“Black as midnight, black as pitch, blacker than the foulest witch.”
With Tom Cruise, unicorns and Ridley Scott behind the lens, what could possibly go wrong? Apparently, it depends on who you talk to.
If Disney and the Grimm Brothers had a bastard baby, it would be Legend, and I couldn’t be more obsessed with it.
Legend is widely rumored to have been a source of inspiration for Shigeru Miyamoto’s classic game series The Legend of Zelda. Some people may know it as the fantastical film that starred a young Tom Cruise, while others have absolutely no recollection of it at all. I’m part of the former, and I can proudly say that I believe in it’s strong cult status in the cinematic universe.
Many will argue, myself included, that Legend was ahead of its time, but it was a movie opening onto an audience not ready for it. It wouldn’t be until Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Ring’s trilogy that wizards and goblins would win over Hollywood and the masses.
Legend came after after Ridley Scott’s critically acclaimed horror Alien (1979) and sci-fi noir classic Blade Runner (1982). Part of me always felt like Ridley sat down and just decided that he felt like making a fantasy film, and I’m kind of right.
Where does one begin to dissect how a perfectly campy 80s fantasy movie would be a complete abomination at the box office and completely forgotten by the public? Maybe I could start with the chaos that engulfed production, or the simple fact that Ridley Scott decided to release Legend three weeks before the Tom Cruise mega-hit Top Gun bouncing Legend out of every theater in America?
Legend wasn’t the first of it’s kind; the 80s was a haven for the fantasy genre, but few of the sword and sorcery flicks were ever hits…most barely making a profit. What did profit off of these movies, like Dark Crystal, Clash of the Titans and Willow was nostalgia. Whether or not you consider the lot a bad batch is your opinion, but there’s no denying their cult status in cinema.
The story-line is simple, albeit shallow to most, in that a young man must stop the Lord of Darkness from both destroying daylight and marrying the woman he loves.
From the outrageously spectacular set (that actually burned down toward the end of production stalling everything), to the lavish makeup (let’s be honest, CGI would solely be used now), there are many things I truly love about this movie. Every character is framed and designed so artistically (Meg Mucklebones, anyone?) that it’s impossible to pick a favorite…although Tim Curry’s Lord of Darkness is the immediate takeaway for most moviegoers.
Tim Curry as Old Testament terrifying Lord of Darkness is probably the MVP of this movie. Under layers of prosthetics (that took 5.5 hours to put on) from Oscar-winning make-up artist Rob Bottin (known for his work in The Thing), you would never see this kind of artistry recreated in film today. CGI CGI CGI until you die would be the appropriate response for such complex costume design of this scale. I think we can all agree that they just don’t make them like the used to in a world now dominated by CGI.
When it comes to the ultimate argument, it’s whether or not you’ve seen the theatrical release or the director’s cut. The theatrical release bombed. Hard. Various cuts, endings and soundtracks exist for this film, but nothing seemed to attract audiences. The European cut, in theaters in December 1985, was 95 minutes and featured a Jerry Goldsmith orchestral score. The American release was several months later, in April 1986, trimmed to 89 minutes, and replaced the Goldsmith music with a more contemporary, up-beat synth sound with German electronic group Tangerine Dream. In my unpopular opinion, I’m a huge fan of the theatrical release, because I absolutely love the cheesy Tangerine Dream score and the extreme tight editing that the director’s cut lacked. Regardless, it’s been spoken that Legend was dead upon arrival once it hit theaters.
The final theatrical result may have been a stereotypical 80s fantasy, but this movie will forever remain a gem in my heart.