1985. Directed by Ridley Scott.
A not so original fairy tale brought to life, Ridley Scott’s Legend is a clinic on makeup design and world building. Lacking a coherent plot and featuring an interesting mix of absurdity and genuine terror, this is a fantasy epic that encapsulates the 80’s trend of family films with an edge.
Once, Long Ago…
The Lord of Darkness, a demonic potentate, seeks to end daylight forever by slaying the last two unicorns. He sends a cadre of goblins into an enchanted forest to hunt the beasts, where Princess Lily, a virginal wild heart, is in the midst of being courted by Jack, an orphaned adventurer. A moment of weakness by Lily allows the goblins to steal one of the unicorns’ magical horns, plunging the world into an eternal winter and banishing Lily to Darkness’s personal lair. Jack, aided by a ragtag band of fairies and dwarfs sets out on a quest to rescue his true love and stop Darkness once and for all.
Scott had the idea for Legend on the back burner for years, and the influence of both Alien and Blade Runner are evident throughout. Jerry Goldsmith’s score constantly evokes the feeling of discovering dark wonders that is prevalent in Scott’s previous masterworks. The feeling is extended through entirely hand crafted sets that create a fantastic world, The forest sequences are glitter choked dreamscapes, captured by Alex Thomson’s entrancing cinematography. The scenes within Darkness’s castle have a gritty dungeon like quality that fades into the shadows of the villain’s sanctum as the narrative progresses, using deep wide shots to simulate a desolate cavern and slick angular shots to obscure Darkness whenever possible.
Rob Bottin’s Oscar nominated makeup effects are the centerpiece. Tim Curry, underwent over 5 hours of makeup every day, with the final product revealing an elegant predator, a twisted demon prince with mammoth black horns and crimson flesh. Curry’s delicious performance as Darkness is full of subtle derision and over the top grandeur, elevating the lukewarm script to a place of abject horror. Charles Knode’s costume design, particularly with respect to Mia Sara’s “Dark” Lily is unbelievable. There are dozens of intricacies to every ensemble, but Sara’s obsidian gown, complete with gaudy whisk collar, blazes across the screen, shimmering in the torchlight to present a damsel in fatale. While the symbolism is pedestrian, part of Legend’s charm is its simplicity. The bad guys are bad, the good guys are good and you know how it’s going to play out, but, thanks to the wonderful visuals, the viewer doesn’t have much time to care.
Available now for digital rental, including Scott’s preferred director’s cut, Legend was a critical and commercial disaster on release. The undeniable flaw is that Legend lacks a heart, never really going anywhere with its basic story. However, this truth has been forgotten over the years, leading to Legend becoming a cult classic, due to its outstanding makeup effects, Tim Curry’s nightmarish performance, and Scott’s patient control. While it is easily overshadowed by Scott’s previous, iconic films, Legend remains a bastion of childlike nostalgia, telling the tried and true story of love conquering all.