I’d like to bring your attention to a little-known, cult film from 1985 that will forever be stuck in my mind as incredible fantasy film nostalgia. The film is called Legend and was directed by Ridley Scott and stars Tom Cruise.
Now you might well know this film, but did you know that the version you grew up with might be very different from the version I watched as a kid?
When I first saw Legend, it was a recording off television on old fashioned VHS in the little United Kingdom, but it was great; a twisted and dark 1980s fantasy adventure. It has everything from the most classic of high fantasy: elves, goblins, fairies, unicorns, demons and devils, all captured with the loving attention to detail only 1980s practical effects can bring, accompanied by a 1980s synth soundtrack. While Tom Cruise is the hero and Mia Sara is the princess, Tim Curry is positively inhuman and terrifying as the demonic Darkness, surely the most standout performance of his career and nightmare material for any 80s child!
But all was not well in the film’s post-production and Ridley Scott, the studios, and distribution companies made some questionable decisions. Including cutting Scott’s original (and to this day, never seen) runtime from 140 minutes down to 113 minutes, and finally down to 94 minutes!
Upon theatrical release of this 94 minute movie, the film was deemed by the Universal Studios President too dark and frightening for a general American audience. It was decided that the US would received a further cut down edition in cinemas (with a happier, more traditional ending) as well as removing the original score by Jerry Goldsmith in favour of a more 80s sound by Tangerine Dream.
However, while America suffered a drastically cut down version at 89 minutes long, Europe was apparently deemed able to cope with the darker tone and imagery of the previous cut! The 94 minute cut, along with the Tangerine Dream soundtrack instead of Goldsmith’s original score.
Now it gets complicated.
When the film was released on network television, the American release was longer than its theatrical release, making it a fifth edit (if you’ve lost track) while Europe also got a television edit that was similar but had noticeable differences. Both maintained the Tangerine Dream soundtrack. But that’s six edits now.
In 2002, seventeen years later, a DVD release of Legend was provided to both the US and UK. I was ecstatic to rent this film after so many years, from Lovefilm (a company since absorbed into the Amazon Video machine.) I hadn’t seen it since the VHS copy recorded off the television.
What has happened to Legend!? I wondered after watching. The soundtrack is definitely wrong, the ending is wrong, and it is lacking some of the most intriguing scenes and dialogue!
It had been so long that I wondered if it was only my memory that was confused or had given me rose-tinted glasses. But the different soundtrack had me curious, it was definitely wrong, and after some research I found that the film was indeed a cut version.
This was when I discovered that America and Europe had different versions, and that the general DVD release was of the American theatrical release only! But, contradictory, this DVD release has the original Jerry Goldsmith score restored. A score no one had previously heard!
So you can imagine my disappointment… Finally seeing this nostalgic (and very excellent!) film again only for it to be a cut version with the wrong music! Even the Americans would be confused since the Tangerine Dream soundtrack is absent.
So following ten years of disappointment, Legend was reborn once again on Blu-ray. This time the Ultimate Edition (yes, there are multiple distributed versions of Legend!) contains two versions! The American theatrical release with Tangerine Dream and the “director’s cut” (that’s the 113 minute long edit Ridley Scott originally had before the theatre cuts)… with the restored Jerry Goldsmith score.
Indeed, neither versions are the original edit I saw as a child. At least not entirely. As a result the American theatrical cut in the Ultimate Edition is as close as I can get, paradoxically. It has had several noteworthy scenes added that were missing from the initial DVD edition (bringing it more closely in line with the European theatre release) and that were missing entirely from the original theatre release.
Not all of them though. While the full scenes in the “Director’s Cut” more closely follow the cut I saw as a child are missing from the American version, I cannot stand having the “wrong” soundtrack.
Say what you will of 1980s music, but for those of us who grew up with the film, that music was integral to the story, characters and overall feel of the film. Didn’t it make it very 80s? Of course it did, but it was an 80s fantasy film in every other respect. Tangerine Dream gave it even more definition and by comparison the Goldsmith score is positively disinterested, albeit more traditional and fitting.
As a result, we of the United Kingdom can somewhat rest easy with the original extended cut returning to us in the Blu-ray Ultimate Edition, including wonderful scenes that are missing from the American version, while we can also enjoy the improved “American theatre cut” with the Tangerine Dream soundtrack. Of course, nothing is simple: the Ultimate Edition (Region 1) distributed by Universal, is also different from the Region 2 version (distributed by 20th Century Fox.) If you are like me, you want the Region 1 (Universal) version. Again, paradoxically.
The film has aged surprisingly well and marks the end of a time when classic fantasy fairy tale epics got this sort of treatment; do you honestly expect Ridley Scott to do this sort of thing again? Not likely.
But the question on my mind is: “Will the original version I saw… the extended edition with the 1980s Tangerine Dream soundtrack ever be released on a digital format?”
I can but hope, but for now it is what it is, legend.
If you have not seen the film and I have piqued your interest with this post, I implore you to go find a copy. While my “perfect” edition no longer exists… I ask that you only see the longer version!
If you’d like to know more about the intricacies of Legend’s production, this website is quite an invaluable resource: