The History of Ridley Scott’s Legend Musical Scores Explained

Director’s cuts: the best of them are powerful arguments for letting talented filmmakers go wild in the medium, while the worst are arguments against dodgy marketing labels. But I’ve been equally fascinated by what might be called “composer’s cuts”: those instances where a composer’s score for a film is completed, replaced for whatever reason, and then restored. They aren’t as easy to come by, and it’s not a one-to-one comparison with director’s cuts; a composer isn’t responsible for providing a consistent vision through every stage of production. But few elements can change the perception of pictures the way music can. A scene with the same editing, effects, and sound can be enhanced or ruined by the choice in underscore.

Few films illustrate this better than Ridley Scott’s Legend, once described as the “extinction event” for 1980s fantasy movies. The film was an exorcism for Scott of the desire to tell a fairy story, inspired by Walt Disney and Jean Cocteau. He and screenwriter, William Hjortsberg, crafted a tale from scratch, designed for the medium of cinema while still building on the archetypal elements of a beautiful princess, an epic quest, unicorns, fairies, and a dark lord. The cast and crew who read the initial script were enchanted by it. The production became a labor of love for all involved, but Scott faced studio resistance to key elements of the story. Filming was disrupted by the 007 stage of Pinewood burning to the ground. And when distribution rights ended up split between Universal in America and Fox internationally, neither was prepared to release Legend in Scott’s preferred form.


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Since Legend’s initial release, Scott has owned his share of culpability in what happened to the film. Speaking on the making-of documentary for the director’s cut DVD, he confessed to getting “paranoid” after sniggering stoners disrupted a preview screening. The 113-minute cut that he previewed was reduced to 95 minutes for release in Europe in November 1985. But Universal still wasn’t comfortable with the film. Studio head, Sid Sheinberg, personally inserted himself into further editing, much as he did with Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. And like Brazil, Sheinberg wanted to jettison one key component of the movie: the music.

As originally conceived, Legend was scored by Jerry Goldsmith in an unexpected encore collaboration with Scott. Surprisingly, because Goldsmith found their first partnership on Alien to be “one of the most miserable experiences I’ve ever had in this profession…[Scott] said, ‘what was the problem?’ I said, ‘Ridley, you can’t communicate.’” But Hjortsberg’s script charmed Goldsmith as it had everyone else, and he spent six months preparing what he came to regard as “the best score I’ve ever done.” Goldsmith’s favorite work was gracelessly trimmed when Legend was cut for international release; on Sheinberg’s orders, it would be cast aside altogether in America. It couldn’t be successful in that market otherwise, he reasoned. A more contemporary sound might appeal better to teenagers, and the German electronic band, Tangerine Dream, was tapped to rescore the movie. Scott’s recollection is that the work was done in three weeks; Tangerine founder, Edgar Froese, claimed two months.

Image Via Universal Pictures

Either way, Scheinberg’s instincts on the music and the editing (the film went down to 89 minutes in America) wrought a flop. Legend was savaged by critics and ignored by filmgoers, teenaged or otherwise. The film might have been doomed to obscurity outside of home video, except that its backstage intrigues paralleled similar shenanigans on Blade Runner and fed into Ridley Scott’s own legend as a director. Interest in the various cuts and scores was strong enough that, when an answer print of Scott’s preferred 113-minute edit with Goldsmith’s music was discovered, it became the director’s cut in 2002. Subsequent home video releases have packaged the director’s cut together with the American theatrical release (the European version is complicated by legal matters), providing ample opportunity to compare and contrast the edits and the scores.

The circumstances under which the two scores were written must be accounted for when comparing them. Jerry Goldsmith came onto Legend during preproduction. While most of his music was written after filming, it was necessary to prepare several songs and two dance sequences in advance, and these songs are woven throughout Goldsmith’s underscore. Tangerine Dream, whether they had three weeks or two months, was brought onto a finished film with full knowledge that they were replacing another composer’s work. Edgar Froese insisted there was no studio interference with Tangerine’s work with Scott, but Universal’s desire for a more “commercial” score was known (and cause for Tangerine’s own complaints about the music, specifically the addition of two songs without their involvement). The version of Legend they were tasked with scoring was pared back to the bare minimum, while Goldsmith wrote for a more complete story.

But the American cut of Legend is, for the most part, a reduction rather than an alternative. Universal’s aggressive editing, intended to simplify the story, left it incomprehensible. It’s a shapeless hack of editor, Terry Rawlings’, work with no room to breathe. However, the takes, angles, and juxtaposition of shots in many key scenes are consistent across the different versions of Legend; the US cut might have holes punched through it, but it isn’t working with different footage. It’s fairly easy, then, to run the controlled experiment of watching major sequences of Legend with music as the one variable. In doing so, it’s difficult to find any instance where Universal’s decision to ax Goldsmith’s score improved the picture.

