by Ziggy Merritt
The fantasy film genre in the 1980s was awash with glitter, wooden dialogue, garish prosthetics, and the occasional bit of stop-motion animation. The film Legend, a cult classic from director Ridley Scott, was no stranger to the staples of the genre but overcame some of these limitations by virtue of a particular soundtrack by ambient pioneers, Tangerine Dream.
It’s strange then that this soundtrack was originally never meant to be. The theatrical debut of Legend in the UK instead featured an original score by Jerry Goldsmith. By way of allegedly disappointing test screenings in the US due in part to that same score, Scott was motivated to contract Tangerine Dream to rescore the film in its entirety with a more contemporary vibe. After all, the band had seen a string of success in the soundtrack business having recently come off scoring films such as Sorcerer, Firestarter, and most famously Risky Business. Listening to it now, the once contemporary soundtrack has aged well into our retro-inspired culture. At times there’s a touch of an electronically rendered Symphonie Fantastique, where in others that same classically inspired approach blends well with a medieval quality rarely heard outside of cartridge-based RPGs.
The one misstep within the soundtrack is the odd inclusion of a little known Bryan Ferry piece, “Is Your Love Strong Enough.” Featuring a guitar track by David Gilmour and Ferry’s distinct pop rock sound it might have made a fine inclusion on his 1985 album, Boys and Girls. Instead here it smashes into the mythic quality Tangerine Dream has cultivated throughout the album.
Fittingly that single odd inclusion is relegated to the end credits within the film and the opening track on the album itself. Once it’s gone there’s scarcely a moment that follows where you remember that Ferry contributed anything to this release. On its own merits the soundtrack album is at once serene and filled with tension. “Goblins” and “Fairies” provide ample samplings of both while giving off an atmosphere of malice and trickery with medieval-inspired instrumentation. The same can be said of the more well-known contribution to this soundtrack, the “Unicorn Theme.” Occasionally played live during Tangerine Dream’s past performances, there is a certain undefinable quality to this track that ties in well to the film’s title. Whether it’s the uplifting and ethereal synths, the airy flute melodies, or perhaps the unsettling percussion toward the end, something about the theme just sounds like a legend in the making.
A number of remixed versions of this theme are present throughout both the film and the album with the best of them being a lyrical version sung by Yes’ own Jon Anderson. The track, “Loved By the Sun” does well in overindulging Anderson’s often gratuitously epic songwriting: “Only lighting strikes all that’s evil/Teaching us to love for goodness sake/Hear the music of love eternal/Teaching us to reach for goodness sake.” It feels hokey at times, gushingly so even, but given that Scott himself had just three weeks to get together an entirely new score there’s something, dare I say, legendary about the soundtrack itself even if it’s only to put a knowingly nostalgic smile on your face.