Ink & Pixel: Legend
Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can discuss it further.
Ah, the 1980s, a most questionable time in our history for sure. Thinking back, I can still feel tremors in my spine, brought on by the seizure-inducing wind breaker and denim jean combos that roamed the local shopping malls. The ozone continues to erode to this day, thanks in part to all of the hairspray used to maintain some very embarrassing hairstyles . Oh yes, and let's not forget the music, which - whether you care to admit it or not, this song is amazing, as was this.
Undeniably though, the 80s gave us some of the greatest fantasy-inspired cinema to ever hit the silver screen. What? You think I'm joking? I submit for your approval: WILLOW, TIME BANDITS, FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, RETURN TO OZ, GREMLINS, and oh so many more. Though one of the most memorable (for sure) is Ridley Scott's LEGEND a film dripping with whimsy, mythical creatures, and landscapes that look as if they were plucked right from the grandest of fairy tale stories ever told. For today, why don't we step out from within the shadows, and into the light of this timeless film?
Released in theaters in the UK on December 13th, 1985, LEGEND is an honest to goodness fantasy adventure film written by William Hjortsberg and directed by Ridley Scott. The film stars a young and glitter-kissed Tom Cruise, alongside Mia Sara, Tim Curry, David Bennent, Alice Playten, Billy Barty, as well as several others; each having raided the wardrobes of your favorite Grimm's Fairy tale characters. LEGEND - while being an original work - borrows much from the cautionary tales of horror and magic as told by Aesop, Carroll, Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen, and of course the Brothers Grimm. Allow me to provide you with a brief synopsis of the film:
Deep inside a kingdom most foul, the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) sits wearily upon his throne made of bone and blood. Trapped within a world of shadow and sin, this angry devil has devised a plot to extinguish the outside world's innocence - ridding it once and for all of hope, virtue, and light. With massive hands outstretched, the Lord of Darkness summons his highest ranking goblin, Blix (Alice Playten), and commands that the two unicorns that retain dominion over the Power of Light be executed. This, of course, is sacrilege for killing the last of the guardians of light would allow the Lord of Darkness to roam free.
Meanwhile, in the land of light, a curious Princess Lili (Mia Sara) and her friend Jack (Tom Cruise) have found themselves at the epicenter of the Lord's sinister plan, for it's Lili's meddling that distracts the unicorns, allowing the goblins to make their play. Amidst horror and confusion, one of the mythical beasts dies, it's sacred horn severed from its skull. Shortly thereafter, Princess Lili and the remaining unicorn are captured, leaving an inexperienced Jack and his woodland friends as their only salvation. Together with his cohorts Honeythorn Gump (David Bennent), Oona (Annabelle Lanyon), and dwarves Brown Tom (Cork Hubbert) and Screwball (Billy Barty), Jack ventures toward the kingdom of shadows in the hope of rescuing Princess Lili and the unicorn she helped usher into damnation. If they fail, their world will remain in shadow until the end of days, allowing the Lord of Darkness to extinguish all of the world's innocence, and claim dominion over all who would stand in his way.
LEGEND began very much as a passion project for director Ridley Scott. After completing films such as THE DUELLISTS, ALIEN, and BLADE RUNNER, Scott felt the compulsion to expand his directorial prowess by delving into the fantasy genre. As the excitement for exploring new territory grew in Scott, he reached out to author William Hjortsberg, with the hope of bringing him on board. After a brief discussion, Scott and Hjortberg began brainstorming, and soon set to work on crafting what would eventually become a fairy-tale-inspired adventure film.
To say that Hjortsberg's ideas for LEGEND were ambitious would be not be a falsehood. In fact, there were some ideas that had to be left on the writing room floor, simply because the evolution of special effects had yet to achieve the level of intricacy required to present them. As an example, Hjortsberg had originally written that flowers would grow beneath each fallen hoof of every step taken by the mythical unicorns. Sure, the effects team could have built a patch of land from which flowers could have manually been pushed into bloom, but would you have wanted to be the one to set that up beneath every step of a galloping steed? How many of those patches would have to be manufactured? How much time would it take to account for every step taken by the mighty beasts?
