Bust out the arts and crafts kits and lose your pants, Tor.com, for the Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia is back!
Today’s entry is that fount of restraint and realism: 1985’s Legend. Ooooh yeah.
Previous entries can be found here. Please note that as with all films covered on the Nostalgia Rewatch, this post will be rife with spoilers for the film.
And now, the post!
ME: So, what do we remember about this movie?
ME: SO MUCH GLITTER.
ME: GLITTER WITH GLITTER ON IT. WITH A SIDE OF GLITTER.
LIZ: There are people who worked on this movie who are still finding glitter in their stuff today.
ME: I believe it.
Let’s just say, there is a metric fuckton of glitter in Legend. If you have ever wondered what constitutes a metric fuckton, observe the amount of glitter in this movie, and wonder no more.
Although, to be fair, the makers of Legend hardly confined themselves to glitter. There is also a metric fuckton of snow, smoke, fog, wind, ash, flower petals, and bubbles in this movie. Yes, bubbles.
(ALL THREE OF US: BUBBLES!!!! Wlnelrkgneofihkfjvlkcjwolnkdwp;rgpernvlk)
I need a Claritin just looking at that. Eesh.
Basically the set designers on this film were not content unless there was a bazillion bits of something being dumped all over and/or buffeting everything on screen at all times. I pity the fool who was hired to be the janitor on these sets.
Ridiculous? Absolutely. But it was also weirdly awe-inspiring, and contributed greatly to the dreamlike feel of the entire thing. Liz comments that it meant there was not a single scene in this movie where most of the frame was not in motion. As a unifying aesthetic it might be strange, but since “strange” was pretty much exactly what Legend was going for overall, as far as I can tell, I can only congratulate them on their consistency.
Our glittery mockery notwithstanding, Liz remembers, as do I, being utterly astounded by the sets, makeup, and costuming on Legend, and we were both excited to see if it held up to our memories of it. (It did.) But before we talk about that, we have to talk about How Netflix and Ridley Scott Conspired To Ruin My Childhood. Or at least, conspired to ruin my evening of being nostalgic about it.
You see, Bob, for this viewing, I had rented Legend on Netflix as a DVD, since naturally it was not available for streaming. When it got to me, however, I was surprised to discover that they had sent me the director’s cut instead of the theatrical version. I hadn’t even known there was a director’s cut before this. I was sort of dubious, but figured it would be interesting to see if I liked the director’s cut better than what I remembered of the theatrical version.
(I should mention as an aside that Sister Kate was appalled to discover that neither Liz nor I had seen Legend in at least a decade or longer, when this was going to be the fourth time she’d seen it this year. There was a subsequent discussion about whether that made us weird or that made her weird, which as you can imagine did not lead anywhere productive.)
But anyway, point being, it was the director’s cut that we all sat down to watch instead of the version that we were all familiar with (some of us to greater degrees than others, wow).
And. Well. Let’s see if I can put this diplomatically: the director’s cut of Legend?
(I guess that’s a “no” on diplomacy, eh.)
Sorry to any fans of it out there, but no, really, as far as we were concerned it sucked. I was so disappointed, you guys.
And why did it blow and/or suck, you ask? (Like a bellows!) Well, there were lots of little things I didn’t like, like the weird jump cuts and strange (well, stranger) editing choices, or the decision to add back in a lot of footage that more often than not really should have been left on the cutting room floor where it belonged. Also, as a point of interest you should know that Mia Sara sings in the director’s cut. A lot.
But the real sin of the director’s cut of Legend, for my money, was the decision to take out the Tangerine Dream score, and replace it with the orchestral score originally written for the film by Jerry Goldsmith. In my opinion, this basically ruined the movie.
Now, normally I like Goldsmith’s work just fine, and I am aware (now) that in fact everyone outside of the U.S. saw the movie with Goldsmith’s score when it was released, and mostly seemed to have liked it just fine. And I would even agree that Goldsmith’s score was mature, classic and period-appropriate, whereas Tangerine Dream’s synthesizer-and pan-flute-addled score pretty much instantly dates the movie, and is occasionally unintentionally hilarious to boot.
The thing is, though, that I don’t care. I don’t care if the Goldsmith score is objectively better than the Tangerine Dream score, because subjectively, the movie is just all wrong to me without it. Legend is a trippy, wacky, over-the-top, sublimely absurd movie, and sedate, classic, safe music has no business being anywhere near it. I really did not realize just how integral the Tangerine Dream score was to my nostalgic love of Legend until I listened to two hours of boring orchestral whatever in its stead. It was genuinely upsetting, y’all.
The straw that really broke the camel’s back, though, was how the lack of Tangerine Dream ruined my absolute favorite scene in the entire movie.
