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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/15/02

Ultimate Edition - 1985 (2002) - Universal

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Legend: Ultimate Edition Film Ratings (Director's Cut/U.S. Cut): B-/C-

Disc Ratings - Video (Director's Cut/U.S. Cut): B+/B-

Disc Ratings - Audio (Director's Cut DTS/Director's Cut DD/U.S. Cut): A-/B+/C

Disc Ratings - Extras: A

Specs and Features

Disc One: Director's Cut
114 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, custom keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:02:50 in chapter 10), audio commentary with director Ridley Scott, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DTS 5.1, DD 5.1 and DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French and Spanish

Disc Two: U.S. Theatrical Version
90 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, custom keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (no layer switch), Creating a Myth: The Memories of Legend documentary, isolated music score by Tangerine Dream, 2 lost scenes, 3 storyboard sequences, 2 theatrical trailers (U.S. and International), 4 TV spots, 3 photo galleries, Is Your Love Strong Enough music video by Bryan Ferry, production notes, cast & filmmakers bios and filmographies, DVD-ROM features (script-to-screen viewer), Universal recommendations, animated film-themed menu screens with music, languages: English (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, French and Spanish

I don't believe I'll get much argument when I say that the fantasy genre has had, at best, a very spotty track record on film. Other than Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast and (arguably) Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, there are very, very few real classics to boast of (before you start firing off angry e-mails, realize I'm only talking about live-action movies here - animated movies are an entirely different cauldron of newts). So it was with no small amount of anticipation that fantasy fans awaited Ridley Scott's Legend in 1985. Having conquered science fiction with Alien and Blade Runner, it seemed that Scott was just the kind of visionary needed to jump-start the genre. Well... that didn't happen. But even though Legend was not well received, the anticipation didn't die. Word quickly spread that American audiences had seen only a compromised version of the film, severely cut and saddled with a completely new music score by Tangerine Dream. Only in Europe could you see the original version, with a score by Jerry Goldsmith that, rumor had it, ranked with Scott's best work. It didn't take long for Euro-Legend to turn into the Holy Grail of fantasy films. Legend had become a legend.

In one of the best corporate decisions a studio has ever made, Universal has released both versions of Legend on a splendid new two-disc DVD, allowing audiences to decide for themselves which version is better. Both have their champions but, for me, it's no contest. The director's cut is hands down the superior film. When I first saw Legend theatrically, I was deeply disappointed. Primed by Scott's prior two films, and publicity photos that focused on Tim Curry in Rob Bottin's amazing makeup as Darkness, I was more than a little let down to discover that Legend was basically a junior high girl's spiral notebook cover sprung to life, complete with unicorns, dancing fairies, glitter and magic pixies. This was not what I had in mind. Watching it again for this review, I found that I could swallow some of the treacle a bit more easily. Even so, I had some big problems with the film that I simply couldn't put my finger on until I watched the director's cut.

The first difference between the two is the elimination of a text piece that, in the American version, basically tells you the entire story. It's a subtle change, one that I haven't seen commented on much, but it makes all the difference. Next, you'll notice that Darkness doesn't fully reveal himself in the director's cut until the famous scene in which he steps through the mirror to meet Lily (Mia Sara). In the American version, we get a pretty good look at him almost immediately. Obviously, the thinking was that since the publicity relied so heavily on this character, and they weren't trying to keep his look a secret, they should exploit it as much as possible. This rationale doesn't take into account the dramatic importance of a character's entrance. The director's cut has more mystery and more menace. Only in this version does the mirror scene have its full dramatic impact.

And then there's the music issue. Jerry Goldsmith has crafted some of the greatest scores in movie history, but I don't think I'd go so far as to say that this is one of his best. However, it's certainly more appropriate. I don't dislike Tangerine Dream. In fact, I think their music for William Friedkin's underrated Sorcerer is a truly great electronic film score. But in this case, it marries the movie to the 1980's. And the awful pop ballads that end the movie will make you take back every bad thing you ever said about Limahl's title tune for The NeverEnding Story. Goldsmith's score is romantic and timeless. It does a better job selling the audience on the reality of the images. In the director's cut, Goldsmith's score makes you believe you're seeing unicorns. The Tangerine Dream score makes you believe you're seeing a couple of very pretty horses with horns glued to their heads.

