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For those who don’t know, there are several versions of this film. Originally, there were two. One for European release, that had a Jerry Goldsmith score, and the other, for North American release, that has a Tangerine Dream score.
Put quite simply, the European version is head and shoulders above the American one. Sadly, it’s the American release of this film that got the bad press and eventually condemned this film into the “ambitious flop” category.
The film has since been re-released on DVD, with a slightly edited version of the European release, and the North American release. They make an interesting comparison.
Being an Australian, it was the European release I got to see in 1986 and subsequently on VHS. I wondered as to why this film got such a bad rap as I personally could find little wrong it. When I got to see the North American version, I soon saw why. It’s atrocious. It has to be one of the most badly edited films I’ve ever seen. For example, in the scene where Darkness attempts to seduce Lily (played by a debutant Mia Sara), you can patently see where the editing was done as it jumps from one event to another. It doesn’t have the smooth flow of the European release.
Legend is heroic fantasy of the classical type, with some subtle differences. Tom Cruise’s character, Jack, is no warrior. He’s a wild boy, dwelling in the woods amongst the streams and flowers with no knowledge of or concern for matters of combat. The role of hero is thrust upon him when Blix (the main goblin) kills the unicorn and plunges the world into a frozen winter. Since the world has no other champion to fall back on, Jack is it.
Cruise is good as Jack. He’s stated before in interviews that Legend is one of his favourite films. It’s not a particularly challenging role as a lot of what he does is hero-by-numbers stuff, but he’s most definitely involved. Tim Curry is unrecognisable as Darkness. Such was the skill of the make-up artists, you cannot tell it was him.
The director, (now Sir) Ridley Scott has created a lavish world. It’s incredible to watch; every scene is filled with light and dazzling motion, whether it be clouds of flower petals, bubbles, the flowing of water, the sparkling of light against reflective surfaces, etc. As a reviewer once wrote: It is a feast for the eyes. It really is. It was all filmed inside on a sound stage too. None of those elaborate outdoor scenes where filmed outdoors. The set actually burned down once stage during production, something that Scott goes into in detail in the DVD commentary.
Even if fantasy films aren’t your thing; Legend is worth watching simply for the sumptuous and lush visuals; every scene is delightful eye candy.
Apart from the awful editing, there are some differences between the two versions. The prologue of the European one is much shorter and you do not see Darkness at all. His appearance is left for you to guess at. The American version pictures him here in a garish blue light with feral yellow eyes. (See screenshot). It gives too much away, in my opinion.
At one stage, during their rescue of Lily, Jack and Gump (the chief elf) encounter a group of pygmies in the American version. This doesn’t exist in the European release. It probably is an extraneous scene that has no bearing upon the plot as nothing happens more than Gump hissing at them. I have a screenshot here of them too, but wasn’t able to get a clear shot of them, so to speak.
The scene involving Meg Mucklebones is more protracted in the American version. Darkness’s final speech to Jack before he’s flung into oblivion is much longer in the American version. He said next to nothing in the original European version, but Scott edited in a small bit more for the DVD release. No harm done.
Goldsmith’s score is superior to the Tangerine Dream one, in my opinion. Tangerine Dream have produced some landmark music, Phaedra for example, but a hell of a lot of what they’ve made could be classed as elevator music and their score is definitely that. The theme song by Bryan Ferry is nothing special either.
In summary, it’s a beautiful and sweet fairy tale that’s bound to appeal to many people, just so long as you see the European release first.