Director's Cut ***/****
DVD - Image B+ Sound B+ Extras A+
BD - Image A- Sound A- Extras A
Theatrical Cut **/****
DVD - Image B- Sound B+ Extras A+
BD - Image B- Sound A- Extras A
starring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, David Bennent
screenplay by William Hjortsberg
directed by Ridley Scott
by Bill Chambers The American theatrical release of Legend is more impressionistic than the Director's Cut of the film that accompanies it on DVD--because it's the hollowed-out carcass of a complete cinematic experience. It's this gorgeous, dainty thing that hints at something beyond the horizon, lacking not colour but texture, which is in abundance in Scott's latest rendition of the picture. As a child, I watched Legend over and over again, never liking it but always dazzled by it and hoping, perhaps, that repeat viewings would help me to see what isn't there. There is fire and ice yet no warmth and no chill in the U.S. Legend. (I imagine the European cut is little different at five minutes more.) Ridley Scott's exclusive-to-DVD re-edit of Legend contains approximately twenty minutes' worth of heretofore-unseen footage and restores Jerry Goldsmith's lyrical score, and with no pun intended, it's fantastic.
As with Scott's retooling of Blade Runner, the 2002 version of Legend is not just longer--deletions have been made, shots have been reshuffled, and exposition has been removed in an effort to refine the piece on top of fleshing it out. Tim Curry's Darkness, for example, delivers his opening soliloquy off-screen, that great English baritone sounding profoundly lonely as it bounces off the empty walls of a misty castle with but one window, mushroom in shape, that looks out onto the stars. Darkness makes his first non-disembodied appearance at the 76-minute mark in the Director's Cut of Legend (hereafter DC), while his face is among the North American Legend's earliest sights. A Freddy Krueger figure, in other words, is transmogrified into a Jaws one, adding a rich layer of suspense to a film that lacked the thrill of, to borrow from another famous Curry grotesque, "anticipation."
Having read Paul M. Sammon's skimpy if worthwhile Ridley Scott: Close Up, I was familiar with Scott and screenwriter William Hjortsberg's original intentions for Lili, the Princess character (a "Lady" in the American version). "Basically, she was a brat," Scott told Sammon. But she was toned down in the editing room until she became, in Scott's words, "innocence personified." The restoration of Lili's guile--as in the U.S. theatrical cut (hereafter TC), she's introduced mischievously pulling down a milkmaid's clothesline, but here she goes a step farther in stealing biscuits from the woman and telling Jack she baked them herself--places the DC in an emotional context removed from that of its forebear: we see her as more susceptible to the forces of evil. For touching the unicorns, in the TC she is immediately contrite. In the DC? Not so much. The revised Legend presents Lili as something more compelling than a damsel in distress. Jack may set out to rescue her, but there's an internal battle of wills as Darkness preys on her tempestuousness and obvious materialism from which she can only save herself.
The film is not suddenly a masterpiece, alas, except in comparison. The build-up to the ice age caused by a unicorn's castration, so to speak, still suffers from a rather awkward transition in which Lili frolics with the restless unicorns to Lili and Jack talking marriage in a tree--one wishes that Scott had found a better way to consolidate these three turning points. Legend's second act continues to lack definition in the DC, although the supporting cast and even Cruise are memorable in a way they weren't before, with Jack now seeming not so much a cipher as merely single-minded. (Too, there's some anachronistic, George Lucas-style horseplay in the middle section that's like being rudely awakened from a dream, culminating in Blunder bidding his goblin cohorts goodbye with "Adios amigos!" before he's comically sucked down a chute.) And there remains the nagging feeling that Legend, with its juggernaut credentials, is more interested in measuring its dick against contemporaneous sword-and-sorcery flicks (Excalibur, et al) than in telling a cohesive story.
Let us end this on a positive note. The Legend DC's closer cleverly addresses the fate of Darkness and his "balance" prophecy instead of going for shorthand: where the American film murders its happily-ever-after denouement with a cheesy, trÃ©s-'80s dissolve to Darkness chortling, the revamp disposes of this gimmick and then some, leaving any kind of consummation for Jack and Lili to another day. With an impetuous Lili fleeing Jack, promising to visit tomorrow, the beautiful symmetry of the revised conclusion renders implicit as opposed to explicit the survival of Darkness, thus cementing Legend's bold new spirit.
Universal's 2-disc "Ultimate Edition" DVD release of Legend includes the 114-minute DC on the first platter and the 89-minute TC along with supplementary material on the second. The DC distinguishes itself on a technical level with the cleaner, more naturalistic 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of the two. The otherworldly quality to the mind-boggling visuals aside, Legend looks like a recent film--sounds it, too, in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 configurations that immerse you in bucolic exteriors and fire-and-brimstone interiors of constant ambience. Bass, however, is on the weak side. It's punchier, even, on Disc 2's Dolby Surround track, though the bleariness of the domestic Legend's image speaks to a concentration of efforts on the DC.