For all its improvements, the director's cut of Legend does not solve every problem. The biggest flaw with the movie is indicated by its bland title. Scott and screenwriter William Hjortsberg might just as well have called their movie Generic Fairy Tale. This is an extremely simple story of Good vs. Evil (or Light vs. Darkness if you prefer). It's a terrific movie to look at. In fact, this might be Ridley Scott's most beautiful looking film and that's really saying something. But we aren't given much reason to care. And sure, the movie hits most of the main totems of a classic fairy tale. But it misses one big one. There's no real moral to this story. Don't get me wrong here - I don't believe every movie must have a moral. Far from it. But the best fairy tales, from the Brothers Grimm on down, all have some little lesson to them. If there's a lesson to be learned here, I can't find it since, by story's end, we're right back where we started.

As for the DVD itself, this is generally a very nice looking disc, though not without problems. The director's cut looks considerably better than the U.S. version. The American release suffers from a softer image and a bit of artifacting, resulting from cramming the entire thing onto a disc with a boatload of extras. The director's cut is much cleaner, with lovely, vibrant colors. The red of Darkness' skin is quite something. But this is a very dark movie, particularly in the second half. Details get washed out of the darkest shots with alarming regularity. At it's worst, you can simply be looking at a muddy black screen in which you can kind of see something moving around. There's also some distracting edge enhancement here and there, which keep this transfer well below reference quality. As for the sound, the director's cut is again given preferential treatment with DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and 2.0 Dolby surround tracks. The DTS track is best, with Curry's sonically enhanced bass voice rumbling tremendously through your speakers. By contrast, the Dolby Digital track is a bit weaker, with surround sound in the rear speakers coming off as somewhat anemic. The U.S. version boasts only a 2.0 Dolby Surround track, which is considerably weaker than anything on the first disc.

Of all the hyperbolic brand names studios have given to their sundry DVD lines (New Line's Infinifilm, Buena Vista's Vista Series, etc.), none have been greeted with as much scorn as Universal's Ultimate Editions. The name implies that the disc will be the be-all and end-all for a particular title. You'll never have to buy another version of a title once you get the Ultimate Edition. Of course, most of us were probably never planning on buying another version of Patch Adams anyway, making an Ultimate Edition kind of pointless. But with Legend, Universal finally nails the concept (thanks, in no small measure, to the efforts of DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika). First off, J.M. Kenny's documentary Creating a Myth: The Memories of Legend covers the movie's tumultuous history in detail, interviewing Scott and Hjortsberg, actors Tim Curry, Mia Sara, Alice Playten, the late Billy Barty, Cork Hubbert and Robert Picardo (Tom Cruise is conspicuous in his absence, but I'm told they DID try to get him), makeup man Rob Bottin, producer Arnon Milchan, and a score of others connected with the film. It's an outstanding making-of piece. Scott's commentary on the director's cut is also terrific. It's better than his track for Hannibal, partly because this was a more difficult (and therefore, more interesting) movie to shoot. Scott generally avoids repeating material covered in the documentary and reveals a number of effects and camera tricks, at least one of which amazed me in its simplicity.

Other material includes the complete Tangerine Dream score on an isolated music track. There's nothing similar for the Jerry Goldsmith score, alas, but the Tangerine Dream track wins points for including complete, uninterrupted tracks, as well as a number of alternate cues not used in the film. A long-lost alternate opening is interesting, even though it was understandably cut, and the extended Fairie Dance sequence is reconstructed using the original soundtrack, storyboards and still photos. Three other sequences are given the storyboard treatment, revealing some interesting moments that were never shot due to budget considerations. There's also the usual publicity related material: two trailers, four TV spots, photo galleries (including continuity Polaroids taken on set), and Bryan Ferry's music video for Is Your Love Strong Enough, a song which I don't recall being even close to a hit but it's nice that it's here for completists. Finally, the second disc includes a Script-to-Scene DVD-ROM feature. This is noteworthy in that the disc includes both the shooting script as well as Hjortsberg's original draft. Considering the number of people in the documentary who praise that first script as being amongst the best, most poetic screenplays they'd ever read, it's only fitting that it be included on the disc.

Even in its best, most complete form, Legend remains a flawed movie that will not please everybody. However, it has enough going for it that even the most jaded and cynical viewer should find at least something to enjoy. If nothing else, Legend is a demo disc for the good old days of pre-CGI effects. This is a movie with a unique and, dare I say, magical look. A big factor in the success of that look is the fact that everything you see on screen is real, from the mammoth sets to the extraordinary makeup creations. CGI would rob a movie like Legend of much of its character. Whether or not you totally buy into the story, Legend is a visual feast with a few individual moments that approach the level of sophistication that Scott and Hjortsberg aimed for. And this DVD - truly an ultimate edition - is a wonderful way to experience it.

Adam Jahnke
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