Revisiting Ridley Scott’s Legend—Stephen Wolfe, Guest Blogger
Updated: Aug 5
Today we share a post by a student in our Spring 2022 Introduction to the Fairy Tale course.
Hello, I am Stephen Wolfe, a recent graduate of Santa Monica College with degrees in Science and Public Policy and a current Nursing major. Originally from mid-Michigan, I quite often found myself reading and writing to pass the time. Growing up I was always reading and loved short story collections such as Aesop's Fables, A Thousand and One Nights, and Hans Christian Anderson's collections.
While taking classes at SMC, I was blessed to be introduced to many different classes on topics that I never knew I could find--or so badly needed--as college courses: from new LGBT literature, to courses on the histories of witchcraft, religion, and magic, to our wonderful class on the history of the fairy tale. These classes have opened a wellspring of knowledge that help me appreciate the artistry inspired by traditional folklore and fairy tale and the communal aspect of media creation. Even when trademarks and protections are the hallmarks of the modern story, it is fascinating to trace the red ribbon of life that runs through these stories. Especially now that these stories have liberated themselves time and time again from medium to medium, their essences rebound endlessly in terms of story, images, and content.
One of the more recent incidents that I stumbled upon was the interconnection between the 1985 film Legend by acclaimed director Ridley Scott and old fairy tales and Disney adaptations. Legend is notable for starring a young Tom Cruise as the main protagonist, but the movie itself did not receive much credit or attention at the time of its release. Although it has a talented cast and production crew, it suffered critically: reviewers recognized the fairy tale connections but thought the storyline was thin. Perhaps Ridley Scott wants to forget the film as suggested by his recent comment, “I don’t do wizard films.” However, he did--once upon a time--make such a film: Legend.
Regarding Legend, Scott himself said he was inspired by the artistry that Disney employs in their adaptations of Snow White and Pinocchio, but it is clear to see that the inspiration is more widespread than that. The character Prince of Darkness—brilliantly brought to life by actor Tim Curry—is lauded even today as one of the most successful visualizations of classic monsters in cinematography. The character’s design harkens a beautiful recall of the evil queen in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, and who could blame Satan himself for finding inspiration from such a wonderfully wicked colleague? The cast and characters all seem to find their place within the fairy tale universe and an enlightening interview can be found in Cinefantastique magazine that shows the inspiration behind bringing the characters to life. The painstaking efforts of the makeup and character design teams were not the only ones to fall deep under the Disney spell. Scott’s visual artist and set designers also drew heavily from the Disney sphere of influence as well as other fairy tale sources. One can easily see the deep forests of Little Red, the dank cottages of Hansel and Gretel, and the opulence of The Beast’s castle within Scott's film.
All in all, even though the film suffered from negative press at the time, it is a film that holds steadfast among the pantheon of the fairy tale--sparing none of the gory and dark details befitting a classic interpretation. It is well worth the one hour and thirty-four minutes to watch the film, even if just to take in the beautiful cinematography.
Unsurprisingly, the red ribbon of life does not stop here. Many have claimed that the story of Legend heavily inspired Shigeru Miyamoto's creation of one of the worlds (perhaps most) beloved video game tales of all time Ocarina of Time. Who could know how many stories a paragon of modern storytelling like the Realm of Zelda has inspired? One thing is certain though, the worlds most beloved tales are here for good - both in face and spirit.