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Legend (1985)

June 5th, 2007 · 3 Comments

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The loathsome goblin Blix reports to his boss, Darkness (Tim Curry), evil incarnate, who seeks to banish daylight. To accomplish this, Blix is sent to kill a pair of unicorns and bring back the horns. At the same time, a princess named Lily (Mia Sara) enters the forest looking for a boy named Jack. Played by Tom Cruise, he’s a forest guardian who decides to impress Lily by showing her the unicorns.

Blix and his goblin cohorts use the opportunity to attack one of the creatures. This causes a winter to fall over the forest and the couple to become separated. Jack is confronted by faeries, gnomes and elves, including the Gump (David Bennent), who is livid when he discovers that Jack took Lily to see the unicorns. Jack says that he did it for love, and lopes off with them to find the unicorns.

The goblins locate the remaining unicorn, and take both it and Lily back to Darkness. Jack and the forest sprites make their way past a swamp witch (Robert Picardo) but find themselves trapped in a dungeon, where they are primed to barbecued. They escape with the help of a faerie named Oona, but Jack discovers that Lily has been turned by Darkness and requested to kill the unicorn.

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Director Ridley Scott was a fan of Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version of Beauty and the Beast and screened it for novelist and poet William Hjortsberg in the projection theater of the Beverly Hills Hotel. The writer responded favorably and over the next five months, came up with a story for a movie. Titled Legend of Darkness, it was a faerie tale, but dark in tone and aimed at an adult audience.

A 113-minute cut was shown before a preview audience. It did not test well. MCA/Universal felt that the score by Jerry Goldsmith and the length of the picture would hurt its chances appealing to teenagers. While it was released in Western Europe and Japan with the Goldsmith score intact and a running time of 94 minutes, for the U.S. release, Ridley Scott replaced Goldsmith’s score with one by synth group Tangerine Dream. He also cut the film all the way down to 89 minutes.

The $25 million budgeted film was panned by critics and confused audiences. It became a cult favorite, particularly when word got out that Jerry Goldsmith’s unused score was his best ever, and that Scott’s original cut had been 125 minutes. An “ultimate edition” released on DVD in 2002 seeks to clear the matter up.

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Legend is a crash course the effect that music and editing has on a film. I’ve never liked Legend and still don’t, but after seeing what Scott originally had in mind, I appreciate it a bit more. The 89-minute version scored by Tangerine Dream is a crappy rock opera from the ’80s. The 113-minute version scored by Goldsmith is at least more sophisticated and allows the viewer to savor the film’s fantastic design.

The photorealistic, 360 degree primordial forest designed by art director Norman Reynolds, the ghoulish makeup effects by Rob Bottin, and the strong score by Goldsmith rate the film a triumph of technical splendor. But the script is just a cut and paste job of popular myth, with absolutely nothing in the way of character or narrative to give it a pulse. Scott might have been better off just remaking Beauty and the Beast.

Tom Cruise is outright ridiculous in this, playing a primeval nature boy, a role he’s refused to discuss over the years. The movie never has a chance as soon as he appears with a bird on his shoulder. Tim Curry is terrific under all the makeup, but it’s wasted effort. Legend is an ambitious failure – fluctuating between gothic storybook and kneejerk sweet, European and American in tone – but is still a failure.

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“If you’ve seen this movie on tape or at the theatre in the past and thought it was worth the time to watch, it’s well worth your time to see it again in the uncut presentation,” enthuses Jackass Critics.

Scott Weinberg at Apollo Movie Guide states, “While the director’s cut certainly doesn’t eliminate all of Legend‘s flaws, it does go a long way toward improving the movie in several ways.”

Legend “gets a mild recommendation simply for righting wrongs and restoring so much good material to a movie which, while still lacking, gains a sense of heart in the restoration,” writes Matt Anderson at Movie Habit.

View the first nine minutes of the “Making Of” featurette on the Ultimate Version DVD.

Tags: Alternate universe · Beasts and monsters · Cult favorite · Sword fight

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Becca // Jun 11, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    William Hjortsberg is one of my favorite authors, Fallen Angel (they based Angel Heart on this book) and Nevermore are two of my favorite reads. Nevermore has one of the coolest concepts for a book ever! Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini team up to investigate a series of murders based on the writing of Edgar Allen Poe. There’s mystery, sex, adventure, sham psychics, magic…it’s great and I highly reccomend it!

    That said Hjortsberg wrote a gazillion versions of the Legend script. Something like 20 versions and the original screenplay is brilliant, it’s huge with more fantastic creatures and a more ferral overtly sexual villian. In fact the Lily character becomes a wolf towards the end of the screenplay and there is crazy wolf love between her and the villian. It’s so great, I wish it could have been made, but it was too cost prohibitive.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Jun 11, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    Is Nevermore a novel or a comic? It sounds really cool. I probably should have tempered my comments to say that the finished film felt like a cut and paste job. You may be right about the original script being brilliant, I never read it. The movie Ridley Scott made was far from brilliant.

  • 3 Becca // Jun 13, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    It’s a novel, I’ve turned a few people onto it and everyone whose read it, loved it. Check it out.

    And your right, even the better extended version of the movie feels like a cut and paste job.

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