Once upon a time, long long ago, there was an age of cinematic magic and enchantment. Before the time of overwhelming computer-generated special effects lived intricate films of fascinating sets and beautiful costumes.
They called this era the 80's.
Modern-day fantasy films rely too much upon the convenience of CGI. Although they are every bit as beautiful and captivating as the fairy tales of twenty years ago, a substantial amount of realism is lost when actors are replaced with computer animation, when constructed sets are replaced with green screens.
One of the best examples of a fantasy film that pursued an image of truth through palpable costumes, sets, and actors was 1986's LEGEND. This was a beautiful masterpiece from the mind of director Ridley Scott that was even more powerful in its recently-released director's cut form.
LEGEND touches upon several fascinating themes that are brought forth with inspiring imagery and editing. It was shot on a large set that was molded and constructed to suit the needs of the film. The set, as opposed to an on-location shoot, allowed the film makers to pursue the majestic lighting effects that was one of many key elements to what made the movie so great.
One of the first of LEGEND's integral themes is that of innocence lost. "The dreams of youth are the regrets of maturity," says the Lord of Darkness in his attempt to win over Lily as his queen. Explored through several scenes, the female lead Lily tempts fate with her insatiable curiosity and loses a bit of her innocence every time. Her first "Pandora's box" experience was when she touched the unicorn, dooming the world to end in darkness and beginning her journey into coming-of-age and experience. Another key scene of innocence lost was
when Lily was tempted by opening the small chest of jewelry, allowing the possibility of dark corruption into her mind and heart.
Another theme explored through the majesty of LEGEND is that of love conquering all. This is a recurring ideal in many fantasy (and non-fantasy) films, and several examples are present with characters Jack and Lily. Together, the protagonists can overcome everything but separate they risk succumbing to the darkness. One of the most resounding scenes in the entire movie suggests this - when Jack dives off the cliff after Lily's ring, this is the first time they are separated and it becomes the beginning of the reign of darkness. The Lord of Darkness' possible rule over the world is finally foiled with Lily and Jack come together once more as one.
Even the Lord of Darkness seeks out love for one of two reasons - either he realizes that he needs the power of love to win over the world, or he, like every single person on Earth, is attracted to the innocence and purity that love springs in all.
Probably the foremost of ideas in this film, and many other fantasy motion pictures, is that of the delicate balance between good and evil in the world. This equilibrium exists both externally and internally in all.
When the purist of beings is corrupted by a mortal's touch, the darkness is given its chance to rule. But one cannot exist without the other - without Lily and Jack's innocence there would not have been chance of corruption. Without the evil doings of the tin-laden character Blunder, Jack and his friends would never have met him and eventually had his help.
Blunder's character also suggests the internal struggle of good versus evil. There is a bit of darkness in everyone; and Blunder, who is kin to some of
Jack's motley crew, turns to the dark side prior to meeting Jack, and then once more to the light.
The ultimate Lord of Darkness.
The most important character that suggests this internal struggle, however, is Lily. If one watches closely, the ring that Lily sends Jack after has, perhaps in foreshadow, a stone that is both black and white. Throughout the movie she is constantly battling her own ideals of good and evil - she approached the unicorn even though she knew it was wrong. She allowed herself to be tempted by the material things set forth to her by the Lord of Darkness. And because of this she even witnessed her own dark side in a beautiful dance-interpreted struggle. During this scene she flees her own mysterious dark presence, but eventually embraces it. At the end of the movie she overcomes the evil within her and rights what she has done wrong.
Even the Lord of Darkness says about the balance of good and evil: "What is light without dark? What are you without me? I am a part of you all... you can never defeat me!"
LEGEND consisted of all that is great in a fantasy film - an intense journey, powerful themes, amazing imagery and unforgettable characters. One of the most striking things of all, however, is that the makers of this film accomplished all this and more without the modern-day magic of CGI. No, Mr. Ridley Scott was able to film his vision of this extraordinary world with the help of superb set designers, costume designers, editing and acting.
Had this movie been made today, you can bet that we would lose much of its realism to computer-generated effects. The whimsical forest and chilling lair of Darkness would no longer be elaborate sets of plaster and machines, but would be digitally created in production thanks to the help of a green screen.
Perhaps actors portraying the lovable, smaller characters in the movie would be replaced by visual and computer tricks, such as the hobbits were in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. The mood-setting majesty of real horses portraying the pure unicorns would more than likely be replaced by pixels, as would the fantastic creation of the Lord of Darkness. This latter example would especially be a true travesty, for Tim Curry's performance in LEGEND, as well as the awe-inspiring costume that consumed him from head to toe, is definitely another one of the key elements to the movie's excellence.
The Darkness is in us all.
LEGEND was a movie that was released before its time. Not only was much of its awesomeness lost when a sudden score change had been ordered and editing hacked a two-hour movie down to under an hour and a half, but it was not well-received upon release. Since then, and with the addition of its director's cut version, LEGEND has slowly become more popular, and may serve to one day be the most outstanding fantasy film of the 1980's.
For those that miss the awesome fairy tales brought to life by elaborately laid sets, hours and hours of makeup and costume endured by real actors and brilliant dialogue, we can always hope that one day a film maker will revert to the old-school ways of special effects. PAN'S LABYRINTH is a recent and beautiful fairy tale that has given me hope in the use of old-fashioned costuming over CGI. But until the day comes where there are more current films that utilize this style of story-telling, we can always turn back to our favorites—THE PRINCESS BRIDE, WILLOW, LABYRINTH, and of course, LEGEND—in their several versions thanks to the technology of the DVD.
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