A flawed fantasy with an iconic performance from Tim Curry
Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From cult and genre fare to artful cinema, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.
The 80s were replete with adventure movies. Willow, Labyrinth, Dragonslayer, Krull, The Beastmaster, The Dark Crystal, and more. One that seems more polarizing than most is Legend. Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator), fresh off of making the iconic Blade Runner, tried his hand at this genre with mixed results. A land of magic, where two youngsters Lily (Mia Sara) and Jack (Tom Cruise), witness the capture and murder of one of the last unicorns that grace their land. Lily is taken and held under the thrall of the evil Lord of Darkness (an iconic performance by Tim Curry), leaving Jack to rally allies to his cause. To save Lily and also foil Darkness’s plan to slay the last remaining unicorn, and use this cumulative power to bring about an age of darkness.
Scott, along with screenwriter William Hjortsberg, puts together a tale that feels like it’s aspiring to something great, but often falls short. A grand story actually is actually very simplistic (and familiar). A dreamy and creative aesthetic is often undermined by the constraints of being shot on a studio lot (the famous Bond stage at Pinewood to be precise). An eclectic mix of supporting characters are underdeveloped, and an actor who came to be known for his charm, is notably wooden in one of his first leading roles. Where the film truly finds it’s stride is in the darker moments, literally. The seduction of Lily that follows her initial temptation (touching the horn…of a Unicorn) is enthralling fare, a dance between Darkness and this girl that leans into excess. More fun than the other more dry components and getting deeper into the underlying themes of innocence and good vs evil that the film explores.
Something that inevitably crops up when discussing Legend is, which version are you watching. Arrow admirably presents both for you to dig into here. After some test screenings, around 20 minutes were lopped out of the film and the original score from Jerry Goldsmith, was replaced by a synthesizer driven work from Tangerine Dream. The theatrical cut does feel a little pared back. Some of the depth and spectacle is missing. The director’s cut, something thoroughly embraced by Ridley Scott throughout his career, gives the film time to breathe. The exchanges between the Lily and Darkness takes on more layers, Jack’s arc to becoming a hero also flows better, and above all else we get to revel in more screen time with Darkness. A masterful creation in terms of special effects, and of course with Tim Curry’s incredible performance, leaning into a high level of theatricality but also delivering an admirable amount of nuance, despite the tonnage of prosthetics.
It’s a sumptuous looking transfer. Colors are vibrant, aided by solid and inky blacks. The detail is impressively sharp, with notable depth of image and texture to the image. A natural grain is nicely represented throughout, save a few brighter moments where is does soften a tad.
The package is nicely presented, with a hard card cover slip, housing the disc case, a large double-sided poster (newly artwork by Neil Davies and original artwork by John Alvin), full photos of the cast (by Annie Leibovitz), reproductions of the original lobby cards, and a small book featuring several articles on various aspects of the film.
Arrow have built up quite a reputation for stuffing their releases with extra features, and Legend might just be the most packed yet:
DISC 1: US THEATRICAL CUT
- New 2K restoration of the US Theatrical Cut from original materials including a 4K scan of the original negative:
- New commentary by Paul M. Sammon author of Ridley Scott: The Making of His Movies: A really solid and packed commentary. Not dry as most film historians can be, instead full of enthusiasm and entertaining information
- 2002 Reconstructed isolated score by Tangerine Dream:
- Isolated music and effects track:
- Incarnations of a Legend, comparison featurette written and narrated by critic Travis Crawford: A visual essay, with narration from Crawford. Only 20 min in length, but it does a superb job of dissecting all o the versions of the film that exist, the studio and director intents, and comparing different scenes side by side
- The Directors: Ridley Scott, 2003 documentary where the director discusses his career, including Legend: Pulled from a 2003 TV series. A pretty good overview of his career up until then
- Remembering A Legend: A new featurette that focuses on the experiences of the British crew as they worked on building the sets and more for filming which took place in the UK
- The Creatures Of Legend: Split into two parts, one focused on design/illustrations, the other on makeup. Front and center are Rob Bottin, Martin A. line, and Nick Dudman who discuss their contributions, the early concepts, eventual designs, and tales from production
- The Music Of Legend: Again two parts, one focusing on the Jerry Goldsmith score, the other the work of Tangerine Dream. Contributions from members of the band, crew members, and film critics, who discuss how the different scores came about in response to the different versions of the film
- “Is Your Love Strong Enough?” music video by Bryan Ferry:
DISC 2: DIRECTOR’S CUT
- The Director’s Cut of the film
- Commentary by Ridley Scott: A superb commentary, lots of information, but the frankness of Scott is what makes this worth a listen
- Creating A Myth: Memories of Legend, a 2002 documentary with interviews with Ridley Scott, William Hjortsberg, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, Rob Bottin and others: A pretty in depth look at the film. Cruise is conspicuous in his absence, but the rest of the contributors are lively and forthcoming about their experience on set
- Original promotional featurette: Archival from ’85, low in quality, but high in charm
- Alternate ‘Four Goblins’ opening and ‘The Fairie Dance’ deleted scene: The first an alternate scene, the other recreated from partial material
- Storyboard galleries for eight scenes: Hundreds of images that show the planning for select scenes
- Two drafts of William Hjortsberg’s screenplay: First draft and final draft
- Alternate footage from the overseas release: The spliced footage used to plug gaps in more cut down versions of the film
- Trailers and TV spots, Still galleries (production stills, continuity images, poster art)
The Bottom Line
Ridley Scott’s Legend is undeniably a flawed entry to the fantasy genre, but there is still plenty to appreciate. The director’s cut notably gives the film an expanded scope and greater impact. Arrow has put together a definitive package for fans of the film, with both versions, a superb visual presentation, and a true wealth of extra features to dig into.
Legend is available via Arrow Films from October 12th