It takes a special kind of filmmaker at the right point in his/her career to make a film so grand and admirable a failure. No matter which version of Legend you watch - the 90-minute one with the then-'modern' Tangerine Dream score or the lengthier version with the Jerry Goldsmith score - neither one works. It’s not the score or the running time, and it’s not about what was cut out or left in. Simply put, the problem was Mr. Scott’s overindulgence with his visual palette related to character, story, tone and all the other storytelling elements.
Legend (1985) dir. Ridley Scott
Starring: Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry
By Alan Bacchus
Poor Ridley Scott. After the torturous efforts to film Blade Runner, not excluding the fight for editorial rights of the final picture, his next film, Legend, was even more in conflict.
The idea of Legend began from Ridley Scott himself and his desire to film a fairy tale with traditional themes of mythology and fantasy. The result of his collaboration with author William Hjortsberg was a rather simple screenplay about a boy thrust into a journey to save his girl from the clutches of a beastly form of devil incarnate. Elves, unicorns, trolls and other beasts contribute to the familiar fairy tale quality that Scott visualized.
When it came time to film, Scott’s detailed and demanding directorial style foiled his own movie. After 10 days of filming, the entire UK Pinewood set burned to the ground, and it was over a year of shooting before the end of principal photography. In post-production, Jerry Goldsmith’s original classical score was mostly discarded in favour of the electronic synthesized music of Tangerine Dream, and of course the running time was cut down from 113 minutes to 90 minutes. Previous DVD releases, as well as the current Blu-ray release, have all of this reinstated as best as possible.
Tom Cruise is sorely miscast as Jack, a humble forest boy smitten with the lovely virginal Princess Lily (Mia Sara). As told in the opening prologue, good and evil are kept in balance by the magic of the unicorns. The evil lord (Curry), who wants a world of darkness instead of light, plots to capture and dehorn the unicorns. When Lily is caught in the way of the goblin Pix’s plans she becomes the Dark Lord’s prisoner, thus sending Jack on his quest to find Lily and save the world from perpetual darkness.
It’s a sparsely detailed narrative at best, buoyed by Ridley Scott’s sumptuous art direction and cinematography. The film is impossibly beautiful. The entire movie was shot inside a studio, with all of the exterior forest scenes recreated indoors for maximum visual control. And it’s all on the screen and pristine on Blu-ray. I can’t even imagine the painstaking efforts it took to shoot those slow-motion shots of the unicorns galloping through the forest and through the lightly descending flower spores in the air. In moments like these, the film is spectacularly breathtaking and arguably one of the most beautiful films ever made.
That said, there does exist the problem of having too much of a good thing. And Scott’s verisimilitude for visual texture severely overwhelms and bogs down his narrative. Even at 90 minutes it’s a slow crawl. The actors seem more like furniture to the lovely spores or drops of water from the cave stalactites. Tim Curry is completely imprisoned in his gargantuan and gothic devil’s headdress makeup effects by Rob Bottin. Again, the red devil is an impressive technical design, but it furthers the rigidness and stunted feeling of the narrative.
Legend typifies the frustration with many of Scott's films, commercially driven movies aimed at the mainstream but overly consumed by their own visual texture. As a result, they’re often emotionally vacant, hallow and inert.