Copyright 1992 by Geoffrey M. Wright (email@example.com)
Opening on a black and white panorama, the camera slowly pans clockwise stopping on a road that runs straight into the dusty mountains of the American southwest, a road which later will be buzzing with police swiftly closing in on two desperate protagonists. Gradually, color saturates the shot, and for a brief time the hues are rich and full, then the scene slowly darkens until all is black; a prologue, simple yet subtly meaningful, announces the best film of 1991: THELMA AND LOUISE.
This prologue foreshadows the evolution of their journey throughout the course of the film like a visual overture, for on the road the lives of Thelma and Louise become colored by a freedom unknown to them while they languished in the black and white drudgery of their previous existence. But it is destined to be a short-lived freedom; their reactions to circumstances forced upon them enable this latent potential to flower, but at the same time assure its early demise.
THELMA AND LOUISE represents Ridley Scott at his best, and the success of this film brings with it the hope that the days of severe compromise are over for this fine director. When he has been forced to compromise, the results have been more painfully destructive than would be the case for a lesser artistic talent. Now it appears that he is getting the final cut on his films and setting up the kinds of multinational financial deals which will assure that he maintains artistic control. If this is the case, his work will sink or swim according to his decisions alone, and this is good news indeed. The failure of his last film, 1492, may hurt a bit, but whether it will cause any long-lasting financing difficulties is doubtful.
As with most directors, Scott has paid his dues. And while it may be unreasonable to expect financiers to just close their eyes, cross their fingers and hope when underwriting a major film, there are certain innovators, and Mr. Scott is one, whose work cannot be tampered with without damaging the goods.
To truly appreciate the beauty of this man's art it is necessary to see his films in the theater, but with the growth in popularity of laserdiscs and the advent of home theater, it has become possible to approximate this experience in ways beyond the reach of all but the very rich just a short time ago. And since Scott's work, with the exception of THE DUELISTS and SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, is made to be viewed very wide, widescreen laserdisc is a must for anyone interested in the framing and incomparable art direction so important to a full appreciation of these very re-watchable films.
The screenplays can be especially illuminating, and multiple versions of most of his film scripts can be obtained. Upon comparison of the early drafts with those closer to the shooting script, one will be struck by how much they change for the better under Scott's direction. This is especially true for BLACK RAIN, which vastly improved over an early version (dated November 1987). He threw out practically the entire script, keeping just a few elements he liked, and then had it completely rewritten.
It is common knowledge that Scott has had more than his share of "help" from the business side of film making--the most well-known examples being BLADE RUNNER and LEGEND. The period of these two films was pivotal in his career. It was a time of doubt and challenge by those fearful financiers unsure of his abilities, a time of severe compromise and unnecessary artistic destruction. In each case the studio harmed itself, severely weakening the work as well as the potential for profits that might otherwise have been a possibility had there been faith in the director's vision and sufficient financing for him to realize it.
And yet, some of the wounds to his art appear to have been self- inflicted. Scott has at times been all too willing to accommodate the demands of his speculating lenders. He has publicly taken full responsibility for the changes to LEGEND, for example, and, of course, got much of the blame for its failure. He seems to fall prey, as is the case with so many others, to the director's bane of self-doubt--doubting the success of his current project--the kind of doubt which allows room for the studio to wave audience results in his face and demand changes to "save" the picture.
What seems to have been ignored is the fact that the more innovative the film, the less test audiences can be relied upon to assess its potential. For someone as creative as Scott, it may be more fruitful to use testing in the mode of Robert Altman, who claims that by testing his film in the company of those he respects, he can see it through their eyes. This allows him to step out of his fixed view of the work without even asking their opinions. Therefore, in the end, the changes he makes are based upon his own reactions rather than on a statistical sampling culled from an audience who may or may not be prepared for what they are going to see. The test audiences for BLADE RUNNER and LEGEND were certainly not prepared for what they saw.
What is so exasperating about the heavy-handed interference that plagued him during this period is that Scott has always taken great pains to marry his perfectionist artistic sensibilities to the largest possible audience. Scott, arguably the greatest visual stylist making films today, carefully chooses material that will have what he perceives to be a wide appeal. He then proceeds to turn an accessible story line into a fine work of art, hiring the best in the business to help him. Editing, lighting, meticulous framing, all are combined with a masterful, often subtle overloading of scenes with imagery and sound carefully crafted to enhance the mood and support the storyline in every possible way.
If Scott were to aim for a smaller, more intellectual audience, the budget would be appropriately scaled down. He was originally planning to follow his beautiful art-house debut, THE DUELLISTS, with TRISTAN AND ISOLDE. But after witnessing the phenomenal success of STAR WARS, and feeling that he could be just as satisfied working in the genre of science fiction, and more successful financially, he dropped this idea and instead made ALIEN. This turned out to be a wise decision. The film world quickly realized that this director was a major player, and his star began to shine brightly.
His third project was to have been DUNE, but he dropped out when, as he has stated in interviews, he could see that he was looking forward to at least 18 more months in pre-production. This pace was too slow for him, so he picked up BLADE RUNNER, which he had declined when it was first brought to him by Michael Deeley. Yet even before photography began on BLADE RUNNER, he was already planning his next project, which would become LEGEND, having hired William Hjortsberg to write the script. Filming a fantasy story had been a dream since before his first feature. He was flushed with success then and full of confidence. But things went very wrong.
BLADE RUNNER almost broke even, but LEGEND bombed. With the financial failure of these two films the trust that had begun to build after the success of ALIEN, trust necessary to receive large budgets with full control, diminished. The financing of such elaborate films became much more difficult, and Scott, who once said that he wanted to be "the John Ford of science fiction films", seems to have become disillusioned with the genre.
