becomes a teacher to Connor, upskilling his swordsmanship and educating him about The Game.

The Game is a millenia-long conflict between the immortals in which there can only be one winner. The only way an immortal can be killed is decapitation. The last man standing wins The Prize. Connor’s journey takes him through the centuries through to New York in 1986 where he must face his ultimate opponent, The Kurgan (Clancy Brown).

Christopher Lambert, Russell Mulcahy.

As well as being an epic science fiction fantasy with a great cast and killer soundtrack, part of the movie’s appeal is surely it’s themes of immortality, existential angst and living with bereavement. It makes the viewer think about their own existence. Seemingly, none of us want to die, but who wants to live forever? Through Connor McCloud’s eyes we see that immortality is perhaps more of a curse than a blessing. Perhaps it makes us feel better about the inevitable?

The film features a stunning, iconic soundtrack by Queen. The band’s work perfectly compliments the narrative from the emotional, mournful Who Wants To Live Forever to the headbanging heavy rock of the Kurgan’s theme Gimme the Prize. One of Queen’s most celebrated songs A Kind of Magic features in the film in a slightly different form and Roger Taylor’s lyrics were inspired by the script. As well as featuring in the film, the song Princes of the Universe became the title music to the Highlander TV series in 1992.

Jonathan Melville’s A Kind of Magic – Making the Original Highlander is an absolute joy to read and an absolutely essential purchase for any Highlander fan. His enthusiasm for the subject matter really comes across to the reader.

‘Highlander’ British movie poster (1986).

Once picked up, the book is hard to put down, Melville’s writing style is unpretentious and engaging. As well as being the story of the Highlander film itself, it’s a fascinating look at the film-making process, as the writer takes us through early drafts to the film’s release and beyond.

Most of the major players are interviewed (bar Sean Connery, who now considers himself to be retired).  Christopher Lambert, Russell Mulcahy, Clancy Brown and Roxanne Heart all share their thoughts and insight. Representing Queen are Brian May, Roger Taylor and walking Queen encyclopedia, biographer Jim Jenkins. The contributions from which make this an indespensible read for Queen fans.

For many years fans have yearned to know more about the production of the film. In fact, Highlander was the first DVD I bought and I was so disappointed at the time that it contained no special features. This book redresses the balance.

Every facet of the movie is explored from locations used, cast relationships, audience reactions to the violence and so much more. It really does contain some wonderful trivia. For example, did you know that Kurt Russell was considered for the role of Connor McCloud? Or that Freddie Mercury thought it was the best script he’d ever read?

Thankfully the book doesn’t waste much time in examining the (mostly) disappointing sequels and concentrates on the original. The research that forms the bedrock of this book is truly impressive.

Highlander is a much-loved cult classic and is ripe for a modern day reboot. Its fans have long deserved a book such as this and realistically, this is the only making of Highlander book you will ever need. There can be only one.

‘A Kind Of Magic: Making The Original Highlander’ by Jonathan Melville is out in the UK on 17 September 2002, priced £16.99 from Polaris Publishing. Pre-order here: http://www.polarispublishing.com/book/a-kind-of-magic

David Geldard is a contributor to We Are Cult and loves Sci Fi & Horror, Doctor Who, Starburst Magazine, Stranger Things, The 60’s Avengers, Twilight Zone, The X-Files, cult movies and weird shit. He tweets as @BungleSir.

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1 Comment

  1. Hi,

    My work on Highlander is featured in the book by Jonathan Melville and I was recently granted an exclusive license by StudioCanal to release a limited run of prints of the original storyboards I drew for the film.

    I would be grateful if you could share the following link to my website where fans can purchase an A1 print of the storyboards.


    kind regards,
    Ravi Swami

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