Legend (1985)

Legend (1985), directed by Ridley Scott.

I had not seen this since it was in the theater and this was my first time with the director's cut and Jerry Goldsmith's score.

The magic forest settings are just boggling in their poster-art beauty. The air is filled with floating fluff and the people wear skin glitter. Almost all of it was done on a sound-stage without CGI.

The plot is like a first effort from a teen girl who has just discovered elves and fairies. Evil demon "Darkness" wants to conquer "Light" but the sacred unicorns stand in his way. Unicorns are attracted to "Innocence" so the goblin soldiers follow young Princess Lili and use her as unicorn bait.

What exactly Lili is innocent of is not very clear. She runs wild and hangs out with ragged forest-guy Jack (young Tom Cruise). Her willfulness harms the unicorns (she just wanted to touch the horn -- see where that leads?) and she must enter Darkness's fortress to try to make it up.

This is kind of cloying with its garden gnomes and Disneyfied fairies, including a Tinkerbell floating light and drunken Irish elves: "Twas a tirrible sight for a sober mon!" Even the goblin soldiers are more like naughty children than anything else.

And yet: Lili's striking hellish dance with the cloaked phantom, a presentiment of her future self, is weirdly erotic, like something Powell & Pressburger would have tried in one of their opera or ballet fantasies of the 1940s. Or like Black Swan (2010).

"Darkness" (Tim Curry with amazing makeup and head-gear) becomes smitten with Lili. Why would that be? If he is drawn to her virtues then he can't be entirely evil. Does "good" corrupt (or redeem) "evil"? Or does he just want to defile her purity? He seems pleased when she pretends to have crossed over to the dark side.

I think he's just demonically male. Every guy will understand his frustration and scarcely maintained politeness while coping with his lady's diffidence and lack of compliance with his desires.

Mia Sara's sexy black costume includes a filmy band of fabric across her chest; I don't think I noticed that in the theater.

Available on Blu-ray with both theatrical and director's cuts. My thumbnails are from the latter, but the theatrical version is from a better source. It is brighter and more saturated in spots: see the ruddy skin tones on the peasant woman who is Lili's friend. Detail seems similar on both and image quality is mostly just fair.

The director's cut is 20 minutes longer but still omits some bits from the theatrical version. The longer edit is darker, more suggestive; the shorter more obvious.

Jerry Goldsmith provides a typically fine symphonic score for the director's cut. The theatrical version uses a simpler Tangerine Dream track with closing songs by Jon Anderson and Bryan Ferry. It suggests 1970s art-rock album covers and fantasy posters, which is an interesting treatment, but as background music it sometimes descends into synthesizer drone.

For vivid comparison of the scores, watch Lili's dance with her dark phantom. The synthesizer track is a plain music-box theme, where Goldsmith provides a danse macabre, a hellishly stormy and erotic waltz.

The director provides a relaxed and chatty commentary track with many interesting production details:

I didn't hear him talk about his intent: why did he want to make it? Fairy tales have always been rich matter for operas, ballets and movies, and the semi-comic versions worked up for film are a popular genre, for example Willow (1988) and The Princess Bride (1987). Did he just want to try it out himself?