Our review of Legend (Blu-ray), published September 21st, 2011, is also available.
Once upon a time…
I'd throw Ridley Scott's Legend in the "could have been a classic" category. Here's a film that's on a grand scale—lush, beautiful, scenic—yet somehow it's slipped under many filmgoers radars. In the years since its release it has become something of a cult classic. For years, fans had been hearing about the fabled "extended version" that was originally cut together by Scott, but then trimmed down upon its theatrical release. Almost as mythical is composer Jerry Goldsmith (Gremlins, The Mummy) and his orchestral film score for the movie which was replaced by the lesser music of Tangerine Dream. So many mysteries…and now they've all been revealed with Universal's Legend: Ultimate Edition DVD release! This is the two-disc set that fans have been waiting for!
Facts of the Case
A long time ago in a lush field far, far away…
Legend tells the simple story of the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show), a half man, half goat, half devil creature that is scheming to blot out the sun by killing off the last two remaining unicorns on the planet. Apparently if these two gentle beasts are destroyed, the forces of darkness will win over the forces of light, and we all know what that means: centuries of music by Yanni! Okay, not really. What it means is that the Lord of Darkness (I didn't even know there was an opening for this job and this guy's already has the title of "Lord!") will rule the planet and…I guess do really bad things. Enter Princess Lili (Mia Sara, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and her love interest, a forest dweller named Jack (Tom Cruise, Vanilla Sky). When Lili is lured off by Darkness and one of the unicorns is slaughtered, Jack is suddenly thrust into a quest to save not only the woman he loves, but also all of mankind…I mean creaturekind! With the help of different fairies, trolls, and elves, Jack must find Darkness and save the sun before evil consumes the planet!
I'd never seen Legend before I received it as a screener on DVD. The only thing I'd known about the movie up until this point had been A.) Tom Cruise was in it, B.) it was directed by Ridley Scott, and C.) it had a villain in it that had two horns on his noggin' the size of John Holmes' schlong. "Well," I thought to myself, "this could be an interesting movie." And I was correct—Legend is one heck of an interesting film. Set in some far-off land where fairies, goblins, and demons dwell, Legend is a film huge in scope and long on ambition. What it lacks in success it makes up for in sheer ingenuity.
Ridley Scott seems to be one of those "love him or hate him" kind of directors. I've talked to many people who praised his Oscar winning Gladiator, and others who thought it was mediocre at best. The same might be said for his adaptation of Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lambs sequel, Hannibal (loved it). However, no matter what your opinion, there's no denying that Scott has had an impact on the way certain movies are made—his terrifying sci-fi horror tale Alien is one of the most exciting and breathtaking films every made. It seems that everything from Batman to Judge Dredd owes a little something to Scott's sci-fi classic Blade Runner. With Legend, Scott once again dips into an older genre and comes out with something fresh and fun, if not wholly original.
Of course, the big deal about this release is the inclusion of Scott's fabled "director's cut," which features over 20 minutes of cut footage not seen in the original release. After watching the theatrical version and then the director's cut, I can easily recommend the director's cut over the original version. Why? Because the story seems a bit more fleshed out with the extra added footage. Scenes are extended, characters are a bit more fully developed, and the narrative takes more time unfolding. This isn't to say that the extra footage makes Legend ten times better—in fact, with the extra footage it's sometimes easier to spot the flaws and inconsistencies in the film (the most abundant being the style-over-substance factor). Another added bonus on the new director's cut is composer Jerry Goldsmith's original music to the film. Tangerine Dream's soundtrack replaced Goldsmith's because they were deemed "cooler" than the elderly Goldsmith. The good news is that fans can now hear Goldsmith's fantastic soundtrack over Scott's stunning visuals.
Legend gets its biggest boost from the great Tim Curry as the manipulative Lord of Darkness. That character is what makes the movie, hands down. Curry is both sensual and chilling with his curling lips and commanding voice. In fact, Curry's character is so good (even when piled under pounds of latex) that he overshadows soon-to-be superstar Tom Cruise as the hero of the film. While Cruise's performance here isn't bad, it certainly doesn't show any signs that he'd eventually become the world's most bankable superstar. Mia Sara is adorable as the beautiful princess Lili, but for this reviewer she'll always be Sloane Peterson, Matthew Broderick's girlfriend in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Sometimes you just can't separate the dance from the dancer.
Watching Legend I realized that there's much to be said for the exclusion of computer generated effects. While I'm all for gratuitous effects in films like Starship Troopers and The Matrix, I also think that puppets and real life effects shouldn't be counted out. Effects guru Rob Bottin's work here is top notch, noticeably in the makeup work on Darkness, the goblins, and the wonderfully creepy swamp monster Meg Mucklebones. Legend is worth seeing if only to view Scott's wonderful vision of a fairy tale land gone slightly dark. It's not even close to being a perfect movie, but it is an entertainingly fun one.
