The Actors Chewdio was established in 1984 by founding members (and legendary thespians) Francois Van Varenberg, Charles Buchinsky, Michael Gardenzio, Kurt Vogel, and Thomas Mapother. Since its inception, The Actors Chewdio has been a shining beacon of quality within the acting community; producing exemplary performers at a level of talent and professionalism that all others aspire to reach. The organization is lead today by Chairman Hans Lundgren and it is with his gratuitous blessing that we bring you this procession of literary specimens aimed at enlightening lesser folk to the entire cinematic history of the craft’s innumerable transcendent masters…one film at a time!
The Film: Legend (1985)
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: William Hjortsberg
Thespians: Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, David Bennent, Alice Playten, Billy Barty, Cork Hubbert, Kiran Shah, Annabelle Lanyon, Peter O’Farrell, Robert Picardo, Chris Lorch, Tina Martin, etc.
Running Time: 113 minutes (Director’s Cut)/90 minutes (U.S. Theatrical)
Theatrical Performance: $15,052,112
Where do I begin? Ridley Scott’s dark fairytale is a feast for the eyes and perhaps a perfect example of “style over substance”. Then again, as Brian De Palma has oft said, sometime the style is the substance. After a soft open with an excellent and underrated period piece (The Duellists), Ridley Scott exploded onto the scene with his second and third films (Alien, Blade Runner). While Legend’s script and concept are nowhere near as fully formed, its production design is equally breathtaking, the scores (particularly the Tangerine Dream one on the theatrical cut) are wonderful, and the creature/make-up effects by Rob Bottin are topnotch. It is truly a shame that Ridley waited almost another 30 years before returning to the fantastique and even if future efforts hew closer to the disappointing Prometheus than this (or the two classics before it), I still welcome them with open arms. An interesting failure will always be far more intriguing to me than an admirable win.
Our tale follows the innocence-shattering journey of Princess Lili (Mia Sara), who is quite fond of hanging out with the commoners in the forests of her kingdom, instead of lying about in luxury. She is particularly fond of “forest child” Jack (Tom Cruise), her would-be “prince”. One day Jack decides to show her something wondrous: a pair of unicorns. In this world, unicorns are the bringers of light to the universe and are sacred beings. Lili, being a bit too curious and careless, decides to get a little too close to them. Unbeknownst to her, some goblins have been following her through the forest in search of “pure innocence”, as per instructions from their master: the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry). You see, Darkness needs a being of such innocence to sacrifice in order to shroud the land in endless night so that he might finally rule supreme. You know, the usual.
While they first hone in on Lili, the goblins soon ditch her as their prize in favor of a unicorn. After pulling a smash & grab that leaves one unicorn seemingly dead and the other captive (along with Lili), it’s up to Jack to put a stop to Darkness’ diabolical scheme. Along for the quest are elf Honeythorn Gump (David Bennent), fairy Oona (Annabelle Lanyon), dwarfs Screwball (Billy Barty) & Brown Tom (Cork Hubbert), and turncoat goblin Blunder (Kiran Shah). What follows is a perilous journey fraught with goblins, mummies, giant half-animal demons, weird living statues, and a disgusting swamp witch named Meg Mucklebones (Robert Picardo). The performances are great all around, particular from Tim and Tom (as our villain and hero, respectively), especially considering most are playing characters intentionally written broadly.
The film as a whole is hard to pin down on initial viewings, particularly if one is watching the shorter theatrical cut. Let’s be honest here: Legend is not a very coherent film in terms of narrative. There is an immense amount of dream logic at work here, but given the subject matter it seems fitting. The supernatural horror-fantasy work of Dario Argento (namely Suspiria and Inferno) comes to mind; which isn’t shocking when you realize that both Dario and Ridley were heavily influenced by the early fairytale works of Walt Disney (specifically Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). Scott actually approached Disney with the project early on and it isn’t hard to see why they passed. Pardon the pun, but Legend is packed to the brim with darkness, with Tim Curry’s own psychosexual Satan-like villain being a chief example of this. Nothing on hand is graphic or shocking, but some of the sequences within are unnerving. The weird dancing living statues atop the banquet tables while Lili does her “Dance of Darkness” immediately come to mind.
While loss of innocence is absolutely the core theme here, even in the extended version it feels like a few crucial bits are still missing. Scott has talked about how the original script was a lot denser before they pared it down prior to shooting and one wonders if a few of the sequences deleted at that stage might have put this over the top into classic territory had they remained. We will likely never know, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t still a really good film as is. I can forgive a bit of incoherence when a film is this hypnotically beautiful. That forgiveness is it is entirely possible that the majority of the story’s events might simply be a nightmarish dream in Lili’s mind. While this is never confirmed nor denied within the film, the fact that she brings it up (mostly out of hope) and Jack refuses to answer gives the dream logic within even more power than before. We all know that Ridley finally took a side on the “Is Deckard a replicant?” question with Blade Runner. I wonder if anyone has ever pressed him for a similar revelation with Legend? Perhaps someone has, but somehow I doubt it. Besides, these things are best left for each individual viewer to decide.
What Sayeth Humanity?: The film debuted to decidedly mixed reception and was a box office disappointment, but has developed a cult following over the years. The general consensus is that the great production design, make-up, and music are brought down by a script that needed more work.
What Sayeth Daniel?: While I hadn’t seen most of the films that have appeared in this series prior, I am well-acquainted with Legend. I’ve long had a soft spot for the film, particularly since the longer version finally reared its head on DVD over a decade ago. While not a true “classic”, in my eyes it still remains a very underrated film among the works of both Tom Cruise and director Ridley Scott.
Next: Top Gun (1986)
INSIDE THE ACTORS CHEWDIO with Tom Cruise