19 January, 2008

Legend and Fantasy

I got the Ultimate Edition of Legend on DVD for Christmas, which includes the original US theatrical release version as well as a Director's Cut version with the original score. If you're unaware, there were two scores cut for this film. Originally, Jerry Goldsmith composed a classical score for the film, which, from what I've seen, is widely considered the better score (certainly the director thinks so). But director Ridley Scott, from what I can tell from the Making Of featurette, got paranoid and decided to create a more "rock", or perhaps "pop", score for the American release, because he thought it would be more accepted than the classical score. So he hired Tangerine Dream to totally re-score the American version of the film, which also featured a few cuts and other variations. So there was the American version with the Tangerine Dream score, and the UK/International version with the Jerry Goldsmith score. And now that I have the DVD, I get the chance to watch the film with the original classical score for the first time (in a Director's Cut which features even more material not originally shown in either version, I believe).

Well, here's the rub. The version with the Tangerine Dream score consistently put me in tears, while I can hardly get myself to continue watching the version with the classical score.

I was thinking to myself, watching it yesterday (with the TD score), wondering what it was about this movie that makes it so unique among other fantasy films. Something about it that makes it so much more magical and ethereal than any other fantasy film I've seen. Well, now I know what the primary factor contributing to that atmosphere is - it's the score. Tangerine Dream's score is so unlike the music you hear in most movies, particularly in fantasy movies, and it fits the theme of the movie so well. In contrast, the classical score is so dull and contrived. You can hear the different themes and the way it switches from good to evil when the screen focuses on the heroes and villains, and how it gets louder and jumps at you during action sequences and all of that. How incredibly boring. It's like every other film I've ever seen with a classical score. Classical music does not make the film more fantasy-like, by giving it some old-world atmosphere or whatever. It might seem like a contradiction, but an electronic band in the 80's has managed to create a soundtrack infinitely more magical and fantastic than any classical music that could ever be composed. Fantasy is about imagination, isn't it? I want to hear music that's different and unique, and Tangerine Dream has provided that.

The bottom line is this: with the Tangerine Dream score, Legend is one of the most imaginative and unique fantasy films ever created; with the classical score, it's just another fantasy tale in a long line of more or less interesting titles. To think, the TD score was merely an afterthought that might never have come to be...

On a related note, I came to a realization about the lure of fantasy. What I realized, was that the true magic of fantasy comes from the way that everything is so polarized - particularly between good and evil. By creating a pure good and a pure evil, and pitting them against each other, you eliminate the troubling circumstantial judgements of the real world. You can get behind one side, and not feel any guilt when the hero defeats the villain once and for all. You can also feed your desires for a world where purity exists - pure good, pure innocence, pure joy. Even though it is at the expense of conceding the existence of pure evil, that evil can always be fought off, and the pure good can be enjoyed without the taint of doubt that exists in real life.

Another thing that's so alluring about fantasy is the way that a normal person - a simple commoner - can become a hero and save the world. Sometimes the hero has a special gift, but he often becomes aware of it by surprise - fueling the notion that any normal person could suddenly discover that they have the blood of kings running through their veins, or something like that. So however lame and disappointing your real life is, for a moment, while indulging in this fantasy world, you can imagine that even you could be a hero. And not only that, but the world of fantasy is filled with a magic that makes it far more interesting, and potentially a lot more fun, than the real world.

Fantasy is the realm of dreams.


  1. Gotta love the good vs evil.

    I personally tend to find classical scores in general archaic. I mean, there are some good ones, like LOTR. But some people say things like "LOTR needs to have a classical score because a rock score would be totally out of place in a movie about a pre-history without rock bands." But... how would it be more out of place than a classical score? I don't recall any orchestras following Frodo around. I don't recall Middle Earth having any symphonies, if you want to be legit then the soundtrack should be a capella Elven instrumentals.

    Anyway, it all ties into my cultural bias against classical music. It feels inhumane to me. 'Course, metal did too at one point.

  2. I've never been terribly fond of fantasy, despite all the D&D I played in college; every once in a while there's something that catches my attention, but I prefer my entertainment futuristic and alien rather than more closely resembling history and myth, if we're going the escapist route.

    Tangerine Dream, though...always a good choice.

  3. Ah, the sci-fi approach. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it can get a little out there for me, but I particularly like the sci-fi stories that dare to pose the hard questions about humanity, existence, and technology.