" I can safely say at this point that we are lost. "
— Heather Donahue, The Blair Witch Project

MRQE Top Critic

Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

Sponsored links

No matter how you slice it, Ridley Scott’s Legend is a deeply flawed movie. For a film with grandiose dreams of being the ultimate fairy tale, its ambitions went far beyond its budget and were nearly impossible to put on film back in the mid-1980s. What is left is a perplexing mix of magic, wonder, and a standoffish storyline that results in a disappointing compromise.

The new director’s cut contained on Universal’s Ultimate Edition DVD gets a mild recommendation simply for righting wrongs and restoring so much good material to a movie which, while still lacking, gains a sense of heart in the restoration.

Darkest Before the Dawn

Universal's Ultimate Edition gets a mild recommendation for righting wrongsSet in a fairy tale forest of unicorns, goblins, princesses, and satyrs, Legend tells the story of Darkness (Tim Curry, Rocky Horror Picture Show) and his quest to stamp out the sun, his archenemy. The key lies in the destruction of the last two unicorns, beings of goodness and love. By cutting off the horn of each unicorn, Darkness can gain absolute power and restore chaos to the planet.

Assigned the task of retrieving the horns is Blix (Alice Playten, Heavy Metal) and his goblin accomplices. The goblins trail the very embodiments of innocence, Jack (Tom Cruise, Top Gun) and Lily (Mia Sara, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), in hopes their pure view of the world will serve as bait in snaring the unicorns.

In a nod to Adam and Eve, Jack takes Lily to view the unicorns. So moved by their beauty, Lily touches one of the unicorns, a no-no for mere mortals. By doing so, Lily brings winter to their Eden-like forest. During her dangerous liaison, Blix shoots one of the unicorns with a poison dart, making it possible to trap the exquisite being and lop off its horn.

But one horn is not enough and it then becomes a race against time for Jack and a rag-tag bunch of fairytale dwarves and elves to save the last unicorn and Lily, who, captured by the goblins, becomes the object of Darkness’ affection.

Innocence Lost

The Ultimate Edition DVD contains both the newly restored director’s cut () and the U.S. theatrical release version (). In all ways, the director’s cut is the superior edition.

First off, the director’s cut features the original Jerry Goldsmith score, which was replaced in the U.S. version with a Vangelis-like score by Tangerine Dream.

Goldsmith’s restoration alone is a major improvement to the film, as the classical-based score provides a terrific sense of magic and mystique. Unfortunately, in putting everything back together, it appears some fancy footwork was necessary. Chapter 13 of the director’s cut is riddled with music that doesn’t belong, including Goldsmith’s main theme for Psycho II and other segments from that same score. Odds are, that was not Goldsmith’s intent. Goldsmith is one of the greatest movie score composers of all time. Each one of his scores stands as a unique composition; Goldsmith doesn’t recycle.

Of all the characters, Lily seems to gain the most in the director’s cut, although Jack comes across much better as well. Restored footage of Lily singing and Lily’s extended encounter with the unicorns are particularly nice. Extended scenes between Jack and Lily also help create a better sense of time, place, and character. As a result, Sara and Cruise seem much more natural in their roles.

A major example of editing to pander to an audience rather than staying true to the material involves Jack and Lily’s romance. The U.S. version tries to heat it up with a poorly done kiss. In the director’s cut, Jack keeps the temptation at a distance and maintains the innocence of their relationship. It’s a small gesture that serves both characters well.

In short, the director’s cut feels like a real movie that could’ve been a timeless classic given the right focus and budget. The U.S. version feels more like an extended music video permanently stuck in the ’80s.

Night and Day

In both versions, the main attraction is Curry. His performance as Darkness is one for the ages and is a brilliant, over-the-top creation of evil personified. In the director’s cut, Darkness is shrouded in darkness for most of the film, making his appearance to Lily all the more dramatic for viewers. The U.S. version takes liberties to show him in his full, glorious evil from the start, thanks to alternate takes.

What both editions suffer from is an overall lack of identification with the characters. While Jack and Lily benefit from the restored scenes in the director’s cut, the elves, goblins, and dwarves are simply impossible to identify with or care about in either cut.

