Monday, April 28, 2008

Guilty Pleasure 6: Legend

For his fourth film, director Ridley Scott decided to create a faerie tale. The result was "Legend," a film that was not well received at the time of it's release, but has since developed a bit of a cult following and has become somewhat legendary itself because of stories of production troubles and multiple versions of the film.

The story follows Jack, a forest dweller played by Tom Cruise, who is in love with a princess named Lilly, played by Mia Sara (file under celebrity crush of 1986-87). Jack takes Lilly to see some unicorns, she ignores his instructions not to touch them, this opens the door for a bunch of goblins to kill one of the creatures, and winter covers the land as the lord of Darkness, played by Tim Curry, launches his plan to extinguish the sun. Like I said it's a faerie tale, so the story is a bit silly. It's certainly the most bizarre entry on Ridley Scott's resume. At the same time, it has a great visual style, great sets, and some of the most incredible makeup effects ever...amazingly it lost the 1986 Oscar for makeup to the gross-out effects of "The Fly."

The production of "Legend" had a huge set back when the sets housed in the 007 stage at Pinewood Studios burned in huge fire. If that weren't enough, disastrous test screenings led to the film being cut down drastically and the classical score by maestro Jerry Goldsmith being replaced with a more electronic score from Tangerine Dream. To confuse matters more, a longer cut of the movie with the Goldsmith score in tact was released in Europe, while the shorter, Tangerine Dream version was released in the US. Both are now available on DVD. Both scores are very good, but they are also very different. Ironically, many movie music fans consider Goldsmith's "Legend" score to be one of the best of his career.

I seem to recall that on first viewing, I thought "Legend" was pretty dumb. But just like "Big Trouble in Little China" this thing was on cable TV like every day. I guess it started to grow on me. You gotta love Tim Curry's peformance as Darkness. Everything about it from the actual acting to the makeup design is over the top. Just check out that size of his horns, how could he even stand up straight!?! The great Billy Barty is also a standout in the role of Screwball, but the performance that steals the movie is Robert Picardo (yep The Doctor from "Star Trek: Voyager") completely unrecognizeable under tons of green latex as the gross Meg Mucklebones.

"Legend" was released on April 20, 1986 in the US, it was actually released in most of the rest of the world in the summer and fall of '85. Though it opened at #1, after disasters, delays, and disection, it never really found it's audience. It is interesting to note that if it had waited just a few more weeks to be released it may have achieved much greater success. It's hard to imagine now, but on April 20, 1986 Tom Cruise was not the household word he is today. At that point he had played supporting roles in films like "Taps" and "The Outsiders," but his only hit in a lead role had been "Risky Business." But less than a month after the release of "Legend" came "Top Gun," which launched his career to new heights. A few weeks after "Top Gun," actress Mia Sara also achieved greater success when she had a major role in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off. And... about a month later there would be renewed interest in Ridley Scott's work when James Cameron struck gold with "Aliens," the follow-up to Scott's "Alien." Had Universal Pictures been able to market the film as featuring the stars of "Top Gun" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and directed by the man that brought you "Alien," well they might have gotten a much bigger audience. Still, "Legend" does have a following. I guess one should never underestimate the appeal of seeing Tim Curry with goat legs.

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