Combined Rating: 2.25/5
Frank has been telling me about this one for years now, so much so that I thought I’d already seen it when he proposed we watch it this time. I was already well acquainted with its best and worst qualities—the worst of which can be deduced by its generic name. Imagine a plot you’ve seen a hundred thousand times in various different iterations, but stripped of everything that made each of those iterations memorable or unique, and you’ve pretty much got “Legend.” I don’t mind formulas, as long as there are enough of those unique twists, and as long as the characters are memorable. But those elements were so lacking in this story, and it was so high in melodrama that the film felt almost (but not quite) tongue-in-cheek.
Here’s how it goes. There’s an enchanted forest, where live an innocent young couple: the princess Lili (Mia Sara), and her puckish suitor Jack (Tom Cruise, in possibly the worst casting I have ever seen. Everyone else in the film talks with a slight old English accent, aware of the kind of piece they’re in. Tom Cruise meanwhile just plays himself… except, frolicking in an enchanted forest.) Jack takes Lili to see the unicorns, in whose horns is stored all the goodness in the world. The evil demons, headed by the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry—who, by contrast, is superbly cast), of course want to saw off the horns of the unicorn so that evil can descend on the world. But, as per the medieval myth, none but a pure virgin can attract a unicorn. So the demons use Lili as a lure, shoot one of them, and saw off its horn. Darkness and winter descend. The Lord of Darkness meanwhile decides he’d like Lili to be his queen and abducts her. Jack must pursue and rescue her, recover the horn, and restore order to the world. Bet you can’t guess how it ends.
But, to be fair, while the story was incredibly generic and predictable, the score was jarring, and the protagonist was really quite terrible in his role, the film had one major redeeming quality: it was absolutely gorgeous to look at. It reminded me of the best possible set of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”—and due to the level of melodrama, I think it probably would translate very well to the stage. Regardless, story or no story, I’d have watched the film in its entirety, just for the scenery.
While I will never forgive Legend for infamously burning down the 007 stage at Pinewood Studios (undoubtedly preventing A View to a Kill from being a better movie), time has softened my stance on the Ridley Scott fantasy yarn that basically argues that “bad things happen when you selfishly harass wildlife.” However, if glitteral forest nymphs Tom Cruise and Mia Sara had not gone unicorn gawking, they wouldn’t have led creature effects wizard Rob Bottin’s nasty trolls to track their secret location and hack off a horn containing the essence of light that the devil’s servant, “Darkness,” needs to unleash permanent midnight on the Earth. Apparently, evil is easier to perpetrate at night, and it’s just easier on the eyes. You also need campfires at night, which sometimes cause explosions that destroy entire soundstages. More evil. Before damning “Darkness” entirely, I must admit it is only in “Darkness’s” totally obvious and easily penetrable lair that we are privy to the cramped musings of the demon himself, imparted with predictably delicious gravity by the film’s salvager, if not savior, Tim Curry. I found myself sympathizing with “Darkness’s” desire to not be alone more than I did with the plight of the “innocents,” because in the end, we can’t all look like, or be as selfless as, Tom Cruise. And to “Darkness’s” credit, he never actually sought to abduct the only attractive girl in the forest, she just happened to be there when the other remaining unicorn was kidnapped for an unnecessarily delayed ceremony…setting poor “Darkness” up for another bout of awkward, unrequited love and the immature acts of evil it inspires. Had the demon not been so distracted by Ferris Bueller’s future girlfriend (or in his admittedly engrossing evil laughing fits) I’m sure he would have achieved his grandeur goals, but instead, his complex gave Tom time to infiltrate and rescue our naïve heroine.
Without Curry’s performance, achieved despite enduring hours of makeup prosthetics that I’m guessing made it damn near impossible for him to hold his head up, the supplementary antics of nymph Cruise and his cadre of well-intentioned, yet hapless gnomes and sprites wouldn’t have been enough to sustain my entertainment. Curry’s “Darkness” provides the only release in this otherwise stuffy high-pressure system, visually stunning as it may be. If Ridley and screenwriter William Hjortsberg had further developed their tagline themes “No Good without Evil. No Love without Hate. No Innocence without Lust,” we might have finished with more to contemplate about the visual symbolism the film offers on the nature of things. But as it stands, we have only “Darkness” to flesh it out, and ultimately, relate to. Without the benefit of his pontifications, it’s all just too dreamily nebulous to grasp. It certainly seems the intent was that we merely lose ourselves in all the pretty colors.
I know Lauren disagrees, but I actually found the theatrical version’s eerie synth score, composed by Tangerine Dream, to fit quite nicely with the feel of a weird fantasy world conjured through the lens of 1980’s sensibilities. The director’s cut, alternately, features Jerry Goldsmith’s original score, and is deemed better, and more universal, by most fans. However, I always prefer scores that accentuate musical trends from the period films were produced in, as a time capsule of the era. For me, Tangerine Dream helps the film feel more unique, and more identifiably rooted within a cult niche. But for all its lush aural and visual imagery, Legend will likely remain one of those films I can’t quite justify, recall, or internalize, despite my appreciation for the artistry applied to it all. I can’t help but contemplate essential layers of storytelling that were sacrificed for emphasis on a glossy sheen, and how focusing instead on those layers may have caused the film’s themes (if intended) to better linger in the mind.
Meal Pairing: Broccoli and Cheddar soup, with Tobasco sauce and Sourdough bread, prefaced by a shrimp cocktail ring with some spicy cocktail sauce.