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Legend (1985) review
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No legend, but no tragedy

Poorly received by the critics on first release, I was curious as to what this film would be like in comparison with other Ridley Scott works and other fantasy movies.  It was an interesting choice of project following the complex and thematically dense Blade Runner.  Legend is far more straightforward and clearly aimed at a much younger audience.

The first thing that strikes you is the visuals, this is one gorgeous movie.  The lush forest scenes at the beginning have an incredible amount of detail in them, they are like Pre-Raphaelite paintings which have been brought to life.  The set designs and amazing cinematography make the film extremely immersive.  Although fantastic, there is enough realism employed to make the movie seem believable.

The storyline was a fairly standard hero's journey narrative.  The idyllic world portrayed in the opening scenes is soon plunged into crisis when the minions of Darkness kill a unicorn, a creature which apparently preserves the power of Light in this world.  The beautiful Princess Lily (Mia Sara) is also captured and the hero of the film, Jack, played by Tom Cruise, embarks on a quest to rescue her and save the one remaining unicorn, accompanied by a couple of dwarves and a mercurial fairy.  The plot derives from many sources, the world is soon covered by snow, as in The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, the hero acquires a powerful sword like King Arthur and a scene echoes Greek mythology when he uses a shield to defeat a monster with her own reflection.  The dwarves are somewhat Tolkienesque and there is also a strong Disney influence.  Lily actually breaks into song at one point and I was wondering whether the film was going to be a musical, but it was an isolated moment.  Although there was nothing wrong with the story it was rather unoriginal and older viewers will doubtless find the whole thing a little too predictable.

The characters were also rather bland.  Although it is pretty much standard in this type of yarn for the good guys to be ridiculously good and their enemies to be thoroughly nasty, it would have been nice if there was a little more complexity in their portrayal.  Princess Lily was too good to be true.  Despite her status, she just loves to hang out with the Brueghelesque peasantry in the forest.  She does eventually get some more interesting scenes later on in the movie when to paraphrase Star Wars, she is tempted by the dark side.  Earlier on, she is a little too sickly sweet to be appealing, some wittier dialogue would have made her more palatable for adults.  Jack is similarly thoroughly decent.  Both Sara and Cruise deliver good performances considering the material they are working with (although Cruise looked a bit lost at times), but they are never given any really great lines to deliver.

As usual the bad guys get to have the most fun.  Darkness, played by Tim Curry, gets all of the good lines and delivers an absolutely powerhouse performance.  He is only heard at first and is only revealed during the closing scenes of the film, an interesting choice which did make for a dramatic entrance.  Curry brings everything you could want to the part, sexiness, intelligence, malice, frustration.  He easily steals the movie from everyone else in it and makes Darkness the one truly memorable character in the movie.  Darkness is essentially Satan, portrayed here as an enormous cloven-hoofed red demon.  This could easily have been an embarrassment but thanks to Curry's sterling performance and the brilliant make up and cinematography it was an absolute triumph.  Darkness lair was suitably stygian, the lighting and set designs in this part of the film having a strong John Martin / William Blake feel to them.

According to which version of the movie you get to watch the action is accompanied by either an electronic score by Tangerine Dream (US version) or a traditional orchestral one by Jerry Goldsmith (European release).  I haven't heard the electronic one but the Goldsmith score is a lush, romantic affair which suits the action really well.

Overall, I enjoyed Legend more than I expected.  Due to the unoriginal story and weak characters it is by no means a classic but quality production and beautiful cinematography make it worth considering.  It has flaws certainly, but nevertheless maintained by interest throughout.

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3 years ago on 29 September 2015 17:48