Among other differences, and there are many, in the director’s cut Darkness consults with his father (who, oddly enough, has a voice that sounds an awful lot like Blix) and receives ominous, evil advice. In the U.S. cut, a whispery-voiced old man, perhaps a reject from a Disney cartoon, offers a watered-down speech that isn’t nearly as threatening.

The U.S. edition also has a tacked-on prelude scroll that lamely sets the stage and it ends with a tacked-on final view of Darkness, offering an evil laugh. It’s odd, considering Darkness splits into several pieces way out in the cosmos minutes before that last laugh. Additionally, the U.S. version suffers from some sloppy editing and re-worked dialogue in an attempt to fill the gaps left by the cut footage.

DVD Extras

The two-disc DVD set offers a wealth of information on the making of Legend, including a running commentary by director Scott. While there are passages of silence, Scott manages to keep the conversation lively and mostly interesting, particularly when he recounts what might’ve been.

A 50-minute documentary on the making of the film features new interviews with the principal production personnel, including Sara and Curry. Scott’s contributions often overlap with his commentary. Cruise, still a rising star when Legend was made, is nowhere to be found in the new material. Nonetheless, the documentary helps put the project in perspective. One of the more memorable comments relates to Keith Richards’ impact on the film; it puts the character of Blix in a whole new light.

In the documentary, the cast and crew try to inflate Legend’s status to that of a modern-day classic. In reality, it’s more a legend for all the changes that went on behind the scenes than for the final product put on the screen. Having been trimmed from a 150-minute epic down to an 89-minute weakling, the film is now restored to a 114-minute director’s cut. In the process, a lot of material has gone missing and, in a surprising confession, Scott admits that comments made by some pot-smoking attendees at a screening got the director second-guessing himself.

Picture and Sound

The director’s cut offers an array of audio options: 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround, 5.1 DTS, and 2.0 Dolby Digital. The U.S. cut is presented only in 2.0 Dolby Digital. The stripped-down audio takes away the impact of Darkness’ laughter as it rumbles through the room and reinforces the feeling the U.S. cut is now merely a redheaded stepchild.

Both cuts offer Spanish and French dubbing and subtitles and English captions.

The picture is 2.35:1 widescreen anamorphic for both cuts, but it’s murky in parts and not the best showcase of the format’s quality. Part of the problem is in the film itself; so much of the picture involves shadows and darkness that the viewer, on occasion, strains to figure out what’s being shown.

The U.S. cut is accompanied by an isolated track of the Tangerine Dream score, allowing its fans the opportunity to discover all the nuances of a composition created in a scant three weeks. Unfortunately, an isolated track of the Goldsmith score is not offered.

Extra DVD Extras

Other supplements include continuity Polaroids, which provide some of the best looks at the costumes and makeup. There are also a slew of publicity photos and pictures from alternate takes.

A nice feature is the script-to-screen DVD-ROM section, which includes both the original and revised screenplays. While the screenplays are attached to the U.S. edition for viewing on the DVD, users have the option of printing out the screenplays for comparing to the director’s cut or to avoid straining the eyes while watching the thumbnail screen set to the side of the screenplay.

Also on board is a 10-minute alternate opening, which is nearly incoherent and features the goblins running around in the dark. It adds little and its removal was a good decision.

A recreation of a fairy dance sequence offers an interesting glimpse at footage that is now lost. The scene would’ve been a good addition and would’ve added, at the very least, some lively atmosphere to the proceedings.

Also documenting what might have been are two storyboard sequences. One is an alternate ending that never got filmed and the other is a sequence involving a two-headed monster guarding the weaponry that Jack needs for his quest against Darkness. A third storyboard sequence remains fairly faithful to the end product, laying out Lily’s introduction to the unicorns.

Rounding out the set is Bryan Ferry’s clever music video for “Is Your Love Strong Enough?” It serves as a reminder that Ferry’s music is not synonymous with “timeless classic” and its last-minute addition to the U.S. cut is indicative of the pure sellout motivation at work in order to get teenagers into the theater.

Finally, the supplements include the standard assembly of trailers, commercials, cast and crew biographies, and production notes.

As for the packaging itself, it’s a head scratcher. A clear plastic folder holds the two discs and an extra foldout message from the director. A slipcase would’ve given the set a more professional appearance.