Legend: Ultimate Edition is presented in two separate versions: a regular theatrical version and an extended version supervised by director Ridley Scott. Each of these transfers are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. For those excited about the newly expanded edition I have good news: that transfer looks great. With vibrant colors and dark black levels, I only spotted a few instances where the transfer featured minor troubles, such as a few muted colors and edge enhancement. Universal's work on this newly expanded edition is excellent, hands down. However, for those who want to stick with the original theatrical version of the film, you may be a bit disappointed. While the colors are fairly bright, the black levels tend to have a washed out look that is often distracting. On top of this is the fact that overall the theatrical transfer just retains a blander look than the director's cut transfer (including soft colors and some noticeable grain). If I have to pick one transfer over the other, this is no contest: stick with the director's cut.
On disc one the audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround as well as DTS 5.1 Surround and Dolby 2.0 Surround, all in English. On disc two's theatrical cut the soundtrack is presented in only Dolby 2.0 Surround in English (with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish on both discs). The two 5.1 mixes on the director's cut of the film (which is obviously the favored of the two) are both exceptionally well mixed and even. I was expecting the dialogue and music to sort of mash together in a muddled way due to the soundtrack's age, but to my surprise each of the channels are very clean. While the dynamic range of the soundtrack is nice, the mix tends to be heavily placed on the front of the soundstage (i.e., the front and center speakers). However, what the soundtrack lacks in directional effects is makes up for with ringing clarity. The Dolby 2.0 mixes are only so-so—I am sure there are a few fans of the theatrical version that are crying foul with the exclusion of a 5.1 mix on the theatrical cut. For some reason the original isolated score by Tangerine Dream is included, but not Jerry Goldsmith's composed movie score. Weird and somewhat disappointing.
Universal's supplemental work on Legend: Ultimate Edition should placate rabid fans. This movie has been a long time coming on DVD (just like the Back to the Future movies, dammit!), but here it is in all its glory! The packaging is the typical Universal "Ultimate Edition" plastic fold out case: flimsy and somewhat cheap looking. A small booklet with liner notes is featured on the inside, though annoyingly there's no pocket to hold it in place.
Featured on disc one (aside of the director's cut of the film) is a commentary track by director Ridley Scott (featuring its own chapter stops…ohh…ahhh!). Scott has been known to deliver some interesting and informative commentary tracks, which is exactly what this one is. Scott is a very, very chatty guy who seems to go over just about every aspect of the film: the casting of Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, and Tim Curry; how the effects were achieved (and the differences between puppetry/makeup and CGI effects); what it was like to work on the story (he compares it to "Beauty and the Beast"); and tons more. This commentary is a very good listen with a lot of information on the film's production.
Disc two contains not only the theatrical cut of the film but also all of the other extra features. Starting off is the featurette "Creating the Myth: The Making of Legend," a 51-minute retrospective on the production, impact, and reception of Legend. This featurette includes interviews with (hold your breath): director Ridley Scott, producer Arnon Milchan, writer William Hjortsberg, editor Terry Rawlings, director of photography Alex Thomson, makeup artists Rob Bottin and Peter Robb King, production designer Assheton Gordon, set director Ann Mollo, stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong, Universal chief Sid Sheinberg, and actors Tim Curry, Alice Playton, Billy Barty, Cork Hubert, Robert Picardo, and Mia Sara. This feature touches upon almost every aspect of the film, including the infamous production (a huge fire burned down part of the sets) and the makeup design, with the ever-hyper Rob Bottin babbling on about his work on the film. Included in this documentary are screen tests, rare photographs, and other cool things that will grab Legend fan's attention. This is a highly recommended piece and worth your time (even if Tom Cruise has nothing to do with it).
"Lost Scenes" features an infamous opening scene (thought to be long lost) with the four goblins that is presented in a poor looking 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer. A second scene titled "The Lost Faerie Dance" is a short look at a sequence that is presented via film, storyboards, drawings, and photographs. The deleted scene featuring the goblins is far more interesting, though it's nice to have both of these scenes on the disc.
Three Storyboard sequences are featured ("Lily and the Unicorns," "Jack's Challenge," "The Fall of Darkness") and are, not surprisingly, typical storyboards. A gallery of photos includes some continuity Polaroid's (for keeping track of what's going on during the production), some publicity photos, and some images from the film. A music video by singer Bryan Ferry is included in full frame Dolby 2.0 Surround for the song "Is Your Love Strong Enough?" It's cheesy, but mildly entertaining.
Finally, there are two full frame theatrical trailers for the film, four TV spots, a few scant production notes, some cast and crew information, other Universal recommendations, and some DVD-ROM content.
It's always a pleasure to find an older '80s movie that I genuinely enjoy (let's face it, there was a lot of crap made in that decade). Legend is far from a perfect movie, but it's got a lot of heart, soul, and Meg Mucklebones to spare. Universal's work on this disc is near stellar, save for the mediocre transfer and audio specs of the original theatrical cut.
Legend: Ultimate Edition is free to go, though with a little more work the theatrical version of the film could have looked and sounded a lot better. All in all this is a very nice package from Universal.
FYI: The scores above are for the director's cut of the film, not the theatrical version.
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