|Legend (Ultimate Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 21 May 2002|
If you haven’t seen it in awhile (or at all), even if you’re familiar with director Ridley Scott’s reputation, you may be blown away by the sheer flabbergasting physical beauty of his 1986 fantasy "Legend."
"Legend" is best described as essence of fairytale elements. It has actual fairies, plus goblins, unicorns, a lovely princess, a stalwart peasant hero and an enormous villain with an evil plan. Writer William Hjortsberg (who, based on what we’re told in the supplemental material, came up with the storyline in conjunction with director Scott) blends all of these together in serviceable order, providing Scott with a framework for one stunning setpiece after another.
Princess Lily (Mia Sara) loves young woodsman Jack o’ the Green (Tom Cruise), who adores her in turn. Jack unwisely lets Lily see a pair of sacred unicorns. Lily is moved to touch one, an event that gives the minions of Darkness (Tim Curry) the opportunity to slay the unicorn stallion, taking its horn, and kidnapping the mare and Lily. Without any unicorns, the world will be plunged into eternal night. Jack, with the help of woodsprite Gump (David Bennent) and friends, must undertake a quest to rescue Lily and the last unicorn.
The tale is about as straightforward as it sounds. Scott and Hjortsberg come up with plenty of little adventures – a tiny fairy confides her secret to Jack, Jack tangles with a man-eating water-witch – but neither the plot arc nor the characters really surprise us. "Legend" comes from a tradition of fantasy films in which the main figures are so archetypal as to be simplistic. (Hopefully Peter Jackson’s adaptation of "Lord of the Rings" has given the lie to this view of fantasy leads once and for all.) Cruise and Sara look wonderful and play their parts with earnest commitment, serving the material though not elaborating on it.
Curry fares somewhat better, as he has proved himself time and again to be a master of swaggering, ready-for-anything sexual menace, suggesting both real depravity and a tender streak. Rob Bottin’s massive costume and makeup give the actor the means and license to take it to the hilt, which Curry does expertly. Moreover, Darkness is at least allowed emotions (an unexpected passion for Lily) that startle and move him. The script, however, trips over itself somewhat with the lore concerning Darkness. If the character really is Darkness – and his dialogue suggests this is indeed what’s intended – and and not just a demon who serves the night, how can our heroes even think of destroying him? Won’t getting rid of Darkness create endless day? This issue is hinted at but ultimately not addressed, leaving "Legend" feeling a bit mythologically lopsided.
If the characters and storytelling leave something to be desired, Scott’s vision is breathtaking. In Chapter 3, as Lily moves through the woods, even the air is alive with petals and feathers floating in the light, gentle greens and browns and whites punctuated by a few red flowers framing the scene around the beautiful girl, all faithfully rendered in the DVD transfer. In Chapter 6, as tragedy begins to strike, a unicorn comes to rest in a storm of pink flower petals. Chapter 8 gives us a world of ice, rendered in subtle blues and whites.
This "ultimate edition" of "Legend" reaches DVD on two discs, each containing a separate cut of the film. Disc 1 has Scott’s director’s cut, which is a full 24 minutes longer than the U.S. theatrical release on Disc 2. Disc 1 contains Jerry Goldsmith’s fabled original score, replaced on the theatrical release (and on Disc 2) with a score by Tangerine Dream. This is a real musical taste test. Goldsmith’s traditional symphonic instincts are good and true here, but the Tangerine Dream score, while detectably more a product of its time, has in its way a more stark, ethereal sound with its own appeal.
Both prints are in excellent shape, but certain scenes look a bit desaturated. Without having seen the movie recently on mint-condition celluloid, it’s difficult to be certain, but it’s possible that there are shots where the prints show age. However, they are pristine when it comes to print integrity and for the most part, justice is done to Scott’s soft lighting and punctuating use of color.
As far as sound formats, Disc 1 wins, as it has DTS and 5.1, along with 2.0 Surround; Disc 2 only has the latter. As the sound hasn’t been remastered for the new formats, there are few notable directional sound effects. Chapter 6 provides an interesting contrast when Jack is underwater between his muffled, submerged hearing and the clear sounds on the land. The same chapter contains some realistic blizzard winds and a distinctive clinking door latch. Chapter 7 provides a bit of surround, with a distant wolf howl in the rears and Chapter 8 gives us an echo that likewise is distinct in the rear speakers, but most of the well-mixed audio resides in the center and mains.
It’s interesting to contrast the two versions of the film. Scott certainly had the right idea in his cut of avoiding the almost-insulting-to-audience-intelligence-crawl that begins the release version – just because it works in "Star Wars" doesn’t mean it’s for everybody. On the other hand, the release version, wisely as it turns out, introduces us to Darkness much sooner and avoids a curious repetition of a chunk of dialogue that turns up in the director’s cut.
Scott’s version has a lot more byplay between Jack and the fairies, which is enchanting – the look of the creatures and their environments owes a lot to the work of artist Brian Froud. However, the theatrical release has a better ending. If a plot is going to give us a resurrection, then show it, as the theatrical version does. Finally, while Scott’s impulse to end on a gossamer-light note is understandable and poetic, the theatrical version’s instincts on where to leave the main characters seem more in keeping with both audience satisfaction and fairytale ethos.
Extras (not including, of course, the aforementioned additional version of the entire film) include an audio commentary by Scott on the director’s cut, which is very informative on technical matters, going into detail on how sets were designed and sequences were shot. The second disc contains an agreeable retrospective making-of featurette, a Bryan Ferry music video and some deleted material. One scene, transferred to digital videotape, is an alternate opening with goblins in the forest. The other is a fairy dance, with the original audio augmented by production sketches and photographs from the day’s filming (one intriguing shot appears to depict an airborne Cruise).
While "Legend" does not grip the heart the way certain more comprehensive cinematic fantasies do, it remains one of the most physically beautiful movies ever made, making it a must-see for fans of the genre and films in general.