You probably can guess which scene I’m talking about, but just in case you haven’t: the ONE scene I most distinctly remembered from the film (and the one I was most excited to see again) was what I always thought of as the “evil temptation dancing scene”, where Lily gets a new look, to say the least, going from “escapee from a Waterhouse painting” to “regular at Bar Sinister”:
I remember thinking that if I had ever been the kind of person who could remotely pull off that look, I so would have tried to rock it. Meanwhile Mia Sara pulls off both looks like a champ, and also medals in graceful flailing, fleeing, flouncing, and fluttering while she’s at it. Her transformation is, in my opinion, just the absolute best scene of the whole shebang.
It turns out, though, that without the music from the Tangerine Dream score, the entire scene felt flat, boring and weird instead of awesome – at least as far as I am concerned. Goldsmith’s ballet-like theme was pretty, but it didn’t generate anything near the tension and dread of TD’s creepy, macabre, wonderfully demented music box theme. After having waited so gleefully for it, our disappointment at seeing the director’s cut version of Lily’s dance was palpable. I was so pissed, in fact, that I made us pause the DVD so we could look up the proper version of it on YouTube:
I was almost ready at that point to turn the DVD off entirely, in fact, but was convinced to stick it out to the end. But Liz, at least, shoulda oughta known betta, because she was infuriated in turn to discover that the director’s cut had left out her favorite moment: when the Gump reattaches the male unicorn’s horn, amid an insane flower blizzard and the most awesomely awful 80s-tastic pop song ever:
I mean, c’mon, that is gold. How can you not love that?
In the end, Kate came off the best with the director’s cut, because her favorite part was the scene with Meg the Swamp Monster, and that was one of the few places where I thought the extended dialogue and longer scene actually worked better than the theatrical version.
So, so pretty.
The reason I know all this, by the way, is because I was so thoroughly disgruntled by the mangling the director’s cut had given one of my beloved childhood movies, that I later went and rented the theatrical cut on my own, just so I could compare the two versions fairly, and make sure I wasn’t talking out of my ass. For the record, I wasn’t: I enjoyed the theatrical cut way more than I did the director’s version. Sorry, Ridley, if you ask me you shoulda left well enough alone.
Granted, there were a couple of things the theatrical release did which I could have done without. Like, I seriously don’t know what was up with the bizarre blacklight version of the Lord of Darkness we see at the beginning, like he’s ten minutes from heading to a rave. (He would have been the most popular rave attendee EVER, true, but that’s beside the point.) Also, I’m not sure if an overwrought overlong written prologue is actually worse than an overwrought overlong introductory speech by the Lord of Darkness, but at least with the latter you get to enjoy more of Tim Curry oh-so-mellifluously chewing every piece of scenery he can get his meaty red hands on.
The “Jack meets the fair folk scene”, though, most definitely benefits from the pruning it received for the theatrical cut. Even though you can tell from watching the theatrical version that there was a lot of missing footage being edited around, having seen what they did cut, I think they were right to do it.
(Also, cutting a lot of this scene meant less bubbles. I feel like this was a good thing.)
Although I still don’t understand why in neither version did anything come of the fact that Jack was stupid enough to accept a drink from a fairy.
That’s one of the most basic fairy tale no-nos in the book, and the scene certainly seemed to play up an underlying menace when the Gump offers Jack wine, but then Jack drinks it and… nothing happens. And they go to find the unicorns and get Jack his glitter armor and so on. Soooo I guess Legend’s fairies are different?
Though honestly, the film was pretty slapdash in its application of fairy tale tropes overall. Like, I also don’t understand why the Lord of Darkness is supposed to reside in a giant tree (a tree with a portal to outer space, evidently), or why the inside of said giant tree looks a hell of a lot more like a stone cavern than anything organic. Why not have him live in a volcano lair like a normal evil overlord, sheesh.
One thing Legend absolutely did get right, though, in both versions, was the unicorns.
Their horns are a weensy bit wobbly when they run, true, but even so, I feel like Legend’s unicorns are still the best (live action) unicorns in cinema. I just adore them.
Liz adds that this movie was almost certainly the beginning of her youthful obsession with unicorns, which I can attest was pretty darn obsessive. And then Kate and I made fun of her for being foolish enough to tell everyone about that obsession back in the day, which meant that every Christmas and birthday gift she received for the next ten years was unicorn-themed. Hahaha.
ME: Why is there whale song in all the unicorn scenes?
LIZ: Because they’re talking. DUH.
ME: …Unicorns speak in whale song?
LIZ: Of course, how else would they talk?
KATE: Yeah, don’t you know nuthin?
