Before the days of his history biopics; Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood, Ridley Scott had a penchant for making science fiction movies. In the wake of Alien and Blade Runner he turned his hand to the fantasy genre for the first time with Legend, an archetypal tale of true love versus the machinations of evil. One day in an unspecified time in an unspecified place, a Princess goes to woods to visit her smallfolk friends and her sweetheart, a ˜forest-child’ named Jack (played by a very snaggletoothed Tom Cruise).
Jack tells Lili he has something very special to show her and takes her to see two unicorns which have come to the woods. They are the most powerful creatures on earth and while they live, ˜Evil can never harm the pure of heart.’ The scene then switches to Darkness (Tim Curry), who schemes to kill the unicorns, which means that the sun will set forever making the world his playground. His goblin minions go to woods and wait for their opportune moment which comes as the unicorns are standing with Lili who acts unknowingly as the perfect bait. After shooting the creatures with tranquilising darts, the goblins pursue and succeed in slicing off one of the unicorn’s horns.
The world is plunged into an instant ice age and Jack and Lili become separated. As the goblins search for the second unicorn they find Lili and take her back to Darkness’ castle where he tries his best to corrupt her pure spirit. Along with the help of a forest faerie and his kin, Jack must save Lili and the world from eternal darkness.
With Legend, the clue to understanding its mission is in the title. The film is concerned with archetypal characters whose key characteristics and motivations are already known to us before we begin watching and assimilates them into a classic fairytale. Never before have we seen the elements of this genre brought together with such wonderful visual flair. Legend shows the innocence of the forest, which is beautifully contrasted with the decadent horror of the evil fortress. The truly terrifying Darkness with his giant, devil-like appearance tries to win Lili over with jewels, dancers and delicacies.
However, another word for ˜classic’ is ˜generic’ and Legend‘s archetypal approach is often more of a hindrance than a blessing. Being stereotypes, the characters are never able to surprise us and the performances of the all-star cast are smothered by the limitations imposed on them. We know that the simple forest boy Jack will find it in his heart to be the hero he was destined to be, Lili will stay pure long enough to be rescued and Darkness will be defeated in spectacular fashion.
Scott’s notorious perfectionism creates a truly memorable aesthetic in Legend, but without context, the story flounders and fails. Was it Lili touching the unicorn or the goblins cutting off its horn which brought about the ice age? Why did some people freeze and not others? Does the whole world consist of just the forest and the Dark Lord’s domain? Where are Lili and Jack’s families?