I finally got to view the mystery-shrouded "European" version of Ridley Scott's Legend the other night. As all anal-retentive soundtrack collectors know, Scott's original version of the elaborate fantasy had a score by Jerry Goldsmith (since released on CD by Silva Screen) which was dumped at the behest of Universal's Sid Sheinberg (who attempted to do the same job on Terry Gilliam's Brazil) and replaced for American release by an electronic score composed by Tangerine Dream. Goldsmith's Ravel-like score achieved its own instant legendary status: it was the first major score by the composer to be removed from a movie before release, Goldsmith had stated it to be his favorite work of all the scores he had composed, and his collaboration with Ridley Scott had actually drummed up quite a bit of pre-release publicity due to the fact that songs and a "goblin dance" would be composed for the movie before filming began. Coming on the heels of spectacular early '80s Goldsmith works like Twilight Zone: The Movie and Poltergeist, fan anticipation of Legend was pronounced, and the shock when the score was rejected was deeply felt all around.
It would be nice to report that the European version of Legend was a rediscovered masterpiece as both a film and a presentation of Goldsmith's score, but that just isn't the case. The fact is, even in this version Goldsmith's score is severely compromised ("butchered" might be a more telling turn of phrase) for a number of reasons. Simply put, the music is just never allowed to make a real contribution to the movie.
Scott's intention was to make a kind of spectacular Grimm's Fairy Tale using proven stars like Tom Cruise (who had just come off Risky Business) and Mia Sara (Ferris's girlfriend in Ferris Beuhler's Day Off), and you almost have to admire the willingness of both the director and the actors in the film to come off looking like fools. Cruise sports a highly teased head of long hair and spends the latter half of the film in a suit of golden armor that looks suspiciously like a miniskirt, while interesting child actor David Bennent (of The Tin Drum) is dressed in large pointed ears and a pair of Medieval diapers. The sets, costumes and makeups are both gorgeous and hideously overloaded with detail, and in this version (a panned-and-scanned Japanese laserdisc with subtitles) the image cropping and washed-out look contribute to an overall impression of extreme confusion.
Legend is also one of the worst-edited films I've seen in recent years. It's yet another testament to the idiocy of test-screening which will not allow bad movies to even fail on their own terms, but instead impresses spectacular NEW ways to fail on already compromised films. As in the recent The Avengers, American audiences were confounded by the atmosphere and story of Legend, causing the studios to desperately prune away anything not vital to the linear completion of the plot (i.e., getting the movie the hell over with, already). The chopping in Legend is infuriating. Just about every event in the movie seems to come out of nowhere, with no context, and Ridley Scott's carefully-constructed fantasy world is never allowed the breathing room to convince the viewer of its existence.
If there's anything that cuts through the fog of incense and art direction it's Tim Curry's hair-raising villain Darkness. Rob Bottin's makeup creation, a lobster-skinned crimson demon walking on hooved feet with two gargantuan black horns looming out of the top of his skull, represents the pinnacle of this artist's contributions to cinema-- it's rivaled only by his work on John Carpenter's The Thing. It transforms the slight Curry into a being so imposing that, at least in theaters, the viewer literally cowers in fear every time he's on screen. Saddled with inane Darth Vaderesque dialogue ("I feel a disturbance in the forest. A presence I had mercifully almost forgotten."), Curry, with Bottin's assistance, nevertheless sells every second of screen time he gets.
Jerry Goldsmith's music is elaborate, deeply atmospheric and lush, and the vital relationship between magic and reality in the story makes this one of the few occasions in which a heavy use of electronic effects by the composer is absolutely appropriate and effective. Goldsmith worked on the movie for three months and evidently scored Ridley Scott's original 125 minute director's cut of the picture. After test screenings roughly 30 minutes was cut out of the movie, with Goldsmith's music suffering the consequences.
The composer's opening ("Main Title/The Goblins") plays out largely uninterrupted, although latter sections (in which the flatulent electronic "goblin" material is introduced) appear to be chopped down. It's immediately obvious, however, that the mixing level of the music score is ridiculously low. This becomes more and more apparent as the character of Lilly (Mia Sara) is introduced during the "My True Love's Eyes/The Cottage" cue, in which even Sara's song seems barely audible. As the Tom Cruise character of Jack appears ("The Unicorns") and he and Lilly share their first romantic moment of the movie, Goldsmith's score inexplicably drops out just as he's about to introduce the romantic theme for Jack and Lilly. This sort of meddling becomes a hallmark of the music editing in the movie; in the same cue, the introduction of the unicorn theme as the mythical animals are first sighted is cut out; both these melodies wind up being introduced much later in the movie, to incongruous effect.
As Lilly makes the great mistake of touching one of the unicorns, who are then shot with poison arrows by the goblin Blix (Alice Playten), Goldsmith's beautiful "Bumps and Hollows" song plays effectively against the chaos of the resulting chase, but the throbbing electronic and choral passage that underscores Jack's dive into a freezing lake is suddenly interrupted by the heavier brass sound of "Darkness Falls," the climactic cue of the score. Goldsmith's original music for the sequence returns effectively to underscore the sequence of Blix cutting off the horn of one of the dying unicorns (to the tune of a choir singing "He broke a promise..."), but once again Goldsmith's elaborate love theme for Jack and Lilly is excised, robbing the sequence of context.
The resulting snowstorm that covers the forest ("The Freeze") is likewise tracked with the heavier brass chords of "Darkness Falls" before Goldsmith's agitated goblin music returns as Lilly hides from the pursuing creatures inside her cottage.
