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Legend (1985) (Limited Edition)
Director Ridley Scott followed up his legendary Alien and Blade Runner, which was considered a disappointment at the time of release, with this original, epic dark fantasy film starring Tom Cruise, Tim Curry and Mia Sara. Scott, now infamous for his extended and director's cuts of films, battled with the studio over final cut of Legend, and the film ultimately arrived in theaters in an 89-minute version with soundtrack by electronic band Tangerine Dream. There was a slightly longer European version of the film, and in 2000 the folks at Universal Studios found a pristine print of Scott's 113-minute preview cut with score by Jerry Goldsmith. That became the director's cut that was thought lost, and this new Arrow Video Limited Edition includes both it and the theatrical version. Legend, while imperfect and occasionally lost to whimsy, is an entertaining, beautifully shot fever dream and unique presentation from Scott.
Although the introduction differs slightly between the two cuts, viewers quickly discover that the Lord of Darkness (Curry) seeks to plunge the world into eternal night and winter by killing the unicorns who protect light and goodness. Forest child Jack (Cruise) courts Lili (Sara) and takes her to see the unicorns, but when Lili touches and startles the creatures, Darkness' minions arrive and kill one of the unicorns. With one of their horns in possession of Darkness, the land is plunged into a deep freeze and Lili finds herself caught in his twisted web. Jack seeks aid from elf Honeythorn Gump (David Bennent), dwarves Screwball (Billy Barty) and Brown Tom (Cork Hubbert), and fairy Oona (Annabelle Lanyon) to save the final living unicorn and reclaim the world from the grips of Darkness.
The entirety of Legend, in either version, is a fluid dream. The film is gorgeously shot by Scott and cinematographer Alex Thomson. The sets, which were built on the Bond Stage at Pinewood Studios in Britain, are lavish and intricate, as are the costumes and practical makeup effects by Rob Bottin. You will recognize his work from The Howling, and Curry is given a pretty unforgettable look as Darkness. The movie is a series of events strung together with fantastical images and sound, and at its core, Legend is a simple tale of good versus evil. This is not a complex, twisting narrative; and other than an explanation of the film's character complexities, Legend is not hard to understand.
Yes, Scott's lengthier director's cut of Legend is the better film; the character arcs and storyline are allowed to breathe a bit, and the Goldsmith score and improved editing make the film feel more epic and polished. That said, I actually enjoy the "rock video" feel of the theatrical version. You can tell this was chopped and screwed before release but between the Tangerine Dream score and almost nonstop forward motion of the narrative, it's hard not to be swept up in the frenetic, over-the-top ride that is the theatrical version. This is neither Scott nor star Cruise's most subtle work, and Legend occasionally dives too deep into shrieking, twirling scenes of whimsy. But for all its flaws, it is difficult to deny the charms of this lush, practically shot fantasy, which now looks better than ever on Blu-ray.
Arrow presents the theatrical cut (1:29:29) and director's cut (1:53:27) on separate discs, and both receive 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfers. The theatrical cut was recently restored, with Arrow completing a 4K scan of the original camera negative and then restoring the film in 2K for this release. The director's cut utilizes a 2011 restoration, as the negatives necessary to perform a complete 4K restoration do not exist; apparently only two answer prints (printed after color correction) exist so we must make do with this previous restoration.
Both versions look good, but the theatrical version takes the clear win in image quality. The theatrical version offers improved fine-object detail, texture and color saturation; wide shots are crisp and without compression artifacts and close-ups reveal abundant detail in costumes and on sets. The grain structure looks better on the theatrical version; appearing more fluid in motion and not spiking as in the older restoration. Colors are lushly saturated and look better in the theatrical version, as they tend to bleed a bit in the director's cut. Blacks are inky and shadow detail is abundant, and, again, the theatrical release offers increased clarity during these darker scenes. The prints are in nice shape throughout and edge enhancement and noise reduction are not a problem. The new theatrical restoration simply benefits from a decade of improved technology and gets the clear edge. Theatrical image: ****1/2 (out of *****); Director's Cut image: ***1/2 (out of *****).
Both cuts receive 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes with optional English SDH subtitles. I suspect these are recycled mixes, and that is OK as they are certainly competent. Dialogue is clean and crisp, whether delivered front and center or from the surrounds. Ambient effects like wind and horses galloping make good use of the surrounds, too, and more action-oriented effects in Darkness' layer call upon the LFE for support. The scores both sound great, though the Tangerine Dream score can occasionally overwhelm the other elements, though I suspect this is a mixing choice and not a soundtrack flaw.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc Limited Edition set includes both versions of the film and a host of digital and physical extras. The discs are packed in a clear Blu-ray case with double-sided artwork that includes the theatrical poster design and newly commissioned art from John Alvin. Inside the case are six lobby card reproductions. You also get a 60-page booklet with essays and technical information on the film, 10 color cast portraits from Annie Leibovitz, and a double-sided, fold-out poster. All items slide into a study outer slipbox sporting the new artwork.
The first disc includes the theatrical version of the film and host of extras. You get an Audio Commentary by Writer Paul M. Sammon; Two Isolated Score Tracks in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, one the unedited Tangerine Dream score and the other a music and effects track; Remembering a Legend (30:45/HD), a new piece with interviews from the British cast and crew; The Music of Legend, a two-part featurette on Jerry Goldsmith (15:12/HD) and Tangerine Dream (13:09/HD); The Creatures of Legend, with segments Inside the Illustrations (10:28/HD) and Inside the Makeup Effects (16:15/HD), Incarnations of Legend (20:47/HD), an interesting piece about the various cuts of the film and Scott's penchant for extended versions; The Directors: Ridley Scott (58:33/HD), a 2003 documentary about the director; the Television Version Opening (1:26/HD); and a Music Video for "Is Your Love Strong Enough?" (5:23/SD).
On the second disc you get the director's cut and more bonus features, including an Audio Commentary by Ridley Scott; Creating a Myth: Memories of Legend (51:03/SD); an Original Featurette (9:44/SD); Lost Scenes (13:41 total/SD); Storyboards; Alternate Footage (9:00/HD); Screenplay Drafts; Trailers and TV Spots (6:40 total/HD); and Image Galleries.
Director Ridley Scott's Legend is not his best film, but this fantastical drama benefits from wonderful costumes, sets and makeup design. Tim Curry is memorable as the Lord of Darkness, and Tom Cruise joins the fun as forest child Jack. This two-disc Limited Edition offers excellent picture and sound, with the understanding that the director's cut is an older restoration, and tons of bonus material. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.