The near-mythic sagas of Frank Capra's "Lost Horizon," George Cukor's "A Star Is Born,", John Wayne's "The Alamo," and Stanley Kramer's "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" aren't that different from Ridley Scott's 1984 film, "Legend." Recut and shortened, with the longer versions unavailable or thought lost for decades, these films share the same primal fear that ultimately prompted drastic action from the respective studios, producers, and/or directors themselves. Fear of failure - both critically, and at the box office - compelled Scott to shorten his $25 million fantasy epic to around 90 minutes. Moreover, a fear of North America's more discerning audience - particularly the influential youth market - and the snickering of the film's initial test screening at the DGA centre (with a prominent and active pot-head audience) frightened Scott to the point where he excised character moments with extensive dialogue, the film's more gentle subtleties, and Jerry Goldsmith's enchanting orchestral score. Fleeing to Berlin, Scott engaged Tangerine Dream to re-score the U.S.-release with a synth score before the film's looming premiere, a mere 3 weeks away.
In the DVD's documentary, Scott admits he's ultimately responsible for the film's fate, although Universal's corporate climate - namely, the Sid Sheinberg years that created incomprehensible "Brazil" recut - is alleged to played a part in the film's butchering. (Sheinberg's involvement, however, isn't addressed in this DVD.) Producer Arnon Milchan admits in the doc that the film's complicated financing and release agreements - two companies splitting the North American and International markets - made the struggle to preserve "Legend" more difficult, and he acknowledges a measure of culpability in not fighting harder to preserve Scott's original vision.
Why the lengthy preamble? Right from the first reviews, mention was made of the longer version at early press screenings, automatically propelling "Legend" to its current myth status. Universal's DVD - planned, and in the works, for several years - finally removes the mystery.
The 113-minute version looks and sounds simply marvelous. Alex Thompson's extraordinary cinematography evokes a magical world with three main colour schemes: a warm, light yellow glow for daytime; a blue-shaded tone for the period of darkness; and the fiery, high-contrast amber levels of the underworld, where Darkness (Tim Curry) hides. The transfer embraces the myriad shades of these environments, aided by what remains one of the largest, most-elaborately constructed indoor sets. Built at the original 007 stage at Pinewood Studios, Scott's team essentially built a functional forest valley - with running water and live birds - in the world's largest sound stage.
Sonically, the new 5.1 remix is all-encompassing. Tim Curry's magnificent voice booms throughout the room, and the surround tracks actively maintain the ambience of the various scenes, with Jerry Goldsmith's music balanced between clear dialogue and sound effects tracks.
The shorter U.S. cut has visible grain in darker shots, but the colours are stable and faithful to the Director's Cut. The sound mix, however, is surprisingly dull. Both in the theatres and on the NTSC laserdisc, key sound effects contained extra oomph - the most notable being the close-up of Darkness' giant hoof planted on the floor, as he emerges from the giant mirror - which are rather wimpy on the DVD. The Director's Cut at least offers a slightly fuller bass range, and the 5.1 remix is vastly superior to the U.S. cut's straightforward 2.0 mix.
The Director's Cut, however, still retains those odd bits of temp trash music which Scott and editor Terry Rawlings retained in the final mix, so amid Goldsmith's elegant score, morsels from "Psycho 2" still bring key scenes to a crashing halt.
The DVD's extras recreate the excitement evident during "Legend's" creation, and explains the film's sad fate via the included documentary. Written, directed and produced by J.M. Kenny, the doc uses several interviews, including segments with director Scott, producer Milchan, writer William Hjortsberg, co-stars Mia Sara and Tim Curry, actors Billy Barty, Cork Hubbert, and Alice Playten; plus informative interviews with cinematographer Thompson, longtime Scott editor Terry Rawlings, and make-up man Rob Bottin. There's plenty of production details, behind-the-scenes footage, camera tests, and a rather surprising Rolling Stones connection (really).
Ridley Scott's audio commentary avoids "Legend's" obvious controversies, and provides a fairly consistent retrospective on pre-and production aspects, focusing on details briefly highlighted or omitted entirely from the DVD's doc. Full of praise for his cast and magnificent crew, Scott also surprises CGI-weaned viewers with some unique special effects secrets.
To boost revenues, Universal tacked on an original Brian Ferry song, "Is Your Love Strong Enough," over the end credits, and released a 12" LP single. Disc 2 includes the music video, and though the liner notes state Tangerine Dream's music appears on an isolated track, it's actually the album tracks in mono, minus the Ferry and Jon Anderson vocal cuts. [The easiest way to test it out is by flipping between the "Unicorn" theme that plays over Disc 2's Main Menu, and the 'isolated' music at (15:05) into the film.] Perhaps Universal had prepped the DVD for a true isolated score, but the included tracks - widely available on CD - are pretty worthless, and the disappointment will certainly irk fans.
On the plus side, besides full screen U.S. and International trailers (pretty much the same, with that strange glass logo), there's the four U.S. TV spots many fondly recall, emphasizing action and colour.
Also unearthed are two deleted scenes:
a dropped opening, taken from a worn but watchable widescreen video dub from a long-lost rough cut. Remixed with Goldsmith cues, the dialogue stems are for the most part wild, and contain the noise from nearby production fans which necessitated the film's largely looped dialogue tracks. Pretty superfluous, the meandering sequence follows the goblins (plus a subsequently dropped companion named Tic) as they journey towards Darkness' lair, and encounter his ghostly presence. The second (and more fascinating) scene is a reconstruction of the lost Faerie Dance, using an intelligible but beat up audio stem (with music), and surviving stills. (For extensive details on "Legend's" deleted material and other minutia, click HERE.)
There's also a extensive still gallery, featuring myriad publicity shots of the film's characters; production stills, with shots of Darkness from the U.S. version's early scenes and material from the U.S.-used Pygmy scenes; and continuity Polaroids (!). Fans can also trace the film's evolution from script to screen via William Hjortsberg's original draft and final shooting script, included in the disc's DVD-ROM section; both screenplays can be output to a printer for easier reading.
Storyboards for three sequences recreate Scott's early ideas for scenes, and a brief but informative cast/filmmaker gallery offers some elementary bio info on key participants. The Production Notes details the film up to the disastrous fire that destroyed the large forest set and the 007 sound stage, but abruptly end there. A similar sense of incompleteness also affects the cast bios, as writer Hjortsberg is listed, but isn't linked to any bio material.
Nevertheless, Universal has put together the most comprehensive package from the best available sources, although hardcore fans may continue to find some fault with several omissions: a true isolated score track, optional branching of deleted scenes or alternate takes (some of which appeared, alongside elements from both music scores, in the Turner TV cut), the raw behind-the-scenes footage glimpsed in the documentary, a gallery of marketing and merchandising tie-ins, and the inclusion of original promo footage with cast and director. These would have beefed up the overall package, but likely required a third DVD (or reduced the image and/or audio quality of Disc 2's extras to make room).
Still, fans of this much-maligned film can finally have satisfaction for their ardent lobbying, and one of Ridley Scott's most ambitious films can be enjoyed, rescued from over fifteen years in oblivion, and now establishing four extant edits: the new Director's Cut, the North American Cut, the aforementioned Turner TV Cut, and just to make your head hurt some more, the British Cut (which was a variation on the American edit, with a hacked up Goldsmith score, alternate takes, and less violence).
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan