Monday, 16 July 2012

Retrospective Review: Legend (1985)

The films of Sir Ridley Scott are a mixed bag – when he’s good, he can be genuinely magnificent, when he’s bad… well, let’s not dwell on that, eh? At my count, he has a good/bad ratio of 9-7 (with four I’ve yet to see), so where does Legend fit in?

To briefly summarise the plot, the demon lord Darkness (Tim Curry), exiled underground by an unseen and unnamed force, orders his goblin servant Blix (Alice Playten) to destroy two unicorns and bring the horns to him. Blix capitalises on Princess Lili (Mia Sara) spooking the unicorns and wounds the stallion, taking its horn, plunging to world into snow and ice. When Lili learns of her inadvertent part in the attack, follows Blix and her cohorts and get captured, along with the unicorn mare. Meanwhile, Lili’s friend Jack (Tom Cruise) is charged with setting the world to rights, accompanied by the elf Gump (David Bennett, voiced by Alice Playten), the dwarves Brown Tom and Screwball (Cork Hubbert and the great Billy Barty) and a fairy, Oona (Annabelle Lanyon). With his companions assembled, Jack journeys to Darkness’ lair to save Lili, the unicorn and the world.

Set “Once, Long Ago” in a world of fairies, dwarves, elves and princesses, Legend is unashamedly a fairy story, but deliberately leans towards the darker end of the spectrum. It’s something of a rarity for a fairy tale movie to convince you that there’s a chance there won’t be a happy ending, but Legend just about manages it. While it occasionally lacks focus, Legend is as much about spectacle as story, and it certainly is spectacular. Performance wise, Tim Curry is the obvious stand out, but Mia Sara makes a fitting princess and a young Tom Cruise brings charm aplenty. In supporting roles, there’s little to complain about in the performances of Alice Playten, Billy Barty, Kirin Shah, David Bennett (voice by Alice Playten) and Annabelle Lanyon. There’s also memorable appearance from Robert Picardo (from The Howling and Star Trek: Voyager among others) as swamp hag Meg Mucklebones.

So, where does Legend fit in with the rest of Sir Ridley’s output? While not exactly a fantasy classic, it’s a good, entertaining film. It’s not flawless by any means, but it fits in with his successes for me. I’d definitely say it’s one of the nine.

The Good:
-          Rob Bottin’s makeup effects are, as usual, superb. Darkness in particular borders on magnificence.
-          Filming most of the outdoor scenes on a soundstage lends them an enjoyably other-worldly aspect.
-          Much like the character and make design, Tim Curry’s turn as Darkness is particularly spot on.
-          Alice Playten does a fine job playing both hench-goblin Blix and voicing sidekick elf Gump.

                                Tim Curry: Bordering on magnificence.

The Bad:
-          It’s a shame Tim Curry’s appearance as Darkness is mostly limited to the last third.
-          The story does lack a little focus at times, threatening to become a series of excellent scenes rather than a complete picture.
-          Having been set up as a cool and interesting henchwoman, Blix rather disappears from the story, as does her associate, Pox.
Blix: Shame she wasn't around longer
             (interestingly, Blix's face was supposedly modelled on Keith Richards)

The Ugly:
-          Although the special effects and make up are outstanding, there are a couple moments when they droop (wobbly unicorn horn anyone?)
-          One or two edits are obvious when comparing the US cut and the longer European/Director’s Cut.
-          There are a couple of errors with the horses playing the unicorns that are easy to spot and hard to ignore once you’ve seen them (in one shot in particular, it’s quite glaringly obvious that the mare unicorn is not played by a mare).

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