Cast: Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, David Bennent, Alice Playten, Bill Barty, Cork Hubbert
A magical adventure which features elves, demons and other mythical creatures. Darkness, the personification of evil, plans to disperse eternal night in the land where this story takes place, by killing every unicorn in the world. Although he looks unbeatable, Jack and his friends are disposed to do everything to save the world and princess Lili (who Darkness intends to make his wife) from the hands of this evil monster.
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What is it about fantasy movies from the eighties that makes them so appealing? Films like “The Neverending Story” and “Labyrinth” seem to hold a special place in people’s hearts, and have only grown in popularity over the years. Looking back on them now, their music and special effects are often dated by today’s standards, but that tends to evoke affection rather than annoyance. Such a film is Ridley Scott’s “Legend.” Although it has not achieved the level of cult popularity enjoyed by similar films, it’s a visually stunning tale.
The story begins with two lovers: the aristocratic Lily and the wild-child Jack. One day, as a special treat, Jack takes Lily to see a pair of unicorns. These are apparently the only two in the world, and it is their power alone that brings the dawn and wards off the Lord of Darkness. It is forbidden for a mortal to touch a unicorn, and when Lily disobeys this rule, disaster strikes. The male unicorn is killed by Darkness’ goblin minions, who amputate the horn and deliver it to their master. Nature itself mourns the death of the unicorn, descending into a winter storm which separates Jack and Lily from one another. They each vow to rescue the female unicorn and restore balance to the universe, but it won’t be easy. The Dark Lord longs for a world of eternal night, and to make matters even worse, he has become obsessed with winning Lily’s heart…
Ridley Scott had a tough time with “Legend.” The film tested poorly when it was first screened, so in an effort to make it more acceptable, Scott made a number of changes. The runtime was cut down, the ending was made more conventional, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score was ditched in favour of a new soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. Sadly, even in its revamped form, “Legend” was regarded as a disappointment. Thanks to home video, the movie has gained a new audience, and its merits can be appreciated. Both the North American cut and the European Director’s Cut have been released, and it’s difficult to say which is better. On one hand, the Director’s Cut features more material and a more poetic ending. However, the otherworldly Tangerine Dream score from the U.S. release often seems more fitting, especially during the scene in which the unicorns first appear. It’s all a matter of preference as to which is the superior cut, as they both have their good points.
Rob Bottin’s Oscar-nominated make-up work is superb, transforming the actors without overshadowing their performances. Highlights include Meg Mucklebones (Robert Picardo), a creature so ugly that her minute of screen-time is more than enough to sear her on your memory. Also, take a closer look at Blix, whose look was based on none other than Keith Richards. Of course, the crowning achievement is probably the Lord of Darkness himself. What with the ox horns, the stilts and the massive muscles, it certainly looks like one of film history’s most challenging make-up jobs, both to design and to wear.
Of course, if any actor could shine through all those prosthetics, it would be Tim Curry. Known for his wonderfully over-the-top style, Curry’s expressive face is still recognizable under the makeup, and there’s no mistaking that terrific voice. Tom Cruise does a fine job as Jack, while the underrated Mia Sara embodies all the innocence and stubbornness
“Legend” was filmed on a soundstage (as opposed to a real fairytale kingdom, perhaps due to budgetary constraints), and its elaborate settings are really something special. The forest truly looks magical, whether glowing with the warmth of spring or trapped in an enchanted winter. This may or may not have something to do with the sheer volume of glitter being used, but hey, it was the eighties.
The costumes are gorgeous, particularly when it comes to Mia Sara’s wardrobe. The destruction of Lily’s flowing white gown mirrors the potential loss of her character’s purity, as the carefree princess fights to resist the powers of evil. When Darkness attempts to seduce her, Sara is clothed in skin-tight black with matching Goth makeup, as if looking the part of a villain will make her succumb to darkness.
Although it wasn’t as well-received as the filmmakers would have liked, “Legend” deserves to be appreciated for its artistry. It’s also nice to look back on it and admire its commitment to telling an honest-to-goodness fairytale. Maybe audiences weren’t interested in another sword-and-sorcery epic, as those were a dime-a-dozen in those days. But today, “Legend” serves as an enjoyable fantasy about the power of good over evil, and about the power of creative storytelling.