Legend (1985)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

      

Despite the cover art being the most hideous piece of artwork I've ever seen, Legend is actually a beautiful film, an epic fairy tale exquisitely filmed with surprising depth. Each scene contains something magical and stunning, be it a fairy-infested forest with prancing unicorns or the dark tones of hell. The film itself is a bit strange and has a truly weird premise, yet there's something captivating about it.

 

Fairies, elves, gnomes, unicorns, and goblins play out over a story of good triumphing over evil, and the innocent love between two youths. In the beginning of time, there was nothing... just an empty void of darkness. When light was created, Darkness was forced to retreat, only allowed to reign for a few hours every day. The essence of this light comes from the eternal balance between good and evil in the form of two unicorns -- beings so pure that no mortal is allowed to touch them. 

 

Darkness (Tim Curry) desires to control the world and sends his goblins out to capture and kill the unicorns and bring him their severed horns. The only bait for these immortal beings, he says, is in the form of a pure, innocent love. Lily (Mia Sara) is a princess whose sole delight is in the forest, and her secret love -- a young forest boy named Jack (Tom Cruise), who can speak with all the animals and creatures of the wood. He has long promised to show her something so beautiful it cannot be paralleled even in the far reaches of the kingdom. So one fateful day he leads her into the heart of the glade where the unicorns play. Captivated by their beauty, Lily commits a mortal sin... she approaches and touches the male unicorn. The goblins, who have tracked them through the wood, take their opportunity -- they hit the unicorn with a poison dart.

 

Not understanding what she's done, Lily tries to persuade Jack all will be well. The unicorns were merely startled. But her world is about to shatter. Jack has gone in search of the ring Lily flippantly tossed away, promising to marry whomever finds it. From the moment he dives into the crystal waters, just as the unicorn's horn is severed, the world becomes frosted over with ice. The goblins flee in delight, using the horn to bewitch things along the way. Overhearing their chortles over having used her for ill, Lily is determined to make things right. In the meantime Jack has been found by the keeper of the wood, a small elf-creature called Gump (David Bennent), along with his two gnome-companions. With the help of a small fairy nymph called Oona (Annabelle Lanyon), they must find Lily and protect the remaining unicorn. There is only one way to restore light and balance the will of good and evil; by defeating the Lord of Darkness.

 

From the gorgeous visuals to the haunting soundtrack, Legend is a story only a few will like. It's darker elements are captivating but also horrific in implication and the Satan-like form of Darkness may run off younger audiences. The first scene of the film shows us what we're in for -- creepy little goblins, a great horned devil, and a black underworld. But then the movie progresses into the light. This has to be the most stunning piece of filmmaking I've ever seen. Every frame is flooded with light; eerily creeping down through the trees to illuminate a blue-flowered path, droplets of water splashing up off golden unicorn hooves. The main cast, with the exception of an unrecognizable Tim Curry, are all children. Tom Cruise is barely seventeen, Mia Sara is a beautiful fifteen year old, and David Bennett at nineteen is an enthralling elf-guardian.

 

There are two versions of this film, and if you rent the newly released DVD as I did you'll have both of them. The original is the American version, which is almost a half hour shorter than the European version. The longer is actually the more spellbinding, because it adds little magical moments to bring out the sheer majesty and beauty of the unicorns. It also contains some dialogue which makes later revelations more clear in context. Content issues for both versions are pretty much the same, but I should mention that the Making of Legend included on the disk contains one use of the f-word. Actual content is slight, limited more to grisly visual effects and some scary makeup than anything overly gory. I'm not overly fond of skeletons and the Underworld is full of them. A disgusting green "creature" leaps up out of a lake and attacks Jack. Little people are tortured in the Underworld kitchens. 

 

Darkness is shot numerous times with arrows (which protrude out of his neck and upper torso as he throws Jack around his castle). Battle violence is present, as is a scene where Darkness prepares to execute the last unicorn. Sexual content is almost nonexistent, but there is some fuss made over kissing. Oona the fairy is able to transform herself into larger form and in return for a favor asks Jack to kiss her. (He refuses because his heart belongs to Lily.) Lily and Jack share several romantic kisses in the woods. Fairies and elves run around in short clothing; Jack wears a tunic and tights but no pants. Darkness falls in lust for Lily and tries to "seduce" her to the side of evil. He never touches her but she does come out of a trance dressed immodestly in a gown with a neckline down to her waist. Three mild profanities pop up, one of them used for humor purposes. ("You know what I suggest?" "What?" "That we run like hell." "Good idea!")

 

One thing which is never cleared up is just who Darkness is. At first he appears to be Satan but later he calls out for his "Father" (presumably Satan) to save him. The ending of the American version also includes him in the final montage of scenes, intimating there can be no light without darkness, and no good without evil. It's a little confusing and might discourage more conservative Christians from giving Legend a chance to impress them with its transcending elements of darkness and light.