Retro Review: Legend (1985)
Michelle reviews the 1985 film Legend.
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When I was a little girl, I had an intense obsession with unicorns. Something about their glowing-white purity and ethereal gracefulness captivated me like no other mythical beast. The first time I saw Ridley Scott’s gorgeous film Legend, I was utterly entranced—I immediately fell headfirst into its eddying pool of light and darkness. Legend has that tantalizing mix of beauty and ugliness that is intoxicating to a young person, especially one who is coming to terms with their budding sexuality and feelings about romantic love.

Dark fantasy is a genre that is sorely missing in modern films. The eighties had a plethora of movies with this atmosphere: The Dark Crystal, The NeverEnding Story, and Labyrinth just to name a few. Yes, these were all considered children’s films, but they didn’t pander to the audience. Sometimes life is scary and the future murky, but when you contrast it with beauty it gives a more satisfying and complete experience. That dichotomy between light and darkness is noticeably absent in recent movies/cartoons geared for kids. 

Legend is a fairy tale starring an attractive (and quite sparkly) Tom Cruise as an impish young man named Jack. He falls in love with Princess Lili (Mia Sara), a lovely young woman who likes to visit him in his forest home. They are in the romanticized version of love that many people hold in their hearts, but just as in real life, circumstances taint it and threaten to tear them apart. Jack makes a foolhardy mistake that involves desecrating the sanctity of two unicorns and the rest of the movie is spent watching him desperately trying to make amends. It is the story that has been told a thousand times before: boy meets girl and then boy loses girl.
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I'm horrible.
The villain of this tale is a demon known only as Darkness, played by Tim Curry in heavy prosthetics and devil make-up. His body is extremely muscular with blood red skin—Darkness is the epitome of alpha male raw sexuality and power. He represents the fear of being dominated but also the temptation of giving in to one’s carnal desires. To be a good person, it is said, one should be careful with dabbling in hedonism and debauchery. This is on a deeper symbolic level--however, at the surface he provides the conflict for our main hero, Jack. I did not pick up on most of these themes when I saw the film as a child, but they became more apparent to me upon rewatching it as an adult.

This film has an absolutely dazzling atmosphere both visually and aurally. The cinematography is breathtaking and each scene is filled with an otherworldly presence. There is a stark contrast between the glittering dust-mote filled sunlit forest scenes in the beginning and the dark grimy dungeon scenes in the latter half of the film. It perfectly fits with the concepts of balance and duality that Legend returns to again and again. In essence, this movie is about losing one’s innocence and the shock that comes with that revelation.

There are two versions of Legend, a theatrical cut and a director’s cut that came out many years later.  In the Director’s Cut, they restored Jerry Goldsmith’s original score and replaced Tangerine Dream’s iconic one from the theatrical cut. I prefer Tangerine Dream’s moody synthesizer music to Goldsmith’s much more generic and bland orchestral score. I also like the tighter editing of the theatrical version, but Ridley Scott, of course, likes his director’s cut the best. The film is excellent in both versions and it really just comes down to each person’s personal preference. It is worth checking both out to see the differences, and there is an Ultimate Blu-ray that has both of them.

Legend is one of the best fantasy films from the eighties era and everyone should experience at least once in their lives. I consider myself lucky to have watched it as a child because it allowed me to become fully immersed into the magical world that Scott created. As Darkness muses in the film, “The dreams of youth are the regrets of maturity.”

 - Michelle Kisner