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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘LEGEND': LIGHT, DARK AND UNICORNS

Times Staff Writer

Once upon a time there was a handsome young hermit whose purity of love for a beautiful princess was symbolized by a pair of unicorns who roamed the lush forest where the hermit made his home.

So enchanted was the princess by the unicorns that she touched the magical but fragile horn of one of these blindingly white animals before the hermit could stop her. As the unicorn lay stricken, the Lord of Darkness started unleashing all his terrible powers.

According to film maker Ridley Scott, legends are born of the eternal struggle between the forces of light and darkness. Perhaps so, but it’s hard to imagine his “Legend” living up to its name. Although awesome in its fantasy splendor, “Legend” has even less substance than Scott’s last film, “Blade Runner.” And whereas that detective thriller of the future offered a truly original vision, the look of “Legend” (citywide), as gorgeous as it is, seems a distillation of all the illustrations for all the fairy tales ever read to a child.

Scott and his writer William Hjortsberg offer little to keep most adults involved. (When his hero, played by Tom Cruise, dons a gold fish-scale tunic and picks up a golden sword and shield, can there be any doubt that the Lord of Darkness, if ultimately unbeatable, will eventually be driven into retreat?) Nevertheless, “Legend” is the kind of picture grandparents ought to feel comfortable taking their grandchildren to see.

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That misty forest Cruise inhabits like a more fully clad Tarzan is alive with an assortment of pointy-eared elves, leprechauns, pixies (among them: “The Tin Drum’s” David Bennent and Hollywood veteran Billy Barty). But now it’s afflicted by a fearsome frost and invaded by cadaverous, buzzardlike goblins, minions of the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry, carapaced and horned to look like a gigantic, satanic bright red lobster). Naturally, Darkness wastes no time imprisoning the princess (newcomer Mia Sara) in his vast, gloomy netherworld castle.

With his gleefully dire pronouncements hyped by a stereophonic resonance, Curry brings the film much-needed fun and vitality. (The film’s other strongest asset is Tangerine Dream’s shimmering, pulsating score.) As embodiments of pure love, Cruise and Sara are pretty much restricted to seeming sweet and brave. “Legend” is not without whimsical touches, but it surely could have used more humor and invention.

Clearly, tremendous pains were taken in bringing “Legend” (rated PG but definitely family fare) to the screen. Although the magical world created by production designer Assheton Gorton might have been more effective had it been less dense and more stylized, it is a sumptuous, richly colored feast for cinematographer Alex Gordon’s camera. What would have become “Legend” most, however, is a measure of the wit, sophistication and intimacy Cocteau brought to his classic version of “The Beauty and the Beast.”

‘LEGEND’

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A Universal presentation. Producer Arnon Milchan. Director Ridley Scott. Screenplay William Hjortsberg. Co-producer Tim Hampton. Camera Alex Thomson. Music Tangerine Dream. Production designer Assheton Gorton. Special makeup created by Rob Bottin. Costumes Charles Knode. Special-effects supervisor Nick Allder. Stunt coordinator/unicorn master Vic Armstrong. Choreographer Arlene Phillips. Supervising film editor William Gordean. Film editor Pam Power. With Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, David Bennent, Alice Playten, Billy Barty, Cork Hubbert.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG (Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.)


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