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LEGEND – Jerry Goldsmith/Tangerine Dream

legend-goldsmithTHROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Capitalizing on the enormous commercial success of Alien in 1979, and the critical acclaim afforded to Blade Runner in 1982, director Ridley Scott left the world of hard science fiction for his next film, Legend, which instead embraced the mystical world of high fantasy. A sylvan story of elves and goblins, unicorns and fairies, princesses and demons, Legend was a hugely ambitious exploration of northern European folk tales and myths, woven together by screenwriter William Hjortsberg. The film starred Tom Cruise as Jack, a forest-dwelling young boy who is chastely in love with a young princess, Lili, played by Mia Sara. Together they explore their beautiful woodland home, but all is not well in the world; the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) has sensed the presence of two unicorns in the forest, and sent three of his goblin minions to kill them and steal their horns. Circumstances result in Lili inadvertently leading the goblins to the unicorns, and when their horns are stolen, the world is plunged into a dark, wintry nightmare from which there appears to be no return – but Jack has other ideas, and resolves to infiltrate the evil palace where Darkness resides and restore the world to its former glory.

With its simple story and narrowly-focused screenplay, Legend relies almost entirely on its visual majesty to weave its spell. The first half of the film is a wondrous celebration of enchanted storybook imagery, full of sun-dappled glades and wild flowers, before being overtaken in the film’s second half by horrific imagery from your darkest nightmares – slimy, grotesque, filth-ridden, all presided over by the astonishing Tim Curry, resplendent in red body paint, and enormous black horns, in one of the defining roles of his career. The whole thing is almost like a filmed dream, reveling in its captivating style; and contributing enormously to the overall feel of the film is Jerry Goldsmith’s astonishing score, one of the best he ever wrote in his long and glittering career.

Goldsmith worked with Scott on Alien, but did not have the best of times on the project, and ultimately saw a great deal of his score re-purposed, or removed entirely in favor of classical music and selections from the temp track. It took six years for Scott and Goldsmith to reconnect, but their collaboration on Legend proved fruitful for both men. Responding to the film’s narrative themes and powerful dramatic potential, Goldsmith wrote a true masterpiece; a lush, theme-filled showstopper that blends rigorously classical orchestral techniques with elements of folk music, as well as some quite jarringly modern electronic textures that were remarkably sophisticated for their time.

Unlike many fantasy scores, Legend does not adopt a strict Wagnerian leitmotif architecture built around recurring thematic ideas; instead, Goldsmith concentrates on a series of instrumental textures and motifs to depict certain ideas and concepts, and uses them as part of the fabric of a dozen or so different set pieces. The orchestral parts are lushly romantic, highly expressive, drawing from the rich tradition of European symphonic music, but suffused with compositional ideas that are drawn from later, more modern impressionist writing. The only real central theme comes from a song, “My True Love’s Eyes,” written by Goldsmith and lyricist John Bettis, and which is performed on-screen by actress Mia Sara. The song’s melody is the epitome of the ‘light’ side, extolling love, respect for nature, calmness, and peace, and its semi-regular performances remind the listener of what is at stake at the end of the adventure. These expressive orchestral tones are often accompanied by angelic choral vocalizations and shimmering, ethereal electronic textures, enhancing the sense of magic and wonderment.

Counterbalancing the light are, naturally, the forces of Darkness, whose music tends to inhabit a more aggressive, electronic world. Darkness’s three goblin minions – Blix, Pox, and Blunder – are accompanied by shrieking, dripping, sludgy synthesizer tones, which mercilessly cut through the pretty orchestral lines, leaving a gelatinous stain across the beauty. This juxtaposition is highlighted perfectly by the score’s opening cue, “Main Title/The Goblins,” in which the two styles of music compete with one another, setting the scene, and the recurring concept of light versus darkness, which continues throughout the rest of the score. Meanwhile, Darkness himself has a monstrous, oppressive theme, but it doesn’t really assert itself until the score’s finale, receiving its most powerful statements during “Darkness Falls”.

The performance of the main theme in “My True Love’s Eyes/The Cottage” is sumptuous, but again it is regularly interrupted by the dangerous-sounding electronics. Goldsmith’s mastery of his orchestra has never been more evident than in this score, as in cue after cue he presents sublime instrumental combinations and performance techniques. The blending of lilting woodwinds and strings in “The Cottage” is gorgeous, pastoral and inviting, while the elegant, expressive flute lines in “The Unicorns” have the fluttery energy of hummingbird’s wings.

