Blu-ray Disc review by Tim Salmons of The Digital Bits
Legend: Ultimate Edition
1985 (2011) - Universal
Released on Blu-ray on May 31st, 2011
Also available on DVD
Film Ratings (DC/Theatrical): B+/B-
Video (1-20 - DC/Theatrical): 14/17
Audio (1-20 - DC/Theatrical): 15/17
Extras (Overall): B+
"The dreams of youth are the regrets of maturity."
Ridley Scott's fantasy outing, Legend, has always been a bit of a curiosity to me. On the one hand, it doesn't seem like anything that Scott would be a part of. But on the other hand... it does. It has his unmistakable visual style written all over it. Purely from a storytelling point of view, however, it feels like it's miles off course.
To his credit, Scott has always been a director eager to tackle different genres and put his own personal stamp on them. In the case of Legend, he was interested in making a classic Brothers Grimm type fairy tale.
Legend is Scott's fourth feature film (preceded by The Duellists, Alien and Blade Runner). As such, in my opinion, it's a small treasure of a movie. It may not be as big or as impressive as the other jewels in his treasure chest, but it's invaluable nonetheless. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for makeup effects (courtesy of Rob Bottin) and cast a spell on young female viewers (courtesy of Tom Cruise), but Legend wasn't exactly a walk in the park. Like Scott's previous effort, Blade Runner, the film came under heavy scrutiny by its studio backers. Released at different lengths in different countries and with entirely different theatrical scores, it was a bit of a hard pill to swallow for a lot of people. At the time, Scott was still reeling from his previous financial failure (Blade Runner) and seemed more determined than ever to make something audiences would embrace. He didn't really succeed, but I don't discount him (or the film) for trying. It's certainly not perfect, but Legend has much more going for it. It certainly shouldn't being lumped in with other 80's fairy tale epics. The film looks fantastic, has some great characters (including Tim Curry's Darkness chief among them) and continues to thrive thanks to home video.
In 2002, Universal released the Ultimate Edition of Legend on DVD, featuring a newly-discovered print of what became known as the director's cut (spearheaded by long-time Scott collaborator and DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika). Essentially, it was the European cut of the movie and dealt with the more sophisticated character subtleties (something that the U.S. theatrical cut was sorely lacking). On that DVD release was included both cuts of the movie and a small bounty of extras. Fans immediately embraced it and marked it as a very satisfying release. For this new Ultimate Edition on Blu-ray, fans may be slightly disappointed. To begin with, newly-included title cards before each version of the film contain text from Ridley Scott explaining why both versions look and sound so different. It's revealed that the director's cut of the movie only exists on a copy of its original print, or an "answer print." Due to lost elements, a pristine high-definition transfer from the original negative was just not possible. It's a shame, to be sure, but how bad could it possibly be?
Beginning with the theatrical cut of the movie, you'll begin to notice right away the level of detail enhanced by the high-definition experience. Images are much more crisp and refined, color levels are a bit warmer and the contrast is consistently even. There's also a high amount of film grain in several areas, particularly in the brighter scenes at the beginning of the film. It's a bit distracting at first but becomes more refined and less harsh as the film moves along. The director's cut of the movie, as has already been mentioned, is a poorer-looking presentation than its theatrical counterpart. It's a much softer image, leaving film grain at a minimum but losing some of the visual detail too. It's also a much darker image, with a higher contrast to get the most out of the images. Colors aren't quite as lush as they could be, but they're still represented rather well given the circumstances. It most certainly will divide viewers about which film actually looks better, but from a technical standpoint, the theatrical cut is a much stronger and healthier image. The director's cut is still very watchable, but if you're looking for the better presentation, I'd say go with theatrical version.
On the audio side of things, both cuts contain an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. I actually found the audio for the theatrical version to have more dynamic range, with a deeper resonance than the director's cut. Again, due to the lost elements, it's probably unlikely the latter can sound much better. In both versions, the score and sound effects seem to be more at the forefront of the mixes than the dialogue, making it sound weighted on one end. Everything is still discernable, but at times, the emphasis on envelopment seems much more important in the mix than what the characters are saying. They're both good tracks, but not quite as even as they should be. There are also three subtitle options included: English SDH, Spanish and French.
In the extras department, nearly everything carries over from the previously mentioned Ultimate Edition DVD release. It starts with a great commentary from Scott himself, two lost scenes (the latter of which is reconstructed using audio, storyboards and stills), the Creating a Myth: The Making of Legend documentary, the Bryan Ferry Is Your Love Strong Enough music video, both the U.S. and International trailers, four TV spots and a photo gallery. There's also the option of listening to the score for the theatrical version by Tangerine Dream on an isolated audio track. Unfortunately, Jerry Goldsmith's score is STILL not represented this way in the director's cut, which could have been a great addition. Closing out the extras are BD-Live and pocketBlu options. For those looking to upgrade, you'll find the following not present from the original DVD release: the 3 animated storyboard sequences, the production notes (that help to provide context for some of the extras), the standard cast & crew bios and - most importantly - the DVD-ROM features which included a script-to-screen viewer. This is notable because the original draft of the screenplay and the shooting script were both included with that release. Not having them here is a shame, but that's how it is.
Despite failing to recoup its expense at the box office, not to mention serious compromises to its narrative content, Legend has still been able to maintain a strong cult following. It was a strange step (or a misstep, depending on how you look at it) in Ridley Scott's career, but the film seems to have found its audience. Unfortunately, the Blu-ray doesn't quite live up to the expectations set by the previous DVD release, but it's still a decent upgrade in most respects.