Fantasy Romance — Movie Review
A Dark, Romantic Fantasy Fairytale
Fans of Ridley Scott’s work will likely already be familiar with this 1985 film. Likewise, if you’re a fan of Tom Cruise and/or Tim Curry, you’ve probably heard of Legend before, maybe even watched it. Growing up in the 90s, this was one of the favorite films in our household, to the extent that we owned it on laserdisc back when those were a thing.
In essence, Legend is a romantic fairytale depicting the struggle between dark and light, good and bad, right and wrong. It is made in the spirit of some of the older European fairytales like those compiled by the Brothers Grimm way back when. You know, like the version of Snow White where her stepmother is forced to dance to her death in hot iron shoes. That didn’t make it into the Disney retelling of the tale because, well, it’s kind of dark and terrible when you think about it. And while Legend doesn’t have any evil stepmothers or hot iron shoes, it does have a markedly darker tone than most fairytales of the era.
The main protagonists are the forest boy Jack (Tom Cruise) and his sweetheart, the Princess Lili (Mia Sara in her debut role). During the opening scene, we hear from the antagonist, the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry), as he bemoans his exile and isolation to the shadows. When the Lord of Darkness senses the presence of two unicorns, who safeguard the light, he is swift to dispatch some of his loyal goblins to hunt, kill, and retrieve the horns of each unicorn, thus setting in motion the events of this tale.
Meanwhile, Jack and Lili are cavorting in the forest as young lovers do. These scenes are lush and beautiful, with gorgeous costumes and a perfect fairytale forest complete with sparkling clear streams and pools of deep, clear water. Tim Curry’s costume as the Lord of Darkness is particularly iconic, and a true work of art all its own.
Of course, the beautiful introduction goes sideways shortly after Jack shows Lili the unicorns and she unwittingly causes the stallion to be poisoned. The live action unicorns are particularly delightful, depicted by snow white horses that have been expertly made up so that they look quite convincing as the mythical, magical beasts.
Following the poisoning, the forest is transformed as snow and ice blanket the landscape, and once again the special effects are gorgeous and stunningly executed. As one would expect from most any Ridley Scott film, the cinematography is top-notch and the acting of the whole cast completes the picture so that you can thoroughly immerse yourself in this tale.
Separated from one another, Jack and Lili both endeavor to make amends and save the unicorns in their own ways. The scenes when Lili is captured and seduced by the Lord of Darkness are absolutely flawless, and the soundtrack provided by Tangerine Dream for the US theatrical release remains one of my longtime favorites. The final scenes are particularly welldone, presenting Jack with the conflict of whether to trust Lili or not, and finally his confrontation with the Lord of Darkness. True fairytale fare at its best.
With two version available, the US theatrical release and the extended director’s cut that came out many years later, you might wonder which version to watch. Both versions have their fans and detractors, so I’ll say this: if you like a bit of a happily-ever-after ending, watch the original US theatrical release with the Tangerine Dream soundtrack. In the US release, things work out for Jack and Lili in the end, whereas in the director’s cut it’s a bit of a different story. That said, if you’re a diehard fan of Ridley Scott, the man himself says watch his director’s cut, so there you have it. The choice is yours, and if you can’t decide, you could always watch both!