For those of use who've seen LEGEND, you're already aware of the film's elaborate set designs - particularly the lush forest landscape where the start of the film takes place. Rather than build the forest from the ground up, Scott and his crew set up shop inside Yosemite National Park an expanse of land nestled within the state of California. Yosemite, a sweep of land that includes a multitude of waterfalls, expansive meadows, and an army of ancient massive sequoias, and stretches to nearly 1,200 miles of land, provided much of what Scott and his crew were looking for with the exception of a lasting supply of natural sunlight. A question was then proposed: How do you film a series of scenes meant to represent a land bathed in light, if the trees are so tall that they block out most of the sun? Well, you build a scaffold the size of a football field, that's how!
Yup! In order to solve the forests lighting issues, Scott and his production staff had to construct a tremendous lighting rig - one that was able to be torn down and rebuilt, over and over - in order to suit any and all conditions set forth by the forest's pre-existing landscape. Impressive, no? What's more is that, for all that Yosemite provided, it wasn't enough to satisfy the requirements of filming LEGEND. Thus, one of the largest sets ever created for a film was built on a Californian sound stage to provide scenery for some of the film's more delicate sequences.
In terms of makeup, you might be surprised to find out that the character of Blix - the Lord of Darkness' foulest of goblin commanders - was modeled after the legendary (and most likely un-killable) Rolling Stones guitar player, Keith Richards. Don't believe me? Take a look at Keith, elongate his nose, tint his skin a moss-like green, and then tell me you still can't see it. Pretty uncanny, right? Additionally, Peter Robb King - Key Make-up Artist on the set of LEGEND - was tasked with creating the masks and costumes worn by each creature-inspired cast member. Perhaps King's biggest task was the creation and fabrication of Tim Curry's character: the Lord of Darkness.
First conceived as a blood-thirsty griffon, it was later decided that the Darkness character would have to be portrayed by a human actor; due mostly to the fact that many of Darkness' scenes required the creature to deliver dramatic dialogue. Shortly thereafter, Darkness was redesigned as a red-skinned centaur, complete with long, black, water buffalo horns. Each and every day, Tim Curry would arrive on-set early to undergo a 5 hour makeup process before appearing on camera.
Although LEGEND is regarded in many circles as a stroke of pure fantasy-related genius, the film received mixed reactions from both audience members and critics alike. In fact, the film was only able to recoup $15,502,112 of its $24.5 million dollar budget before the close of its theatrical run. Despite the difference in opinion regarding the film's all-too-familiar storytelling, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who wasn't blown away by its outrageously detailed landscapes and creature effects. In fact, come awards season, cinematographer Alex Thompson walked away with the British Society of Cinematographers award for his efforts on the film. Furthermore, the film was nominated by several organizations for its achievements in makeup and special effects.
Believe it or not, my first (full) viewing of this film happened just prior to the drafting of this article. Oh sure, it played on televisions inside many a house while I was growing up, but always in the background. (This time around) I found the movie to be mesmerizing, visually speaking, and felt myself clinging tightly to every scene involving Curry's Lord of Darkness. If I'm being completely honest though, I found Princess Lili's character to be insufferable at best, and was rather disappointed that all of her misdeeds were forgiven and dismissed by the end of the film. I completely understand the need for a film such as this to have a happy ending, but she damn near condemned the entire world to live in ruin for all eternity and then some! It's my hope that a healthy dose of finger wagging awaits her once she and her party all return to the forest. Am I perhaps being too harsh? Allow me to say it again, eternal damnation, people! Heh. See you next time.
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|Extra Tidbit:||During production, the on-set noise factor was so intense that Scott was later forced to dub-in all of the film's dialogue.|