Legend (1985), or The Power Of Myth

1 05 2009

Mythology and fantasy are two of my major interests. There is certainly something to be said for the power of myth and the majesty that lies within stories of yore. The tales of quests and high adventure certainly do wonders to stir the heart and the imagination, especially in an old romantic like myself. Perhaps it’s the evocative language, or the sheer creativity used to explain the world through a darker, less informed point of view, but I love stories like The Poetic Edda, Gilgamesh, or Le Morte D’Arthur. They paint such a beautiful picture, although not a picture that is entirely believable for informed modern men and women (I’m looking at you, religious people…). Nevertheless, I can honestly say that I’ve never once hated a fantasy film. Disliked strongly, yes, but there is something in every fantasy film that stirs me on a baser, more childlike and primordial level, and that admittedly must affect me with liking Legend so much.

Legend takes place “long ago”, back when magical things could happen and so forth. Simple and carefree Jack is the caretaker of the last two unicorns in the world. The Lord of Darkness (that’s his name, not just his title) wants to destroy these last unicorns to ensure that dawn will never again disrupt his perfect darkness. When Jack’s love, the beautiful princess Lily, comes to meet him, he becomes distracted with his feelings for her and does not notice one of the LoD’s servants, a terrible goblin, killing one of the unicorns and taking the horn back to its master. With only one unicorn left, and the other unicorn’s death plunging Jack’s home into an icy tomb, it becomes a battle to save the world from eternal darkness as virtue and honor clashes with evil and deceit for the fate of all the mythical creatures of the land.

I liked this movie a lot. It may be puerile and overly simple, but it’s willfully and joyfully so. In much the same way the legends of old play out in my head, this film is vibrant, exciting, and overwhelmingly beautiful. It takes a simple story of good and evil and makes me care to the point that I found myself emotionally invested in a horse with a prop horn fastened to its skull. That takes a magic all its own.

Great concept with great visuals. Big name actors stepping out of their comfort zones. Ear-gasm inducing soundtrack. Who could have directed this lovely little fantasy film other than Ridley Scott? It’s kind of the black sheep of his career in a way, as he never did anything like it before, and he has yet to do anything like it since, but some achievements are best achieved only once. I am genuinely amazed at the obvious care taken in making this film. Even for Scott, this is meticulous film-making. Fantasy is all in the wondrous details, a fact not lost at all on him at all. From Lily’s elaborate dresses to the slime on the goblins’ disgusting face to the mystical landscapes the characters tread on, every step is taken to make this a genuine vision. And it succeeds with me the entire way through.

I would say that this is an exceptional performance by Tom Cruise as Jack. He is still young and boyish, with a smile that could cut through his lack of motivation for most roles and an enthusiasm that was unsurpassed in a dispassionate new generation of Hollywood newcomers. In Legend, he finds the blazing heart of the adventurer and tempers Jack in its fire. I get excited when he sets out to stop the evil encroaching on the land. I get excited when he finds himself in enemy territory. And isn’t excitement, the thrill of the unknown, what lies at the core of fantasy itself?

The other players shine here as well. Mia Sara, who unfortunately never had a more high-profile part after this, debuts in her role as princess Lily, and she is spellbinding to say the least. Her beauty is contrasted by the ghastly face of the Lord of Darkness, played by Tim Curry in full-on Broadway mode. He is a very literal embodiment of evil, and his presence is impressive indeed. His make-up is especially powerful, and looks very good in an age before digital enhancement. My other favorite character is named Screwball and is played by the veteran actor Billy Barty. He is a dwarf that accompanies Jack on his mission, and he makes the journey a lot of fun. He gets all the good one-liners (“I vote we run like hell!”) and he gets a big thumbs-up from me.

If you’re a fan of the fantastic or just a sucker for visually stunning, engrossing entertainment, it’s hard to go wrong with Legend. Even though my tastes have matured and I’m now a pathetic old FILM SNOB, I will always get a kick out of high fantasy pictures. It’s about the ideals of love and beauty triumphing over evil and oppression, and although it sounds contrived and simplistic it evokes a response from me that is just as true as all the pondering foreign films I love. I’ll be watching this one for years to come, and if you’re anything like me you might just do the same thing. I give Legend 9 theater-riffic Tim Currys out of 10. A high recommendation!

Speaking of pondering foreign films, tomorrow I dig into Japan’s dirty underworld with Youth of the Beast!