By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, Robert Picardo, and David Bennet
It’s tough to look back on now. But, if you were into fantasy around in the mid 80s, there were a slew of films hitting the market that were catered to you. From Neverending Story to Labyrinth, ambitious filmmakers were taking the bull (or unicorn) by the horns and, without the help of digital technology, weaving tales of wizards and monsters as far as they could. One of these directors is someone who you would not expect: Ridley Scott. After the initial box office failure of Blade Runner, he wanted to tell a tale of a young hermit who is transformed into a hero. In other words, he wanted to tell his own fairy tale. Armed with special effects make-up artist Rob Bottin (who was just coming off The Thing), Scott hired a then mostly unknown Tom Cruise to play the hermit named Jack (a role once considered for one Johnny Depp) and, based on his some would say brilliant performance in Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness. So, with all this talent coming in and Scott’s brilliant vision, how does the film end up?
I would say, for the most part, pretty good. It’s about the Lord of Darkness (Curry) and his quest for eternal night. He can earn this feat if he both captures a unicorn and marries a fairy princess (Sara). Once she is captured, her only hope is that of forest boy Jack (Cruise), who, along with elf allies he meets along the way, is on a quest to rescue the princess and, in turn, the world, from the eternal darkness that the Lord so badly needs. Visually, the film is grandiose for 1985. Unicorns can be seen in all their glory (even playing to the sounds of humpback whales), followed by elves and, of course, goblins. Bottin, whose career was criminally too short, has once again proven to be far ahead of his time with the work on display here. Tim Curry is unrecognizable underneath the masses of brilliant work, and it really is a sight to be seen when he is first onscreen staring at the audience with his lit-up green eyes. The goblins are not only extremely slimy, but with their long noses and sharp claws as frightening looking as Bottin’s work has ever looked (one is even based on the look of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards).
Where Legend suffers is in its performances and the stunts at the end of the film. Cruise, one year away from the success of Top Gun, was far from the onscreen presence he would eventually become. He hardly speaks in the role of Jack (which, now that I look at it, looks a lot like Atreyu in Neverending Story) except near the end, which up until then is given one or two lines per scene. Sara, who would go on to be in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, is also no better than average here, speaking in a monotone that is hardly above a whisper. But, the presence of Bottin’s work (which in addition to the aforementioned goblins and Lord of Darkness, includes pig and swamp creatures) really helps move the film along. And Scott, to his credit, shows his hand to be pretty good at directing fantasy. The way he gives the unicorns an extra dash of bright light and constantly has things like snow, fairy dust, and bubbles, falling in front of the screen really immerses you in the world. It also puts to mind that if this film was made today (or, heaven forbid, remade), it would be done in 3D. However, as Scott thrives in the environment, the film really suffers toward the end, as Cruise (or, more obviously, a stuntman) fights, jumps and leaps through villains, with each subsequent battle getting more and more uninteresting. The film’s final scenes are worth it though, as Scott makes the film come completely full circle in the fairy tale department.
All in all, it is a really tough call as to whether to recommend this film. On one end, the environments and Bottin’s creations are so brilliant that it would be tough not to. But, once the acting and fighting comes into play, it’s tough to stay with it. In the end, I would give this film the slightest pass as all the heart and soul, not to mention work, that went into it is really on the screen in plain sight. The slimy goblins and Jack’s drive to rescue Lili are both fun to watch. Oh, and score-wise, having seen both versions, I would probably recommend the one with Jerry Goldsmith’s score a bit more, even though I am a sucker for the final song in Tangerine Dream’s version. However, no matter what version you decide to see, take a chance and watch this 80s fairy tale. In the hands of Bottin and Scott, the world will encompass you. And, if you do not agree, you can always make your TV dark. You would do the Lord of Darkness proud.
3 out of 5