When I think back to when I was a wee whippersnapper, fantasy pics brimming with imagination, goblins and magic were very much the du jour. Peter Yates’ Krull, Ron Howard’s Willow and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth led the charge in the 80s, and are mostly remembered fondly. However, a lesser known entry into the genre is Ridley Scott’s fourth full-fledged feature, Legend.
It’s sad really, as on paper, Scott’s dark fantasy adventure is a real head-turner. Principally, its cast is noticeably impressive, with a budding Tom Cruise as the plucky hero, Jack, and a vivaciously menacing Tim Curry as devil-like antagonist, The Lord Of Darkness. Special effects maestro Rob Bottin steps up to the plate with some deliciously grimy creature makeup and visual effects, while veteran film composer Jerry Goldsmith and 80’s band Tangerine Dream, fashion a marvelously atmospheric fantasia of orchestral and poppy goodness for the eardrums.
Truth is, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to. Although it may not go down as one of the British filmmaker’s finest outings, there’s something undeniably alluring hidden deep within Legend‘s gothic fantasy, fairy-tale story and eerie ambiance.
So, sharpen your swords and dust off your finest armour, and come join us as we take a trip back to Scott’s critically derided flight of imagination as we rediscover what made it so memorable to young audiences everywhere…
Its Good Vs. Bad Storyline Is Surprisingly Deep And Philosophical (Especially For A Family Movie)
Sure, it may be a somewhat cloyingly traditional good vs. bad setup, but for all its fairyland pomp and mythical swagger, there are a myriad of underlying themes that gel together thoughtfully here. Light and dark is a recurring motif, and sits at the heart of the overarching sword-and-sorcery plot. Its most profound and memorable moments of dialogue are illuminated with this persistent theme (“What is light without dark?” hisses a devil-like Tim Curry with graceful pomposity in the closing act).
Essentially, it’s a narrative that revels in the duality of life, and re-affirms the notion of how both light and dark cannot exist without one another, and, if that’s so, can there truly be good without bad? Apart from the Star Wars trilogy, which is a pretty apt analogue, it was one of the first movies I watched that hammered home the idea that both good/bad and light/dark are merely two sides to life’s same coin.
Running parallel to this is another interesting theme that hones in on the consequences of selfishness. Princess Lili, Jack’s love interest, selfishly touches a unicorn despite the protagonist imploring her not to. This moment, where Lili thinks only of herself, sets off a domino effect that not only tarnishes her pure innocence, but is the ‘sin’ that assists the Prince of Darkness in securing the unicorn’s horn, a key part to the big bad’s overall masterplan. At its core, this theme highlights the imperfection of mankind.
Admittedly, on the whole, the story is pretty slight, and is nowhere near as deep and philosophical as, say, something like The Matrix or the aforementioned Star Wars series. However, Legend does tell a surprisingly nuanced tale that revolves around life’s fundamental paradoxes, and it does so with a knowing grin and charming mischievous vigor.
Every Frame Oozes Fantasy Flair And Style
Despite receiving mixed to middling reviews from film critics at launch, Legend was still nominated for numerous awards, including an Oscar for Best Makeup, along with three BAFTA Award nominations for Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Special Visual Effects, respectably. The film’s cinematography also received a nod from the British Society of Cinematographers as it won its most prestigious Best Cinematography Award.
It’s no real secret, then, that Legend seriously looked the part back in the day. But the real surprise is that its visuals have aged surprisingly well. Like many of Ridley Scott’s other popular movies, such as Blade Runner, Alien or The Martian, Legend is a piece of otherworldly, visionary world-building, something that’s very much the British director’s revered bread and butter.
As opposed to the aforementioned films’ sci-fi settings, Legend is the vision of a different sort of mystical, magical ‘alien’ world, but it still very much feels like a Ridley Scott movie. Its distinct setting, along with its strong visual imagery and identity, is one of the film’s strongest characteristics.
At its core, it’s a pic that’s blessed with some impeccable set design, and incredibly gorgeous cinematography, too. Every frame simply oozes fantasy flair and style, and the imaginative imagery is arguably some of the most iconic in the world of fantasy cinema. No small feat, indeed.
It’s Dark And Gritty, But In A Really Good Way
CGI and green screen special effects were starting to become in vogue in the 80s. Though they were only beginning to find their footing in movies like 1982’s Tron and 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes, Legend decided to follow the more traditional practical effects route. Thankfully, there’s virtually zero CGI in the whole film and as a result, its emphasis on practical makeup and special effects is a massive boon to modern eyes, and helps the feature to age more gracefully when compared to its more green screen-focused brethren.
Not only have its practical special effects aged well, but its dark and gritty tone has, too. Compared to its other genre kinship, like Labyrinth or Willow, Legend has a much more adult and darker tone that helps differentiate itself from the glossier, more family friendly fare of the era.
I’d even go as far as describing Legend as a more meticulously crafted and artistic interpretation of the fantasy formula, with its bold imagery and potent, poetic visuals. Really, it’s a celebration of the gothic fantasy genre, and a love-letter to all those dark classical fairy tales we all grew up with.
Tim Curry Makes For A Wonderfully Memorable And Creepy Antagonist
Hellbent on bringing an eternal winter upon Scott’s mythical world, Tim Curry’s nefarious Prince Of Darkness is arguably one of the most iconic faces in the whole of fantasy cinema. Curry’s theatrical background assists in accentuating the dramatic strength and impact of the antagonist’s scintillating ruminations about light and dark.
Add to this, the actor’s powerful on-screen presence, as well as the aforementioned top-notch makeup and costume design, and you have one of the most distinctly memorable fantasy adversaries in the genre. In essence, Tim Curry makes for an imposing and unforgettable antagonist who not only looks the part, but sounds the part, too. I mean, just look how big his horns are: they’re ludicrously huge.
Tim Curry’s sensational performance is undoubtedly a huge part of what makes Legend, well, legendary.
Tom Cruise Is Super Charming And Pulls Off His Heroic Turn With Aplomb
Slotting in-between his more well-known 1983 rom-com Risky Business and 1986’s uber iconic Top Gun, Cruise dipped his toe into the fantasy genre with Scott’s gothic fairy tale. Playing a Mowgli-esque doe-eyed forest dweller, replete with a mass of dishevelled bangs, Tom Cruise’s Jack is a classical young hero-to-be with little experience as a full-on warrior.
Jack is essentially an everyman — or more accurately, an everyboy — type of character. He’s noticeably youthful, with an air of innocence and virtue that is only matched by his love interest, Princess Lili. Despite his idealised, sugary sweet persona, Cruise’s top-notch charisma helps breathe life into the character and injects some charming warmth into the overall mix. On the whole, Cruise may not steal the show completely (Sorry Tom, but that award goes to Tim Curry), but his heroic turn is still another good reason to check out Scott’s critically derided classical fantasy fairy tale, Legend.