Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: William Hjortsberg
Starring: Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, David Bennent, Alice Playten, Billy Barty & Cork Hubbert
Ridley Scott didn’t seem to have a very good time at the box office during the 80’s. Though BLADE RUNNER eventually became an acclaimed classic, it wasn’t immediately well received by critics and audiences alike. A few years later, the exact same fate befell Scott’s follow-up: LEGEND. This film hasn’t gone on to receive nearly the amount of acclaim or attention that the likes of BLADE RUNNER has, but LEGEND still has earned a respective cult following for many reasons. There’s no easier way of saying this. Simply put, LEGEND is cool! This is a flick that holds up just fine alongside the likes of other 80’s fantasy competition (NEVERENDING STORY, LABYRINTH, DARK CRYSTAL). It also bears mentioning that I watched the Director’s Cut of this film as four separate versions exist on the cinematic landscape.
In a far away magical land full of fairies and unicorns, Princess Lili and forest-dweller Jack have fallen deeply in love with each other. Against his better judgment, Jack decides to show Lili one of the rare unicorns that dwells within the woods. Unfortunately, this mystical encounter couldn’t have come at a worse possible time. The powerful Lord of Darkness has enlisted a band of goblins to slay one of the unicorns so he can cast eternal winter upon the land. With Darkness’s plan in action and Lili being a perfect damsel in distress, Jack and a band of fairies/elves/pixies set out on a quest to save the princess and stop Darkness.
LEGEND certainly boasts incredible visuals. As a viewer, you are very much thrown into another world and have to piece together certain rules, creatures, and lands of the setting without having them explicitly explained to you. Though this approach doesn’t exactly work perfectly (more on that in the following paragraph), it certainly helps set a fantastical mood through the whole movie. One might walk into this film expecting a somewhat semi-Disney level of cheer, but receive a big shock in just how dark and grim this film actually is for most of its story. This was made back at a time when family entertainment took more risks and wasn’t afraid to scare the crap out of children in the audience. For this, I heartily applaud LEGEND. Two moments that could stick out as downright nightmare-inducing for kiddies would be an escape from a fiery dungeon (full of monsters baking little dwarves into pies) and a swamp witch who wants nothing more than to devour our hero. An especially beautiful scene that holds up remarkably well is a disembodied gown seducing Lili into a darker frame of mind.
There was clearly a lot of love and devotion put into LEGEND, but that doesn’t necessarily save it from a couple of problems that detract from the overall quality of the film. Being thrust into this world, we are forced to join characters who aren’t that well-developed. Both Jack and Lili come off as a bit bland. They’re simply stereotypical one-note fairy tale characters that just happen to be starring in a feature-length movie and not contained within a few pages of a book. There is also horribly annoying would-be comic relief in the form of two obnoxious dwarves. They seem entirely out-of-place given how seriously the rest of this fantasy is taking itself. This is especially apparent when we keep cutting between a climactic fight scene and one of these dwarves who happens to be taking a nap. Tim Curry steals every scene he’s in as Darkness, though I’d argue that he’s underused.
Overall, LEGEND is great 80’s fantasy fun. The main characters are a tad boring, but the scale and sheer adventurous spirit of the whole film is likely to win you over. This is also a lot darker than I expected, which led to me enjoying this film even more. If you’re going to watch any of the available versions of LEGEND, I would definitely recommend the Director’s Cut as I can’t imagine how badly the 89-minute-long theatrical version butchered Ridley Scott’s original vision. LEGEND comes highly recommended if you’re into films like LABYRINTH, DARK CRYSTAL, BLACK CAULDRON, etc.