It is interesting that both of these films exist in multiple versions, so that the differences can be studied today. The changes to the original version of BLADE RUNNER were compromises that Scott did not wish to make; he knew what he had and fought to keep his vision intact. He lost. If left alone, the film would have found its audience, but the financiers, in their understandable desire to maximize profits, chose to go for the audience that likes to be spoonfed, in an all too common, shortsighted attempt to "broaden its appeal". This, as it turns out, was a drastic error, because that audience didn't like the film anyway, and no amount of fine-tuning would have changed that--the film was just too dark for the STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES crowd. So they lost both ways: it didn't suit the taste of those who wanted simplistic, escapist fantasy, and the inane voice-over insulted many of those who like films that challenge them to think. Worse, many critics didn't like the film for these same reasons, and those who did like it often watered down their praise with caveats. Without the critics and lacking strong word-of-mouth, the film inevitably did poorly in its initial run as potential fans of the picture never went to see it.
Scott incorporates things into this film which are virtually impossible to catch in one viewing, yet one of the things about this director that makes him stand out is that enjoyment of the film does not hinge upon whether the viewer notices them. These are layers which reward the lover, enriching the experience and drawing you back to their embrace, hoping for another gem, missed until now, that will again provide the pleasure of discovery.
It is disheartening to see him criticized for this very thing. How many times have we read that the meticulous visual splendor overwhelmed the story in one of his films? This is a completely ridiculous argument that goes hand-in-hand with the idea that a film should be graspable in its entirety in one sitting. It encourages a watering down of the artform for the average filmgoer; the goal becomes the disposable product with no thought for its long- term potential.
An example of this layered subtlety can be seen during the introduction of Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). We hear him saying, "Time enough" over the image of his cramping hand. Time enough for what? is answered by the following shot of Roy's face turning upward, sweat dripping off his nose--this is the mirror image of a shot to come later just before he kills Tyrell--time enough to meet his maker. It takes a few viewings to catch that one, but scenes like this provide such a wonderful thrill when you do. Since these initial shots were afterthoughts concocted in the editing room, it is possible that the mirror image shot was not intended in this way. But, intended or not, it works.
Another is the whispering children's voices in Sebastian's apartment as he, Roy and Pris are getting ready to eat breakfast. Clearly this must be Sebastian's toys whispering softly among themselves--a beautiful touch.
One of the best scenes in film history is the short speech by Roy as he sits dying in the rain. It is at this point that the audience is brought fully into synch with the emotional and intellectual heart of the film. Now we are with Batty in our sympathy, our empathy. Empathy is one of the major themes of the novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? from which the film is loosely adapted, but the film uses this theme with a different emphasis by focusing on the empathy of human society, or rather its lack, in relation to the replicants. During the course of the film this man (and by this point in the film, unlike the book, he should be viewed as a man) has been a ruthless and frightening killer, yet Scott is able to play with the emotions of the audience in complex ways bringing us to the point where we feel Roy's pain, his desperation, and his sad acceptance of the inevitable. In fact the film is playing with our empathy and this scene can produce an emotional turnabout in you with an impact so great that it can bring tears to your eyes.
The theme of immortality, evident throughout the picture, is sometimes worked into scenes in very subtle ways. For example, in his essay BLADE RUNNER FILM NOTES, William Kolb says, "[when we are introduced to Chew] we see a container conspicuously marked with the Chinese character for eternity. Following an ancient tradition among Chinese artisans, this solitary character symbolizes Chew's hope that the recipient of his eyes will see and understand more clearly, that they will figuratively see into eternity." Later in the film, there is a chess game which Roy uses to help him gain entry (via Tyrell's chess partner, Sebastian) into Tyrell's bedroom. This is a famous game between Anderssen and Kieseritzky, which took place in London in 1851, and is universally known as 'The Immortal Game'. The historical game concluded exactly as in the film.
It's too easy to say things like "BLADE RUNNER was ahead of its time", yet even Scott has fallen prey to this belief. We don't know how it would have done if Scott had been given full control. In 1992, however, the film and its director got a second chance to prove just how successful it could be, and for a re-released film which has existed on video for years, it did very well.
What is being called BLADE RUNNER, THE DIRECTOR'S CUT has also been surprisingly successful in its ability turn so many of its critics into fans with so few changes. By now it is well known that the only additional footage consisted of about 12 seconds of a daydream by the protagonist showing a unicorn coming through the woods. Apart from the extensive sound editing, the only other change was the removal of the happy-ever-after ending resulting in a shorter rather than longer film--a surprise to many who had heard that this version might be as much as twenty minutes longer. The change which had the greatest impact was the removal of the voice-over, added in its initial release due to fears that the film would fail because it would be perceived as incomprehensible. William Arnold of the Seattle Post Intelligencer, who gave it a fairly negative review when it opened in 1982, appreciating only the visuals, now gives it 3 1/2 stars and praises editing changes which in fact never occurred. He is not alone in his conversion, nor is he alone in thinking that the changes were more substantial than they in fact were. This shows not only that the film is complex and truly needs to be seen more than once, but it points out just how destructive the voice-over was to the overall feel of the picture (Arnold likened it to that of Steve Martin in DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID--an exaggeration, but in the right direction.)
Does this director's cut represent the uncompromised vision of its creator? Absolutely not--very few films do. But it's as close as we're ever likely to get. The serious flaws are gone in this amazing and powerful film which will probably continue its popularity well into the next century within a growing atmosphere of respect.
