Having been doing this blog for quite some time now, I’m losing track of what I’ve written about before. Or perhaps that’s just me getting old.
But I had a vivid memory of writing about Ridley Scott’s Legend before, although if I did, it’s not showing up as a search result on my blog, and this is the only listing in my database for the film.
I always think fondly of Legend because I saw it at a special preview in London. I can’t remember how I got the tickets – maybe I wrote to a magazine or something – but I was very excited to be seeing it, Ridley Scott’s next film after Blade Runner.
So, where do I start. How about the beginning, which comes in the form of a scrolling introduction that seems to go on for hours.
Tim Curry plays Darkness, lurking in his (I presume) underground lair, railing against the existence of Unicorns, creatures of pure good. He is, hands down, the best on-screen representation of a traditional devil.
He orders his chief goblin Blix (Alice Playten) to kill the unicorns and bring him the horns.
Meanwhile in the forest, Lili (Mia Sara) is frolicking about as if she’s just about to break into a Disney ‘I Want’ song, although given that the score for this version of the film is by Tangerine Dream, it would probably be a depressing German techno-anthem.
The goblins need ‘innocence’ to get to the Unicorns, so Lili is their bait. She’s in love with Jack, the forest boy, played by Tom Cruise.
He takes Lili to see the unicorns, for reasons not adequately explained, and she breaks a sacred rule by touching them. Worse than that, Blix and his goblins shoot a poison dart at the male unicorn, then pursue it, and cut its horn off.
This has an adverse effect on the forest, with it suddenly being covered in snow.
So Lili, realising it was somehow her fault, goes to fix things, as does Jack, separately. Along the way they meet various characters, like Gump, played by David Bennent, a sort of elf.
There’s also Screwball, played by Billy Barty
And the fairy Oona, played by Annabelle Lanyon.
Even Robert Picardo pops up, literally, under heavy prosthetics as Meg Mucklebones. His scene lasts for less than a minute and doesn’t seem to advance the story at all.
Darkness has become obsessed with Lili, and therefore has to corrupt her pure soul, which he does by giving her a goth makeover.
There’s a climax involving a lot of shiny plates, and a test of trust between Jack and Lili, but Love Conquers All, and everything ends happily.
It’s hard to get a handle on this movie, partly because the different versions differ in how well they work. This version is the US theatrical edition, which is why it has the Tangerine Dream score, and not Jerry Goldsmith’s score, which was used in the European theatrical version. I find the score very boring, and it renders most of the movie quite lifeless. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the much longer Director’s Cut, although I’d quite like to just to see if it works better. At the very least, I suspect I’d enjoy Goldsmith’s score more.
But my biggest problem with it is that it’s far too serious, even when it’s clearly supposed to be funny or whimsical. There’s scope for huge amounts of comedy with all the anciliary characters, even if the leads stay as dull as they are, but for some reason, none of the comedy really works. At times I wished that this had been directed by Terry Gilliam instead. He could get a lot of humour out of Ultimate Darkness, as he demonstrated in Time Bandits. This film needed a lighter touch.
The other problem here is having to watch it from a VHS recording. There’s one thing you can’t deny, and that is the film looks beautiful, but it’s hard to tell under the smeary wash of VHS. It really does need better presentation.
I desperately wanted to love this film when it came out, following as it did Blade Runner and Alien, but this is an example of how Ridley Scott is only as good as his source material. He can make anything look beautiful, but he can’t inject heart.
To leave this on a positive note, the prosthetic work was done by Rob Bottin, who previous did the effects on The Thing, and the work here is truly spectacular. I’ve already mentioned Tim Curry’s Darkness, with his ridiculously enormous horns, but all the creature designs are brilliant, even when they’re thrown away in less than a minute, like Robert Picardo’s Meg.
The photography and the production design are also amazing, although I wonder if it was hard to work on the forest set, because every single shot has pollen and dust floating through it, catching the light. Must have been a nightmare if you were allergic.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 31st December 1989 – 16:55
Following this, recording continues for a short time with a trailer for The Lane. The recording ends before the next programme starts.