Legend (1985)

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, David Bennent, Alice Playten, Billy Barty, Cork Hubbert

Seen through children’s eyes, the world appears much different than we know it to be when we are adults. We enter this life with wide-eyed curiosity, taking in everything we experience with awe and wonder. When we do wrong, we sometimes need someone older to explain the how’s and the why’s. In growing up, something precious is inevitably lost: Innocence. We have been spoiled by things like conflict, greed, envy and lust. There is a window to these times that is opened by the fairy tales our parents read to us, especially as we pass these stories on to our children. Instantly, we are transported back to a time when all was fresh and new, and Good always triumphed over Evil. Such legends are eternal.

Ridley Scott’s 1985 fantasy film “Legend” is structured very much like those children’s fairy tales, a light-hearted hero’s journey perfectly suitable for kids with a moral lesson that is less likely to be lost on the adults. Jack (Tom Cruise) and Lilli (Mia Sara) are two young fools in love who haven’t a clue that they are about to upset Nature’s balance, perhaps irrevocably. Unbeknownst to them, Darkness (Tim Curry) is plotting to place the world into permanent Midnight so that he might rule over all. To make this a reality, the last two remaining Unicorns in the world must die, and Darkness has chosen Lilli’s innocence as his weapon. It falls to Jack to save the Unicorns and maintain his faith in Lilli even as she seems to give into temptation.

Whatever you may think of Tom Cruise as a person, his on-screen charisma is something that cannot be denied. He can play an action hero, a completely self-absorbed individual, or in this case a “knight in shining armor” and make you believe he is that person. Mia Sara had a terrific beginning to her movie career, starting with this and following it up with “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”… and both before she was 20 years old. I find it unfortunate that her luck did not continue. My favorite actor in “Legend,” and the best thing about virtually everything else he has ever been in (except for “Scary Movie 2,” which NO ONE could have saved) is Tim Curry. The guy can make me laugh or creep me out, but there’s something infectious about that voice. As Darkness, he is all but unrecognizable. I don’t have any notions as to how long it took to apply his makeup for this film, nor how heavy the horns must have been, but he looks terrific, he sounds as menacing as he should, and you can really tell that Tim Curry put his heart into his performance.

As with a few other Ridley Scott films, “Legend” has more than one version out there. The 89-minute version (released in spring 1986) was until about a decade ago the most familiar version to those living in the United States. In 2002, we got a “Director’s Cut,” which was nearly a half an hour longer! In almost every way, the Director’s Cut is FAR superior. Truly, the earlier version now seems even more choppy than it used to. Our heroes seem to jump from obstacle to obstacle with astonishing ease and breathtaking speed. The character of Meg is gone almost as quickly as she pops up with intentions of making Jack her next meal. Gump (David Bennent) appears to forgive him a bit too fast when Jack tells him of his unintended role in the world being cast in a wintery chill. Still, there is enough that is good about the 89-minute cut that I find myself clamoring for a new, third version of “Legend.”

I would love to see a version that makes sure to give enough screen time to certain secondary characters, avoids casting Lilli as being full of herself in the early scenes (a mistake I feel is made by the Director’s Cut) and… most importantly… retains the Tangerine Dream score. Jerry Goldsmith is himself a legend, but it is the work of Tangerine Dream that is best suited for a tale of this kind. That such a version of “Legend” will likely never materialize is irrelevant next to the film’s ability to bring out the child inside all of us. Whenever I watch this movie I feel the same age I was when I first saw it, if only for just 90 to 120 minutes.

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