I’ve been a big fan of director Ridley Scott’s visually stunning film LEGEND ($25) for a whole lot of years. I even owned the god-awful pan and scan Laserdisc release from the pre-wide screen era, which did a horrifying disservice to a film of such haunting beauty. Gravely disappointed with the quality of that release, I managed to get a Universal Home Video executive on the phone and requested they release the film in the wide screen format. Of course, with the rare opportunity of having that executive’s ear, I decided to go for broke and requested that Universal release the longer European version of LEGEND, with the Jerry Goldsmith score, instead of the truncated American version with the music by Tangerine Dream. For about a decade and a half, I felt as though my rather lofty request had fallen on deaf ears. However, the advent of the DVD format finally gave Universal Studios Home Video the impetus to revisit LEGEND- producing an Ultimate Edition for DVD, which includes a new director’s cut (with the Jerry Goldsmith score), as well as the American theatrical release version of the film, both of which are presented in 16:9 enhanced wide screen.
Even though I am a self-described fan of LEGEND, I have to admit that the movie is far from perfect. As beautiful as the film is to behold, the plot is something of a muddled mess, although to a lesser degree in the newly created director’s cut of the film. The basic premise of the film brings to life a world of faerie tale characters that include unicorns, spites, fairies, elves, goblins, and assorted demons. As with any good faerie tale, LEGEND has a beautiful princess at the center of the story, as well as her handsome champion and the evil monster they must overcome if they are going to have the chance to live happily ever after.
LEGEND stars (Tom Cruise) as Jack, a handsome forest dweller in love with the beautiful Princess Lily (Mia Sara). One day as a sign of his love, Jack takes Lily to see the forest’s most powerful magical creatures- a pair of unicorns. Unfortunately, commits the ultimate offense by touching these wonderfully pure beasts, which allows the goblin minions of The Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) to slay one of the unicorns. As a result of the goblins killing one of the unicorns, the world is thrown into chaos- and turned it into a frozen wasteland. However, before the goblin’s master Lord Darkness can rule a world of perpetual night, the second unicorn must be slain. Lily, hoping to make up for her horrifying transgression, tries to protect the second unicorn- but instead finds herself captured and brought before Lord Darkness, who intends to make the beautiful princess his queen. With the world teetering on the brink, Jack finds himself the duly designated champion who must rescue the second unicorn, as well as save Lily and everything else from the grasp of Darkness.
As I stated above, the plot of LEGEND is a bit on the muddled side, but it is easier to follow in this new director’s cut of the film. Additionally, the various characters’ places in the story and their motivations become clearer in this longer, more fleshed out version of LEGEND. The director’s cut of LEGEND is unable to do anything about some of the film’s painfully bad dialogue, although I think fans of the movie are generally awestruck by the visual splendor and tend to overlook the awkward phases emanating from the characters’ mouths. Another thing that will make fans forget about the dialogue is having the opportunity to enjoy the film with the restored Jerry Goldsmith score. Goldsmith’s score is marvelous complement to the film’s impressive visuals, something that I never found the Tangerine Dream music to be. With the Tangerine Dream music, LEGEND is pure MTV; with Jerry Goldsmith’s score it’s a real motion picture.
The performances in LEGEND are generally good, with the supporting players usually outshining the leads. Tim Curry’s performance as Lord Darkness is the only exception. In fact, Curry steals every scene he is in and it is not because of Rob Bottin’s incredible prosthetic makeup. Curry’s voice and presence transcend the makeup, which gives his scenes and his dialogue the most replay value in the entire movie. In addition to the above-mentioned leads, the cast of LEGEND also includes David Bennent, Alice Playten, Billy Barty, Cork Hubbert, Peter O'Farrell, Kiran Shah, Annabelle Lanyon and an unrecognizable Robert Picardo, who is buried under tons of latex.