This is one lost film which has been partially found. Still missing are the filmed portions, cut to reduce running time or to improve the flow, as well as the unrealized parts never filmed due to budgetary constraints. The latter situation is, of course, an inevitable part of film making, but in reading some of the ideas for scenes not filmed, scenes which would not have cost all that much to realize, one may find oneself mourning what could have been. The high caliber of talent collected around this film produced an overflowing of marvelous ideas, and some who worked on it look back at the experience as a high point in their career. A researcher of the film can almost feel the excitement that was in the air at the time.
In an article from the British magazine, Starburst, Phil Edwards describes a number of scenes, both filmed and unfilmed, which were considered. One of the unfilmed ideas was a prologue showing Batty and his rebel associates crawling out of a pile of dead replicant bodies which are being loaded onto a conveyor belt that feeds into a furnace. After they overwhelm the guards, the scene ends with Batty screaming and pointing at a dot in the heavens, which is the Earth.
Perhaps the best unfilmed scene--a last minute deletion, the set having been planned--is one where we find out after Tyrell's death that Batty has killed a replicant, and that the real Tyrell is in cryogenic storage within his pyramidal tomb, having in fact died during his cryo-sleep due to a mistake by Sebastian. The idea had the potential to bring the audience into the same feelings of paranoia expressed by Holden (Morgan Paull) in another scene, filmed but not used, that questions just how many replicants there are spread throughout the city, and shows his fear that their status cannot be discovered. An entirely new dimension of the film would have opened up.
Scott has, however, expressed the idea that the film was already complex enough. In answer to the question, "Would you not like to have included some of the earlier ideas from the various scripts?", he replied, "No...because I think this script is already difficult in that you are using three basic storylines: you are doing a character study of a character who is kind of a familiar character; you're seeing his predicament which is a type of love affair and you're doing an action adventure movie, and you're doing a city of the future. So you have four elements running through there. And every time you're off on the love story, the action adventure holds off and vice versa, so it's a very difficult kind of film to try and structure." 
The by now legendary unicorn scene was considered the most essential missing material by Scott who wanted the film to hint at Deckard's replicant status. With the new cut, all of Gaff's (Edward James Olmos) miniature figures refer to Deckard as intended: the origami chicken, after his attempted refusal to hunt the replicants; the matchstick-man with an erection, after he begins to have some feeling for Rachael; and the unicorn which, among other possibilities, refers to his implanted daydream/memory with its elements of purity now truly mythical in this climatically devastated world nearly devoid of all animal life save those that live off of the waste products of man.
The most important of the unused yet filmed scenes is one in a hospital room where Deckard visits his friend and less fortunate blade runner, Holden, who is in a life-support apparatus. The script contained two such scenes, the second being the more important. Here Holden, only partially correct in his reading of Deckard's behavior, assumes that Deckard had sex with Zhora before he killed her. Deckard had actually made love with Rachael by this point, but he refuses to admit it, and his apparent guilty demeanor convinces Holden that he has hit the mark. The scene is important for a variety of reasons. It further explores the changes in Deckard's attitude toward his victims and his growing disagreement with Holden's assessment of their essential nature as machines. At one point he tells Holden, "They're different, the new ones. That big one... he... it had feelings." Holden, a bit later in the scene, counters with, "You got the feelings, pal, not her. You fucked a washing machine... then you switched it off. So what? You cry when you turn the lights out at night?"
Another important element of this scene is the fact that the last portion of it is shot from another room where Deckard's boss, Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) and Gaff are watching all of it unfold on a TV screen, emphasizing the total disregard for privacy, and the sense of paranoia the members of this society must feel living within a state owned and run by huge business conglomerates where "little people" don't count.
A further sense of paranoia is explicitly contained in the first hospital scene where Holden laments that, "Three hours into the autopsy they still think they're cutting up a human. [...] It's all over, it's a wipe out, they're almost us, Deck, they're a disease." He goes on to speculate that the Voight-Kampf test may not work at all on this new generation (this segment was to appear before Deckard's VK testing of Rachael). The last part of the scene has Holden telling Deckard, "Don't you see what they're after, who they're looking for?...God!"--symbolized by Tyrell, their creator who they are hoping can extend their lives.
Many more cuts were made in the dialogue which altered the picture, usually improving it, but sometimes to its detriment. Most of Gaff's lines in the film were cut, making him a much more mysterious character. In the script he comes across as an ambitious wimp, all talk and no action. These cuts were certainly for the best with the exception of two sentences which would have made it even more explicit that Deckard might be a replicant. The lines by Gaff near the end of the film following "You've done a man's job, sir" were to have been, "But are you sure you are a man? It's hard to be sure who's who around here." Perhaps this was more explicit than Scott wanted to be.
The scene where Deckard proves to Rachael that she is a replicant plays much better with the script tightened up a bit, but later in the film, when Deckard teaches Rachael how to love, the script is trimmed so much that many see this scene as a rape, and this is not at all the sense of the original. Deckard won't let her leave because he can see that she is running away, not from him, but from her own emotions. Even though many viewers understood this to be the case, a few more of the scripted lines from Rachael, before and during the intense part of this scene would have been helpful to convey this.
One of the more irritating scenes in the picture could have been enormously improved if the dialogue was simply removed. This is the encounter between Deckard and the Egyptian snake manufacturer where it is painfully obvious that the dialogue doesn't match the lips of the characters. The images were all that were necessary to convey the meaning and, since we are viewing this scene through a window, this jarring break in the audience's suspension of disbelief was totally unnecessary.
Given all of that, this is still a truly great film. Perhaps Kolb said it best: "In the final analysis, Blade Runner's greatest failure may simply be what it is not. With the potential inherent in the story and the talents of everyone involved in the production, it should have been an uncontested science fiction masterpiece."  It's only fair to mention that Mr. Kolb was referring here to the original, released version--this new cut comes closer to the masterpiece he laments.
Michael Arick was responsible for putting together the director's cut under Scott's direction. He was brought in to redo it on an insanely tight schedule after Warner Bros. had somehow lost the work which he and Scott had done in London.  Arick claims that most of the deleted material no longer exists. The negatives are gone, and all that is left of some of the missing scenes are the dailies, many of these with no soundtrack. Even the six-track masters were not found, much to the frustration of Arick, who had to remix wherever the voice-over was removed, because when it went, the rest of the sound went with it.
Warner Bros. does not yet consider this a prestige piece, in the mold of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, which deserves the full Robert Harris style treatment. One hopes that they at least struck black and white separations, because history will show them to have been shortsighted. Still the company, and Distribution President Barry Reardon in particular, deserve credit for allowing the director to recut the film as he originally intended.
After the disappointing returns of Blade Runner, Scott's ability to make LEGEND the way he wanted was severely weakened. The studio, Universal, tore it apart after it tested poorly, cutting almost an hour out of the picture in an attempt to make the best of what they believed was a sure loser. What American audiences finally saw was but a shell of what it started out to be.
Scott is not an artist who is blind to business necessities. He has certainly shown his willingness to compromise what might be his chosen approach to a story were he to craft it just for himself. This is why he changed the fantasy story in LEGEND from its more realist, dark and Celtic origins, which would be more his style, toward the gentler and more widely acceptable Disney approach--acceptable at least in the eyes of the studios at that time (in Cinefantastique, Scott said, "The fear of the distributors at the time was extraordinary"). Without going in this direction he might not have been able to sell it at all. By doing so, however, he went against his own tastes--a dangerous tactic for any artist. Still, given the tremendous success of the cute STAR WARS series and the budget he was working with, who could blame him? As it turned out, it was one of his greatest mistakes. This put him in a position where his confidence was easily shaken when confronted by a disappointed studio and poor test results.
While it's true that studios tend to fear unknown territory, the distributors' fear that Scott mentioned was not unfounded. Scott said, "When we were trying to sell the project it was very dark in tone". And if they were taking around the earliest version of the screenplay, then called LEGEND OF DARKNESS, those fears, given Scott's perfectionism and the budget necessary to realize it, were well-founded concerns. The cast that would require Rob Bottin's make-up was much larger, special effects were very elaborate and the script was aimed at an adult audience. The latter was a project killer at the time since the studios were all looking for the next STAR WARS in their genre pictures
On the whole, Hjortsberg's first draft was original and interesting, but at times the ideas were simply lifted from mythology without enough thought given to creatively integrating them into the story. In one scene where Jack takes Lili to see the unicorns, there is a viper that "envenoms" the water so that it is no longer fit to drink until the unicorn purifies it with his alicorn. In another that was destined for a quick write-out, Lili, being virgin, is able to induce the stallion to place his head in her lap. At this point she opens the top of her gown and suckles the animal--a scene which the screenplay tells us is "reminiscent of the Madonna and the Infant Jesus." These ideas are lifted intact from the unicorn legend of the middle ages. They are highly symbolic and most often given a very Christian spin with the unicorn signifying Jesus, the serpent being the devil, his venom the sins of the world, and in this case, Lili as the virgin Mary. The problem is that these symbolic ideas don't translate well to the medium of film. Scott wisely kept only those ideas that blended naturally into his story.
In the worst part of the script, Lili is turned into an animal after her unwitting (and therefore innocent) "sin" of leading the dark hunter to the unicorns with no explanatory warning or attempt to stop her by Jack as in the final version. In the unicorn capture myth which existed in numerous forms and is depicted in the famous unicorn tapestries from the 1500's, the maiden is usually the hunter's accomplice in which case her punishment might make some sense. The hunter in this case is the earliest incarnation of what would become the satanic Darkness character played by Tim Curry. He is here disguised as a hunting companion of Lili's father, the king. Following the killing of the unicorn stallion, Lili, now part human, part animal, is captured and taken to the demon's castle where she is savagely whipped until she submits to him totally and in fact comes to enjoy his brand of violent sex. Anyone in their right mind would have been nervous about that script! Since Scott wanted to make this film for children, this segment didn't make it past the first re- write (Hjortsberg, in apparent disapproval, claimed it was the first thing to go). It is highly unlikely that he took it to Disney--one of the studios Scott approached initially--in this form. Scott worked with Hjortsberg guiding the re-writes so that the version dated March 10, 1984 (principal photography began on March 26) was a great deal better.
There is no more difficult genre to tackle in film than fantasy. Small changes can have an enormous impact on the overall feel. The balance is so delicate that a few weak lines can destroy the suspension of disbelief that is essential to the continuity of audience involvement. It's very hard to say whether LEGEND in its full length would have made back its cost at the box office, but have little doubt that it would have done better than it did. Replacing Jerry Goldsmith's excellent score with that of Tangerine Dream and, on top of that, adding the insipid song LOVED BY THE SUN by Jon Anderson was very destructive--the entire mood of the picture was altered. Some at the studio thought the picture too sweet, but it was what it was, and it could not be improved by removing almost an hour to focus on the action sequences. And Ironically, Jon Anderson's song made the ending sickeningly sweet in a way it was not before.
