HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME - About the production
In the year 1518, a Scottish Highlander name Connor MacLeod was born and with him a tale so remarkable it has captured the imagination of movie-goers, television viewers and loyal fans across the world today.
HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME provides the exciting and unexpected final chapter in the legend that has rocked the fantasy genre world. But with this last installment, the HIGHLANDER story also returns to its original roots: revitalizing the mix of imaginative storytelling, inventive action, rousing anthem rock, dizzying time-shifts across the eons, and roiling conflict between morality and immortality that characterized the cult classic film that began the enduring fascination with the Clan MacLeod.
It all began back in the 16th century, when Connor MacLeod was mortally wounded by a black knight, yet did not die, instead discovering himself to be a member of a secret clan of immortal beings who must battle each other throughout time until only one remains. That single immortal, having fed on the very souls of those he has killed, will possess the immeasurable strength and wisdom to rule the planet, whether in light or in darkness.
Now, in HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME, the battle reaches its absolute zenith as the malevolent Kell decides to go for the ultimate prize - and take the heads of his two greatest enemies: Connor and Duncan MacLeod, two powerful immortals who have dominated in different eras yet never been united in their fight against undying evil.
HIGHLANDER fans of course know that 5000 year-old Connor MacLeod has always been a part of motion picture history, whereas the younger Duncan MacLeod is the star of the long-running television series. But here at last their stories come crashing together in the most intense and terrifying battle either man will ever see.
As Christopher Lambert comments: "This is probably the closest the story has come to returning to the original motion picture. HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME returns to the romantic side of the story - with a lyrical look at the pain of being immortal and the necessity of winning the battle in the end."
The HIGHLANDER saga began for the world in 1986 with the release of the original motion picture, based on a screenplay by Greg Widen, who wrote the Gothic-style story of mythic battles and moral ambiguities as his senior thesis. The film forever changed the fantasy action-thriller genre with its dazzling battles, epic, time-leaping structure and the story of a man forced to become a fierce and eternal warrior in order to keep darkness from ruling the world. Never just an action movie, HIGHLANDER thrilled audiences who saw within it an archetypal story of the eternal human struggle for goodness - and the romantic journey of a man who gave them a taste of what it means to be immortal.
Although no one at the time anticipated the effect of HIGHLANDER on audiences, it quickly evolved into a classic of the genre, spawning several sequels, numerous comic-book spinoffs and, of course, the extremely popular syndicated television series. The television show, which began in 1993, ran for six innovative seasons, eventually winning more than 10 million viewers every week in approximately 90 countries around the world. Most of all, HIGHLANDER won over a vast contingent of international fans who continue to clamor for the newest twists in the tale. There are two major HIGHLANDER conventions every year and the official HIGHLANDER: The Series website averages 80,000 visitors per day.
It was because of the enthusiasm of these fans that producers Bill Panzer and Peter Davis decided to revisit the spirit of the very first HIGHLANDER -- and provide the final story that ties everything that has happened since then together. They brought in screenwriter Joel Soisson - who also recently brought a new twist to the classic vampire story with "Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000," also for Dimension - to develop a story by Gillian Horvath and Panzer.
"This is a story about revenge, about the Highlander legend coming full circle," says Bill Panzer, "There is of course breathtaking action, but it's really about the two men who are the very essence of HIGHLANDER - Adrian and Christopher, Duncan and Connor - meeting at last as brothers even though they know there can only be one in the end."
In addition to sparking a new take on the fantasy genre, the original HIGHLANDER marked the first major feature film from music video director Russell Mulcahy. Likewise, HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME features the directorial debut of Doug Aarniokoski, a protege of Robert Rodriguez, who cut his stylistic teeth working on such cutting-edge genre films as "From Dusk Til Dawn," "The Faculty" and most recently, "Texas Rangers."
Aarniokoski immediately saw the challenge on HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME as two-fold: to satisfy the intense interest of the loyal HIGHLANDER fans while at the same time opening up the HIGHLANDER universe to audiences who never experienced the original. "We really have a story that doesn't require you to have seen the previous films or the television series," comments Aarniokoski. "This means that anybody can jump right into this story with both feet and be completely engulfed in it."
Engulfing the audience in all of HIGHLANDER's layered aspects - from impossible romance to psychological drama to breathtaking swordfights and time-shifts from ancient Scotland to 21st century America -- was Aarniokoski's goal. He also brought in elements never before seen in HIGHLANDER: new weaponry and some of the wildest kinetic martial arts sequences ever shot. "This film creates a different Connor and Duncan MacLeod, both grown wiser, stronger and sadder over thousands of years, and both of whom have honed their fighting skills to the absolute highest level," notes Aarniokoski. "The legions of HIGHLANDER fans will see things they've never seen before."
From the beginning, the desire to complete the HIGHLANDER story in true HIGHLANDER style rested on the creative involvement of two men: actors Christopher Lambert, who kicked off the enduring cult, and Adrian Paul, who carried the HIGHLANDER legacy through years of television popularity. Both were excited by the chance to add new and deeper dimensions to their long-lived characters.
