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Nostalgia Review Video

Rewatch – Highlander: The Series

The story of the Highlander franchise is probably familiar to most people. In short, Immortals exist, they can only be killed by losing their heads, which triggers the Quickening, a sort of vampiric transfer of power and knowledge. The goal is to be the last Immortal alive, who will receive some unknown fabled prize. The first three films are fairly straightforward, Immortal Connor MacLeod (played by Christopher Lambert) encounters one or more Immortals who have turned evil, and he cuts their heads off. It’s a bit of a repetitive formula, and if you think that’s all there is to this story, it’s because you’ve never watched Highlander: The Series.

Highlander: The Series premiered in 1992 and ran for 6 seasons. It follows the story of Connor MacLeod’s clansman and student, Duncan MacLeod (played by Adrian Paul). In comparison to the movies as simply as possible, the series offers a solid look at the life of an Immortal. Born in 1592 in the highlands of Scotland, Duncan lived a very complicated life, from warrior to rebel to medic to spy to antique salesman to teacher to spiritual mentor, you will have seen his entire life unfold by the end of the series. There are your typical “cut off the evil Immortal’s head” plots for sure, but there are years of character development and lore too. The show follows a simple formula of present day situation alongside flashbacks to a period in Duncan’s life that informed the decisions or methods. I know it sounds like that might get dull, but it somehow never does. Duncan is charming, supportive, and stern when he needs to be. Simply put, you’ll wish he was your friend too, and that’s a great draw to keep watching. Plus, the sword fights are excellent.

Duncan MacLeod is not alone on his journey. Alongside frequent guest stars, he’s joined by his student Richie Ryan (played by Stan Kirsch), his confidant Amanda (played by Elizabeth Gracen), his Watcher Joe Dawson (played by Jim Byrnes), 5,000 year old Methos (played by Peter Wingfield), and it would be a crime not to mention the frequent guest appearances of friend Hugh Fitzcairn (played by Roger Daltrey). Watching Duncan grow is great of course, but it’s even better when any of these 5 show up to spice things up even more. Speaking of growth, Adrian Paul didn’t have much of a resumé when he was cast, and you can watch him grow in his acting, martial arts, and eventually directing talents throughout the series. I can’t think of a way to describe it simply other than it’s great to observe.

The series really hits its stride in season 4, it’s just about when they stop experimenting with their formula and settle on something both that’s both enjoyable and impressive in quality. In fact, all of the 5 supporting characters mentioned above were either intended to only last a season or only appear for a pivotal multi-part episode, and yet they were such great characters that they became staples of the show. Another factor that might make season 4 so great is that they’re all either main or recurring characters by that time. That is not to say the other seasons are bad, like I said before, watching this show grow is just as much fun as watching Duncan MacLeod grow.

The series itself has a solid happy ending, but you can continue Duncan MacLeod’s story with the excellent 2000 film, Highlander: Endgame. It’s the first Highlander film appearance for Duncan MacLeod and the last for Connor MacLeod, a solid end for the franchise. You may have heard of a 2007 film called Highlander: The Source, but it’s truly awful, don’t watch it. It was intended to be a final end to the franchise, but everyone involved in the film now refers to it as “a bad dream” so maybe just leave it at that. Like the Immortals all say, “There can be only one (film with Duncan MacLeod in it),” and that’s Highlander: Endgame.

Highlander: The Series is a great long-running series packed full of great characters, great action, great lore, and great growth. You can stream Highlander: The Series for free on IMDB TV or buy it on Apple TV for $39.99. It’s engaging from start to finish, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

And now a quick little side-note. Writing these Rewatch reviews has been fun, but just like with the Splash Panel reviews, it’s much easier to do when you already have a collection of things ready to talk about. Rewatching these great old shows has taken time away from watching great new shows, so I’m going to take a bit of a break on these. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop, it just means these will be a lot less frequent, after all there’s still tons of great old shows out there.

