This Week in 1986: 'Legend' Seeks Fairytale Ending

Was 'Legend' cursed or blessed? The Tom Cruise fantasy epic was fraught with production disasters, was drastically recut before its American release (25 years ago this week, on April 18, 1986) and, after all the tinkering and second-guessing, was still a big commercial flop. So it's a minor miracle that the film got released at all, that it did not kill the careers of rising star Cruise or director Ridley Scott and that the generically-titled movie is still fondly remembered today by a cult of fans for its classic fairytale plot (involving unicorns, sprites, elves and goblins) and its stunning visuals.

After making milestone sci-fi films 'Alien' and 'Blade Runner,' Scott spent four years developing 'Legend,' a departure into the realm of fantasy. He cast the all-American Cruise (then hot after his breakthrough starring role in 'Risky Business') as his woodland hero, and he discovered Brooklyn schoolgirl Mia Sara, whom he cast as the princess Cruise must rescue. Those might not have been the first two performers you'd cast in a movie based on European fantasy lore, but Scott also made the inspired choice of Tim Curry as his villain, the horned, diabolical Lord of Darkness.

Scott gave the film a lush, otherworldly look; its forest world was constructed entirely on soundstages and inspired by the theatricality of Jean Cocteau's 'Beauty and the Beast.' He hired Rob Bottin, on the strength of his pioneering werewolf work in 'The Howling,' to do the unusually elaborate makeup, which involved full-body prosthetics for just about every actor except Cruise and Sara. Curry's makeup took more than five hours each day to apply and another hour to remove.

Among the catastrophes that plagued the production: An impatient Curry stripped off his makeup too quickly one day and ripped off his own flesh, forcing Scott to film around his absence while he recovered. With a few crucial scenes left to film, a lunch-hour fire burned down the entire set, which had to be hastily rebuilt.

At a test screening, a group of giggling stoners made Scott and execs at Universal second-guess themselves, and they made drastic changes to the film in order to dumb it down for American audiences. It lost about half an hour of its running time and its classically orchestrated Jerry Goldsmith score (including some songs sung by Sara), scrapped in favor of a new score by Tangerine Dream, the electronica act that had scored Cruise's 'Risky Business.'

The film cost a reported $30 million to make (an enormous budget back then) and earned back just half that in the U.S. Still, nearly everyone involved went on to new career heights. Cruise's next movie, directed by Ridley's brother Tony Scott, was the massive blockbuster 'Top Gun,' which set the pattern for Cruise's leading-man roles for the next 20 years. Sara's next role was in the immortal 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.' 'Legend' having freed him from the campy confines of 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show,' Curry went on to a long career playing villains. Ridley Scott abandoned fantasy and sci-fi for a while; his next three movies all had present-day, real-world settings, including 'Thelma & Louise,' which put him back on the top of the directors' A-list for the rest of his career.

Today, there are at least four extant cuts of 'Legend,' including one done for TV and a director's cut restored with the help of some zealous 'Legend' fans. A Blu-ray version is due on May 31, containing the director's cut, the American cut, and commentary by Scott.

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This Week in Movie History


1895 (April 21): The Panopticon, the first movie projector, makes its debut. Film takes its first step away from being an individual experience (as seen through the peep-show box of Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope) to becoming a mass medium.
1926 (April 20): Warner Bros. and Western Electric announce the invention of Vitaphone, the first practical system for linking sound and film. Within two years, the silent film era is all but over, replaced by talkies.
1956 (April 18): Oscar-winning actress Grace Kelly abandons show business to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. But the public's fascination with her never abates, and Princess Grace remains a star for the rest of her life.
1986 (April 23): Otto Preminger, groundbreaking, censor-defying director of such landmarks as 'Laura,' 'Carmen Jones,' 'The Man With the Golden Arm,' and 'Anatomy of a Murder,' dies at 80.
2002 (April 19): 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding,' an autobiographical comedy written by and starring the unknown Nia Vardalos, is released. The $5 million film goes on to become a huge word-of-mouth hit, grossing more than $240 million to become one of the biggest independent-movie hits of all time.

This Week in Celebrity Birthdays

'Legend' star Tim Curry isn't just celebrating the movie's anniversary this week; it's also his 65th birthday on April 19. He's one of a multitude of stars with birthdays this week, including fellow 65-year-olds Hayley Mills (April 18) and John Waters (April 22).

Jack Nicholson turns 74 on April 22, two days after George Takei does the same. Jennifer Garner's 39th birthday is April 17, same day as Olivia Hussey's 60th. April 20th marks Jessica Lange's 62nd and Ryan O'Neal's 70th. April 18 saw America Ferrera turn 27, Maria Bello turn 44, Eric Roberts turn 55 and James Woods turn 64.

If he had time, the busy James Franco celebrated his 33rd birthday April 19. Others born that day include Hayden Christensen (30), Kate Hudson (32), and Ashley Judd (43). On April 23, Michael Moore turns 54, and legendary child star Shirley Temple Black turns 83.

