‘Legend’ or — Magical, Mystery Bore?
I first saw Ridley Scott’s ‘Legend’ (1985) on release when I was fifteen and it was immediately obvious that underneath all the bubbles, snowflakes and pixie-dust that something was not right with this film. Sure, it looks gorgeous, is technically immaculate and beautifully shot but is also terminally hobbled by a story that’s simultaneously generic, drama less, insipid and dull… and that’s not good for any movie. It’s like a unicorn having its horn chopped off meaning, ironically considering the film’s themes; ‘Legend’ is a movie that feels brutally castrated.
The plot is so annoying I’m not going to explain it as I’m in a good mood and want to stay that way today but, briefly, Mia Sara is a princess who dicks about the forest annoying and patronising the animals and poor folk with her singing and personality whilst Tom Cruise (her sort-of boyfriend) dicks about the forest annoying the animals with his hair and personality. Together they pose more of a threat to the sanity and peace of this world than Darkness ever could.
Meanwhile, Darkness is tired of always pulling night-shift as its messing with his circadian rhythms so sends out his henchgoblins to kill the last pair of unicorns, an act which will cover the world in darkness, snow and bits of random floating fluff (for an evil entity he’s got an acute eye for having eternal night looking aesthetically gorgeous). The goblins are able to chop off the male unicorn’s horn (subtle!) because Tom Cruise and Mia Sara end up annoying the unicorns too to the point of death. These are our “heroes”, right?
Tom Cruise and Mia Sara feel sad about annoying the unicorns, so sad that they end up getting on our tits and annoying us too. So Mia Sara sets out to make everything right and Tom Cruise sets out to stop Mia Sara making everything so he can make everything right meaning they both seem to have learned nothing from their experience of fiddling about with the denizens of the forest by further fiddling about with the denizens of the forest.
Mia Sara and the female unicorn get captured by Darkness resulting in a frantic race against tedium where Tom Cruise must evil battle forces such as Ridley Scott’s excessive production design and doing it all in a VERY short costume that makes him look like a Roman sex-slave.
Can Tom Cruise save his true love, restore light to the world and succeed in fulfilling ‘Legend’s ultimate mission — to burn down and destroy Pinewood’s 007 sound stage?! Watch ‘Legend’ and find out!
If all this sounds stupid that’s because it is, something further exasperated by Ridley Scott’s direction which, although technically impressive, makes a serious and lethal mistake by doing something no other director of fairytale films had done before and that’s lean HEAVILY into the sense of fairytale whimsy. It’s the sort of shit most others would rip-out, replacing it with some knowing satire, nodding winks or irony instead. But no, Scott is determined to film an ACTUAL fairytale so every frame, every single shot is weighed down to an excruciating level by this pathologically hubristic obsessional intent for dreamlike wonder. Even the bubbles seem to be made of lead! It looks gorgeous, yes, but much like Cruise trying to punch his way up through a layer of ice so the film feels suffocated by such visual excess, excess that impedes rather than elevates the story.
This rampant set-design crowds everything in resulting not in an expansive magical world but a feeling of claustrophobia. It’s much like Tom Cruise’s hair which entirely crowds and hems in his face like he’s peeking out from behind a vulva of hair meaning throughout the entire movie he permanently looks as though he’s emerging face-first and fully-formed from out of his mother’s womb. This analogy extends to every other aspect of the film, too.
There are positives such as the ravishing cinematography, effects work and inspired prosthetics but it feels like too much of a burden for the plot to bear which could explain why ‘Legend’ is not fleet-of-foot and more like a malnourished donkey overburdened by golden treasure and whose knees are trembling and buckling on the verge of collapse. And sure, Tim Curry as Darkness is excellent and kitted-out in some of the best make-up design to grace the screen but Darkness himself is a rather boring character. What’s his motivation? What does he desire or want other than darkness, the clue to which is very discreetly hidden away in his name if you can spot it.
Jerry Goldsmith provides a good score at least but for the love of god, stay away from the Tangerine Dream version. Now I love Tangerine Dream but only up to a point, namely 1985’s ‘Le Parc’ as a lot (but not all) of what they did after that went vertiginously downhill, and their soundtrack work was often not as good as its reputation. The best Tang scores tended to be when their pre-existing work was cannibalised for a movie, such as ‘Thru Metamorphic Rocks’ for ‘Thief’s (1981) heist sequence, but often their original soundtrack work was sorely lacking and that’s the case here where they produce music that’s so toe-curling twee, quaint and grating that it can’t get any worse. Oh wait! Yes it can! Throw in Jon Anderson on vocals and you have the world’s most aggressively bijou soundtrack!
(There’s actually a lot you could say about ‘Legend’s two soundtracks as it represents a moment where electronic artists seemed to be usurping orchestral composers and a tendency by some directors to view orchestral scores as dated despite the fact that, very often, it would be the electronic music that would date first)
‘Legend’ is a really weird and odd movie as it is not without its merits, but nearly all of those can be reduced to the visual and design elements. The story never holds my interest and I feel no connection to the characters and, worst of all, Scott’s direction is screamingly look-at-me narcissistic to the point of distraction. ‘Legend’ is exactly the sort of film I pull out if I want to show people why I love ‘Hawk The Slayer’ (1980) — it doesn’t have ‘Legend’s budget, look or extravagance but watch the two of these films back to back and tell me which one is, by far, the more entertaining. You can keep Tom Cruise and that multi-million dollar budget; give me Bernard Bresslaw and glowing ping-pong balls any day. At least I’ll have fun!