Legend [retro review]

“May be innocent, may be sweet… ain’t half as nice as rotting meat.”

The Scoop: 1985 PG, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, and Tim Curry.

Tagline: This is such stuff as dreams are made of. This is Legend.

Summary Capsule: Barbie screws up a unicorn, and Tom Cruise harnesses the power of Scientology to set things right.

Justin’s Rating: The narwhal community takes offense to the unicorns’ hogging of all the princesses, leaving them just plankton and oil spills.

Justin’s Review: I’m starting to get a nasty taste in my mouth from 80’s fantasy flicks. Obviously, CGI back then wasn’t up to snuff (or even really in existence) to do the sorts of tricks now seen in masterpieces like Dungeons and Dragons 2, and although the fan base was there slavishly waiting a cinematic masterpiece to carry on the tradition of Tolkein, the respect for fantasy in Hollywood was on the level of porn. Going through what the decade had to offer in this department, I find a surprising abundance of fantasy material, but a bulk of it feels more like play-pretend than any other type of film. Pretty sets, wads of moolah blown on creature design, but sub-par stories and flimsy characters.

It’s a shame, because you can see filmmakers trying their hardest with movies like Legend. I think there’s an increased level of difficulty in fantasy — more than anything else — to make the material believable to the audience. The rules of a fantasy world often have to be spelled out, in addition to the background, factions, types of magic, creatures and the inevitable dragons. You have to really buy the whole package, or else it becomes an enterprise in snickering, nitpicking and outright mockery. Which is where we come in. Am I right, huh, fellas?

I worked through Legend: The Director’s Cut (and, yes, it was work) on the basis of three things: (1) Ridley “Alien” Scott’s name, (2) Tom Cruise’s couch-hopping enthusiasm, and (3) a geek’s duty to support all things geeky. It’s apparent that this was a labor of love to produce, and good for them, but not so good for us. There’s no happily ever after when the movie gives you gas.

While Legend is praised for the marvelous cinematography, creature design and sets, I couldn’t but help think that the entire movie seemed designed from the covers of fantasy-themed Trapper Keepers. It’s all sparkly (oh, the sparkles cover ALL), and there are slow-motion unicorns, elves with pointy auricles, faeries, magic and the ditziest princess this side of Narnia. As an adult male, it took a full bottle of Pepto Bismol to keep my stomach at bay.

Tom Cruise is Jack the Forest Boy, whose wild nature and toothy grin are enough to snare the attention of Princess Lily (Mia “Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend” Sara). Their first date is a slow-motion disaster as Jack shows Lily the last fluffy unicorns in the world, which she hugs and a goblin shoots it. Way to go, forces of good. I suppose any little girl watching this is given the message that either their love for the purity of unicorn life is never good enough, or that Lily is a filthy prostitute. After this bout of fun, perpetual winter sets in over the land, the Lord of Darkness (a horn-y Tim Curry) declares partial victory, and Jack must don a half-suit of armor to go set things right.

I’m sure fans of Legend were probably thrilled that Scott was given permission to go back and add more scenes and the original Jerry Goldsmith score, yet the Director’s Cut could’ve used far more trimming than adding. While the plot does eventually pick up pace, the first half hour or so moves with a dream-like slowness, complete with camera overcranking at every turn. The world of Legend is supposed to be in peril, but we’re not really introduced to much of it outside of a handful of good and bad guys, so the threat seems contained to the fate of a dozen or so creatures. Small tiny conflict, not that compelling.

Still, I suppose if you’re into fond childhood memories of rainbows and horses with horns, then you can’t be too far off with this film. Just check your innocence and incredulence at the door.

The Lord of Darkness LOVES his head-mounted subwoofers!

Intermission!

  • Tom Cruise had HORRIBLE teeth back then
  • Unicorns sound like hunchback whales mating (which it is, according to IMDb)
  • Cheesy unicorn song!
  • Everyone, including the unicorns, needs haircuts in this movie
  • Forest child “Gump”?
  • Filming stopped when the “007” soundstage (where many James Bond films were made) burned to the ground. The remainder of the film was shot on hastily constructed sets.
  • Ridley Scott admits that comments made by some pot-smoking attendees at a screening got the director second-guessing himself, and influenced him to cut the film from 150 minutes to 89.
  • It is held by popular fan lore that Shigeru Miyamoto has stated that Link, the main character of The Legend of Zelda video game series, was inspired by Jack. However, this cannot be substantiated and is generally held to be apocryphal.

Groovy Quotes

Princess Lily: Are you afraid to kiss me, Jack?
Jack: I’m afraid you’ll break my heart.
Princess Lily: Then still your heart, for you are dear to me.

The Lord of Darkness: The dreams of youth are the regrets of maturity.

Blunder: She was so sweet, I could eat her brains like jam!

Blix: May be innocent, may be sweet… ain’t half as nice as rotting meat.

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3 Comments

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