director Ridley Scott
I don’t know how I’d never managed to see Ridley Scott’s 1985 fantasy adventure film, Legend, but I hadn’t. I’ve never been a Tom Cruise fan and maybe I was a bit young to know about Ridley Scott. Anyway, while looking for films for the kids, 1980’s action/fantasy has been a fruitful genre/period, so I queued this up for them and myself.
After debuting with his film, The Duellists (1977), Scott made his two masterpiece science fiction films, Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). Both of those films featured such innovative and influential visual designs, it’s not surprising that when he turned his lens to fantasy that the resultant designs are overwhelmingly stunning.
The film is set in a classical fairy tale world inhabited by elves, sprites, dwarves and demons. And unicorns. And Tom Cruise as a boy of the forest. Mia Sara, most known for her role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), is the goodly princess who loves him. It’s a very young Tom Cruise, still very boyish. When Tom’s character takes the princess to view the unicorn, her trespass against the rules in approaching and touching the magical animal of purity sets up the opportunity for the creature to be attacked by dark forces.
Dark forces, in this case, are driven by “Darkness,” an elaborately-made-up Tim Curry as Satan with massive, massive horns. He seeks to kill the two remaining unicorns and steal their horns, allowing him to pitch the world into eternal darkness, in which he rules. His minions successfully get the first unicorn when the princess approaches it, throwing the world into night and snow, and setting the adventure afoot.
A number of trolls or dwarves or other forest sprites appear, the most significant of which is Gump, the striking-looking small boy-man, played by David Bennent, who starred in the amazing 1979 film of The Tin Drum. He is the leader of the magical creatures of the forest and bears the fascinating features of an adult in the child’s visage. Whereas Bennent required little make-up to be so striking (he does have long elfin ears), the others are cased in top of the line prosthesis. The make-up in the film is uncanny.
This film’s shortcoming, unfortunately, is in story and tone (and perhaps in character). The story is original, though heavily influenced by traditional fairy tales and folklore, but it lacks imperative and, at times, logic. Why the demon doesn’t kill the second unicorn right away and be done with it, I have no idea. And why he falls for the princess? Doesn’t make a lot of sense. The tone is driven by the designs, which are dark and detailed. It lacks wit and humor, even in its characters who are meant to embody that for the script. And finally, none of the characters in themselves are compelling. It all looks great, but it doesn’t suck you in.
I don’t know that the kids would put it the same way but they both found it disappointing. Just as a point of comparison, they both said that they liked both Stardust (2007) and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) better, two fantasy adventure films that we had recently watched.
I still say that the visuals are stunning. I was a bit dubious as the film opened in the glorious forest and it seemed that birds were being thrown into the frame every other cut. But the light, filtering through the trees, with the air full of seedpods or dust or “magic” or whatever…it all looked a little overdone. But as the film progresses the whole thing becomes more and more striking. Sadly, just not amazing nor compelling.