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Savant Review:

Ultimate Edition

1985 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 114/90 min. / Ultimate Edition
Starring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, David Bennent, Alice Playten, Billy Barty, Robert Picardo
Cinematography Alex Thomson
Production Design Leslie Dilley, Assheton Gorton
Makeup and Special Effects Rob Bottin, Nick Allder
Film Editor Terry Rawlings
Original Music Jerry Goldsmith, Tangerine Dream
Written by William Hjortsberg
Produced by Tim Hampton and Arnon Milchan
Directed by Ridley Scott

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

A disconcerting flop on its first release, Legend is known more for being split into two versions, than for any particular success. It was cut by three reels in America and hastily rescored, and a lot of US fans have patiently waited to see the original version. Good, bad or indifferent, Ridley Scott's fairytale movie has been produced to perfection on this Ultimate Edition DVD - which includes both an Unreleased Director's version and the American cut, and a handsome selection of extras.


In a magical land, young Princess Lily (Mia Sara) journeys into a deep forest to see friends but mostly visit with 'green man' Jack, a woods-dwelling young adventurer (Tom Cruise). He dares to show her the world's most treasured sight, a pair of beautiful white Unicorns. She makes the mistake of touching one, compromising its innocence and violating a rule of the universe. Meanwhile, an imposing red-horned demon called The Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) has dispatched several sub-demons, notably the hideous Blix (Alice Playten) to destroy these last unicorns by cutting off their horns ... which will plunge the world into eternal night. As the Lord of Darkness cannot exist in the daylight, this will set him free to rule the world. Blix de-horns one unicorn, and the forest instantly becomes a forbidding land of ice and snow. Lily is captured by the demons, and to save her Jack must thread a maze of menaces, like the formidable creature Meg Mucklebones (Robert Picardo). On his side are but a few forest elves and pixies.

For his fourth film, Ridley Scott chose a fairytale story and wrapped it in his own brand of all-enveloping production detail. The incredibly beautiful forest in the film, like everything else we see, is an uncanny reproduction on a vast scale.

Scott wanted to make fairy tale with a simple story, and that's what he got. For incident, it's fairly exciting, and his classical, visually-oriented direction is also a plus. But it simply doesn't seem very original or fresh. Without simply accepting the Hero and the Heroine at face value, there aren't any characters we can identify with.

There's zero context given for these two: we know little about them except that they are young, inexperienced, and in her case, perhaps a bit spoiled. Since Jack doesn't simply avoid disaster by telling Lily WHY she shouldn't touch the Unicorns, we feel from the start that the story is highly rigged. They're innocent sweethearts victimized by a world with 'rules' that serve as a trap. Adam and Eve ate the apple, but they knew all along they were trangressing. There's nothing negative about Lily's actions and neither Lily or Jack's actions indicate character flaws that might give the story some meaning. But in this fairy tale, the price is terrible just the same.

So most of Legend sees Lily and a very young and callow Tom Cruise fighting and suffering over a problem which seems totally arbitrary. Their entanglements vary in levels of excitement and interest, but since we are missing vital info on Lily (Where's her castle? Why hasn't anyone come to look for her?) it's hard to understand exactly what she's going through. The tendency is to see both of the leads as easy identification figures for the vapid, clueless teens who are the presumed audience. True, Mia Sara's fresh smile is a joy to see, and Cruise is well-matched to his athletic and determined character.

Likewise, the baddies are interesting to a degree, but lack oomph. Blix, the number-one demon functionary, is so exaggerated a ghoul that he looks like he was drawn by a ten year old: long pointy nose, long pointy ears, etc. He and the rest of his cohorts do have that icky but authentic look of the creatures from Häxan, but just don't generate much impact. Their voices don't conjure up anything particularly menacing either, and they just seem too generic, as if they'd wandered in from Masters of the Universe. De-horning the Unicorn is unpleasant, but in their other actions, the demons don't seem all that potent or threatening.

On the other hand, a couple of Jack's helpers are more interesting, particularly the little elf and the sprite-like creature. This pair could easily have wandered out of the Dieterle A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Billy Barty character would be better if he were used for less comedic effect.

Part of the problem is the dialogue script, which is just too perfunctory. Tim Curry's Darkness is quite a technical achievement for Rob Bottin, with his colossal horns and huge cloven hooves, but he talks too damn much. He blabs on and on and says very little, except to let everyone know loud and clear that sunlight will destroy him. He stretches and makes faces and otherwise shows off, but he never seems particularly Evil, invulnerable, or even very smart.

Are these quibbles as quibbly as they seem? There are obviously lots of people for whom Legend was a powerful experience. There is considerable grandeur in the sheer look of the film. As with Blade Runner, it's difficult to find fault with Ridley Scott's 'world', created this time by a large team of British experts. The forest is alive with light and leaves and crawling with animals and birds. The air is full of sunny bugs flitting back and forth. The light has texture and depth, and there really is the dense feeling of an ancient wooded enclave.

Darkness'es caverns and fiery hearth are equally rich. Curious details straight out of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, such as a stop-motion animated carved statue on a table top, are there to be found wherever you turn. As a production, it's phenomenal.

Universal's DVD of Legend is a fancy product in a fancy package. A clear wraparound case enfolds two discs. One has the American 90 minute cut, with the replacement score by Tangerine Dream. It is accompanied by a lengthy and well-researched docu that has the full involvement of Ridley Scott; two lost scenes; a recreation of the faerie dance with storyboards and stills; the isolated Tangerine Dream; storyboards; Brian Ferry music video; photos, trailers, tv spots, yadda yadda on and on. It's quite the completist's dream.

The second disc (disc one, actually) is Ridley Scott's original 114 minute cut, before being cut in the UK. It has the original Jerry Goldsmith score intact. The only extra here is a full-length Scott commentary.

Savant watched the long version and sampled the shorter American recut. The long version is a beautiful sight to behold. Even when I was tiring of the story, I was never bored by the look of the film itself. And the Goldsmith music was so stunning that the hastily cobbled Tangerine Dream replacement couldn't compete. I compared Lily's 'dance of death' with the hooded creature who possesses (?) her, on both versions. The dance is much shorter in the American version, with the music making a big difference. The Goldsmith track creates some wonderful dark magic, while the synth score just sits there. If you're already a fan of the US version, and aren't totally locked into the Tangerine Dream music, this will blow you away.

The American cut looks grainy and has less detail than the Director's version, which is okay by me as I don't intend to watch it again except to compare. According to the IMDB, 70mm prints were originally struck for this show. I don't know whether it would have made a difference, but it's a shame that the director got cold feet and decided to undermine his first cut - I think the original would have been better received here. The only thing I remember about the release was being told that it had been cut down, with its symphonic score replaced with a synth rock track ... and I tuned out entirely.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Legend the Ultimate Edition rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Plenty, see above.
Packaging: Oddball see-through three-way folding case
Reviewed: May 9, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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