Legend: The Director's Cut [DVD]
Screenplay : William Hjortsberg
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1985
Stars : Tom Cruise (Jack), Mia Sara (Princess Lily), Tim Curry (The Lord of Darkness), David Bennent (Gump), Alice Playten (Blix), Billy Barty (Screwball), Cork Hubbert (Brown Tom), Peter O'Farrell (Pox), Kiran Shah (Blunder), Annabelle Lanyon (Oona)
There are some films that simply need time before they are appreciated. For whatever reason, when first released, they simply fail to connect with audiences and critics. Sometimes they are ahead of their time, and sometimes they are simply out of time, striving to be something that audiences at the time didn't understand or desire.
Ridley Scott's Legend is such a film. Originally released in the U.S. in 1986 after undergoing heavy editing and a replacement musical score, it fizzled at the box office, perhaps because the popularity of fantasy film in the early 1980s (from 1982's Conan the Barbarian, which made a star of Arnold Schwarzenegger, to Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth) was waning by that time. But, as these things go, it slowly but steadily developed a following on home video, the medium that has been responsible for the afterlife of more than a few movies that didn't pass muster at the box office. Scott's initial cut ran 125 minutes, which he then pared down to 113 minutes and tested. When the tests did not go well, he further hacked it down to 94 minutes, which is the version that was released in Europe.
Scott went further still, taking out an additional five minutes to reduce the running time for the U.S. theatrical released to a slim (and often incoherent) 89 minutes. Sid Sheinberg, the president of MCA (owner of Universal, the film's domestic distributor), felt that it didn't appeal enough to the target demographic--teenagers--and, in a silly bid to make the film more hip and contemporary, forced an ill-fated quick fix by removing the glorious orchestral score by Jerry Goldsmith and replacing it with an electronic score by the German rock group Tangerine Dream. It was all, alas, to no avail, as the movie-going public seemed to have little appetite for an extravagantly produced fairy tale about the eternal battle between good and evil. Thankfully, the 113-minute director's cut has been released on DVD, allowing audiences for the first time to see and appreciate what Scott originally intended.
At the time, Scott, a former commercial director, was known primarily for having directed two science fiction films, the highly influential box-office hit Alien (1979) and the at-the-time underappreciated sci-fi noir Blade Runner (1982), which had its own share of production woes and hasty editing to make it more "commercial." Scott's intention with Legend was to make a classic fairy tale on the big screen, something that had not been attempted outside of animation for many years. One of his primary inspirations was Jean Cocteau's poetic 1946 version of Beauty and the Beast, and it shows in Legend, which plays more as large-scale art-house fare than popular entertainment. There are moments of action and quips of humor, but Scott's primary focus is on visual grandeur, an updated version of poetic realism that is often breathtaking and visually ravishing, but makes for a slow-moving and contemplative film. Regardless of which score was used, there was no chance that Legend would ever be commercial.
The story, written by novelist and screenwriter William Hjortsberg, takes bits and pieces from various fairy tales and assembles them into something new and evocative, maintaining the fairy-tale balance of the innocent and the grim. A fresh-faced Tom Cruise, best known for Risky Business (1983) and not yet the international superstar of Top Gun (1986) fame, stars as Jack, who is referred to as a "forest child." Jack is in love with a free-spirited princess named Lily (Mia Sara), and he makes the mistake of taking her one afternoon to a glade where the last two unicorns, the literal embodiments of pure good, meet.
When Lily dares to touch one of them, she unwittingly steps into a trap set up by three goblins, led by malicious Blix (Alice Playten), who are there at the bidding of the demonic Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) to kill the unicorns. One unicorn's horn is severed while the other, along with Lily, is captured and taken to the Lord of Darkness' layer. This causes the world to fall into a state of perpetual winter. Jack meets up with a group of forest-dwelling fairies and dwarves, led by the pluckish elf Gump (David Bennent), and sets off to rescue Lily and restore the world.