As I mentioned above, Universal Studios Home Video has made both the new director’s cut and the American theatrical release version of LEGEND available on DVD in 2.35:1 wide screen presentations that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Owing to the fact that these are different movies, mastered from different film elements, there are differences in the quality of the presentations. It comes as no surprise that the newly created director’s cut is the visibly superior version. Although the transfer is a tad dark at times, the director’s cut looks gorgeous on DVD, delivering a sharp and very well defined image. Colors are wonderfully vibrant and the flesh tones remain incredibly appealing throughout the course of the movie. Blacks are perfectly inky, contrast is smooth and shadow detail holds up quite well in the darkest of sequences. The film element used for the transfer is almost completely free of blemishes. Not a trace of noticeable digital compression artifacts to be found disc one.
As for the ninety minute American theatrical release version of LEGEND, it is relegated to the second disc, along with the majority of extras, and may suffer a bit from the space crunch. Although highly watchable, the image on the American version is somewhat softer and a little less cleanly defined than it appeared on the director’s cut. The film element used for this transfer shows more age related blemishes and is grainier than its newly created counterpart. Colors are pretty vibrant here, but not quite as good as they appear on the director’s cut. Blacks appear correct and the contrast is good, but the depth of the image and shadow detail appears slightly weaker than in the newly minted version. There are no overt signs of digital compression artifacts during the presentation of the theatrical version.
The director’s cut of LEGEND features Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 channel soundtracks, while the American theatrical release version has a matrixed 2.0 surround track. Both 5.1 channel tracks supply the director’s cut with enough juice to almost make one forget that this movie is seventeen years old. The forward soundstage is very lively, although the somewhat less active rear channels remain the only real reminder of this soundtrack’s age. Fidelity of the recordings is very good and the bass channel provides impressive depth. Dialogue reproduction is crisp and highly understandable. Of course, the highlight of the track is the Jerry Goldsmith score, which is not only beautiful, but also well recorded and mixed into the soundtrack. As for the differences between Dolby Digital and DTS, they aren’t significant, but the higher bit rate of DTS gives it that format a bit of an edge. The 2.0 stereo surround soundtrack on the American theatrical release version is representative of a well-mixed track from the mid-1980s, but is somewhat flat sounding in comparison to the discrete track on the director’s cut. Both versions of LEGEND include English, French and Spanish subtitles.
A bit of animation and music serve to enhance the DVD’s nicely designed interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials. The only supplement on disc one is an audio commentary with director Ridley Scott. This is a truly excellent commentary track, with Scott touching on all aspects of the film’s production, including the various changes he made to the film and its final revision in a director’s cut- seventeen years after its theatrical release. If you are a fan of LEGEND, you do not want to miss listening this commentary track.
Moving onto disc two, we find the main body of the DVD set’s supplements. Starting things off is Creating A Myth: The Making of Legend, a fifty plus minute documentary, which includes new interviews with just about everyone important to the production both in front of the camera and behind, except for leading man Tom Cruise. Even without Cruise’s participation, this is an incredible documentary filled with interesting stories about the making of the film, an impressive amount of production detail that includes behind-the-scenes footage and still images. As with the audio commentary, this is a supplement that every LEGEND fan must experience. Next up, is the Tangerine Dream score presented on an isolated soundtrack- this is a nice inclusion, but I would have preferred that the Jerry Goldsmith score be offered this way. Two lost scenes are present on the DVD, one comes from a bad VHS dub of the lost footage and the other is recreated from the surviving soundtrack element along with photos and storyboards. Also included on the DVD are storyboards for three separate sequences, three photo galleries, two theatrical trailers, four TV spots, production notes, cast & crew biographies/filmographies and a music video for the song "Is You're Love Strong Enough?" by Bryan Ferry. LEGEND is also DVD-ROM enabled, with the script-to-screen comparison available, as well as various web links.
As I stated above, I am a big fan of LEGEND (despite its flaws) and am absolutely delighted to finally have the film finally available in an extended director’s cut along with its superior Jerry Goldsmith score. Universal Studios Home Video has done an absolutely fantastic job with their Ultimate Edition DVD release- making the seventeen-year wait worthwhile. If you are a fan of this visually stunning Ridley Scott film, you definitely will want to own a copy of LEGEND on DVD. If you have never experienced the film, be sure to check out the director’s cut before sampling the American theatrical release version.
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