Monday, September 10, 2012

So You Won't, uh, Or Maybe You Will (I Dunno): Legend

 So yeah... Legend. Ridley Scott's Legend, his follow-up to Alien and Blade Runner. I understand that Legend has a cult following and it has its ardent defenders, and as a result I wondered why nobody ever said to me "Cap'n, you should really check out Legend!" I mean beyond the director, Legend has Tom Cruise going for it, TimeCop's Mia Sara* and Dr. Frank-N-Furter himself, Tim Curry as "Darkness," the ultimate embodiment of evil. On top of that, Rob Bottin (The Howling, John Carpenter's The Thing) handled makeup effects, and that's always a plus. So why don't I know people who recommend it? It's never happened, so when I came across the movie last week, I thought "why not see what this is all about?"

 And I watched Legend, and, uh, yeah. I get why it never came up in many film conversations. Legend is a bit of a mess, cobbled together by Scott and writer William Hjortsberg of a dozen or so different fantasy elements and then crammed together into a "hero's journey" narrative halfheartedly. And I'm not averse to the fantasy genre, which bears pointing out: I continue to enjoy Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal (two of Legend's 80s contemporaries) which contain many, if not almost all, of the same story elements. While I'm not as big of a fan of "sword and sorcery" fantasy films, I would hardly qualify Legend as being part of that subgenre. The movie looks great, and has some memorable imagery, but there's also so much being crammed into the film for no apparent reason that after a while I just gave up.

 For the record, I watched Ridley Scott's preferred Director's Cut, which clocks in nearly thirty minutes longer than the theatrically released version. It also restores Jerry Goldsmith's score to the film rather than use the Tangerine Dream music most people associate with the film. I did check out some of the shorter cut and will address it later in this review.

  Okay, so Princess Lili (Mia Sara) has an innocent heart but a bit of a mischievous streak, so while singing and cavorting in the woods with "forest child" Jack (Cruise), she disregards his warning while showing her something very special: two unicorns. A human must never touch a unicorn, and when Lili does, it upsets the balance of the world, allowing Blix (Alice Playten), a goblin, to poison the unicorn and steal its horn. Blix is a servant of Darkness, the Lord of Night, who needs both unicorn horns to ensure that a light is removed from the world and that he may reign supreme. Unaware of what happened, Lili and Jack return, and while she toys with his infatuation, a storm arrives and covers the forest in frost and snow. Lili and Jack are separated, but help arrives in the form of Gump (David Bennent), an elf, Oona (Annabelle Lanyon), a fairy, Screwball (Billy Barty) and Brown Tom (Cork Hubbert), two dwarves. They help Jack to protect the last unicorn and to defeat Darkness, who discovers he desires something even more than ruling the world: the young princess.

 That's the simple plot synopsis, leaving out additional goblins and secondary characters who provide us some more information about Lili and Jack. (SPOILER ALERT from here on out, I guess) From this point, Legend basically moves into "teaching Jack how to be a hero and save the day" but without really having to do much of anything in the way of growing as a person, er, forest person. Lili and the second unicorn are captured by Darkness, and he attempts to woo the princess to no avail, and then Jack defeats him by "bringing light to darkness" with the help of his friends. Lili falls asleep, and Jack takes her to where they were separated, and after retrieving the ring she promised to marry whoever found it, she reneges on that. Well, she may have forgotten the whole thing ever happened. Still, Jack happily sends her along her merry way and the unicorns are fine with Gump and Oona and Brown Tom and Screwball. Jack runs into a patently artificial sunset and that's end. And they lived blissfully ignorant ever after...

 Every time I try to write about Legend, despite the fact that I was really impressed by the way Scott holds back revealing Tim Curry in his (very impressive) Darkness makeup and how the manufactured (in studio) forest (but with real animals living in it) most of the time doesn't look like a set, I keep getting bogged down in how "safe" the film is. It makes me all the more cruel to the movie, because it's such a consequence free film where characters can say or do anything and nothing matters at all.

 Take, for instance, Blunder (Kiran Shah, who most people know as Elijah Wood's Hobbit stunt double). Blunder is introduced as one of Blix's friends, and participates in the hunting of the unicorns and is present when Blix steals the horn. Blunder is too impressed by the magical power of the horn (which acts like a magic wand of sorts) and when he speaks ill of Darkness, a zombie (?) rises from the ground, picks him up, and carries him down a hole. It's treated with all the severity of an "uh oh!"

 We meet Blunder again later when Jack and company find themselves in Darkness' dungeon, where a pair of demonic butchers are cutting up a dummy to eat. While trying to help them escape, Blunder is dragged off, kicking and screaming, to what one would assume would be his doom. Instead, later in that same sequence, Brown Tom and Screwball find Blunder inside of a meat pie, tied up with vegetables around him, but very much alive, and he joins them in defeating Darkness. In fact, he's with Gump and the rest at the end of the film, including the unicorns. Yes, unicorns, because even though one was poisoned and lost her horn, it's strongly implied that this isn't enough to kill a unicorn and that the horn can be reattached. Hopefully in a way that makes it look less wobbly than earlier in the film.

 See what I mean? I can't not point out things that demean Legend or make it sound ridiculous because after a while it was clear to me that nothing mattered in the film. Even Darkness (correctly) points out to Jack that he can't really die, because there can be no light without darkness, that they are "brothers eternal." When he's sucked into space (?) and becomes a constellation (?), it's not really a satisfying conclusion for our antagonist. It's more of a "meh." If there are no stakes in this world, forgive me for no longer being invested after an hour of watching Legend. Even the admittedly cool looking Meg Mucklebones (played by Joe Dante regular Robert Picardo) scene doesn't seem to really advance the plot or really sell to me that Jack is capable of destroying Darkness. And I'm pretty sure that's the only reason it's in there at all.

 After taking a quick look at the Theatrical Cut, I will say I'm glad I watched the Director's Cut instead, because the opening crawl laughably oversells the fantasy world and you see Darkness almost immediately afterward, cross cut with the demon butchers cutting up that dummy, presumably to really sell how eeeeeeevillll it all is. If you're interested in other differences, I refer you to IMDB's page. While I can't say I enjoyed the version of Legend I watched, it certainly sounds like a vast improvement over the other cut, even if I did miss out on the Tangerine Dream music. That is, by the way, not intended sarcastically, as most of the people I talked to after watching Legend specifically mentioned Tangerine Dream.

 It's been nearly a week and I'm already forgetting a lot of Legend, which is not a good sign. Since I don't know whether you folks have seen it or not, I can't honestly say I watched it So You Won't Have To. Nobody ever mentioned it, so I can't be sure you didn't already see it. If you did, then I'd certainly be happy to hear you take on why you like it so much. Again, if you did. I know enough to know that it does have a following, as Blade Runner does (another Ridley Scott movie with multiple cuts that didn't make a strong impression when released), so perhaps you could shed some light on the darkness of this review, so to speak.

 * What, did you think I was going to say Ferris Bueller's Day Off?

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