Legend (1985)

As a kid in the 1980s I got to see a number of movies now considered classics when they first hit the theaters.  Many of the classic Spielberg films, for instance.  What I didn't get to see in the theater inevitably turned up on cable a year later and, with video stores, soon started showing up even sooner.  So, why would I have not seen Legend by now?

That is a good question to try and figure out.  I've loved Tim Curry ever since first seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and him playing the part of Darkness in this movie is considered one of his iconic roles.  Despite his Scientology garbage I tend to like many of the movies that Tom Cruise has been in, particularly in the 1990s and 2000s.  Despite the fact I was never a big fan of Cruise until I saw Rain Man (considered him more of a pretty-boy actor that girls were interested in), I can't even say it was the fact he was in the movie that kept me away.  In truth, at one time I could have sworn this starred Matthew Broderick. 

Can't even use age, because this was PG and I was 12.  No barrier there, parent or otherwise. 

This all boils down to the film not having any nostalgia factor for me.  It's not one of those movies that was amazing when I was younger and is now just a tedious slog (or vice versa), nor is it something that I have seen on the cult movie revival circuit.  It was just the movie that I always confused with Labyrinth until I finally saw that one a number of years ago.

Perhaps the reason I never saw it is that, at some point, by osmosis or otherwise, I figured that the movie just wasn't very good, despite Tim Curry in full-on devil form.  The reason I think it may be closer to the truth is because of the fact that Legend really is not that good of a movie.

Tom Cruise is Jack, a boy who loves running around in the forest and communing with nature.  He is in love with Lily (Mia Sara), who (at least in the American version) may be either a high-borne lady or a princess; it's never made clear.  Still, she is clearly in a superior status as compared to Jack, but the two seem to love each other anyway. 

A certain tree in the forest is the entryway to the lair of Darkness, a devil-like presence that wants to plunge the mortal world back into eternal night.  To do so he must kill the last to living unicorns in the forest, and he tasks the goblin Blix (Alice Payton) with the job.  Blix knows Jack is in love with Lily, so he waits for the opportune time, which comes when Jack takes Lily to see the unicorns.  Overcome, she ignores Jack's warning and touches one, allowing Blix to poison it, kill it, and remove its horn to take back to Darkness.

The word is plunged into winter, and the other unicorn (along with Lily) are captured in Darkness's lair.  Jack is confronted by the elf Gump (David Bennent), who is upset with him for his lack of judgment, but he and his dwarven companions Screwball (Billy Barty) and Brown Tom (Cork Hubbert) agree to accompany Jack to confront Darkness, rescue the unicorn and set things right.  Meanwhile, it appears that Lily is falling deeper and deeper under Darkness's spell.

There is a director's cut of this, using a soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith rather than Tangerine Dream, which runs longer and is supposedly a bit more coherent.  The version I saw is the U.S. version that was shown in theaters in the 1980s, so I can only speak to that one, which is a mess.  Visually it is quite arresting at times, especially Rob Bottin's creature effects and much of the set design within the realm of Darkness.  At other times there just seems to be glitter on everything, from Lily to Jack to every inch of the forest.  It often looks like Bottin and others took a lot of time to make everything look good only to have someone's 9-year-old daughter show up and "improve" things.

Tom Cruise is awful as the hero, crouching around like he's supposed to be one with the forest while slipping in and out of various accents.  His acting in this movie is about on par with Keanu Reeves, and not like Cruise as you would picture him today.  Mia Sara is much more interesting, and quite alluring once she gets into the "evil" gown, and acting wise outshines Cruise at every turn.  Jack really doesn't even make a good hero; this is one of those times where the heroine should have been more the focus, especially since she doesn't spend that much time really being in distress.

The highlight, of course, is Tim Curry.  He obviously knew more than director Ridley Scott or screenwriter William Hjortsberg how truly campy this entire procedure was, and he gets completely into character.  The scenes between him and Mia Sara are the highlight of the entire movie.

And, yes, this is a Ridley Scott film, and one should expect so much better from him at this point.  Instead, the whole affair is rushed.  Characters are introduced that seemingly have some importance to the story, but are underused or poorly developed.  Some of Scott's worst tendencies, using slow motion for action scenes for instance, are on display here as well.  It really doesn't seem like he had any feel, or connection, with what he was filming, and what isn't just a bunch of random fantasy scenes thrown together is largely the generic Joseph Campbell style mythmaking.

I also have to chuckle when I hear that Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack was eschewed for the American version because some executive thought that Tangerine Dream, Jon Anderson and Bryan Ferry would appeal to American youth.  I was probably one of the few people my age who listened to them, let alone would have known who they were at that point.  Still, the soundtrack is one of the few reasons to recommend seeing this, as it does make proceedings more bearable, even if it doesn't feel as integrated into the movie as Andrew Powell's score for Ladyhawke

While the special effects and creature design, like most '80s films, is superior to the many of the computer effects used today, I still can't say there would be any reason to watch this unless you had some special connection with the year that it was released.  I probably would not mind seeing the director's cut at some point, but I doubt that, unlike Scott's revisions to Blade Runner, it would really make Legend that much better of a film. 

Legend (1985)
Time: 89 minutes
Starring: Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry
Director: Ridley Scott


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