(My user review of the region free import of Highlander: Endgame)
Endgame is the first Highlander film to feature both Connor McLeod and Duncan McLeod, but it is not the first time these two highlanders have stood by each other’s sides – the pilot episode of the television series has that honor.
The producers of Endgame seem to have wanted to make up for Connor’s absence from the rest of the tv series by giving fans many flashbacks of Connor and Duncan together, even if it meant that the pace of the film would be a bit languid. The content of the flashbacks is solid though – we see Duncan and Connor both making mistakes across the centuries, which sets up the present day conflict.
When the inevitable super villain threatens impending doom, each of them must try to find forgiveness with those who they’d wronged before it is too late. It is a good, moral story. (The villain himself is suitably loathsome but not too original – a haughty religious figure who now taunts his adversaries with overtly homosexual taunts and exhibits hedonistic tendencies. His cliche is fortunately contrasted with the authentic love that Connor and Duncan express for one another).
It is a story that would have worked better as a season of the tv show rather than as a movie. But in the 1990s television did not have the kind of respect it has today; it is unlikely Christophe Lambert would have made himself available to be a recurring character alongside Adrian Paul in even one season of the tv series. If this had been possible it could have been an incredibly dramatic season.
Taken on its own merits as a single film, Highlander Endgame will remind fans of the tv series of the greatness the tv series sometimes achieved, while it fails to rise to that same level itself. As such it is a bit heartbreaking. And fans of the earlier film series will have their own cause for heartbreak – not only for the ultimate fate of a certain character, but also for the somberness with which that fate is foreshadowed.
This Hong Kong release is region free, with the menu (Play, Scenes, and Setup on a still image of the poster art) in English. Only the Chinese anti-piracy warning belies that this is from Hong Kong.
The encode is poorly done. Temporal noise reduction has been applied amateurishly, causing trails (moving objects smear and leave a trail behind them), especially noticeable in darker scenes. Smoothing (grain removal) has also been applied unprofessionally. Dark scenes should have a visible grain structure since low light shooting tends to be grainy, but someone attempted to eliminate the grain and wiped out all detail. Daytime scenes have also had been overly smoothed, and there is some edge ringing too. Blacks never get deeper than a dull grey, and sometimes break up into blocks.
The scan may also have been poorly done, or it may simply be that scans from 2001 were never expected to be used for anything higher quality than VHS and DVD. The print that was scanned has no obvious dirt or scratches, but the lack of detail and some picture unsteadiness calls for a rescan on modern equipment if this film is ever released on BluRay in the United States.
Additionally, the film suffers from many missing frames. The missing frames aren’t from damage per se – six editors worked on this film trying to make it gel, and I suspect we are seeing edit points that were reconsidered and patched back together.
Another longstanding problem with this film’s visuals is that a very prominent billboard seen throughout a rooftop fight sequence was blurred out after some controversy regarding non-payment for in-film advertising. Once you notice this you can never un-notice it, and this again is something which a restoration of the film should correct. Despite the amateurish blur placed over it, it is clearly an ad for “JVC”. Let it say “JVC” without the blur, please, if this film is ever restored.
The soundscape is acceptable. Simple surround sounds, appropriate to the scenes, nothing distracting, just a nice wrapping around of the sound. Endgame actually had a rather good musical score, and it sounds fine here.
Dialogue is clear. It remains obvious that all the dialogue in the post-script scene (and one line early in the film) are spoken by someone other than Adrian Paul. The producers who edited this cut of the film must have worked on it after Paul had concluded his part.
The version of the film presented on this BluRay is what was known as The Producers Cut when it was originally released on DVD in 2001 as part of a 2-disc set. The second disc of that 2-DVD set contained an early rough cut of the film with different scenes. That early rough cut is not included in this BluRay release, indeed there are no extras of any kind. If you have the 2-DVD set, you will want to hang on to it as well. (I actually prefer many of the scenes in the rough cut, and hope that someday the remaining producer will commission a Final Cut of Endgame that will bring some of the best of those missing scenes over.)
Overall, this is a poor transfer of a film that admirably tried to bring the tv series universe to the big screen, but never achieved the greatness of the tv series. For many fans, this was the final story set in the tv series universe – a sequel shot several years later in the frigid Baltics on an extraordinarily low budget called The Source, which again follows Duncan McLeod, is essentially disowned by all involved.
As the final story told in the tv universe, fans of the tv series will no doubt want Highlander Endgame in their BluRay collection. However, it needs a new scan and a new encode for it to satisfy anyone.