Review: Legend (1985)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #794

Number of Views: Three
Release Date: December 13, 1985
Sub-Genre: Dark Fantasy
Country of Origin: United Kingdom, United States
Budget: $24,500,000
Box Office: $15,500,000
Running Time: 113 minutes, 125 minutes (original horror cut)
Director: Ridley Scott
Producer: Arnon Milchan
Screenplay: William Hjortsberg
Special Effects: Rob Bottin
Cinematography: Alex Thomson
Score: Jerry Goldsmith, Tangerine Dream
Editing: Terry Rawlings
Studio: Embassy International Pictures N.V.
Distributors: Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox
Stars: Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, David Bennent, Alice Playten, Billy Barty, Cork Hubbert, Peter O’Farrell, Kiran Shah, Annabelle Lanyon, Chris Lorch, Robert Picardo, Tina Martin

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] David Lee Roth “Just Like Paradise”

[2] Tangerine DreamUnicorn Theme”

[3] Tangerine Dream “Darkness”

[4] Jerry Goldmith “Bumps & Hollows”

[5] Jon Anderson “Loved By The Sun”

If I were to mention the word “paradise” to you, what kind of vista would your imagination conjure? Something idyllic right? Perhaps palm trees festooned with ripe coconuts and a clear blue lagoon that stretches as far as the eye can discern? Tell me your worries wouldn’t evanesce after two weeks basking beneath the blazing sun on your comfy lounger, with a nice John Grisham novel and lavishly decorated Blue Hawaii cocktail by your side. The question is – does it get any better than this? Well actually, I’m here to cast a dense cloud over that particular fantasy. You see, it never really appealed to me personally. Should chance be a fine enough thing for a much-needed vacation to be on the cards, then there are few prospects less desirable to me than a 14-day sun and sandals holiday. I don’t give a scuttling sea urchin how picturesque it appears in the brochure.

Given the choice between golden sands and city life, I know which one I’d stump for. I don’t care how Brava the Costa, give me two weeks of Barcelona bustle if Spain is on the itinerary and I may just make it through unscathed. I make no secret of my endearment to the United States as a holiday destination, but the same rules apply there also. Feel free to top up your tan like a sun idol during your time on Siesta Beach, Florida and, if you need me, I’ll be over at Best Buy stocking up on my Region 1’s. Just to contradict myself outrageously, the closest I have ever come to spiritual serenity was actually a one time visit to an exquisite rose garden in Bolinas, California, where hummingbirds played and butterflies fluttered all around me. But there’s a reason that appealed to me personally.

Said raison d’être is Ridley Scott’s dark 1985 fantasy Legend. In all my years as a servant of cinema, never once have I witnessed a Havana as tantalizing as the Eden depicted here. This woodland paradise is brimming with lush greens and gay cherry blossom, punctuated by grassy knolls and romantic clearings, and populated by all manner of frolicking flower faeries, impish elves, and should legend be correct, a pair of mystical unicorns who safeguard the Power of Light.

These handsome chargers are responsible for upholding parity in the kingdom; fending off the forces of darkness that threaten to engulf it at any given moment. United they stand and the love and light they generate together provides the very fuel that illuminates this lush, dense vista.

Alas, what the brochure fails to mention is there’s trouble brewing in paradise this day and it’s percolating in the blowpipe being directed towards one of these celestial creatures as we speak. Enter Blix (Alice Playten) and his aptly named goblin pals Pox (Peter O’Farrell) and Blunder (Kiran Shah), a trio so utterly seduced by evil that they will stop at absolutely nothing to ensure it gets its rocks off. To be fair, they’re little more than quarter-witted lambs and we’ll get to their shepherd momentarily. But for now, let’s just bathe in the brilliant sunshine for a few seconds more, and forget that this place is soon to resemble an Eskimo hurt locker.

We picked the perfect time to soak up some rays as the breathtaking Princess Lily (Mia Sara) is currently skipping through the tulips with no end of glee and she really is a sight for the most reddened of blinkers. Fun-loving, spirited and frivolous – it’s her mischievous smile that could dissolve a man’s heart faster than a ball of earwax in a kiln.