Upon reading the screenplay, many of the shots in the film which seem confusing or out of place suddenly make sense when seen within their original context. The film is riddled with such jarring editing. If one wants a taste of what the film might have been, the Japanese import laserdisc of the European version is a good start despite its flaws which include a pan and scan transfer and an altering of the color making the film too bright. Many of the scenes are cut differently or contain material closer to the original, but most importantly, here we have the Goldsmith score.
And a marvelous score it is. It is lush and full and very up-front. In a BBC documentary Scott said, "I hate it when people say you shouldn't notice the score. That's bullshit. You should notice the score. And the score, if it's doing its job, should lift and elevate the movie." Goldsmith's work accomplishes this beautifully whereas that of Tangerine Dream, for the most part, does not. They never seemed to understand the mood of the scenes they were writing cues for.
One example among many is the ominous cue they wrote for the cottage sequence. It conveys the feeling that at any moment something evil is about to happen. What this segment requires is music that is sweet, portraying the simple, pure lifestyle of Lili's country friends, and accentuates the contrast of these early scenes which celebrate nature and innocence with the disaster that will soon befall the world. Goldsmith wrote a perfect cue. 
The film now exists in at least three versions: the European version mentioned above running about 94 minutes, the American release at 89 minutes, and a slightly extended version (by a few minutes) of the latter produced for television. There are also rumors that this writer has not yet been able to confirm of a longer version existing in England that runs over two hours. Each of these versions of LEGEND contains footage missing from the other which belongs in the whole and none are anywhere near long enough to tell the story originally envisioned by Scott. The film probably needs to be at least the 2 hours and 20 minutes it started out to be and for which Goldsmith composed his score. Arguments about this length being incompatible with the attention span of the young audience at which it is aimed are weak. It is too frightening for the very young, so their parents will not likely bring them, and teenage attention spans die out much more quickly with this ineffective, disjointed cut than would be the case with a longer, more consistent offering.
When asked about the changes to LEGEND Scott said, "There have been no arguments. The changes were all made because of my decisions."  He may have agreed to them, but the press has often questioned whether all the choices were truly his. The article quoted here strongly implies that friendly public agreement like this should not be taken seriously, with such statements as, "Directors and studio executives, rumored to be battling over a final cut, suddenly turn into the best of chums when asked about their differences."  The author goes on to quote an unnamed producer, "Thing is, I want my movie to be released. But if I pull a Terry Gilliam, my words might backfire on me" in reference to the well publicized war between Terry Gilliam and Sid Sheinberg, president of MCA, the parent company of Universal, over Gilliam's film, BRAZIL--the same Universal that was the distributor for the American release of LEGEND. It may be that Scott would have preferred to bring out the long version, but this was impossible at the time. In addition to this, he had doubts about its chances based on test audience reactions. Therefore, since he was not entirely satisfied with how it was turning out (Scott said, "I didn't think it was connecting"), he was willing to go along with the studio's insistence upon changes. If Scott was ever going to "pull a Gilliam", it wasn't going to be for this film. So, in effect, he ended up defending the destruction of his own work. Even if he thought many of these changes were necessary, it was probably very painful to see this very personal dream of so many years die in such a resounding fashion.
A stand like Gilliam's is rare. His courage is admirable, but he received almost no support (and plenty of lies and duplicity) on his picture that followed BRAZIL, BARON MUNCHHAUSEN. Only very recently has a studio been willing to back him with enthusiasm. Gilliam may not care what the studio moguls think of him--in fact he might even become concerned if those he has so little respect for turn their smiles upon him--but Scott loves large pictures and he obviously wants to continue to be able to make them.
Scott cited the failure of THE COMPANY OF WOLVES by Neil Jordan, in its American release as one of the reasons for many of his changes to LEGEND. In Cinefantastique Scott is quoted as saying, "while [THE COMPANY OF WOLVES] was an enormous success in England it closed in America after a week. American audiences couldn't seem to grasp the denseness of the plot or the sequential build-up of the story, which is one reason why I have eliminated a lot of the subtext and detailing from my original cut of LEGEND". But THE COMPANY OF WOLVES was an unsatisfying film not because it was complex, but because the complexity was poorly integrated. Furthermore, the film contained cheap- looking special effects likely to turn off much of the art-house audience that this story is written for, and in this country, had a ridiculous ad campaign with a wolf's head coming out of someone's mouth--it was steered toward exactly the wrong audience, almost as if its distributor wanted it to fail. Scott misread the American audience here. He integrates intellectual nuance and allusion into his films in a way that most often doesn't call attention to itself. It adds texture and a dense richness to his best films, like BLADE RUNNER and THELMA AND LOUISE. This layering technique is one of his greatest gifts and should never be abandoned. He had honed the story in LEGEND until it was much improved. There were flaws, but they were not in the excessive complexity of ideas. The material deleted from LEGEND might have greatly enhanced the enjoyment of the film, filling in the simple story with much- needed rich detailing.
The change in tone brought about by the cutting is dramatically shown by comparing the script, the TV version and the theatrical releases of Jack's first encounter with Gump (David Bennent) and the fairies. Originally, this sequence was much longer with a much more threatening Gump, who, when hearing that Jack has led Lili to the unicorns, and that she touched one, flies into a rage and decides to enchant Jack so that he is forced to dance uncontrollably. The line, which is included in all versions, "Touched it! A mortal laid hands on a unicorn?" is followed by the lines shown below (unless otherwise noted, this dialogue is not available in any of the 3 versions):
Brown Tom: Bad....terrible bad! Jack: We meant no wrong. [in all versions, but placed later] Gump (screaming): What was it you did mean, Jack! Jack: Nothing.... Gump (cold and hard): Nothing, he calls it! Jack: I wanted to share something special with her. Gump: Well.... I have something now to share with you.... a lively reel to warm your bones! Jack: I'm in no mood for dancing. Gump (screaming with wrath): Squawk! Squawk! No more talk.... [this last line is only in the TV version, and is very well delivered. It is immediately followed by a line which is in all of the versions]: Gump [continuing]: Do you think you can upset the order of the universe and not pay the price? [It is here that the script calls for the dance scene. The fairies bring out musical instruments. Jack cannot control his body as his feet begin to move against his will.] Jack (frantic): No! I want no part of your nonsense. Gump (leers demonically): Time to dance, Jack.
