LEGEND (1985) – film review

Wednesday , 15, March 2017 18 Comments

LEGEND is a dark fantasy adventure film, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Tom Cruise as Jack, Mia Sara as Princess Lily, and Tim Curry as Darkness, a traditional devil complete with horns and hooves.

It’s a traditional fairy tale, with some of the lushest sets ever devised, and a brilliant costumed performance by Tim Curry. Even better is Mia Sara, who makes the Devil himself fall in love with her, and reverses the roles of tempter and tempted. Tom Cruise is his usual likeable, everyman self.

The most fascinating thing about this movie is the reason it failed at the box office. Originally, the lush visuals were matched by an equally lush score by Jerry Goldsmith. Following its UK debut, the director delayed the North American release by four months, in order to cut almost 30 minutes of material and replace the orchestral score with a hastily recorded pop score by Tangerine Dream and others. This decision was not the result of studio meddling; it was made by the director himself.

Instead of trusting his artistic instincts, he tried to make the film more commercial to appeal to the alleged baseness of American tastes. In the process, he destroyed his own movie. It received poor reviews and was a flop at the box office.

I saw this butchered version as a teenager. I thought it was OK, but cheesy. I forgot the movie until 2002, when Universal released a nearly two-hour director’s cut, with the original Goldsmith score, on DVD. It was literally a different movie. It went from a disposable pop film, to a great fantasy film.

And no wonder: Jerry Goldsmith is one of the great film composers. His thrilling and mysterious score for the first Star Trek movie elevates it from a 2001 knock-off into something that evokes a genuine sense of wonder. In fact, it’s my favorite of all the Star Trek films.

I had a similar experience with Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS. I first saw it in a public-domain version on television, at the wrong speed, with a soundtrack composed of random music with no relation to the visuals. Years later, I saw it in a splendid restored version, with a new recording of the original score. What a difference!

Music and sound design is important. It’s an integral part of the cinematic art form. If you haven’t seen the director’s cut of LEGEND, you’re missing a film that was very nearly a classic.

  • Scott Cole says:

    I need to check out the director’s cut..

  • deuce says:

    Sounds like I need to take another look at this. The type of movie/story that LEGEND was, it absolutely did not need a “modern” score. I would hope the added footage helps as well.

  • B&N says:

    If you like the score, try Elmer Bernstein’s The Black Cauldron next.

    • deuce says:

      Yeah, that’s a good score. Disney totally really dropped the ball on that movie. The Prydain series is far better than Narnia, IMO. Somebody needs to do a quality franchise of it, rather than trying to meld/mix/match two books into one.

      • Laurie says:

        I agree, I wish someone would pick up the Prydain series and do it right.

        Back in the early 80s, I happened to meet a Disney animator, mentioned that I was a huge fan of Prydain, and asked, They aren’t going to do this all slapstick, are they (with my mouth twisted in distaste). He assured me, no, this movie was going to take itself seriously. It was supposed to be the turn-around for Disney’s animation department, going back to the classics.

        Not much later, half of Disney’s animation department walking out in the middle of making The Black Cauldron.

        Years later, I read that, originally, Disney was going with a script written by Lloyd Alexander (the series author), but the animation team responsible for Oliver and Co demanded to be put in charge. Afraid of losing out these Young Turks, Disney gave Black Cauldron to them and they threw out Alexander’s script.

        The team that was originally going to do Black Cauldron went on to do The Great Mouse Detective, which was the real turn-around for Disney animation, setting the stage for The Little Mermaid.

        • Anthony says:

          Ah, the GMD is underrated. The song the mouse sings in the nightclub is lame but Ratigan and especially Vincent Price’s song are wonderfully over the top.

          In fact, Price generally rocked.

        • Alex says:

          Having loved Lloyd Alexander all through my childhood, finally getting to see the Black Cauldron was one of the biggest nerd disappointments of my adult life.

      • deuce says:

        Wow, thanks for the inside scoop, Laurie. That backs up some of the things I’ve read in the past. Disney could’ve had a classic 5-picture franchise — not counting the short stories that could’ve been expanded, I suppose — and went with the Frankenmovie we got instead. Very sad. Now, Disney is far too converged to do it justice. Maybe Pixar? Or perhaps a live action by someone else.

        It’s just a crime that the books haven’t been brought to screen properly. Hell, there are other excellent books by Alexander as well.

        • Laurie says:

          I’ve read that Disney has re-acquired the rights (google Disney and Lloyd Alexander, the articles come right up, dated a year ago), but haven’t heard anything more. My knee jerk preference would be animation, if only to keep the humor; live action fantasy tends to go Veddy Serious. But my guess would be that Disney’s trying to do it’s own LOTR, which would work if the script is good.

          I’m still mad at what the 80s movie did to Fflewddur Fflam.

        • deuce says:

          I would be fine with an animated version. If they go live-action, they need to keep Jackson away. Maybe Stanton? Flewdurr is a classic character. Then again, that could be said of almost every character in the Prydain books.

  • Andy says:

    The new cut is definitely an improvement but Tom Cruise has always been my main problem with it. I just don’t buy him in the role.

    Curry in that Rob Bottin makeup is classic, though.

  • PCBushi says:

    I watched Legend not too long ago for the first time. I was actually kind of disappointed; I thought the plot was a little convoluted and slow at points. The original score probably would have helped it.

    To its credit, it did include some traditional concepts that you don’t see much anymore, like the elves (or sprites or whatever they are) being weak to the touch of iron.

  • Alex says:

    One of the most interesting analyses of Legend I’ve heard was that it was actually about toxic femininity.

    From HBR back when still were largely focused on nerd stuff:

  • gwood says:

    I had the same reaction to Ladyhawke. Ruined by the pop score.

    • deuce says:

      Right. What is the thought process with these decisions? Did they say, “Look at Star Wars! It had a traditional score and made WAY too much money. Let’s go pop.”

  • Kenny Cross says:

    Yes! I have the two DVD set that has the U.S. Theatrical release with the Tangerine Dream score and then the version with the Jerry Goldsmith Score. I had never disliked the U.S. release since that was the version of the movie I had seen originally. I was just disappointed. It was no Alien or Blade Runner. It wouldn’t be the last time I was disappointed by Ridley Scott. So when I put in the Jerry Goldsmith version for the first time after having not watched the movie since it was first released I fell in love with the movie for the very first time.

    Great post.

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