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Nostalgia Review Video

Rewatch: The Fantastic Four

Roger Corman is a master of working with limited time and money. He’s heralded as the King of B Movies and preaches a practice of putting all of the money on the screen, not wasting it on lavish expenses elsewhere. Despite having never won a traditional Academy Award, he won an honorary one in 2010 for his contributions to the film industry. He launched the film careers of Ron Howard (as a director), Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, William Shatner, James Horner, and many more. He has produced 412 films so far, but only one was never released (and before you ask, it’s not a bad film). This is the story of that one film.

Perhaps doomed from the start, The Fantastic Four was directed by Oley Sasson, and starred Alex Hyde-White as Mister Fantastic, Rebecca Staab as The Invisible Woman, Jay Underwood as The Human Torch, Michael Bailey Smith as The Thing (with Carl Ciarfalio as the suit performer), and Joseph Culp as Doctor Doom, with a score by David and Eric Wurst reminiscent of The Rocketeer and Vertigo. You’re probably familiar with their story by now, either via the 59 years of comics, 4 animated series, 3 released films, or all of the above. A group of 4 friends accidentally gain very different powers and fight a few bad guys, it’s not a complicated story, it’s just a tried and true super hero formula. The film was finished in 1994, but never released.

What sets this Fantastic Four film apart from the other 3 is that it never over-promises and under-delivers. The other Fantastic Four films had huge budgets, and as far as big budget films are concerned, were a disappointment. This film sets expectations early, meeting them well and consistently throughout, and I think that’s part of its charm, as with all good Corman films. To quote Roger Corman, “One of the worst things you can do is have a limited budget and try to do some big looking film.” It won’t wow you, but it won’t disappoint you either. And the good news is, you don’t have to take my word for it, you can watch it yourself!

The story of this film’s fate is indeed a sad one. Depending on who you talk to, it was never intended to be released, a decision that was kept from everyone involved in its production. The general consensus is that the film was produced solely to maintain the filming rights, which were set to expire soon if no film was produced. This is largely why Corman, who was also unaware of the scheme, was brought onboard as a producer for his well-know skill of working with limited time and money. Everyone involved in the production of this film expected it to be the next blockbuster superhero film, they were even in the middle of marketing and convention appearances when Marvel Comics purchased all copies of the film and destroyed them.

At the time, Marvel wasn’t doing well in the film industry. While DC Comics produced the incomparable Batman, Marvel produced the laughable Captain America. Marvel desperately needed to bring everything in-house, no matter what the cost, no matter how shady the scheme. And, say what you will about the tactics, it’s hard to argue with the results.

The unreleased Fantastic Four film, produced on a budget of $1 million, was likely written off as a production expense on the following film’s $100 million budget. Fortunately, one copy managed to escape the purge and lives on as a frequently duplicated bootleg. This is a good film, a lot of people worked really hard on it, and it deserves to be seen. You can watch The Fantastic Four via the YouTube video embedded above or download it from The Internet Archive.

If you’d like to know more about what happened, watch Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four on Amazon Video, and if you’d like to know more about Roger Corman, watch Cult-Tastic: Tales From The Trenches With Roger and Julie Corman for free on ShoutFactoryTV. If you want to see other films produced by Roger Corman, you can find many of them for free on ShoutFactoryTV. I hope you enjoy The Fantastic Four as much as I do!

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Comics Review

Ascender

There has to be more than this. There just has to be. Why couldn’t I have been born when we still had spaceships and shiftdrives? Why couldn’t I have been born before the Harvesters took it all away?

Ascender is a beautiful series from writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen. A sequel to their Descender series, Ascender is very much another coming of age story, both for our young protagonist and civilization itself, but this isn’t the same old story, it’s a hard genre reset for the franchise.

Without giving too much away, a cataclysmic event at the end of Descender destroyed almost all technology and decimated all life. In the absence of technology, magic has been rediscovered, and in the absence of civilization, mythical creatures once again roam the land. Yes, the sci-fi franchise has suddenly turned to fantasy.

