Tribute #7: Legend (1985)

RATING:

A Film Review By Stefan Vlahov

Both director Ridley Scott and star Tom Cruise have refused to acknowledge their 1985 collaboration Legend as a film that turned out worthy of their talents. Cruise has almost erased it from his memory because of religious reasons and has turned down any and all involvement in participating in featurettes found on special editions DVDs. Apparently, Scientology does not permit him to associate himself, or acknowledge some of the themes and objects in this film (fairys, unicorns, fantastical creatures) as it condemns all types of realization of fantastical creatures. This actually brings up a frightening thought that maybe Cruise has not seen Lord of the Rings!!! Ugh. Ridley Scott has condemned because he didn’t like the way it turned out. As a follow-up to Blade Runner, he is absolutely right – it does not amount to much. But when compared to some of his other films, especially stuff like Someone to Watch Over Me and G.I. Jane, Legend easily stands out.

I am of the opinion that Legend should not be condemned, in fact I think that it deserves some kind of revival. A remake would be great. That is chiefly true, because of the film consists of many short-comings surrounded by moments of pure genius. In fact, some of those moments, like when a character dances with a unicorn’s horn in hand while spewing an evil rhyme, are some of the most memorable fantasy images I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Lord of the Rings. The story is a all too familiar and fun. The Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) tries to take over the world by doing a simple task: killing two unicorns. But just like every man in the world, his plans are ruined when he falls for the innocent Princess Lily (Mia Sara). He wants to bed her as soon as possible, but Jack (Tom Cruise) – Lily’s true love, stands in his way of doing that and taking over the world.

The most interesting thing about Scott’s approach is that he does not make Legend a glossy fantasy like Blade Runner. It actually includes some pretty raw depictions of violence that don’t hide behind the shadows. Scott is also great at depicting the macabre themes that would be associated with a film that depicts the workings of the Lord of Darkness. A scene where demon chefs are chopping people up is an excellent example of this, as is the depiction of frightening imps coming to life. A lot of later films seem to be inspired by these and other scenes in Legend, especially Francis Ford Corolla’s Dracula, which is worth seeing just for the blood lust of it all.

But Scott’s mistake is also one related to the images he put in his film. Calling some of the scenes childish is being way too easy on the absolute disgrace that some of them can be. There is a particular scene involving Jack and a tree that is absolutely embarrassing, and if Scott wanted to use it as a reference to “Jack and the Bean Stalk” it is definitely lost in translation. One wonders why there is such a mix of conflicting elements in the film. On one hand, I am willing to blame them mostly on the script by William Hjortsberg, but on the other hand, this is the same Ridley Scott that made Alien and Blade Runner before making Legend, and I think he would have had the skill to even out the film. Not that i want the film to be a one-tone bore. I welcome conflicting emotions and scenes in films, but I only appreciate them when they make sense together and are well executed on the technical side.

Speaking of which, it is very good, at least for a film released in the mid-80’s. Still, it can not measure up to Scott’s previous efforts in technical prowess. Legend is missing Alien’s special effects subtlety, and Blade Runner’s consisted aesthetic tone. But if we give credit where credit’s due, this Scott effort is still one that can at times be downright beautiful to look at. The cinematography by Alex Thomson is a bit too soft at times, but it actually helps hide the cheesy special effects that are sometimes too easy to spot. The score by Tangerine Dream is interesting, but that is all. Almost too quirky for the film at times. But the worst part of the technical aspects of the film, and the film itself is the editing. I am blaming the choppiness of the film, not on Terry Rawlings, because there are two versions out there. The European version is the one Rawlings cut and people who have seen say it is better than the choppy American version – the one that I saw. The film can now only be found in this version so my rating reflects only its quality.

On the acting side, things are better. Tom Cruise delivers an amazing performance as Jack. He plays a good guy and plays him straight. Skills that he displays in later films with romance are seen here, and with this film Cruise cements himself as a natural talent. May be some of the best acting in a fantasy film, until Ian McKellen in Lord of the Rings. Mia Sara is at times too innocent here, but the lines she is given are super cool and she delivers them perfectly. Tim Curry seems to be just having fun, but at times he is more frightening than most villains that have better make-up jobs. He is the stuff of nightmares but in a good way. Overall the acting is solid – something rare in the fantasy genre.

The film has become a cult classic, but the chopping done by the studio has kept it from becoming a success. Add to that the big names refusing to want to be associated with it, and you have a film that has been almost forgotten. But if you do see it in a bargain bin, don’t ignore it and give it a shot. It may not be worth paying full price, but it is worth a look, especially for Cruise fans seeking a hidden gem.

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