“The Unicorns” also introduces two new secondary themes; firstly, a heroic brass fanfare motif for Tom Cruise’s character Jack that gets a larger workout later in the score, and secondly a majestic theme augmented by chorus which captures the mythic beauty and grandeur of the noble creatures at the center of the story. The competitive contrapuntal relationship between the main theme and the goblin motif continues into “Living River/Bumps & Hollow/The Freeze,” which has an utterly gorgeous central melodic section, while later the wondrous “Forgive Me” shifts dexterously from angry, tormented brass writing to poignant, delicate woodwind phrases, effortlessly jumping between Jack’s theme and the Unicorn theme.

The action music is wonderfully complex and thrilling, with parts of “Living River,” “The Freeze,” “Forgive Me,” “The Armour,” and “Oona,” standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most exciting sequences of Goldsmith’s career. In these cues the percussion and brass sections tend to take center stage, and the tempo increases rapidly, while most notably “The Armour” sees the emergence of Jack’s theme for a rousing battery of French horns. “The Freeze” is also remarkable for the way it uses the electronics to mimic ice and howling winds, while chanted Latin choral phrases herald the onset of doom. Stylistically, the action music has some similarities with scores such as The Wind and the Lion, Poltergeist, and The Final Conflict, and foreshadows things like Basic Instinct, The Shadow, and First Knight; in many ways, Legend is a prototype for many of the great action sequences Goldsmith created during the subsequent decade.

The folk music elements enter the score through the song “Sing the Wee,” which also features lyrics by Bettis, and is intended to convey a part of the film’s dwarf and fairy culture. The harmonics in “Sing the Wee,” with its much-maligned ‘ringle-rangle’ lyric, have the earthy tones of a Welsh male voice choir, and the song melody eventually becomes something of a recurring idea to represent the fairies who accompany heroic Jack on his quest. It appears first in “The Faeries/The Riddle,” and returns later in “Oona,” where the melody is picked up by bassoons, and the rhythmic line by col legno strings. There is also a dance sequence, “Faerie Dance,” which was cut from the final version of the film, but has a danse macabre virtuoso fiddle performance as its core element, courtesy of the mischievous sprite Honeythorn Gump.

The film’s conclusive conflict is captured by the cues “The Dress Waltz” and “Darkness Falls,” where the forces of light and darkness come together in a musical battle for supremacy. The seductive corruption of Darkness’s power is conveyed by a hypnotic waltz in the former cue, a virtuoso string-and-woodwind performance augmented by choir, that sounds like it was written by Maurice Ravel’s evil twin brother, and which grows in frenzied intensity as it develops, starting out playfully, but ending with a genuine ferociousness. “Darkness Falls” is a showstopping powerhouse of energy and gravitas, with Jack’s heroic theme and Darkness’s malevolent musical identity competing in a musical mêlée of epic proportions. The brass and choral writing in this cue, as well as the elaborate rhythmic ideas, are especially splendid.

Order is restored in the elaborate and expressive “The Ring” – listen for the return of the three-note electronic texture from “The Freeze,” played in reverse as the effects of the spell are undone – and in the utterly stunning finale, “Re-United,” which reprises the film’s main themes in their most sumptuous settings yet, including a performance of “My True Love’s Eyes” which stands as one of the most beautiful melodies Goldsmith ever penned.

However, despite the obvious genius of Goldsmith’s score, and its acclaim upon the film’s European release in the fall of 1985, yet again he faced the ignominy of having his entire score rejected prior to its North American premiere in April 1986. After a disappointing test screening, and against the wishes of director Scott, Sidney Sheinberg, the then-president of Universal Pictures, demanded cuts to the film’s narrative, and threw out Goldsmith’s score, which he felt would not appeal to the youth of America. He quickly commissioned the German electronic rock band Tangerine Dream to complete a new, more contemporary score for the new cut of the film – a job they completed in three weeks – and for years this was the only version of the film American audiences could see. Goldsmith was understandably bitter about the whole affair; he and Scott never worked together again.

