It’s no secret that a ‘Highlander‘ reboot has been in the works for several years now. Despite the length of time the project has spent in development, the flow of news could best be described as a drip feed, with the most recent development being November’s announcement that ‘John Wick’ co-director Chad Stahelski would be taking the helm.
But when it rains, it pours, and in a recent conversation with Collider (ostensibly regarding the director’s upcoming ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’), Stahelski – a noted fan of the ‘Highlander’ franchise – took the opportunity to share (at length) his thoughts on the property and on the original 1986 film in particular. He begins by making clear the extent of his fandom, in case there was any doubt:
“If you go back and watch the original ‘Highlander’, whether the quality holds up or not or the filmmaking process holds up, there are things about that movie beneath just the shots and the lighting, there’s a mythology there, for some reason, it hooks us. We love that world. Everybody loves the immortal realm. Everybody loves the code – “There can be only one.” There’s something about it that hooks you, hooks me, hooks all the fanboys about it. I went so far as I know every episode of all six seasons, plus the seventh season if you count ‘Raven’ as a series, plus the novels, there’s something about that world that’s hooking.”
But it’s not just the franchise’s quirks that have charmed Stahelski. Another major part of its appeal in the director’s mind is the soundtrack, which featured a number of contributions from the legendary rock band Queen.
“The tone of the first one just hit at that weird music video edge in the 80s that had Queen and for some reason, Queen just fits. I don’t think you can do ‘Highlander’ and bring about that kind of tone again with the mythological world and take it too seriously. Just as we did with ‘Wick’, you can’t kill eighty people over a puppy and take yourself seriously. We got to let the audience know that we’re having fun and that there is a world here.
Point being, I can’t see ‘Highlander’ without Queen, without the Queen center, without having Freddie Mercury, ‘Prince of the Universe’, and all this stuff. I can’t picture the movie in my head without it.”
Indeed, Stahelski is not taking the film’s soundtrack lightly, and the director confirmed that he has already begun work on the score with a familiar face:
“We had a great composer on ‘John Wick’ one and two, Tyler Bates, who we think is one of the best in the business especially for meta-reality – ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, ‘300’, ‘John Wick’. I’ve already talked to him extensively about how we can take the magic of what Freddie Mercury and Queen gave us and how can we transpose that to the modern day and give us that edge?”
Stahelski also offered an update on the film’s production status, as well as some information on the development of the mythology and his approach to the narrative of the planned trilogy:
“We’re currently doing a bit of work on the overall plot structure. When I came on board, they were trying to reinvent the single ‘Highlander’ property. We’ve gone since back in and we would like to really expand the world, so we consider the same shortcomings don’t happen again that happened on the original project, meaning you have one great movie and four questionable followups. We want to develop a property that can give us – and again, it’s not about marketing, it’s not so much about the financials, it’s about how we can make a more mythological, chapter one, chapter tow, what’s a great way to tell this story?
I think the TV series hit on a lot of great stuff that wasn’t in the feature, between the watchers and all the different types of immortals? How do we get this into a feature mode before we dribble it into the TV world? Well, let’s restructure it in parts, let’s look at it like it was a TV show, let’s look at it like it was a high-end trilogy. How do we tell the story of the gathering of the quickenings, the immortals, and how do we really build this world out even more so than the original project. That’s what we’re restructuring right now. It’s taking all the good stuff that we had even before I was involved in the project from the script; redeveloping the script to give us really good chapters one, two, and three; and expanding the world.
The vision we’re trying to get across and what we’re trying to develop, I equate very close to ‘Star Wars’. The first one is a very satisfying ending but it does leave the door open and that’s kind of how I see this. I would really like to expand it over three. I see the gathering happening over three. It’s tricky, don’t get me wrong, that’s why we’re still developing it. We want to be able to tell three complete stories that all kind of fit. I think the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, at least up to ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, is a good example of how we want to process it.”
This naturally raises questions regarding the film’s rating. While the original ‘Highlander’ was a decidedly R-rated affair, it has become increasingly common in recent years for studios to release PG-13 installments in traditionally R-rated franchises (think ‘Terminator’), a move that often leaves long time fans cold. Not to worry, says Stahelski:
“Thus far, the people in charge of the pocket book and all that, they’ve asked [the rating question] and I said, “Look, the way I work, the way we did ‘John Wick’, we never set about making a hardcore rated-R action movie, we said we’re going to do this, this is the design we want to do, this is what we feel is fun. If heads coming apart is an R, great. If heads coming apart is PG, great. Ratings are second to what we’re going to do. ‘Highlander’, I think the action is – at least what’s in my head – is going to fall on a line, for sure. We want to design it what we think is aesthetically cool, and so far I’ve met no resistance, they’re like, “Look, whatever you did with ‘John Wick’ with the gun stuff, we want you to try and do with the sword stuff. We want you to make something cool and something unique, and something that’s going to make audiences say “Wow, I haven’t seen that before.””
So I think that’s the road they’re letting me go down and what side of the line it falls on… I certainly don’t want to be gory for gory’s sake, and I don’t want to be clean for clean’s sake. We’re not trying to hit four corners, we want to make a great urban myth that goes through time, and we’ll see where that lands.”
Do you like the sound of Stahelski’s approach to ‘Highlander’? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more news on the ‘Highlander’ reboot as it becomes available.