In 1986 I was a fantasy obsessed teenager living in a bedroom painted sunshine yellow, with flowered curtains and nearly every wall and shelf decorated with unicorns. Crystal unicorns, pewter unicorns, porcelain unicorns, unicorn suncatchers, a photo of Lancelot the Living Unicorn. The ’80s, you’ll remember, were the decade of Rainbow Brite, gnomes, and the ubiquitous white unicorn. And so, when Ridley Scott and Universal produced a movie that featured unicorns, not to mention Tom Cruise fresh from his breakthrough in Risky Business, I and zillions of other young girls lined up to see a film that would surely become a fantasy classic.
Shortly thereafter I redecorated.
Legend is the tale of Lily (Mia Sara), described as “innocent and pure of heart.” Lily is a young woman – possibly a princess, though it’s never fully made clear if she is indeed royal – who likes to wander the forest and visit peasants. Tom Cruise plays her lover Jack, a sort of wild Tarzan/Mowgli/George of the Jungle type who lives in the forest and communes with the animals. Jack, of course, is also “innocent and pure of heart.”
Lily conveys her innocence primarily by cavorting about the woods, flailing her arms and pointing her toes ballet-style, inhaling the fragrance of each flower with a melodramatic pause before spinning en pointe and moving on to the next blossom. Jack assures us of his wildness by a constantly crouching animal-style and tilting his head from side to side like a spaniel begging for a biscuit. Each maintains a fairly constant expression of vapidity, which they’ve apparently confused with purity. Naturally these two dolts are in love, though they play their love scenes with all the passion and intensity of two 5-year-olds forced to kiss icky Aunt Edna.
Jack takes Lily to see the unicorns, creatures described anachronistically by the Lord of Darkness as “crowned with a single spiral reaching like an antenna straight to Heaven.” The unicorns embody Light, and the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry, in a valiant attempt to carry the film) wants to plunge the world back into eternal darkness, so he sends goblins to kill the unicorns. Ignoring Jack’s halfhearted warning, Lily lures one of the unicorns to her, giving the goblins a chance to kill it and take the horn. (The viewer may be astonished, incidentally, to find that unicorns sound just exactly like humpback whales.)
The goblins present the Lord of Darkness with the horn and, shortly thereafter, return to kidnap Lily and the remaining unicorn. Jack is informed by the Puck-like Gump (David Tennent of The Tin Drum) that he must rescue the unicorn’s horn (called alicorn) and save the animals, though he’s more interested in rescuing Lily. He sets off to save Lily, accompanied by Gump, a fairy named Oona, and a group of dwarves (which includes the great Billy Barty as Screwball).
Somewhere around this point in the film, the astute viewer may find himself wondering “What the heck is up with all the crap floating in the air?” (referring to a visual effect and not just the movie as a whole). The viewer will have noted that the air is filled with floating material in literally every scene. Cotton fluff, feathers, flower petals, snow, smoke, steam … every single scene has been filmed through a fog of some sort of matter. I’m not sure what this is intended to convey. It may have been merely to cover some of the more obvious flaws in the special effects, such as several scenes in which a moving string can be clearly seen manipulating a “fairy light.” Then again, maybe somebody just thought it looked really neat. I’m not sure.
At any rate, the Lord of Darkness has kidnapped Lily and has fallen in love with her himself. With the aid of an exotic dancing priestess, he attempts to convert Lily and entice her to marry him. Here, in the worst and least believable plot development of the movie, Lily completely changes character from an ignorant twit to a brilliant, devious, intellectual equal of the ancient Lord of Darkness himself. Sure.
I’ve heard praise for the cinematography in Legend, and I agree that many of the visuals are spectacular, even seen through a haze of floating crap. Sadly, the editing is choppy and some of the props and special effects are terribly phony. Costumes are incredible – the gown and makeup that Lily wears after her capture by the Lord of Darkness are positively yummy – and the makeup for the goblins, dwarves, and Lord of Darkness are spectacularly well done. The music provided by Tangerine Dream is wonderful, soothing, New Age and techno both, and I enjoyed listening to if not watching this movie.
Unfortunately, no matter how appealing the costumes, makeup, and music in Legend, there is just no way to save the film from the ghastly writing, execrable acting, and abhorrent direction. Wise viewers will avoid spending their time on this frightfully unpalatable waste of celluloid.