One of the most compromised sequences in the film is the introduction of Honeythorn Gump (David Bennent) and a group of forest elves. The original film apparently had an elaborate introduction of the group of forest people, for which Goldsmith wrote a chipper woodland song ("Sing the Wee"). When Gump discovers that Jack has had a hand in the death of one of the unicorns, he begins to play an enchanted fiddle and use magic to force Jack to nearly dance himself to death ("Faerie Dance"). Both sequences were dropped, and the introduction of Gump is now tracked with the atmospheric sections of "Oona/The Jewels," a cue from much later in the story. Goldsmith's cue for the sequence, "The Faeries/The Riddle" eventually reasserts itself and plays out through the rest of the scene.
Goldsmith's main title is repeated over the group's journey through the forest to find the unicorns, replacing the opening of "Forgive Me." The rest of "Forgive Me" plays over Jack's confrontation with the dying unicorn stallion and his mare, with Goldsmith's insistent brass rhythms providing the mare's voice of fury over Jack's actions. The capture of Lilly by the goblins is tracked with yet another appearance of the "Darkness Falls" battle music, while the girl's slo-mo run through the catacombs of Darkness's lair (followed closely by the fairy Oona) gets yet another reprise of the main title music. Goldsmith's actual cue for this sequence, the set-up for the film's "Dress Waltz" set piece, is "Oona/The Jewels," a far more atmospheric and haunting composition than the tracked music chosen here; it eventually emerges to play as Lilly happens on a box of jewelry just before she sights the enchanted living dress. Goldsmith's mystical "Dress Waltz" is one of the few cues to play out uninterrupted in the movie and actually have its intended effect achieved in the film, although once again the mixing levels could be louder.
The next sequence is one of the most confusing and muddled in the film, but it's also a rare straightforward action sequence. Jack and the elves fight an ogre in the kitchens of Darkness's lair and use large, reflective serving plates to create a series of mirrors in the caverns which will eventually be used to reflect sunlight into the catacombs in order to slay the demon (are you getting all this?). It's difficult to believe that Goldsmith neglected to score this elaborate sequence, but no original music plays out during the scene. The battle music for the fight with the ogre is totally unfamiliar and apparently comprised of library music written by British composer Tim Souster--it's completely at odds with Goldsmith's style. The plate-flinging sequence, with the elves throwing four-foot-wide golden plates like Frisbees, is incongruously tracked with one of the murder cues from Goldsmith's Psycho 2 score ("The Cellar"), with a climax of shrieking horns (for the death of Marion Crane's sister via a knife in the mouth) that is wildly inappropriate for mischievous elves Billy Barty and Cork Hubbert engaging in slapstick activity. Goldsmith's melancholy theme for Norman Bates even makes an appearance as the victory music for Jack's defeat of the ogre.
The "Darkness Falls" cue, already tracked numerous times throughout the film, finally makes the appearance it was intended to as Jack engages Darkness in battle and the sun's rays are directed into the caverns to destroy the demon. But even here the cue is truncated, chopped in and out of the proceedings in a way that robs an already confusing denouement of any dramatic power. In fact, in this version it's entirely unclear just what the hell happens to Darkness at the end (the American version added a ridiculous shot of a G.I. Joe-sized Darkness doll falling into space). "The Ring" plays out in largely complete form as Jack sets the forest to right and revives Lilly, although the crucial crescendo as Jack retrieves the lost ring from the lake and bursts through the surface of the water is cut to pieces. The horrendous mixing levels are particularly in evidence here, as this sequence is almost completely free of dialogue and sound effects. There's nothing for the music to interfere with, and indeed the impressionistic effects from flute and piccolo are vital to the effect of Lilly and the forest coming back to life.
Given the presentation of Goldsmith's score in this version of the movie, it's remarkable that the music from Legend was able to make any kind of impression on audiences or critics, yet enough of it was noticed that European critics rallied to praise the score. But Goldsmith's music is really only given a coherent presentation on the Silva Screen soundtrack album. While some (though not all) of the music cutting decisions were obviously dictated by the brutal re-editing of the movie, the low levels at which the score was dubbed create the biggest problems. Goldsmith's music is not designed to lurk around in the background of the movie, but to play very much at the forefront of the action. Its contribution to the movie's atmosphere and its creation of a believable fantasy world is crucial. The situation here is similar to the one faced on Goldsmith's score to Star Trek: First Contact. When music for movies of this sort is mixed in this kind of weak-kneed manner the effect achieved is exactly the opposite of what the film makers intend. Directors and producers often believe movie score music is "too noticeable" and will distract from their sets, special effects, and highly-paid actors. But when a score which is designed to push movie imagery in certain directions is dialed down to near inaudibility, it actually becomes MORE noticeable. The viewer is aware that music is present in the background doing something, but they can't figure out what. So they tend to concentrate on the music and attempt to figure out just why the hell it's back there.
Maybe it's ridiculous to suggest that a director's cut of Legend is in order. At its most basic levels the film is incoherent and uninvolving. But it is also curiously beautiful at times, and engagingly dark and scary. Its problems are certainly not solved by the wholesale pruning of its storyline or the replacement of Jerry Goldsmith's score. It's a film that simply can't be contained on a panned-and-scanned television screen and deserves at least to have a decent letterboxed edition made of it. 20th Century Fox (which released the European version of the movie) has on its current slate of upcoming DVD releases gems like Jingle All the Way. You can't tell me a restored Legend is any less of a priority than that.
© 1997-98 Lukas Kendall (MailBag@filmscoremonthly.com). All rights reserved.
This article originally appeared on the Film Score Monthly web site on 9/7/98.