directed by Ridley Scott
(20th Century Fox, 1985;
re-released, 2002)

I've been waiting years for this.

Three friends and I first saw Legend in a nearly empty theater in 1985. It seemed a flop, commercially, but I loved this charming and colorful fantastic frolic.

It was only much later than I learned I'd been cheated. The 90-minute U.S. release was shortened, rearranged, rescored and restructured. As much as I liked this version, I wanted desperately to see the U.K. original, which added about 25 minutes of screen time. But it couldn't be found -- even browsing in a London video store, I saw only the American release.

Ah, the wonders of DVD! Newly released, Legend is now available in both versions, familiar and foreign, in one two-disc set.

Whichever version you're watching, you're watching classic fantasy. Both have magic to spare, with plenty of otherworldly beings both fey and demonic. Faeries and goblins are perfectly realized, particularly the puckish Gump (David Bennent), willful Oona (Annabelle Lanyon), whimsical and stalwart Brown Tom (Cork Hubbert) and Screwball (Billy Barty), and sinister Blix (Alice Playten). And who can forget that first glimpse of unicorns, their song evoked by the cries of humpback whales?

Much of the action focuses on two mere mortals. Lily is a princess who flees her palace for woodland frolics, and the delightful Mia Sara brings a marvelously elfin quality to the part. Even the young Tom Cruise seems apt as Jack, a wild lad of the forest.

Of course, top marks go to Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness: a sinister mastermind, a juggernaut of angry demon and, occasionally, a bashful, red-skinned Romeo. Who does evil like Curry? He chews the scenery with fiery fiendishness, even decked out as he is with a massive rack of horns and a chin you could moor a schooner to.

The film is right at home on gorgeous, elaborate sets in fair weather and foul, and in the depth of darkness under the earth.

So how do the two versions compare? The biggest difference between them is the soundtrack; Jerry Goldsmith's orchestral score was replaced for American audiences with synthesized music by Tangerine Dream. People are sharply divided on the merits of both; frankly, they both work very well. Goldsmith's timeless sound is more appropriate to the setting, but at times his score is jarring or, perhaps worse, ordinary. Tangerine Dream's work is a bit dated to modern ears, but the band sometimes hits the right mood with deadeye accuracy -- Lily's infernal waltz is a perfect example. And, I'll admit it, I missed Jon Anderson's song in the last scene of the Goldsmith soundtrack -- it's a nice touch to have Lily sing a bit (Mia Sara has quite a nice voice), but by the end I started wishing she'd learned more than one song. Also, it would have been more effective to make her sound like a girl singing in the woods, not a studio.

The extra scenes in the U.K. version are a mixed bag. Some are great additions to the story and character development. Others are a bit plodding or overwrought. There's little in the longer version that I can't live without, but still, there are some gems in there, too.

Bottom line is, enjoy Legend whichever version you can lay your hands on. As fantasies go, it holds up very well nearly three decades after its initial release. The magic remains.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 1 February 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.