Legend - 1985

Original 1985 theatrical version. (There is a 'Director's Cut'* version on the Legend (Ultimate Edition) [Blu-ray] amazon )

Legend - 1985 - Directed by Ridley Scott, released in USA April 18, 1986 (1985 in Europe)

Tom Cruise plays the character Jack, who seems to be a combination of Jack-in-the-green, Peter Pan, Tarzan, Mowgli, and a young, untrained knight. He must defeat the Lord of Darkness, played by Tim Curry, whose goal is to blot out the sun, which will give him the power to rule beyond his present kingdom of night. To accomplish this, his first step is to procure the horn of a unicorn.

Sara Mia is the young Princess Lili who hurls a ring into a deep watery gorge, vowing to wed whoever recovers the ring. Is this because she is young and impetuous, or because she knows full well Jack can recover the ring? She also begins a host of problems because she dares to touch a sacred unicorn (why are they sacred? I don't know). She also is targeted to be seduced to join up with Darkness.

Visual Dominance

Both Jack and Lili are made to play second-fiddle to visual effects which often dominate the purpose of a scene. Story and dialogue cannot seem to balance the matter. Too often we're put into the position of admiring the work of the film's art department, something we ought to be relatively unaware of during the course of a movie. At times, we're almost looking at an illustration.

Special effects are not always perfect: the cast of forest creatures are heavily reliant upon prosthetic makeup which is fantastic in still shots but often looks unreal and stiff in motion. What's more, the creatures have lips that move, but it doesn't always match the recorded dialogue, and the weight of the makeup effects are obvious from the way the actors buried beneath it move (or do not move) when playing a scene. The worst example of makeup not working is the wobbling horns of racing unicorns.

The limitations of 1985 special effects and the claustrophobia of the world of Legend (everything seems awfully close together, the sense of distance between places is rarely established) dates the movie to a specific time frame of mid-1980's fantasy films.

The legend of Legend

There is a fervent following of fans for this film who defend it, despite it's box office disappointment and the panning by professional critics (Roger Ebert: "Despite all its sound and fury, "Legend" is a movie I didn't care very much about. All of the special effects in the world, and all of the great makeup, and all of the great Muppet creatures can't save a movie that has no clear idea of its own mission and no joy in its own accomplishment.")

Intended to be a fairy tale for adults and laden with a pretentious lead-in prologue which is on the verge of asking the question of the audience "can there be chocolate without vanilla?" With the theatrical cut, so much is awry that finally the music and visuals combine to make the impression of the world's most expensive music video, sans an actual band.

[The Legend Director's Cut has much better pacing and rewards patience in a way the theatrical version does not.]


Legend is a visually powerful movie that is marred by choppy and sometimes incoherent story-telling, and a creeping sameness that develops because there's very little rest from the amazing art direction and visual effects.** Since the movie is dealing in fables, character development is abbreviated in favor of making them symbols, which is hard to care about.

* The Legend "Director's Cut" is from an "answer print" which is a version of the film made post-editing when music and sound syncing has been performed, along with color-correction. Apparently the movie was hastily recut by the production studio and that's how the theatrical print version became so distinctly second-rate compared to Scott's original.

** Another film plagued by an exhausting and unrelenting onslaught of visual domination is Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books, though it also has the problem of what seems like a wall of music that never lets the ears rest. Scott's film does not have this problem. The theatrical cut is dominated by pop sounds by Tangerine Dream, but the 'Director's Cut' original soundtrack is by Jerry Goldsmith.

Original Page January 2016

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