Butter clearly wouldn’t melt between these rosebud lips of hers and one bat of her long, lustrous eyelids could gain her instant immunity to culpability, should she gently bend the rules a little. So I see no harm or foul in Lily petting the proud stallion apparently tweaking for a sugar cube, regardless of the fact that is generally advised against.

And then there was darkness. Try not to take it to heart that the world you used to know is no longer quite so accommodating and, should guilt be paying you a visit for refusing to heed clear warnings, then may I point your attention to the poison dart jutting out of the unicorn’s windpipe or the hacksaw currently being used to sever its symbolic horn.

You my dear have been fitted up for a crime that you played no part in and have every right to feel a tad embittered. Of course, it’s only natural that you should pay some kind of penance for your folly. Thus it has been decreed that you shall spend the remainder of your sorry existence trapped in a loveless marriage with a dude who appears some way beyond the application of Factor 50.

Where do I possibly begin where the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) is concerned? The customary curtsy perhaps? I’m not tossing his junk if that’s what you’re suggesting and I highly doubt that Lily’s delicate moisturized palms could juggle his fiery flange flosser either. I’m not sure what’s worse you know – that he has endured centuries consigned to the shadows in perpetual isolation or the fact that he’s spent the entire time scheming a plan so treacherous that it would make Mojo Jojo blush.

One thing is for damn sure – he has every vile intention of making a dishonest woman out of our fair maiden – and it may be a good time for Lily to draw up that pre-nup as there’s more emphasis on lock here than wed. I’d tell her to run but she currently seems predisposed trying to zip the back fat into her blackened gown.

What this kingdom needs right now is a forest lurker to take the fight to the dark lord. I’m not speaking of the kind of baleful lurker that laces his kisses with strychnine, although I certainly wouldn’t put date rape past our hero of the hour, Jack (Tom Cruise). Rumor has it that Lily rather enjoys his lustful gaze upon her pouting cleavage and has become partial to his constant attention. Some have even suggested that the two are very much in love but, if he liked it, then he should have put a ring on it as he’s in clear and present danger of being beaten to the punch by an adversary packing a great deal more mutton beneath the loin-cloth.

Time to round up the pixies Jack as the journey before you is one fraught with tremendous peril. My guess is that you’ll be sobbing like a sapling under a wilted willow by sundown which, by my estimations, could be right this very moment as the sodding sun now appears to have dried up completely. Crease not that brow boy, as you will not be required to undertake this perilous pilgrimage solo.

Riding shotgun will be a resourceful elf by the name of Honeythorn Gump (David Bennent). He may be a dash headstrong and the name Gump is a dash unfortunate, but he’ll trail you into a shit storm and I hear there’s a big brown one brewing up at this very moment beyond yonder hill. He has been known to hang with his dwarven pals Brown Tom (Cork Hubbert) and Screwball (Billy Barty), not that those two are likely to amount to anything in excess of mild hindrance.

However, it’s frisky faerie Oona (Annabelle Lanyon) that you may wish to keep in favor as she can get into most nooks and crannies with minimum fuss, even the ones between your wonky teeth. Her assistance could be invaluable going forward and there’s only one teensy-weensy little thing I feel I should pre-warn you. You see, she happens to be a bit of a sucker for young strapping lads like yourself, and may well request a little sprite tickle for any services rendered.

Remember son, good things often come in small packages, and I always did like you Jack so I’d say that gets you off the hook with regards to any bouts of demanded faerie philandering from hereon in. I’m sure Lily would understand. After all, it’s not as though she doesn’t have one lubricated ring finger up to the knuckle in the Lord of Darkness right this very moment.

My sincere apologies if I have shattered any vague remaining keepsake of innocence with my lewd ramblings but, the thing about fairy tales, is that darkness resides within almost all of them. I’ve got a seven-year-old boy but do you think I’d expose his impressionable young mind to a fire-breathing red pepper sporting horns more pointy than Taylor Swift’s shoulder blades?