Of course, bringing up the unicorns means bringing up one of the more problematic issues with Legend, namely, what exactly is all this hoohah meant to be symbolizing, anyway?
I’ve read theories that the entire thing is a covert PSA advocating abstinence, and there’s certainly some validity to that train of thought, but personally I always assumed that it was much more a retelling of the Fall of Adam and Eve in fairy-tale sheep’s clothing than it was anything else.
And of course, as usual, it’s all the girl’s fault.
(Though you know, just to be pedantic, it seems to me that it was not made clear that Lily touching the unicorn was actually what made everything go pear-shaped; it seemed more like, you know, the evil poisoned goblin dart was the cause of that? Unless we were supposed to understand that it was only her touch that let the dart land, or something. Whatever.)
In any case, it’s amazing how easy the film makes it to seriously loathe Lily if one so chooses, mostly because her brand of “innocence” seems to be such a bizarre and vaguely distasteful one. Apparently “innocent”, when you’re a girl, means being capricious, willful, heedless, reckless, and a tease. Or maybe that’s just how all girls are in Legend-land, whether they’re innocent or not, since the fairy Oona displays pretty much the exact same traits.
(Meanwhile, “innocent”, when you’re a boy, apparently means having the ability to talk to animals and a terminal allergy to walking upright. Also to pants.)
Anyway, naturally this all more or less flew over my head as a kid, but adult-me can’t help but find the implications offensive. But the inherent sexism of “loss of innocence” tropes are so deeply baked into them that it basically just makes me tired to think of even trying to untangle them. So in the spirit of picking my battles, sometimes I just decide to concentrate on gorgeous cinematography and unicorns and badass production design and give the rest of it a miss.
Speaking of badass design, I would be seriously remiss were I to let an article about Legend pass without pointing out the intense awesomeness of the makeup job on Tim Curry’s Lord of Darkness (once it gets past its rave phase):
I used to wonder as a kid how the weight of those horns didn’t make him topple over every time he moved. In fact I still sort of wonder that now, truth be told.
But regardless, the get-up, plus Curry’s extraordinarily convincing physicality in the role (I especially liked how he imitated an actual bull when enraged, right down to the arrogant horn toss of I’mmabout to Gore You So Hard, Boi-yyyyy), has made the Lord of Darkness into one of my favorite fantasy villains of all time. His sheer cool factor neatly eclipses how vague his origins and goals are.
Though I do remember being struck as a kid by his line to Jack just before he goes on a space trip dies:
“You think you have won! What is light without dark? What are you without me? I am a part of you all. You can never defeat me. We are brothers eternal!”
I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I ever really gave that much thought to that particular aspect of the concept of good versus evil. I mean, I’d certainly thought about the subject before, but this may have been the first time I’d come across the suggestion that evil is actually fundamentally unvanquishable – that “all good” might be just as unacceptable as “all bad”. Other stories have explored the theme with far greater depth and complexity, of course, but Legend has the honor of being the story that first put a light bulb over my head about it.
Much more frivolously, though, this is by far my favorite LoD moment:
ME: Wow, didja… have a little accident in your pants there, chum?
I spent some time being startled at how young Tom Cruise is in this movie, but more at how different he looked before he got his teeth capped.
It was also interesting to watch him act before the hyper-polished and secretly crazy A-list movie star that he later became existed. Movie Star Tom Cruise has a calculated and blindingly shiny sheen to his acting (to his everything, really) that I have always found vaguely off-putting, even back when I really liked him. Young Ingenue Tom Cruise, on the other hand, had a genuineness and, yes, innocence (appropriately enough) to his performance that I found myself sad to realize had soon disappeared after Legend. Shame.
I never knew what had happened to Mia Sara after she did Legend and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off until I looked her up for this post. I had assumed that she’d stopped acting, but in fact it turns out that she’d worked steadily all the way through to 2013 – just in a bunch of things I’d never heard of or never watched. But hey, she played two characters in two movies most of us who were around for the 80s (and quite a few who weren’t) adore and are never going to forget, so that’s more than most people. Here’s to steady employment, girl. Good on you.
And, um. I’m sure there’s more I could comment on, but I’m pretty well spent by this point, so I leave the rest of the discussion to you guys. What do you think about Legend? Am I right about the blowage of the director’s cut and the awesomeness of Tangerine Dream, or do I need to lay off the fairy wine? Tell me your thoughts!
And until then, I close as always with my Nostalgia Love to Reality Love 1-10 Scale of Awesomeness!
For the director’s cut:
For the theatrical cut:
And that’s the show for now, kids! There’s a possibility that the next MRGN post may be pushed back owing to the Labor Day weekend, but that ain’t for sure yet, so watch out for my updates in the comments below! Cheers!