Fantasy Films 101.07 1985's "Legend"
Collect the young star of Risky Business, the 18-year-girlfriend of Ferris Bueller, the hot new director of Alien and Blade Runner, add in an award-winning British actor and a host of diminutive veterans, and you've got yourself the most popular mess ever created--the legendary Legend.
Your girlfriend likes the black dress. Your buddies think the faerie chick is sexy. Your mother can't believe Tom Cruise was ever so young. And would you believe there's a Star Trek star in there somewhere?
There is perhaps no fantasy film more filled with paradox than 1985's Legend. Even the release date itself is something most people can't agree on--technically, the film came out in 1985, but MCA/Universal continually postponed the American release, fearing that audiences wouldn't like Tom Cruise with long hair, among other things. The film finally hit theaters on April 18, 1986, and was a critical flop.
Everyone has their excuses for why the film failed in theaters. Some say it was because the pompous Americans insisted on deleting the original Jerry Goldsmith score and replacing it with an MTV-like soundtrack by then-popular Tangerine Dream. Others say that it was due to the merciless edits and script changes; the initial cut was just over 2 hours in length, first reduced to 113 minutes, then chopped to 95 after preview audiences in LA found it too long and cumbersome.
After all the hacking and slashing (three years and 15 script revisions in total, finally smashed down into a meager 89 minutes), it's amazing that the film managed to see the light of day at all. Especially when you consider that the entire forest scene was recreated on a series of sound stages, taking 50 craftsmen 14 weeks to build, then reduced to cinders during filming, having to be partly rebuilt to finish shooting!
However, putting aside the debate, and looking at the film for what it is, it's easy to see why fantasy fans have heralded it as one of the great fantasy films of all time. Despite the changes, despite the many different versions, despite the two radically different soundtracks, the story and the characters and the plot are truly legendary.
A young princess named Lili (Mia Sara) and her boyfriend Jack O' The Green (Tom Cruise) are frolicking in the forest one day when Jack decides, as an expression of his love, to show Lili the unicorns. Well, actually, that should be The Unicorns, seeing as there are only two of them left and they're central to the story.
What neither of them knows is that the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) has sent his goblin minions after the pair to kill The Unicorns and capture their horns. Lili, entranced, breaks The Prime Directive and touches one of The Unicorns, distracting it for long enough to allow the lead goblin, Blix (Alice Playten - yes, a boy goblin is played by a female actor, no real surprise in a movie featuring Tim Curry) to shoot it with a poison dart. Which is when all hell breaks loose.
The Unicorn runs off and dies when the goblins cut off its horn. The world is plunged into eternal winter. Lili runs off into the forest and is promptly captured by the forces of Darkness. The absolute last Unicorn is captured by the goblins. And Jack... poor Jack.
Let's talk about Jack.
Jack is trapped under ice and nearly drowned. Stumbling through the forest, he meets and is nearly assaulted by a band of faerie folk, managing to befriend them only by playing their games and answering the riddle of their leader, Gump (David Bennent). He's then attacked by a swamp hag named Meg Mucklebones (Robert Picardo--yes, the holographic doctor from Star Trek: Voyager played a girl), threatened by zombies, trapped in prison, nearly seduced by a faerie named Oona (played by the nubile 19-year-old Annabelle Lanyon), attacked by an evil cook, and thrown toe-to-toe with the son of Satan himself - Darkness.
If that's not bad enough, Lili has fallen in love with Darkness, threatened to kill the last remaining Unicorn herself, and started listening to the Cure. Well, maybe not, but she does go a little overboard with the black lipstick and gown. Is she truly evil? Does Jack really plan to kill her? Did she have sex with the Lord of Darkness? Does she turn into an evil beast, or is she just pretending? That all depends on which version of the script you read--but what matters, of course, is that this is a Legend, and being a legend, it has a happy ending.
Jack and the faerie folk use light as their weapon, redirecting sunlight from above into Darkness' lair below with a series of golden frisbees. Lili frees The Unicorn (whether intentionally or by accident is up to you to decide); Darkness is defeated by light; The Unicorn horn is reattached to the dead Unicorn; Winter fades and Spring returns, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Oh, and Jack discovers that he's immortal.
Anyway, it all turns out fine in the...
Wait... you didn't know Jack was immortal?
'Tis true, fantasy fans. As you're probably aware, Mr. Ridley Scott likes to throw in little twists, and the big secret in Blade Runner was that Deckard was a replicant sent to kill other replicants. And in Legend, Jack is an immortal sent to kill an immortal. Screenwriter William Hjortsberg (gesundheit) dropped plenty of clues, but without the obvious revelations which were later removed from the script, they are lost to most who watch the film.
For example, there's a chunk of dialogue missing from the end of Jack's meeting with Gump and the faerie folk. Gump asks Jack if he's sure he's mortal, and wonders why he can speak with animals and Unicorns, and why he's not frozen like all the other humans. And at the end of the movie, as originally scripted, Jack and Lili don't run off into the sunset together--Lili leaves Jack behind, and says she'll return to visit him regularly. Why don't they hook up? Because Lili is a dirty human, and Jack is an immortal, and it would never work out.
But the most obvious indication is this snippet from the infamous "March 10 Script", an exchange between Darkness and Jack which was obviously not used in the final version of the film:
Darkness pulls the alicorn out of Jack. There is no blood! No trace of a wound remains on his flesh. Jack blinks in wordless amazement.
DARKNESS (cont): So...! I should have known....We're just the same! You're immortal, Jack!
JACK (disbelieving): No....! I'm not! I'm human....
DARKNESS (laughing): Who was your mother?
JACK (confused): I....don't know....
DARKNESS: Who was your father?
JACK: ....I....can't remember....
DARKNESS: How long have you lived in the forest?
JACK: All my life....! I...I....know who I am....
DARKNESS: You pitiful fool! An immortal all this time and never knew....
But enough about immortality--this isn't Highlander after all, it's a legend, and like any true legend, we have some pretty obvious story features:
- A young hero. Jack O' The Green, a hermit running around in the woods talking to animals. And he's in love with...
- A damsel in distress. Lili, a princess in some versions, a Lady in others, and even (believe it or not) married in the European version. So we'll just allow that "virgin princess" is to be taken with a grain of salt here.
- A motley band of companions. These guys are about the motliest band you could hope for. There's Gump, the leader, obviously an elf of some sort; Oona, a faerie; Screwball (Billy Barty) and Brown Tom (Cork Hubbert); and a slew of other forest denizens.
- An ancient magical item. While there's no single magical item, Jack does have to suit up with some nifty golden scale mail armor and a sword, hidden away in a tree. It could be argued that the armor and weapon is what allows him to get into the castle of Darkness, or not. The point being, our hero gathers magical items to assist him, and he'll need all the help he can get because he's up against...
- Wicked Evil Bad Guys. Not only is their leader the son of Satan, Darkness himself, but the band of goblins are pretty nasty too. Aside from their leader, you've got some real fantasy veterans among the crew. Pox is played by Peter O'Farrel, who was also in the legendary Hawk the Slayer; Blunder is played by Kiran Shah, who's been in everything from Krull to The Dark Crystal; and Tic is played by Mike Edmonds, who was in both Time Bandits and The Dark Crystal.
- Unbeatable odds. The entire world is plunged into an eternal winter, and if Darkness kills the other Unicorn, then the world will be plunged into eternal darkness as well. Jack has few people he can count on, since everyone is either frozen solid or a drunken faerie folk. Talk about a tough time.
Everything you need to get a role-playing session going is right there before your eyes. There's even a logical plot progression which suggest some encounters you might throw at your players:
- The initial lead-in. Our hero (or heroes) are wandering through the forest when a Unicorn comes rushing by in a panic. Shortly thereafter, the adventurers discover a young lady who's upset that she scared off the Unicorn.
- The weather started getting rough. Darkness falls, winter sets in, people start turning to ice. A pretty good sign that something isn't right. And in the middle of all of it, the lady goes missing.
- Goblins are about. Or kobolds, or bugbears, or orcs, or whatever. Just a general sign that evil's minions are up to no good, and must be stopped.
- The forest people offer to help. Conditionally, perhaps, or even after being coerced into it. At any rate, having faeries, brownies and leprechauns on your side can be a tremendous boon to the party, especially if there are no magic-users among them.
- The journey to defeat evil. Including a trip to a magic old oak tree stocked with magical items (on loan, perhaps?); a journey through the swamp (with requisite swamp hag, who'll have to be killed with magical weapons); and finally a trip into Evil's fortress itself.
- The final showdown. Not as easy as it seems. The heroes have to rescue a Unicorn, retrieve another Unicorn's missing horn, save a princess, defeat a powerful evil enemy, and try not to die. It won't be easy, but it sure will be a lot of fun.
Whether you play it as light-hearted as the American cut, or as dark, nightmarish and sexually-driven as the original script was, building your own Legend into your campaign will provide your players with a night (or two, or three) to remember. You might want to pick up the soundtrack as well--whether you go for the Goldsmith score or the Tangerine Dream version, you're bound to add something extra special to the game experience.
Next week, another classic fantasy film with many of the same elements as Legend--a legendary soundtrack, goblins, a damsel in distress, and a journey into the heart of darkness itself... 1986's Labyrinth.