Jack is caught up in an enchanted dance that goes on until, exhausted, he has just enough strength left that, "with supreme effort, he hurls himself onto the ground, his body jerking spasmodically to the music." He refuses to go on, and Gump decides to toy with him by offering him a way out if he can answer the riddle: "What is a bell that does not ring, yet its knell makes the angels sing?" He clearly doesn't believe Jack can solve it and answers Jack's query about the consequences if he cannot with, "Well, Jack....then 'tis your death song I'll be playing." But Jack is able to answer because, the day before, Lili has sung a song to him about a man who hears the ringing of bluebells, signifying that his life is at an end. The sequence involving the riddle can be seen in both the European version and the TV version. That the dance scene was filmed is obvious because, the next time we see Jack after Gump tells him he must "pay the price", his hair is stringy with sweat and his breathing is heavy--one of many discontinuities that must, even if unconsciously, create confusion and disorient the audience.
Also lost in this sequence is the meaning of the bubbles, an atmospheric touch that appears during episodes of fairy magic much as the ubiquitous floating seedlings (actually duck down) are meant to evoke the abundance of life in the forest. The bubbles can also be observed later in the dungeon when Oona transforms herself into the image of Lili.
The American version reduces this to a little nothing of a scene, a mere introduction of the fairies and gathering of the party that will follow Jack on his quest for an answer to the mysterious and devastating seasonal change. Hints of a threat from an angry Gump are quickly and unconvincingly quelled by Jack's appeal that he did it all for love. The character of Gump is flattened as is the possibility for the emotional involvement of the audience. One of the last lines in this sequence--a line not in the script--is delivered by Jack, "We must find what has happened to my Lili", which replaces the line (from the European version) by Gump, "First we must see that no harm has come to the unicorn"--a dubious shift of emphasis since the death of the unicorns threatens all of nature as they know it.
Another example is Jack's encounter with the hideous swamp creature, Meg Mucklebones (Robert Picardo). The American theatrical version is the shortest--Jack cuts off her head very quickly, just after she lets him know she plans to eat him. However, we have just been shown that her reactions to his attempts to flee are lightning quick, so his ability to behead her stretches our credibility. In the European version, we have more footage: here Jack persuades her to look at the "beauty of [her] reflection" in his shield, and as she looks, he draws his blade and cuts off her head--the distraction taking care of the credibility problem. But the TV version is longer still. Here, when Jack suggests that she look at her reflection, she takes the shield from him stepping back out of range as she does. He continues to flatter her and, as she gets carried away by her image, he surreptitiously draws his sword, nearly losing his balance and falling into the water, then hides it out of sight until she moves in for the kill with the words, "Give us a kiss before dining". Now that the sword is already drawn, the surprise factor allows him to get the jump on her. It works much better and is more entertaining, with small touches of humor like Meg's line, "Such discerning taste for one so young, Jack."
Another change where Scott went against his instincts was moving up the entrance of Darkness in the American version to "keep the audience from getting restless", even though he admits that his strong preference was to hold him back until later, as in the European release. It's as if KING KONG never happened. For that film, Merriam C. Cooper was encouraged to do the same thing, but refused with good reason. If we see the Darkness character for the first time when he steps through the mirror in the latter half of the film, the impact is much greater--our curiosity has built to an unbearable level by this point. If Curry's character had been weak, then this, of course, would have been a crippling letdown, but since Darkness was by far the strongest character, it would have worked extremely well.
The dialogue at times seems particularly meaningless because of the massive cutting and rearranging of scenes. For example, in the cave where Oona reveals herself to Jack, her line, "I could be anything you want me to be" is thrown out with no supporting dialogue. She has just shown Jack that she can turn from a point of light into a woman and we know that she likes him, but this being the only reason for it, the line falls flat. In the European version, there is a following line: "A fairy's love makes anything possible". This mild attempt at seduction, divorced from its context, seems out of place. The script reveals that both of these lines are cut from another sequence (you can tell that Oona's lips do not match her words here) where they make perfect sense. This is a more overt attempt at seduction in the dungeon where Oona goes so far as to turn herself into Lili's image in her desire to win a kiss from Jack.
One of the unfixable flaws in LEGEND is in the casting. It is weaker here than in any of Scott's work. Aside from this film, Scott has been unfairly maligned on this point. Hindsight has led some to criticize the choice of Harrison Ford for BLADE RUNNER because, when it came out, audiences were expecting something akin to STAR WARS or RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. But, according to Scott, Ford was cast based on the work he had done in THE CONVERSATION and APOCALYPSE NOW. His work on BLADE RUNNER, although not matching the superior work of Rutger Hauer, was still very good. It is also important to note that RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK had not been released at the time he was cast. The only significant casting error apart from LEGEND is in the choice of Gerard Depardieu for Columbus--and this only because his French accent is too strong for the American audience, his acting was excellent.
Tom Cruise received a lot of bad press about his work on Legend, though this may not have been entirely his fault--often he seems fine, and when he does seem lost, it looks more like editing problems. Bad editing can destroy an actor's timing making him look much worse than he in fact was for the part. The editor, Terry Rawlings, who had worked with Scott on all of his previous films, supervising the editing on both ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, is a fairly good editor, but no one could have cut the film by this much and made it look seamless.