Throughout the story, a young girl and her father (a main character from Descender) will try to find their place in this strange new land, picking up new and old friends along the way. A powerful sorceress who filled the power vacuum early on stands in their way, but another familiar face from Descender may hold the secret to dethroning her and returning the world to the way it once was. The story is engaging and fast-paced, and the art is absolutely gorgeous and reminiscent of water colors. Simply put, you’ll love this series, even if it’s just for the art alone. You can definitely start Ascender without having read Descender first, but part of the charm is the whiplash of that genre transition. I recommend reading both if you can.

The first two volumes of Ascender are out now, and volume three is just one issue in, so it’s a great time to start. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

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Nostalgia Review Video

Rewatch: Starcrash

To those of you who follow me on Tumblr, you may have seen me claim that Highlander: The Series would be the next Rewatch post, but I overestimated how quickly I could get through 6 seasons of 90’s TV. I somehow have even more respect for what my friends Mika and Tracy at LezWatch.TV do now. So, anyway, where’re back to films with an odd favorite of mine: 1978’s Starcrash!

Distributed by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and directed by Luigi Cozzi, Starcrash has everything you could ever want: starship battles, a robot with a Texan accent, nonsensical costumes, a knockoff Jedi, a John Barry score, Christopher Plummer, and David Hasselhoff! The story follows our heroes, played by Caroline Munro and Marjoe Gortner, as they race to stop Joe Spinell’s evil Count from unleashing a sinister weapon (which is never fully explained) on the galaxy. Their journey takes them to many different worlds, all ending in a crash between two starships, the titular Starcrash. What, you were expecting something more profound from the title? This is not a profound film. This is the kind of film you watch with your drink of choice, and thoroughly enjoy, because it’s exactly what you need right now.

Starcrash is not a great film, it has numerous easily identifiable flaws, and yet it still manages to hold itself together, and I keep coming back to watch it again and again. It is absolutely enjoyable, and I think we can all agree that enjoyable films are the best films. If you want to understand what I mean by of all that, you can stream Starcrash for free on Shout! Factory TV, or buy it on Apple TV for just $9.99.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy this not great, but also very entertaining, film. Laugher was not intended, but it is absolutely permitted.

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Nostalgia Review Video

Rewatch: Stargate

Since I’ve switched Rewatch over to films for a while with my review on Charade, and since I’ve reviewed every Stargate TV series, it made sense to rewatch the film that started it all. What happens when you combine action archeology and military sci-fi? You get Stargate, a 1994 film directed by Roland Emmerich, starring Kurt Russell and James Spader.

When the Stargate is unearthed in 1928 Giza, it remains a mystery until its code is cracked by archaeologist Dr. Daniel Jackson (played by Spader). With the gate active, forming a wormhole between a similar gate across the known universe, Colonel Jack O’Neill (played by Russell) will lead a team, including Dr. Jackson, to the other side. What they discover is a world, and an adventure, beyond their wildest imaginations that I just can’t do justice with text, so please enjoy the trailer embedded below.

The whole cast is great, not just Russell and Spader. In particular, Jaye Davidason as Ra is uniquely captivating, and even French Stewart is here without being the comic relief. And the soundtrack by David Arnold, the second of his long career, ranks among my top favorite soundtracks of all time.

The story doesn’t stop with the film. While there were no film sequels, Stargate SG-1 (read the Rewatch review here) would follow as a direct TV sequel, running from 1997 to 2007. This would be followed by Stargate Atlantis (read the Rewatch review here), running from 2004 to 2009, and Stargate Universe (read the Rewatch review here), running from 2009 to 2011. That’s a total of 14 years of uninterrupted content following a single 2-hour film, not bad. I love Star Wars, and no offense to Star Trek, but Stargate spawned the greatest franchise in TV history.

You can stream Stargate for free on Amazon Video, or buy it on Apple TV for just $9.99. I hope you enjoy Stargate as much as I do, it’s a great film with an impressive legacy!