Arriving shortly after Blade Runner in Ridley Scott’s filmography, Legend was one of the many fantasy films to emerge in the 80s alongside The Neverending Story, Willow and Time Bandits. Each of these titles showcased a surprising amount of ingenuity and originality, and still remain popular today despite their age. They have stood the test of time, and it’s not necessarily because of today’s nostalgia-obsessed culture. They have an endearing aesthetic; an earthiness and richness to their image which many of today’s shiny, glossy fantasy films don’t. What they lacked in some departments- say in story or character development- they made up for in personality. This is certainly the case for Legend, whose characters and story are overshadowed by its near flawless art direction. It may have an infantile plot and insipid, paper thin characters, but its so gorgeous that you barely notice. It also features Tom Cruise dressed in naught but some leaves and a pair of knickers: lest we forget.
The plot of Legend is your usual fantasy nonsense. Something about a unicorn and a princess and a forest boy, and an evil demon man that wants to kill them all because… well, because! He wants to live forever, and so he must destroy
everything that isn’t evil. I think. I’m still not sure, I wasn’t really listening. Anyway, your two main characters are Princess Lily (Mia Sara), who appears to be princess of no-where in particular, and Jack (Tom Cruise), a scruffy forest boy who spends his days making pals with foxes. Or something, it’s not exactly clear. He’s basically like Link from the Legend of Zelda, only shit. You won’t care about either of them anyway by the time Darkness (Tim Curry) comes on-screen. A huge, imposing figure with crimson skin and jet black horns; he scared the crap out of me when I was younger. The threat of him lingers constantly throughout, but he only appears for the last half an hour or so which is a real shame, as he’s the best thing in it by a country mile.
I have to admit, Legend was never a firm favourite of mine when I was younger. I’m not sure if it was because of the story, or whether Tim Curry simply scared the shit out of me: possibly a combination of the two. Either way, in my experience its quite rare to revisit a film from your childhood and be more taken with it as an adult, but despite its flaws it’s really quite impressive. The production design is stunning: it genuinely looks better than most films of its genre do today. Stagey, yes; but positively bursting at the seams with colour and detail. It’s clear that this is from the same director that gave us Blade Runner: it has the same dreamy quality, the same sense of other-worldliness. The influence it has had on subsequent film-makers is also palpable: Guillermo Del Toro springs to mind, with his taste for the gothic and vivid use of colour; particularly reds and greens. Pan’s Labyrinth especially is quite clearly in debt to it.
The use of prosthetics is also incredibly impressive: the stiff, awkward movements often associated with full body costume are instead fluid, graceful and effective. No more so than with Darkness himself, who looks infinitely better than the poorly designed CGI bad guys seen littering current releases. There is a palpableness to him; a realness that, especially as a kid, really gives you the creeps. It makes you wonder just what happened to these talented make-up and prosthetics artists: where are they? And why won’t people give them a damn job? In fact, what happened to Ridley Scott? He made three incredibly influential and visually striking films in a row (Alien, Blade Runner then Legend), then never returned to the Sci Fi or fantasy genre until last year’s Prometheus, which won’t be influencing anything any-time soon.
In short, Legend is a film well worth revisiting. It has a darkness to it that many children’s films shy away from, and a refreshing beauty to it which really impresses after a diet of constant CGI. It’s a pity that the story is so dull, and it might test your patience a bit (the director’s cut especially feels long and bloated), but it really is unique, and from a director who was at the top of his game.