Richard Edlund became involved with LEGEND during preproduction to try to find a way to open up the casting possibilities for the parts involving small characters. In another quote from Cinefantastique Scott said, "Edlund came up with a method of shooting everything on 70mm and taking that negative and shrinking the actors to any size we wanted to make the illusion more realistic. The budget for this alone was enormous and affected everything so I had to axe it and take the gamble on finding an ensemble of good, small actors." He was not entirely successful. Kiran Shah never worked as Blunder. The exaggerated arm gestures he makes when he gets excited as a goblin are particularly bothersome (although failing to provide some of his dialogue to go along with the movements makes this much worse). Cork Hubbert and Billy Barty, as Brown Tom and Screwball, have a lot of screen time, but never feel like complete characters. The way Scott chose to direct these characters, in keeping with his Disney approach, and the editing are also partly to blame. Hubbert's Brown Tom is far too cute and cartoon-like but in the case of Barty, acting was not the problem. The character of Screwball was more well-rounded in the script, but much of what would have made him interesting was deleted. The most important of these scenes came after he volunteered to carry a polished plate up a chimney shaft in order to reflect sunlight down into the dungeon as part of Jack's plan to use Darkness' enemy (sunlight) against him. The scene reveals Screwball's offer to be a ruse so that he can escape rather than help with their fight. On his way out he comes into view in a matching fireplace within the Great Hall where Darkness is attempting the seduction of Lili. His hunger overwhelms his fear and he tiptoes up to the banquet table to steal some food. He is spotted, and he flees back to the chimney when Darkness angrily yells at him to "Get out!" thinking the soot covered elf to be one of his minions. As he continues up the chimney he hears Lili claiming she wants to kill the remaining unicorn and Screwball then has a changed of heart--even he will be needed if the world is to be saved. When he gets to the top of the shaft he takes a bite of a black apple he managed to steal from the table and topples over unconscious. Since he is not covered in soot in the released film, it is difficult to say whether any of this was shot. However it makes more sense that he would pass out due to eating an enchanted apple than that he was simply overcome by exhaustion.
It seems to have been part of the experiment (and the risk) of this film that the characters of the fairies and goblins take on some of the qualities of cartoon characters--it was meant to be a stylized homage to Disney in many respects. This is the kind of experiment which needs time for audiences to adjust. This is all the more true when it is someone like Scott doing the experimenting and it is such a great departure from his previous work. There will be arguments among critics, viewers who love it and viewers who hate it. STAR WARS got the very important boost of brilliant marketing and heavy media hype, but LEGEND had no such support from Universal. For it to work, a film needs to be true to itself. If it is, there is a chance that a core group of fans will develop who like it so much that they will tell everyone who will listen that they must see it. Instead, the studio tried to "save" this picture, and in doing so, cut out its heart and assured its failure.
If Universal would take the minor risk that Warner Bros. took in creating a director's cut of BLADE RUNNER, they might find it to be surprisingly lucrative. BLADE RUNNER has a much stronger cult following, of course, and is a more important film, but LEGEND would almost be an entirely new film, whereas BLADE RUNNER was changed in only minor (albeit important) ways. The production design in LEGEND is the best of any Ridley Scott film prior to 1492; designer Assheton Gorton accomplished incredible things within his budget. And the score, which would be completely new to the majority of its American audience, is some of the best work of one of the world's greatest film composers. These two elements alone would make it worth the attempt, even if the story were no better. And judging from the script, the story would play much better in it's long form. Most of the weaker lines like "Adios amigos" (when Blunder is dragged by a living corpse into a pit) and "I get the point, Lord" (when Blix is shown what the unicorn's horn looks like), could easily be fixed, improving their scenes.
Scott has stated that it would be foolhardy not to aim for the widest possible audience on a large budget picture, which is true enough, but he has also demonstrated that he is not afraid to take risks that to many studio executives would appear to be in the opposite direction. One example is the uncompromising (in fact perfect) ending to THELMA AND LOUISE. Another is the unsympathetic main character, Nick (Michael Douglas) in BLACK RAIN, the film which preceded THELMA AND LOUISE. Nick is angry, on the take, and racist. He is paired with a partner (Andy Garcia) who, although likable, is not very smart as evidenced by his weak attempts at humor, by his recklessness in drawing his gun in the restaurant scene near the beginning of the film, and by allowing himself to be drawn into a trap that ends his life. This was a courageous character mix and the film was perhaps less successful because of it (at least among some critics who rattled on about the film itself being racist) although much more interesting.
Scott has now gained the power necessary to protect his films in ways he could not during the early years of working within the studio system, and THELMA AND LOUISE demonstrates what he can do with it. The casting is perfection; the characters are fresh and alive in every role, though Scott reportedly had to fight for the casting of Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as the leads (Scott knew that the risk would be greater without them--they were perfect for these characters--but apparently some studio executives did not). He has an uncanny ability to place his actors in the right frame of mind and mood to give him exactly what he wants from the part, and he reportedly does so in relatively few takes. When he can find actors who can work with minimal rehearsal, he believes that he can acquire a naturalness to the performance not possible in a well rehearsed role. He has often succeeded; some actors have done their best work for this man.
As always, with THELMA AND LOUISE, Scott overloads the scenes with more imagery than can be absorbed in a single viewing. This thoughtful detailing rounds out the characters almost as much as what they say, and is integrated with such care that it all falls into place naturally and unobtrusively.
