Ridley Scott’s fantasy film "Legend" has been one of those DVDs that were announced numerous times and then delayed one time after another. Finally however, Legend" is giving up its "vaporware" status and we actually have the final disc in front of us. Universal Home Video has prepared an "Ultimate Edition" release of the film that comes on two discs and features every incarnation of the movie you could have asked for – most notably however, a completely new Director’s Cut, a re-edited version of the film with 24 minutes of additional footage that finally allows the director to show us the film the way he had always intended.
Most viewers in the US are only familiar with the 90-minute version of the film that includes a synth-score by Tangerine Dream. While European audiences like myself have always had the pleasure to be treated to Jerry Goldsmith’s masterful orchestral score of the film, everyone will now be able to decide for himself which version is the better one.
The new director’s cut adds significant detail to the film. Not so much in terms of the plot – which remains the same – but in many details and character facets. Somehow the story feels a bit more cohesive, as we learn more details about this stunning fairy-tale world and the characters. It gives the film more depth, more direction and more plausibility in a way while taking away nothing of its original charm and beauty.
So, how does it look, after all this waiting? It depends, which version you’re viewing. Evidently, Universal has paid much more attention to the new Director’s cut and it is presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio in an anamorphic transfer that displays near-pristine quality. The print is free of defects and blemishes and grain, though slightly evident occasionally, is held in check. The definition of the print is very good and reveals all of the spectacular details that the filmmakers have inserted into every single shot. Colors are vibrant and strong without ever appearing oversaturated. Given that this film in particular is exhibiting some almost impressionistic lighting setups and color schemes, proper color rendering is vital for the experience and universal certainly has paid attention to this detail. Blacks are very deep and firmly root the image while the balanced highlights create a strong contrast for the image that always feels natural and well-rounded. Shadows are perfectly delineated and never lose detail or lose themselves in pixel break-ups. All in all this is a great presentation for a 17-year old movie.
The theatrical cut on the other hand shows some shortcomings. The image appears notably grainier and exhibits less detail and occasional speckles. Color reproduction while still vivid is not nearly as vibrant and rich as in the Director’s Cut. Although blacks are also well rendered, they do not have the deep quality either, creating an image that is clearly less dimensional and rich in appearance.
From the specs alone it is apparent that Universal shows the same preference for the Director’s Cut, which his coming with 5.1 channel Dolby Digital, DTS and a Dolby Surround audio tracks, while the theatrical is relegated to a Dolby Surround track only.
The surround usage on the multi-channel tracks is surprisingly restrained despite the fact that some scenes could easily have accommodated more aggressive and flashier surround usage. As a whole however, the tracks are great with good frequency response that gives the presentation a very natural quality. Basses are well reproduced and have a good LFE extension that create a solid rumble, and high ends are without distortion or sibilance. The dynamic range is also very good, making sure the film has a much depth as it needs without going overboard. Dialogues are well-integrated and are never drowned out by the sound effects or the music and they also seem to have been slightly corrected to accommodate a wide frequency response that takes of some of the harshness that is evident in the theatrical version.
The music is simply fabulous. It was the first time I had the chance to witness the Tangerine Dream score for myself and I am glad I did have the opportunity before to see the film with Goldsmith’s music. The synth-score just doesn’t do it for me and waters down the experience, making it too contemporary – while at the same time dating it quite seriously. Orchestral scores are much more timeless and especially in the hands of a master like Jerry Goldsmith music becomes an integral part of the film’s vocabulary. Although opinions may – and undoubtedly will – vary, to me Goldsmith’s score is underscoring the fantastic, whimsical quality of the film and the story and drives home the demonic menace much better that the Tangerine Dream score.
With all that out of the way, let’s see what extras are part of this package. First off, the Director’s Cut is accompanied by a great audio commentary track featuring director Ridley Scott. It is a fine commentary and it is clear from the first seconds that Scott is very excited to finally see this cut of the film brought to life and being able to talk about it in length. The track is very insightful as the director explains his thoughts, intentions, the history of the film and other things that are related to the movie and its release. It is definitely a commentary track fans of the film should not miss to listen to as it explores many aspects of the movie previously untouched.
On the second disc – the one featuring the theatrical cut of the film – we find a slew of other extras, all of which are of the highest imaginable quality. An audio track featuring the isolated Tangerine Dream score is here – albeit I am sure fans would have preferred an isolated version of the Jerry Goldsmith score instead.
Look out for "Creating A Myth: The Memories Of Legend," a documentary that covers the production of the film as well as its history as one of the most unfulfilled director’s dreams. The origins of the story are explained here as well as the process how the idea was pitched to studios is explored here with new crew interviews, while cast members share their memories about their affiliation with the project. It sheds a lot of light onto the production aspects and problems associated with the creation of a fairy movie before the digital age. Running for 50 minutes, this documentary is the documentary fans have been waiting to see despite the fact that Tom Cruise sadly did not participate.
The disc also contains previously lost scenes, such as an alternate opening sequence. Presented in non-anamorphic widescreen the footage is exciting to watch, although it is in pretty bad shape. It is the content however that is important and fans will love the chance to watch this opening here on the DVD. The mythical "Fairy Dance" can also be found here. Sadly the actual footage has been destroyed but the scene has been recreated using the original audio recordings that is accompanied by photos and storyboard drawings of the events. Wow! Now, that’s some dedication.
Three of the movie’s key scenes are also presented in storyboard from on this DVD, giving viewers the chance to see how these scenes were planned and how they ultimately turned out in the final film.
Hard core fans will love the Photo Gallery that includes not only publicity stills and photos related to the film but also a large number of continuity polaroids that are used to make sure characters, props and settings are arranged the same way between various shooting stages.
The Brian Ferry music video "Is Your Love Strong Enough" is also part of the package, as well as a selection of trailers, TV Spots, Production Notes, Biographies and DVD-ROM features.
This now, finally, is the DVD everyone has been waiting for, for so long. Was it worth the wait? You bet it was. "Legend" is coming as a spectacular presentation on this DVD with an assortment of extras that cover all aspects of this film. Since the history of the film is particularly interesting, these features are an important document of how the film evolved over time and turned into the cult object it has become. Never before have we had a chance to learn so much about the film and the people behind it – or the facts about its troubled history – and this DVD release most certainly deserves the name "Ultimate Edition." This is a perfect example of a release that shows how DVD can extend and complete the experience of a movie as a whole!