"The idea was to have Connor and Duncan become like the yin and yang of the symbol of wholeness, and I think we've created that," says Adrian Paul. "For me, it's really a story of redemption. It's about Duncan trying to save his friend, trying to save his morals and repay a debt he was never able to fulfill in the past."
He continues: "No other character I have ever played compares to the complexity of Duncan. He is a man who is not afraid to love, cry or stand up for the things in which he believes. He is a man who is peaceful by nature but a warrior by blood."
Adds Christopher Lambert: "We are both looking back to the beginning of these characters and to their future. Through flashbacks in time, you learn a lot about Connor and Duncan and how they've become who they are at this crucial moment."
Director Doug Aarniokoski, who was inspired by the chance to work with the two HIGHLANDER legends, summarizes: "Both actors know their characters so well. They each bring so much to the table in terms of vision and energy. And of course from a story-telling point of view, it's just fantastic to bring these two characters who are both so interesting and yet so different together. Now instead of having just one Highlander, you have two battlers on the same side, which adds a whole different light to the original concept. It's so exciting, it just rocks."
The enthusiasm is shared by the film's compelling supporting cast. Bruce Payne, who plays the devastatingly powerful Kell, had loved the concept of immortals ever since seeing the first HIGHLANDER. "The original HIGHLANDER wasn't just an action movie, but a story with some real depth to it," he observes. "Behind the warrior clashes there was a subplot about men having to face themselves, having to answer for their legacy. I loved that and this script seemed to dive right back into this fascinating mix of thrills and moral inquiry."
Kell oversees an entire "posse" of immortals, each alone presenting a formidable foe to the Highlanders. "I loved having a posse," admits Payne. "It reminded me of an artist's salon in the 1930s where you have all these remarkable talents trying to become the favorite, only of course their art is killing one another. Everyone in the posse is trying to get in my favor - and it's all about who will dare to take on the MacLeods."
Another potential adversary in HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME is Duncan MacLeod's love interest: Faith, the women he once loved and whose fate he changed forever. Duncan first met Faith in the 17th century, when she was an alluring but mortal woman named Kate. Now she is an immortal with a lust for vengeance. Playing both women was a challenge welcomed by singer-actress Lisa Barbuscia. "I liked getting to be two almost opposite women in one," she says. "The contemporary Faith is strong and edgy, filled with hatred. She feels betrayed by Duncan and she's fed up with her immortal life. Kate is the same character, but a mortal in the 17th century, who is a lot softer and completely in love with Duncan."
Also joining the cast as immortal posse member Jin Ke - one of the most powerful yet honorable of his ilk -is acclaimed Hong Kong martial artist and actor Donnie Yen, who also served as the film's fight-scene choreographer. Yen uses a fluid, balletic, hyperkinetic style that takes traditional Kung Fu to the next extreme, bringing a distinctively current flavor and style to his martial arts choreography. Following in the footsteps of his idol, Bruce Lee, Yen has forged a distinctively cinematic style of expressive movement. "Many people try to distinguish between action and drama, but I don't," explains Yen. "For me, martial art is a form of expression that comes from the soul to your hands and feet. It's a part of the story-telling."
This part of the story-telling was particularly challenging to talented martial artist Adrian Paul, who had never in all his many episodes of HIGHLANDER had to use so many sophisticated warrior techniques. "This was a huge amount of work," admits Paul. "But the result is some of the most exciting fight scenes I've ever been involved with."
Paul also studied intensively with Swordmaster F. Braun Ash, a long-time consultant to the HIGHLANDER series, who developed a variety of new weapons and swordfighting techniques for HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME.
Summarizes Adrian Paul: "We really wanted to up Duncan's technique to a level people haven't seen before - a level he must rise to in this final battle."
HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME was shot primarily in and around Bucharest, Romania, a location that offered the required mix of both modern and ancient visual influences, that had both stunning natural landscapes and sprawling urban centers. The filmmakers found Romania to be almost like a time-machine itself - able to represent the 17" century just as easily as the 21". The city of Bucharest, once known as "Little Paris" in the 1920s, still has many magnificent classic European buildings which stand side-by-side with post-industrial monolithic structures of concrete and steel (most built during the reign of Romania's dictator, Ceaucescu.)
Other locations included London's Natural History Museum and the futuristic Millennium Dome, all of which added to the trademark HIGHLANDER sense of discontinuous, ever-flowing time and space. For Doug Aarniokoski, moving back and forth through the ages was all part of the excitement. "We really gave the modern scenes and the flashback scenes their own individual styles," the director explains. "The contemporary battles and fights are very flashy, fancy, edgy, whereas the 17th century fights are much more traditional, even in the cinematography. Cinematographer Doug Milsome really helped me to create two different looks: the contemporary scenes are dark and shadowy and the flashback scenes are lighter with wide-open landscapes."
Later Aarniokoski worked with leading-edge special effects supervisor Nick Allder, whose creations have been seen in films ranging from ALIEN to THE FIFTH ELEMENT to BRAVEHEART, to tweak the reality with supernatural twists.
The overall effect is one of ever-increasing darkness, of doom that has been long approaching, and now finally has arrived. Can there really only be one in the end? HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME provides the compelling answer to a question that has lingered since the very first HIGHLANDER won over fans across the world.