Ridley Scott contributes an eager, full-length commentary to his Director's Cut. Indexed by chapter headings separate from those found in the scene-selection sub-menus, Scott indelicately remembers, among other things, that David Bennent's vocals were re-dubbed by the New York-born Alice Playten because a studio stooge said he "sounds like a goddamn Nazi;" that a 10-year-old doubled for peak-diving Cruise; and that the film's convincing fairy F/X were accomplished with fishing line and a light bulb. The pooped Ridley of the Hannibal DVD has returned to the form of his first and best yak-track (Alien). Moving on, we have J.M. Kenny's sensational "Creating a Myth... The Memories of Legend" (51 mins.), wherein the major players, save conspicuous absentees Cruise (who's not so much as mentioned) and Goldsmith, recount the inferno-plagued shoot. The ethereally beautiful Mia Sara, fifteen during filming, admits she was love-struck by Scott's directorial confidence and felt devastated when she saw the butchered end-product. (Contrary to popular opinion, Scott says that a ruinous test-screening--not Sid Sheinberg (a.k.a., the man responsible for the "Love Conquers All" retooling of Brazil)--persuaded him to get the scissors out.)
"Lost Scenes" comprises an alternate opening that was missing until March of 2001 (it drags) and a production-art reconstruction of the gone-forever "Faerie Dance." Storyboards for three sequences and three galleries of stills (one of which is devoted to continuity Polaroids!) are prefaced by thorough explanations of what you are about to browse. Legend's international and U.S. trailers, four Legend TV spots (with play-all function), cast and filmmaker biographies (Hjortsberg, entertaining in said doc, is curiously denied one), production notes, a useless page of "Recommendations" and a page for the "DVD Newsletter," the video for Bryan Ferry's nostalgia-inspiring "Is Your Love Strong Enough" (a song nowhere to be found in the DC), Tangerine Dream's score on an isolated audio stream backing the TC (sadly, Goldsmith's superior compositions don't receive the same treatment on Disc 1), a DVD-ROM script-to-screen interface (with a link to Hjortsberg's poetic initial draft), and a handsome foldout booklet round out this choice package. Originally published: May 15, 2002.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
In onscreen text that prefaces the Director's Cut (DC) of Legend on Blu-ray, Ridley Scott warns that what you are about to witness comes from an answer print dating back to 2000, as no negative of the DC actually exists. I took this to mean that the negative elements were scanned into a computer or dumped to tape for editing but that the powers-that-be decided not to physically recut the negative to conform to Scott's revisions; I'd even be surprised if this so-called "answer print" (i.e., first-generation print) is a print at all as opposed to a digital file. (After all, with the DC not getting any sort of theatrical play, spitting it back out onto celluloid wouldn't have made much fiscal, archival, or practical sense.) What I'd really like to know is whether this means that the theatrical cut (TC), which accompanies the DC on this single-disc consolidation of the 2002 Ultimate Edition DVD, was transferred from the negative.
Certainly, at first glance, the TC's 2.35:1, 1080p presentation looks sharper than that of the DC, but once the action moves into bright daylight, this increased detail reveals itself to be mostly the work of edge-enhancement that replaces the naturalistic grain of the DC with a scrim of noise. I also vastly preferred the colours of the DC, since the TC's skin tones veer towards a ghastly pink, although I can't deny that the TC sometimes "pops" in a way the DC doesn't, owing to its more intense saturation and slightly deeper blacks. No doubt if they'd undertaken the DC with today's technology the visuals would only improve (it was probably finished in broadcast-quality HD, whereas now it would have a base resolution of 2k or higher), but Alex Thomson's cinematography, Assheton Gorton's production design, and Rob Bottin's creature makeups still benefit enormously from the HD upgrade of a master that's aged relatively well. Gone, for the most part, is the heavy noise-reduction that smeared the image in standard-def. As for the audio, while the DC's 5.1 DTS-HD MA track sounds deceptively tamer than the TC's lossy 5.1 DTS option, after some level-matching the DC comes out on top again; only with the DC does the voice of Darkness come close to reverberating with that basso profundo effect you'd expect. All of the 2002 extras return (in SD where applicable), save, unfortunately, the ROM-based script-to-screen interface. The Universal disc, which retains the DVD's "Ultimate Edition" imprimatur but not its superior cover art, opens with a selection of trailers that will refresh themselves dynamically over time. Originally published: May 23, 2011.