I’ll do no such thing as Curry still scares the living piss out of me at forty-three and I fear such a delicate mindset as his would never fully recover. Thus, for as much as the target demographic for Legend has always been primarily children, I’d argue that it’s every bit as relevant to fully formed man-children and their fair lady equivalents.

Interestingly, Scott’s original intention was to make Legend a great deal darker and considerably more violent, before opting to appeal to a younger demographic. It would be fair to say that the project was a labor of love on his part and William Hjortsberg’s screenplay took years to be delivered from conception to realization. A troubled production history followed and, once the original 125 minute cut was aired to test audiences, he swiftly trimmed it back for fear that his addressees would grow fidgety.

Eventually, a version emerged that was over half an hour light and this was the one presented to European audiences. Consequently, the film was somewhat savaged by critics and wound up little more than an expensive flop. As with Blade Runner before it, many moons would pass before presented in something closer resembling its original format.

One thing the naysayers couldn’t find fault with was Curry’s towering performance as Darkness and, to this day, his is considered the most accurate and frightening interpretation of Old Nick ever committed to celluloid, quite rightly so I might add. Indeed, I would go as far as heralding Curry’s roguish red devil as one of modern cinema’s greatest villains, such is the gleeful and sensuous manner in which he encapsulates pure unadulterated evil.

Sadly, his time on-screen is frightfully limited and, after a deliciously darkened early teaser, he doesn’t show up again until the final third is underway. Nevertheless, when the Lord of Darkness sees fit to vocalize his disgust for all things flowery and twee, we are powerless not to fall beneath his malevolent spell.

I’ve heard it mentioned that Cruise isn’t up to the challenge of Jack and some have described his performance as nervous and jittery. While agreeably not the most charismatic of heroes, this certainly isn’t down to any lack of commitment or enthusiasm on his part and Cruise acquits himself well to the role.

As for Sara as our reckless Lily, well I’m hard pushed to think of any actress better suited to the royal petticoat as she and her wide, expressive eyes blow us soft kisses every time they’re caught in frame. Better yet, she looks every bit as delectable in black, and I still daydream about our pimped up princess sitting on her inky throne, slowly pulling the wings off faeries to this very day.

However, perhaps the most potent arrow in Scott’s quiver is SFX guru Rob Bottin, whose creations are a joy to behold, not to mention everyone involved with the magnificent set design. Rich and vibrant on commencement, it is soon transformed into a cold and inhospitable place utterly devoid of hope and breathable air. Toss in a gloriously gnarled swamp witch whose only desire is to lick a femur or two and you’ve got yourself a rancid realm right up there with the best of them.

It’s far from perfect of course and feels a little one-note when compared to the likes of more celebrated fantasy favorites, Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. But there can be no denying the love and devotion that Scott and his team put into making his fantasy world a reality. Whether living and breathing or withering and dying, it’s never anything less than the stuff of fairy-tales. With Jerry Goldsmith and epic prog-rockers Tangerine Dream serenading our eardrums like there’s no tomorrow (a distinct possibility if Jack doesn’t shake a tail feather or two), it’s home sweet home all the way.

So you can poke your all-inclusive package deals to the Seychelles as I don’t want a bar of your man-made paradise, thank you very much. Perhaps if you could see your way to inviting along a couple of thoroughbred unicorns, then we might be talking. On second thoughts, those nonplussed nags are more trouble than they’re worth. Princess Lily, on the other hand, is more than welcome to come and rub in my sun lotion just as long as she doesn’t bring her dickhead boyfriend along.

Not you Lord of Darkness sir, I wouldn’t dream of not inviting you along (like you need any more solar exposure). I’m talking of your sworn enemy Jack, he with the barely sprouting chest hair. Should your intended bride lob the ring with which ye shall wed into a sprawling lagoon, then I’d say she’s trying to send you a message son. You know what they say – once you go black, you never look back. Stick with Oona, she’s more your size and I hear she’s a dab hand at extracting the nectar.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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