Ridley Scott has repeatedly implored that Legend was to be a family movie, although he may have underestimated how dark his vision was. While there are idyllic scenes in an impossibly beautiful forest (built from the ground up in Pinewood Studios by production designer Assheton Gorton), at least half of the film takes place in the bowels of the Lord of Darkness' layer, bathed in darkness and lit only by hellish flames. There are scheming goblins, an enormous witch-like creature that tries to eat Jack, and the constant threat of violence, although there is actually very little on-screen. In many ways, it harkens back to the often-visceral horrors of the Grimms Brothers' fairy tales before they were cleaned up for Disney movies.
Legend certainly has its flaws. In striking its balance between the ancient and the modern, there are moments that are undeniably goofy. The contrast of sweetness and horror is sometimes too abrupt, and you always get the sense that the filmmakers wanted more than their budget would allow. Yet, at the same time, the film is so visually evocative--so purely, sensationally beautiful to look at--that it transcends its narrative flaws and brings pleasure in a way that most mainstream American films do not. The boldness of its images is striking, and at times you truly get the sense of a storybook come to life. Make-up effects designer Rob Bottin truly outdid himself in generating the film's assortment of creatures, particularly Tim Curry's Lord of Darkness, a huge, red demonic presence with enormous horns and a jutting, phallic chin. That Curry's over-the-top performance matches so perfectly the deliberately operatic nature of his costume is only fitting.
Legend is an imperfect film--that is a given. Yet, the fact that so many people have taken it to heart over the past 17 years is evidence that it resonates on a deeper level than first thought. Its themes of the never-ceasing struggle between good and evil and light and dark are timeless to the point of being cliches, but Legend brings them to life in truly cinematic terms, painting them in a way that no other medium could. Perhaps ahead of its time, certainly too ambitious for its budget and its era, Legend is nevertheless a fascinating film, one that is thankfully being drawn out of the dustbin of the misunderstood and unappreciated.
|Legend Ultimate Edition Two-Disc DVD Set|
|Long delayed and highly anticipated, this DVD set contains two version of the film, a never-before-seen 113-minute director's cut featuring the original Jerry Goldsmith score, and the 89-minute U.S. theatrical release version featuring the Tangerine Dream score.|
|Audio||English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
English DTS 5.1 Surround
English Dolby 3.0 Surround
|Subtitles||English, Spanish, French|
|Distributor||Universal Home Video|
|Release Date||May 21, 2002|
| 2.35:1 (Anamorphic) |
Both versions of the film have been given new anamorphic widescreen transfers, which is the first time Legend has appeared on home video in its proper aspect ratio. The longer director's cut on the first disc is significantly better looking than the U.S. theatrical cut, which is housed on the second disc. The director's cut is generally bright and well-detailed, although there are a few instances in which the film looks to have faded a tad, and some of the darker scenes show a fine layer of grain. The U.S. theatrical cut, however, is significantly grainier and not as sharp, although it is still a generally fine transfer. Fans of this long-neglected film should celebrate that it has been given this much care from Universal.
|English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1 Surround, English Dolby 3.0 Surround |
Both the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround soundtracks are excellent. Strong, without being overly aggressive, they set the atmosphere well, whether it be the subtle surround effects of birds chirping and wind rustling in the forest scenes, or the deep, rumbling bass of Tim Curry's demonic voice. Jerry Goldsmith's rightly celebrated score never sounded better. The U.S. theatrical cut is only available in Dolby surround, although the Tangerine Dream soundtrack is available in an isolated Dolby Digital 5.1-channel mix.
| Audio commentary by director Ridley Scott|
Ridley Scott's commentary is immensely enjoyably to listen to, although it bears the mark of having been carefully planned out ahead of time. He tends to talk at length about one subject at a time, which sometimes has little relation to what is on-screen (although there are many instances that are screen-specific). As a former set designer, he is particularly attentive to the details of the make-up and production design, almost giddy in pointing out how the fake snow was made more realistic with the use of glitter. Interestingly enough (and somewhat disappointingly), he barely even touches on the multiple versions of Legend, with the exception of bemoaning the loss of the Jerry Goldsmith score for the U.S. release.
Creating a Myth: The Memories of Legend documentary
Isolated Music Score by Tangerine Dream
Brian Ferry "Is Your Love Strong Enough?" Music Video
Cast and Filmmakers
Script to Screen (DVD-ROM)
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick