The Indefinsibles: Legend (1985)

Gabby: The harmony of the universe depends upon an eternal balance. Out of the the struggle to maintain this balance, The Indefensibles try to see both the good and bad in Jeremy’s pick…

Jeremy: Legend. I wonder if my GeoCities site of Tom Cruise upskirt photos is still up.

Brett: So, Jeremy, this was your pick. How do I put this? Explain yourself!

Jeremy: Here’s the thing: I don’t like Legend. Never have. But I haven’t seen it in who knows how long. I wanted to give it another chance, because it’s Ridley Scott doing sci-fi/fantasy. Theoretically, I should love this. If I were to do a top ten list of my favorite movies, Blade Runner is near the top. Alien is an honorable mention at the very least.

Legend is one of the first movies I remember where I didn’t like something I wanted to watch. I was bored and confused because I was bored. Besides catching a few minutes here and there on cable, the next time I attempted to watch it was when I scored a free copy of The Director’s Cut on DVD. I barely made it through Lily touching the unicorn. So this is the first time I’ve watched it start-to-finish in 30 years.

Hate’s too strong a word for my reaction this time – but I have little patience for it. And it’s my own pick. I get to be “the Jeremy” of my own pick.

Gabby: I like the fact you’re ‘the Jeremy’ of your own pick!

Brett: I had fun with the movie, but I think you could make one of those kids’ books with a record from the ’80s (“When you hear Tom’s shorts being tiny, turn the page…”) and not miss a single line of dialogue. You could fit the whole story in about two pages of text. And yet… I liked it. I kind of wanted to watch The Director’s Cut right after to compare what was different. Because I, too, haven’t seen it since it first came out on DVD.

I like how it looks, and there is something going on there… but it all feels so hollow. However, I also think Blade Runner is a little hollow, too. Soooo…

Jeremy: Don’t worry – there’s nothing you can say about Blade Runner that my wife hasn’t said before. (“Jesus, you’re watching that again?”) Also, you can’t shock me after you said mean, mean, awful, hurtful things about Fellowship of the Ring on Twitter.

The weird thing is that I have a soft spot for beautiful messes like this – David Lynch’s Dune, Tron: Legacy, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Heck, I’d even go to bat for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, despite having problems with it. (You better believe we’re doing Prometheus one day, folks.)

Gabby: Brett, I am so relieved. I thought I wasn’t supposed to think Blade Runner was hollow. I will confess that I agree with you. I wish I could enjoy it on the same level as the majority of film lovers, but I just never have been able to. But I greatly admire it when watching it, but it is a slightly detached admiration unfortunately. I want to be you Jeremy when watching Blade Runner. I hope to see it on the big screen one day, and maybe it will all click together in an eye-opening revelation. I just totally fell in love with another revered classic, 2001, after getting to experience it on the big screen.

Brett: I still love Blade Runner, but I admit the problems with it. So many problems. 

Jeremy: Don’t worry – you’ve been dead to me for some time. Fellowship of the Ring, Brett. Fellowship of the Fuckin’ Ring.

Brett: I know. 

Jeremy: And I know what people find lacking with Blade Runner and Scott’s movies. (And I’d kill to see Blade Runner in a theater.) With all the movies I just mentioned, there’s something to bite into besides the sensory experience – characters, themes, allegory, or just sheer nuttiness. There’s nothing to invest in here. At least, I found nothing to invest in.

Brett: Legend is the culmination of all the complaints about Ridley Scott movies. Weak narrative, poor character development, reliance on images over storytelling. Blade Runner has some character work, Alien has characters and a complete story.

Gabby: Alien does have a complete story and real characters, yes. Two of the reasons I adore Alien. 

Jeremy: Outside of Tim Curry’s performance, there’s little to embrace besides the production and makeup effects. And holy shit, you guys, the makeup effects. We’ll talk more about the makeup soon.

Brett: What I find odd is that this is the movie Tom Cruise made just before Top Gun. I always had it in my head that this was waaay earlier in his career. legend_2_tom-cruise_old-teethThe character of Jack is so paper thin and empty. He must have been excited to work with a big name director, because I can’t imagine the script gave him much to chew on and he was working towards being the biggest star in the world at that time.

Jeremy: If memory serves, my family rented this because the guy from Top Gun was in it. (Note for our younger/non-US readers: I can’t begin to describe how ridiculously huge Top Gun was back in 1986.)

Yeah, emptiness is the best word for this. Compare this to Lynch’s Dune. I don’t care for the characters in Lynch’s adaption, either – but they are fascinating, for better or worse. Probably worse.

Gabby: I agree about the emptiness. The worst thing about that, I think: Scott believes it’s smart and filled with meaning. So then it also comes across a bit pretentious. I remember listening to part of the Blade Runner commentary with the unicorn and being stunned by the level of self-satisfaction he had at its layers of meaning. Just because you use unicorns doesn’t automatically mean you bring the layers of mythical meaning with you. You have to do something with it. If not, it just ends up being weak Christian imagery; like the film adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

There is more power in one line, regarding unicorns, in Harry Potter and The Philospher’s Stone than this film. The moment I am thinking of is when Bane tells Harry that Voldermort drank the blood of a unicorn to stay alive, and what that does to someone: “You have slain something pure and defenceless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.” Joanne Rowling knows how to use mythology, bring it to life with a new interpretation and all in the context of a compelling larger story.

Jeremy: Well put. And the cast is trying. There are no bad performances here. I know I’m repeating myself, but there’s just nothing there for them. Even Gump wouldn’t be memorable if the overdubbing legend03didn’t make him sound like he was drinking Scotch every time he was off-screen to get the cigarette taste out of his mouth.

Brett: The comedy feels really, really out of place, too. I kept thinking, “Why are there jokes? He was building atmosphere just to kill it with this stuff?” And the comedy is really goofy. I get he was trying to make some kind of classic storybook movie, but when the rest of the movie is so dark, the gags just yank you right out of what little story there is. 

Jeremy: Yeah, there’s that moment when the not-so-bad henchman stands up to Darkness, Darkness intimidates him, and then he yelps, “Shit!” It’s such a record scratch of a moment. I’m curious if these bits stick out more or less in The Director’s Cut. The need for levity makes more sense with a 113-minute movie. (The theatrical cut comes in just shy of 90 minutes.)

Granted, I have a fondness for navel-gazing movies, so f1d253157ca6abb1696ebfd0550f0974maybe I’m looking for something that was never intended – but is there anything of weight here? It’s just fairy tale 101 combined with the opening riff of the Bible. And we probably shouldn’t dwell on the Adam and Eve comparisons. I’m sorry, Christians, most of you are great – but your origin story is messed up. Please know I don’t want to knock anyone’s beliefs, but I also want to call attention to something that is profoundly misogynistic.

Gabby: It really is deeply misogynistic. We should really celebrate Eve as she gave us knowledge. But of course she was a woman so therefore we must think she is a disgrace. Lily is curious, she doesn’t know the rules and means no harm. If you saw a unicorn, wouldn’t you want to touch it? Talking of Lily; I want to get one thing off my chest, Lily please stop singing. You are not particularly gifted in this area.

Jeremy: Heh. Yeah, I hope it doesn’t need to be said, but I have a problem with a story where the concept of sin or the loss of innocence is solely a woman’s fault. That being said, Lily’s part of the story is better than I remember. She’s not intentionally doing anything blasphemous. Then, she realizes what she’s done and wants to fix it. Lily’s never seduced by Darkness and does play a part – too small a part – in saving the day.

This does get me to one thing I like about this movie: even Jack, our hero, would be lost without the fairy folk. I like that Jack and Lily are fixing this mistake,legend-still-2 but they need help along the way. The problem is I don’t feel the characters – especially Jack and Lily – grow at all. And the murdered unicorn is alive again at the end. This world is presumably static again. So who cares?

Gabby: That is a good example of where something could have been added to make the film richer. There is no growth for the characters really and not much of consequence. Lily being more involved in saving the day would be more interesting. It would give her a chance to not just redeem herself but to prove she can have the adventures she wished for at the beginning. To be an active participant in them. Instead she doesn’t really get a chance to do that.

Jeremy: We should get to why anyone still cares about this movie: Tim Curry and the artists that made Darkness come alive. Because, goddamn…

Brett: Tim Curry is amazingly magnetic. There are times when he is moving around where I kind of can’t tell how they managed it. Those horns alone look like they would neehqdefaultd extra wires to support the weight.

Jeremy: I read up on Rob Bottin’s makeup effects. There was a harness built into the neck and chest prosthetics to support the fiberglass horns. At best, I bet that upgraded that makeup from being excruciating to barely tolerable.

Tim Curry has less screentime than I remembered, but who knows how many days he was in makeup? Like Clue, this was a physically and mentally exhausting performance that took weeks to create. Imagine the concentration and stamina needed for that.

This might just be me, but there are two Tim Currys in my mind. There’s the guy we saw in Clue, who from that point on provided comic relief and quirkiness to a number of so-so mainstream films. (We’ve already covered two of them.) Then, there’s this Tim Curry. The same guy from Rocky Horror. Still quirky, still theatrical – but oozing a playful sexiness.

I mean, a ridiculous level of sexiness. If you were this Tim Curry’s neighbor and realized you were out of sexiness, you could knock on his door and say, “Sorry to bother, but it appears I’ve just run out of sexiness. Could you spare some?” Then, Tim Curry would playfully arch an eyebrow and say, “Oh, of course, dear. Won’t be a mo’. Practically drowning in the stuff here…” That’s how sexy this Tim Curry was.

Brett: So… are you making a sexy cake? Is that the secret ingredient to your monkey bread? You put a little sexy into every bite?

Jeremy: A gentleman baker never tells…

But, er, yeah, I’m not sure you’d call Darkness sexy. Not unless hooves do it for you. But I’m trying to remember another portrayal of the devil – in demonic form – that’s intended to be seductive. That’s what the pleasing shapes are for.

Here’s something that stuck out to me on this viewing: he’s the one character that actually has some layers to him. Darkness is always intimidating, but he knows his weaknesses, his limitations. Sometimes, it’s like he knows he’s on the losing side. And that’s all coming from Curry’s performance. It’s obvious he spent a lot of time in the makeup chair figuring out this character.

This is Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster good. The problem I keep coming back to is Tim Curry put more thought into Darkness than the screenplay ever did. He can only take the character so far.

Brett: The whole movie is super hollow and only exists in our minds because of him. But he’s not in it enough to satisfy.

Gabby: The idea of Curry knows he is on the losing side is a really good point Jeremy. Lily could have figured out how to play against that, to learn how to be Darkness’ antithesis, to help restore the balance around her. It is a shame Curry doesn’t have anything like that to bounce off of as his performance is wonderfully rich.

Brett: To change subjects… I was annoyed at how much they tried to make everything Lily’s fault. Everyone blames her for touching the unicorn. A thing they never told her not to do until she had already done it. “It’s forbidden! How could you?” “You could have mentioned this two minutes ago.”

And I’ve always felt that Ridley Scott would be happier as a silent film maker. Put on the track where it’s just the music and see if the movie doesn’t make more sense.

Jeremy: I get that. I’m still blown away by how charming and effortless The Martian was. That movie’s all about the dialogue and performances.

Brett: Haven’t seen it.

Jeremy: I loved it. Like, a lot.

Brett: I will have to check it out, then. Okay, quick round-robin. Did you guys think that this movie had way more Tim Curry in it before watching it this time? I remember they only interact at the end, but I remember him being in the movie more often. Probably because outside of the set design, Tim Curry is the only really good thing in this movie.

Jeremy: I had the same reaction. I remember this being his movie.

Gabby: This was my first viewing, but the movie came alive when he was on screen. So I really wish he did have way more screen time than he did.

Jeremy: Before we wrap things up, I’d like to focus on the sets for a minute. They’re stunning – no one does it better than the good people at Pinewood Studios. One other thing I like about Legend is Scott’s decision to keep everything practical. The number of optical effects shots is surprisingly low, even in 1985.

I’ve always had a fondness for movies like this, which lean into creating exterior locations on studio sets. They’re not trying to hide it, and it creates a heightened world that feels otherworldly. Visually, Legend holds up incredibly well – because they did almost everything in-camera. I’m not against digital effects, but if you can do it practically, do it practically.

Brett: There is a surprising number of time lapse shots in the movie. And I like all the little practical touches. The shot of the fire place, where the mist is rolling into the fire, it took me a few seconds to work out how they got the mist moving so quickly. It sort of appreciate that moment where I get to get caught up in the “How did they do that?” moment.

We’re on the same page about CGI: it’s fine when it works, but it should be an item of last resort.

Jeremy: And with that, final thoughts?

Brett: All my thoughts are of tiny shorts and Tim Curry being sexy. If only we would have had Tim and the Tiny Shorts on their own, like a buddy cop movie.

Jeremy: I’d watch that movie. But of course I’d watch it. You know the kind of movies we cover here.

It’d be interesting for us to wait a year and give The Director’s Cut a chance. Maybe not do a full article – but see if our feelings change with time and/or the different cut.

Thanks for reading, everyone. We’re only doing two Tim Curry movies for now, since we’re already so far into October. We’ve got another round of scary movies lined up for this year, and we’re each picking a movie from a Master of Horror. Brett’s pick, The Dark Half, will be up soon. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter or leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.

See you soon, knuckleheads. Go watch a movie.

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