Image Via Universal Pictures

Legend was a carefully designed film in every sense. Despite studio displeasure with the script, Scott never considered bringing in any other writer than Hjortsberg. The pair of them, and all the artists and designers who worked on the film, zeroed in on Scott’s desire for a traditional fantasy. The hero, Jack (Tom Cruise), is a green man of the wood right out of English folklore. Princess Lili (Mia Sara) is the archetypal fairy heroine and an Eve figure, innocent but heedless of sacred prohibitions. The look of the fairies and goblins fall along traditional lines, and while Tim Curry’s Darkness is a flamboyant, mesmerizing interpretation of evil (designed by make-up wiz, Rob Bottin), he’s built on classic depictions of satyrs and devils. Much of the film takes place in a bucolic forest straight from a storybook, and in the baroque, nightmarish lair of Darkness straight from Gothic romance. Every element of Legend worked towards a filmic expression of a classic fairy story, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score was no exception.

Goldsmith once referred to himself as a “method composer”, happy to enter the identity of a film and provide whatever music was appropriate. This led him to try nearly every form of music in his film work, sometimes striking out in experimental directions with advancing technology. But for Legend, Goldsmith tapped into the Romantic and Impressionist traditions of classical music. Each major character is given a theme, with Lili’s song, “My True Love’s Eyes”, providing a foundation for the entire score. Sweet and dreamlike in the forest, the music turns energetic, menacing, ethereal, and tempting as the situation demands, gaining complexity as the film goes on. Goldsmith didn’t reject the synthesizers of the day altogether but used them as the “fifth section of the orchestra,” used most notably to denote the presence of the goblins. Listened to in isolation, it’s a beautiful album, and not at all surprising as a favorite of Goldsmith’s; laid over the film, it’s perfectly tailored to the classical imagery and plot.

Tangerine Dream, by their own admission, weren’t prepared to accommodate any film to that extent. “We want not to become like film composers who change their style like they change shirts,” said member Chris Franke. “We still want to keep our identity.” That identity was tied to electronic sounds with rock and Eastern influences, despite Edgar Froese’s claims that “we are not fanatic about electronics, it’s just better help.” It was a sound very much of its time, and not the stuff of fairy tales. Other fantasy movies of the 80s eschewed traditional orchestras for more contemporary sounds; Richard Donner became attached to such an idea while location scouting for Ladyhawke, for better or worse. But few of these films chased traditional modes as aggressively as Legend did, and they didn’t have a musical score as an integral component from preproduction on. Even without Goldsmith’s music to compare it to, Tangerine Dream’s efforts feel incongruous with every other element in Legend.

Image Via Universal Pictures

Two scenes clearly demonstrate the issue. When the unicorn stallion is slain and its horn is stolen, the forest plunges into winter. Indirectly responsible for the stallion’s fate, Jack kneels before the mare and asks forgiveness. It’s a brief scene with striking visuals, the dead stallion sprawled before a single tree and a luminescent patch of fog and snow. The lighting on Jack and the mare suggests the religious symbolism that the medieval period attributed to unicorns. But the unicorns of the film have no voice, and there was no puppetry or animatronics used to create them; they’re real horses in every shot, with all the limitations on emoting that implies.

For the European and director’s cuts, Goldsmith fills the gap through his score, giving voice to the mare’s fury through the brass section and switching to flutes as Jack’s plea is accepted. In the American cut, Tangerine Dream reprised their theme from the unicorns’ first appearance earlier in the film. It isn’t a bad tune, possessing an uplifting dimension you might find on a CD of New Age music. It isn’t wholly out of place for when the unicorns first appear in a patch of sunlight along a forest stream. But it’s completely inappropriate for a wintry hellscape caused by the death of one of the unicorns, and no attempt is made to adjust the arrangement, tempo, or complexity of the music to account for the mare’s emotions or Jack’s remorse.

The second scene is Lili’s waltz with the black dress sent to her by Darkness as part of a temptation. “The Dress Waltz” was among the pieces that Goldsmith wrote in preproduction, a furious number of seduction and foreboding inspired by Maurice Ravel’s “La Vase.” The dance itself was choreographed to Goldsmith’s music, and the footage in all three cuts of the film shows Mia Sara and the dress dancer performing sweeping gestures in time with his waltz, Sara ending the dance in disheveled ecstasy before merging with the dress. Tangerine Dream opted for a slow, unthreatening dirge that, to my ears, sounds like something an organ grinder with a monkey would play. It’s clearly not the music the actors danced to, and there’s no sense of progression or escalation ahead of their merging and the entrance of Darkness. It just drones on and on, to the point that I was thankful the scene was hacked down by Universal just so that the music was brief.

On the director’s cut DVD, the change of score was the most remarked upon element by cast and crew, who also insisted that Scott’s original vision could have won over audiences in 1985/86. I’m not sure about that. Even in the director’s cut, as a story, Legend starts strong but gets stuck spinning its wheels when the heroes reach Darkness’s lair. Prominent characters vanish from the plot without explanation. Tom Cruise as Jack makes for an underwhelming lead, overshadowed in charisma by his sidekicks, nemesis, and lady love. As an experience, however, Legend is a remarkable work, full of breathtaking images and superbly crafted sequences. Hacked up and with the wrong music, these sequences can feel like so much wasted effort. But paired with the intended underscore, and the labor of love that the film truly was comes alive before the audience, and the fairy tale that was intended can be discerned.

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https://collider.com/ridley-scott-legend-score-replacement-explained/ The History of Ridley Scott’s Legend Musical Scores Explained

Bobby Allyn

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