Review: Legend (PG) / Director: Ridley Scott / Screenplay: William Hjortsberg / Starring: Tom Cruise, Miah Sara, Tim Curry, David Bennent, Alice Playten / Released date: Out now
There are two films on the Legend Blu-ray. One is a dark, adult fairytale by one of the best directors on the planet at the peak of his career, with visual effects that were twenty years ahead of their time and an atmospheric Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack. The other is a badly edited mess of a children’s film with a cheesy Tangerine Dream soundtrack that stands out as being one of the worst examples of studio interference in cinematic history. I am, of course, referring to the Director’s Cut and Theatrical version of the same movie. Ridley Scott’s Legend.
Most of us will have seen the Theatrical version already, so consider this review of the Director's Cut only; as that’s the version you will be buying this disk for.
The Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) intends to bring about a reign of perpetual night, as sunlight is the one thing that can destroy him. In order to do this, he needs to kill the last two unicorns on the Earth. He sends his goblins out to get the only bait that draws the unicorn. Innocence, in this instance, in the form of Princess Lili (played by Mia Sarah in her first ever movie role). The male unicorn is slain, and Lili is taken captive by Darkness, who hopes to corrupt her innocence into an evil to match his own. The only thing standing between the world and an endless night are Jack, the forest boy (played by a very young Tom Cruise) and a ragtag group of fairies and gnomes.
The first thing that you notice about Legend is that it looks absolutely stunning. The sets are astonishing, and would not be equalled until Lord of the Rings. The practical effects are similarly amazing. The makeup on Tim Curry is nothing short of fantastic, and this extends to the other inhabitants of the world. The practical effects are almost flawless, and are superior to the visuals that we get in modern blockbusters. The only time that things fall down are in the early attempts at CGI, such as a couple of the fairy effects or when Lord Darkness emerges through a mirror.
The Director's Cut has a disclaimer from Ridley Scott at the beginning that explains that the full version of the film was thought to be lost until 2000, when a pristine print was discovered, but that due to the nature of the print, they could not enhance it to today’s standards. To be honest, there were only the two named instances above where I noticed anything at all that was less than perfect.
The improvement to the storyline with the re-insertion of the cut footage is marked. The plot now makes sense, for a start. The whole tone of the film is much darker, and some of the imagery would make the average small child run screaming for the back of the sofa. The characters are more fleshed out and Tim Curry in particular gives one of the best performances of his career.
That’s not to say that it’s perfect, even in this version which is closer to the directors’ original vision. There is still a fairly large dollop of 1980’s cheesiness in evidence at times, although at least it does provide a counterpoint to the darkness. And yes, unfortunately Mia Sarah still sings in this version, but at least it’s near the beginning, so you don’t have to sit there, dreading it for long. If I’m honest, even now I still don’t really buy into the pseudo-romantic Lord of Darkness loves Lili sub-plot. It at least makes a sort of sense in this version of the film, but those scenes still dragged a little for me.
There is also precious little in terms of extras on this disk, as the two versions of the movie essentially take up all the space. The only other thing on the disk was the theatrical trailer. Personally I’d rather they’d ditched the rubbish version of the movie and put some actual special features on the disk. I’d have loved to see how some of those effects were done.
Legend is Ridley Scott’s flawed classic. An engaging and dark fantasy that was edited to death by a studio that wanted a children’s movie, and who then wondered why it died in flames at the box office.
This is a worthwhile addition to the collection of any fantasy fan, but I wouldn’t bother with the theatrical release unless you fancy a laugh at how badly the studio execs managed to mess things up.