Thelma's husband, Darryl (Christopher McDonald), wears a "#1" necklace, he has "THE ONE" on his license plate, and his house is full of toys for his own amusement including a corvette, whereas Thelma's car "barely makes it down the driveway". To him, Thelma is more like an uncooperative toy than a human being with a life of her own.
When things begin to spin out of control, Thelma telephones Darryl in order both to feel him out and to calm him down, but Darryl is so wrapped up in his football game that, when an important play begins, he says, "Just a minute", and takes the phone away from his ear for its duration. Meanwhile, Thelma, whose emotions are in turmoil, continues with her explanation; she can't stop now--this is too difficult and too new--she needs to continue to let it flow out of her. Darryl misses the seriousness of the change within her until it's far too late. In the latter half of the film, there is a shot of him crying while listening to the police radio broadcast, when the full weight of his loss finally hits him.
Louise has seven rings on her fingers when her boyfriend, Jimmy, completes the set with an eighth in his futile, clumsy attempt to marry her. Toward the end of the film, she gives the rings along with the rest of her jewelry to an old man for a hat to keep off the hot sun. When Thelma asks where she got the hat, she says she "stole it"--i.e., she gave him the symbols of her now meaningless past for something of real value to her in her unfolding present. The future doesn't exist for her now. She plays along with Thelma in the discussion about their future in Mexico, but you can see it's all show, she recognizes the fantasy for what it is.
With this film everything comes together in a way rarely seen in a Hollywood production: writing, casting, cinematography--all work at an extraordinary level in this delightful, humorous, and ultimately tragic celebration of personal freedom.
Some compromise within the existing studio system is inevitable. It's a difficult dilemma for any serious artist, but one from which European investors may be providing some relief. Scott (for his latest picture, "1492") and other directors, such as James Cameron, have been turning to Europe to help finance their work. Europeans tend to have a greater appreciation for the director as author and artist, and it seems as if they are willing to allow a great deal more control to remain in the creative hands of those who have proven themselves.
It is obvious that the past films of Ridley Scott, good as most of them are, could have been even better. And it will become increasingly obvious that he has been under-appreciated as an artist as more of the public come to understand the depth in his work. While there may still be the occasional financial failure, recognition of Scott's talent will continue to grow and, if we are lucky, there will be many works in the future that provide the wonderful, fulfilling pleasure of THELMA AND LOUISE.
1. Milo Mitchell, 'Blade Runner.' Prevue, no 49 (August-September 1982); Inter- view with Ridley Scott.
2. This is what he told Harlan Ellison when they met to discuss the 'Dune' pro- ject. See Ellison's article in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1985.
3. If one looks closely, one can catch a glimpse of a nail sticking out of the back of his hand as he turns it. Obviously this shot was from the end of the film after he had shoved the nail through his hand to provide a shot of adrenalin to his system, which had begun to shut down.
4. From 'Retrofitting Blade Runner', edited by Judith B. Kerman. The essays by Kolb in this book greatly expand upon, and in some small ways correct, the material which he contributed for the Criterion laser disc. They are essential reading for anyone interested in finding out just how overloaded with sub- tleties this film is.
5. Phil Edwards, "The Blade Cuts", Starburst, no. 51, November 1982.
6. Interview by Phil Edward and Alan McKenzie, Starburst, no. 50, October 1982.
7. William Kolb, "Script to Screen: Blade Runner in Perspective", from the book "Retrofitting Blade Runner".
8. This information came from Robert Osburne in his short piece in The Holly- wood Reporter, October 7, 1992.
9. Alan Jones, Cinefantastique, January 1986.
11. In an interview with Dan Scapperotti, Cinefantastique, June 1987.
12. Ironically, Scott has said he thinks that this was perhaps Goldsmith's best work. Scott prefers not to discuss the reasons behind this decision publicly, but enough has been said by him and others to lead one to believe that he only supported the idea with a gun to his head. And because it has destroyed his already shaky working relationship with Goldsmith, a man he respects and would like to work with again, he probably deeply regrets the decision.
13. For a very good comparison of the two scores see Paul Andrew MacLean, "From a Legend to a Dream", CinemaScore, Summer 1987.
14. Pat H. Broeske, Los Angeles Times Calendar section, January 19, 1986.
16. It could be argued that Gilliam did Syd Sheinberg a favor by so vehemently insisting on his cut for 'Brazil'. Had this become a lost film, Sheinberg would in time have been vilified in much stronger terms than he has been over this affair, because Gilliam's talent and popularity are likely to continue to grow.
17. This was for 'The Fisher King', a film Gilliam said was a joy to make, al- though he considers it to be a bit of a sell-out. If this is an example of a sell-out, then his fans have nothing to worry about. He tapped more broadly into the emotional heart of America with this work than he ever had before.
18. Alan Jones, Cinefantastique, January 1986.
19. The highest estimate I've seen for the budget on the entire picture was 30 million -- Scott claims that it was 25 million. Scott gets more out of a budget than almost anyone in the industry, and this while hiring the finest people he can find to help him.
20. These lines may not even have been in the original cut -- they weren't in the script dated March 10, 1984. In fact, the entire introductory section is poorly written and seems tacked on. Even Tim Curry comes off weak here.
21. There were strong feelings for and against this ending among viewers. I remember one strong emotional outburst at the end of the film one Sunday afternoon in a Seattle theater: When it became clear that they had decided to commit suicide, a woman in one of the back rows started yelling, "You bitch! Oh, you fucking bitch!" over and over -- she had to be escorted out. Presumab- ly she was referring to the writer, Callie Khouri, who had dared to kill off characters that this woman had so deeply bonded with during the course of the film.