To say that Tangerine Dream’s score was inferior is an understatement of staggering proportions; the three members of the band – Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke, and Johannes Schmoelling – had contributed music to several iconic films prior to Legend, including Risky Business, Firestarter, Thief, and Sorcerer, but they never indicated that they had the musical sophistication necessary to score a film like this, and this was confirmed in the final version of their score. I was going to go into detail about it here but, truthfully, it’s so awful, so inappropriate, so lacking in compositional depth and dramatic insight, that I couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm. Needless to say, the soundtrack album contains just under half an hour of aimless electronic noodling, plinking and plonking, droning and wailing, with nary a theme worth mentioning, all padded out by two laughably dated 80s soft-rock ballads: “Is Your Love Strong Enough?” by Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music, and “Loved By the Sun” by Jon Anderson of Yes. Quite how anyone, let alone the head of a major film studio, could consider this score more appropriate for the film than Jerry Goldsmith’s stylish masterpiece absolutely boggles my mind. Just don’t even bother listening to it. It’s that bad.

Even by his own immensely high standards, Legend remains one of Jerry Goldsmith’s towering achievements, and it’s shocking to think how badly he, his score, and the film was treated. The complexity and depth of the orchestral writing is deeply impressive, while the array of electronic effects and motifs stands as the career high point of his experiments with those types of sounds. Goldsmith understood what the film was actually about; it’s not a film which is about ‘appealing to kids’, but is instead an exploration of a mythology that is millennia old, steeped in the folk traditions of ancient cultures, who used these stories as allegories for right and wrong, darkness and light. Goldsmith’s score has been released on CD twice – initially by Silva Screen in 1992, then re-released in 2002 with re-mastered sound, new artwork, and extensive liner notes. Whichever copy you pick up, it’s an absolutely essential part of any serious film music fan’s collection.

Buy the Legend soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title/The Goblins (5:45)
  • My True Love’s Eyes/The Cottage (5:04)
  • The Unicorns (7:53)
  • Living River/Bumps & Hollow/The Freeze (7:21)
  • The Fairies/The Riddle (4:52)
  • Sing the Wee (1:07)
  • Forgive Me (5:13)
  • Faerie Dance (1:51)
  • The Armour (2:16)
  • Oona/The Jewels (6:40)
  • The Dress Waltz (2:47)
  • Darkness Fails (7:27)
  • The Ring (6:28)
  • Re-United (6:06)
  • Is Your Love Strong Enough? (written and performed by Bryan Ferry) (5:12)
  • Opening (2:53)
  • Cottage (3:21)
  • Unicorn Theme (3:23)
  • Goblins (3:01)
  • Fairies (2:57)
  • Loved By the Sun (written by Jon Anderson, Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke and Johannes Schmoelling, performed by Jon Anderson) (5:56)
  • Blue Room (3:23)
  • The Dance (2:24)
  • Darkness (3:04)
  • The Kitchen/Unicorn Theme Reprise (4:52)

Running Time: 70 minutes 45 seconds – Goldsmith score
Running Time: 40 minutes 30 seconds – Tangerine Dream score

Silva Screen SSD-1138 (1985/2002) – Goldsmith score
MCA Records MCAM-6165 (1986/1995) – Tangerine Dream score

GOLDSMITH SCORE: Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Performed by The National Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Mike Ross-Trevor. Edited by Alan Killick. Album produced by Jerry Goldsmith and James Fitzpatrick.

TANGERINE DREAM SCORE: Music composed by Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke and Johannes Schmoelling. Performed by Tangerine Dream. Additional music by Eric Allaman. Recorded and mixed by Tangerine Dream. Album produced by Tangerine Dream and Robert Townson.

  1. Leo
    April 21, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    You wrote in your review for Ladyhawk that even if the score did not fit the movie at all, it was still a nice listening experience. Perhaps this is the same case here. I heard “The Dance” and “Cottage”, and they’re pretty nice so far.

  2. Brendon Kelly
    April 23, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Great review! But I think you mean the National Philharmonic Orchestra!

  3. Robert
    March 6, 2023 at 4:13 am

    I couldn’t disagree more. Tangerine Dream’s score is as perfect as one could imagine. Ethereal, playful, and brooding, the score makes the movie. I’ve watched the Goldsmith version, and it’s good musically, but not as perfect as TD’s.

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