Legend (1985) – By Timothy Martinez

 The 1980’s were the golden age of fantasy films. Coming off the success of Conan the Barbarian and the glut of Sword and Sorcery rip-offs that followed, there were still many films that adhered to the more traditional staples of “High Fantasy.” Most were severely limited by small budgets but Legend is an example of one that benefited from decent funding and a noted director.

In this early Tom Cruise vehicle, Tom plays Jack, a young guy who hangs out in the forest (albeit without pointed pixie shoes) and tries to win the love of Princess Lily (Mia Sara). In his efforts to prove his devotion to her, he takes her to see a pair of Unicorns. This rash and unprecedented act by a mortal allows the minions of Darkness (Tim Curry) to strike, capturing one of the magical beasts and seemingly killing the other. This upsets the balance of nature, throwing the world into an eternal winter. Jack must now make amends for his actions and set things right before Darkness gets his wish and forever plunges the world into sunless night as well as taking Lily as his bride. Jack is aided in his quest by a veritable gang of assorted short people. There are dwarves, fairies and even one fairy-elf guy who looks like a human boy but who’s voice sounds like he just came off a five day cigar-smoking marathon. Arrayed against Jack and his allies are some truly hideous creatures…including some more short people. Evil short people in this case.

Directed by Ridley Scott, who was best known for Alien and Blade Runner at the time, as this was long before he gained a reputation for bloated historical epics like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, the film is a visual delight. The makeup runs the gamut from poor (a few of the dwarves) to awesome (Tim Curry’s devil-like Darkness) while the costuming is a few notches above passable. What really shines, though are the sets. From the thick forest to the murky swamp of Meg Mucklebones to the dark, dingy interiors of Darkness’ fortress, the film excels at conveying both a sense of otherworldly fantasy as well as more familiar medieval trappings. Unfortunately, this attribute is also one of the film’s weaknesses as all too often it is obvious that the actors are bounding around a stage and not really an exterior setting. The movie is overflowing with short people and in this film Scott seems a likely candidate to usurp George Lucas’ title of “director who best exploits the vertically challenged.”

One of the other unusual aspects to this movie is the music. Word has it that two different versions of this picture feature soundtracks by either Tangerine Dream or Jerry Goldsmith. The former was definitely the one I saw (and what most people in the U.S. saw I gather). Many will call Tangerine Dream’s music wildly out of place while others will call it appropriately phantasmagorical. Whatever the case, I personally believe the ending pop song by Bryan Ferry, while enjoyable, is terribly misplaced. But that’s just me. Check this film out if you love an old-fashioned good vs. evil story set in a fairy tale-like world.

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