Going Out? New and Noteworthy This Week

'Water for Elephants' - Trailer No. 1


'Water for Elephants' (PG-13)

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook, Paul Schneider
Directed By: Francis Lawrence
What's It About? Based on Sara Gruen's novel, this romance finds veterinary student Jacob (Pattinson) going to work for a circus, where he falls in love with married performer Marlena (Witherspoon).
Why Should You See It? It's the first big, lavish, swoony, grown-up romance of the year. R-Pattz will do that dreamy, broody thing he does so well (insert joke here about him playing a character named Jacob). Witherspoon will sparkle, and Waltz (as the betrayed husband) will do that scene-stealing, scary slow-burn thing that's his specialty.
You Might Like It If You Like: The 'Twilight' movies, 'Vanity Fair,' 'Big Fish'

Showtimes & Tickets | Reviews
Unscripted: Video Interview with Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson
Mr. Moviefone's Six-Second Review
Reese Witherspoon on Her Love Scenes With Robert Pattinson
The Best Quotes from the Novel
On the Scene at the 'Water for Elephants' Premiere

'Tyler Perrry's Madea's Big Happy Family' (PG-13)

Starring: Tyler Perry, Isaiah Mustafa, Loretta Devine, Bow Wow
Directed By: Tyler Perry
What's It About? Perry's sixth go-round in drag as the gun-toting granny finds the matriarch's niece (Devine) dealing with bleak health news that devastates her three adult children. It's up to the no-nonsense Madea, as usual, to sort everything out.
Why Should You See It? Besides the chance to reunite with Perry and his familiar characters, there's the lure of the first major big-screen role for Mustafa, the impossibly dashing Old Spice pitchman.
You Might Like It If You Like: Any movie with the words "Tyler Perry's..." in the title; the 'Big Momma's House' movies

Showtimes & Tickets | Reviews | Trailers & Clips


In Limited Release


'African Cats' is a Disney nature documentary about feline mothers - here, a lioness, a cheetah and a leopard - and how they raise their young on the African plains. Samuel L. Jackson narrates.
Showtimes & Tickets | Mr. Moviefone's Six-Second Review | Trailers & Clips

'POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold' is a cheeky meta-documentary by Morgan Spurlock ('Super Size Me') about how corporate sponsors get blatant product placement in movies and TV shows. As the pomegranate juice-pitching title suggests, Spurlock himself was unabashed in seeking corporate sponsorship to finance the film.
Showtimes & Tickets | Mr. Moviefone's Six-Second Review | Trailers & Clips
Still in Theaters, Still Awesome


'Rio': Looks like the folks behind 'Ice Age' have a new critter classic cartoon on their hands. Showtimes & Tickets | Reviews | Trailers & Clips

'Scream 4': Still scared out of your wits by the Ghostface slasher? There's an app for that. Showtimes & Tickets | Reviews | Trailers & Clips

'The Conspirator': If that Daniel Day-Lewis biopic of Abraham Lincoln ever gets made, they could follow it with this for one hell of a double feature. Showtimes & Tickets | Reviews | Trailers & Clips

Staying In This Weekend?

New on DVD: 'The King's Speech' got a lot of flak during the recent Academy Award season for beating 'The Social Network,' since the English costume drama seemed like thoroughly conventional Oscar-bait next to the timelier, edgier Facebook flick. Which it was, but why should there be any shame in deliberate, top-notch craftsmanship and an uplifting plot? And whether or not the George VI biopic merited its Best Picture trophy, there's no arguing with the stammering Colin Firth's deserved win for Best Actor. Plus, on DVD, you can see it with all the f-bombs intact; this is the one movie where the profanity really is essential to the plot. Buy or rent the DVD | More new DVD releases

On Our Netflix Queue: Michael Sarrazin, who died this week, was best known as a leading man in the late '60s and early '70s, delivering moody performances at a time when such anti-heroes were in vogue. His most acclaimed turn may have come in 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They?' (1969), an allegorical drama about a dance marathon during the Great Depression. Sarrazin gave a quiet but memorably seething performance as a drifter who enters the grueling contest alongside a similarly desperate Jane Fonda. The drama about how low people will sink during bleak times seems awfully relevant today. Buy or rent the DVD

On TV: You know it's Passover and Easter time when the eggs are in the garden, the matzos are on the table, and 'The Ten Commandments' is on ABC (Saturday at 7PM). Cecil B. DeMille's Biblical drama is less the epic of divine redemption it purports to be than a sudsy saga of sex, sin, and sand, but then, that's what makes it a sly perennial treat. Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Anne Baxter are as succulent a set of hams as you could wish for at Easter, while the sneering villainy of Edward G. Robinson is tastier than matzo ball soup. Dig in. Check your local listings

Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.