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Lord of Darkness

Movie Maniacs
by Poe Ghostal

...in madness lies the soul of all that's noble....can you fathom the loneliness of untold eons lived in darkness? My spirit was forged in that black fire....
--Darkness from Legend

It is the unique privilege of fantasy - be it ancient mythology, medieval romance, "classic" fantasy or modern fantasy fiction - to portray evil in broad strokes; to break the world down into black and white, us versus them. Evil is often personified in a single entity: Satan in numerous works (from Dante's Inferno to Spenser's The Faerie Queen), Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, and even the Emperor in the Star Wars mythos are examples of this process. Defeating or slaying these entities will end the power of evil in the world, at least temporarily. (Even those in non-artistic spheres sometimes try to personify evil).

While human civilization has become too complex for such simplistic worldviews, that same complexity is part of what draws modern audiences to such texts. To believe that evil can be seen and touched and slain - making everything better instantly - is very tempting. But the best works of fantasy, while often personifying evil, also reveal how evil seduces the righteous and leaks out from its source to corrupt those who may not subscribe to its fluttering banner. One need only point to the corruption of Dr. Faustus or Boromir's seduction by the One Ring to see how much gray there can be between the forces of black and white, light and darkness.

But I digress. In this, the fifth Movie Maniacs series, McFarlane Toys has finally made the fan-favorite Darkness (whom they call "Lord of Darkness," probably because "Darkness" alone looks odd). I admit I'm a little surprised to see such an obscure character from an '80s bomb. Either the folks McFarlane really try to please their fans, or they're scraping the bottom of the barrel for new Maniacs. [little from Column A, little from Column B --ed.] Obscurity aside, McFarlane's designers and sculptors have treated this figure as lovingly as some of their previous, higher-profile Maniacs like Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger.

Legend, Ridley Scott's 1985 fantasy film, is an ambitious but flawed attempt to portray the struggle between Good and Evil in broad allegorical terms. The film depicts the struggle between Darkness, a horned demon played by Tim Curry, and the forces of "light," represented by unicorns - as well as the elfin Jack (Tom Cruise) and the angelic Princess Lili (Mia Sara). Evil is personified in the satanic Darkness, whose red skin, massive horns, donkey-like ears, and cloven feet track the lineage of demonic representation from satyr to Satan.

The toy's sculpt is excellent. While the designers at McFarlane strive for realism in many of their current efforts, it's in the Movie Maniacs line that their talent for verisimilitude really shines. While they've had their misses, most of their likenesses have been hits. Darkness is no exception. The sculptors have so perfectly captured the film's Darkness that one can almost detect a hint of Curry in that demonic visage. The rest of the figure, from the folds of his robe to the fur on his hooves, exhibit the same attention to detail.

The paint applications are excellent as well. The work on the red skin is especially good, where a thin dark wash creates just the right look. The figure is in the 7" scale, just like the other Movie Maniacs. One minor nitpick: the movie Darkness has yellow eyes, while the figure's are white. However, that photo is from the presskit, and since I don't have the Legend DVD I don't know if the eyes are indeed yellow or not.

The film suffers from many problems; but the primarily fault may lie in the lack of a cohesive vision. The filmmakers couldn't decide whether they were making an adventure film, a dreamy new-age fantasy, or a commentary on the nature of fantasy and the human desires it plays on. But the implication is that this was an attempt to bring so-called high fantasy to cinema. If so, they missed a major point: in high fantasy evil, though often personified, is portrayed indirectly, usually in the way it affects the heroes. In Legend Darkness is a central character, if not perhaps the most important character. He is certainly the most interesting, both visually and textually. He is intelligent, powerful, ambitious, and even tragic, for he longs for Lili to love him. But Legend is not his story.

The figure's articulation is a mixed bag. For a figure line traditionally lacking in this department, Darkness's many balljoints - at the shoulders, wrists and hips - are impressive. But their range of motion is restricted by the heavy cape, which locks him into that "Alas, poor Yorick" pose, contemplating (or exulting in) the unicorn horn. The left arm is especially limited, and it took a lot of work just to move the shoulder joint. The odd swivel/balljoint combo on the hooves is a little more functional, but you still won't be able to get Darkness into a pose with both hooves back, as you might think a satyr should stand. If you put the left leg forward he will balance fairly well, though a stand would probably be a good idea. Finally, those giant horns are are articulated, too. I'm not sure why, but I'd guess it has to do with getting him to fit correctly in the package, to combat potential bending; or it may also have to do with getting the head out of the mold.

This is Hollywood: the forces of Good (and Tom Cruise) must have the most screen time. Thus, the most sympathetic character is shortchanged. Yet even the film's original title - Legend of Darkness - hinted that screenwriter William Hjortsberg was, as Blake said of Milton, "of the Devil's part," meaning he found Darkness more interesting than Jack or Lili, as Milton found Satan more interesting than Jesus and Dante found Hell more fun to describe than Heaven. The rule is simple: if evil is personified in a work of fantasy, he or she must either be far in the background or must be given at least equal characterization to the protagonist, for Evil's motivations will always be murkier (and generally more intriguing).

Darkness's accessories are few. He comes with the unicorn horn, which fits in his left hand, and the giant sword, which fits in his right. The unicorn horn isn't much to look at, but it's a necessary inclusion. The sword is cooler; it's one of the most realistic swords we've seen from McFarlane Toys. This could be because it's based on a sword from the film, though I can't recall Darkness wielding one in it (but if the figure includes one, he must have). Of course, there's also the usual Movie Maniacs marquee and poster. They've shrunk these down, which is good; they're a waste of plastic, so the less the better. But for those who do like them, watch out when you open the figure. The poster is taped to the back of the bubble, and I scratched mine a bit pulling it off.

On the insistence (read: constant nagging) of my esteemed colleague Mr. yo, I did a little research into the poster that comes with the figure. It seems this is no less than a modified version of the international poster. The original American poster looked like this. The international poster is the one used for the new DVD's cover (probably because it's a more interesting poster), just like the marquee. But the marquee poster doesn't have the picture of Tom Cruise and Mia Sara in the crystal ball. This is almost certainly due to a licensing issue - Curry signed off on his likeness, but perhaps Cruise and Sara didn't (or more likely, McFarlane didn't seek them) and so they don't appear anywhere on the figure or its accessories. (Personally, I like the Fantasia/"Night on Bald Mountain"-style of the original poster.)

Plot flaws aside, Legend is most memorable for Curry's performance as Darkness. Even with an artificially-deepened voice and enough makeup to choke Ron Perlman, you can still tell it's Tim - the cadences of his voice and the sensuous lips give him away (is there any other major male actor who can be so accurately described as "sensuous?"). While the film may have tanked, Curry's performance could have jump-started his career... but no. He went from Legend to this, just a year later. Ugh. Does the phrase "anything for a paycheck" sound familiar, Tim? Or perhaps "anything for my next hit of cocaine"? Ah, the '80s - when coke was king.

Overall, Darkness (or Lord of Darkness) is an excellent entry into the Movie Maniacs line. It's good to see McFarlane giving such obscure characters and fan favorites the royal treatment. And as allegorical representations of evil go, very few can beat this one. It's Tim Curry's most terrifying role... after It and this one.

-- 10/05/02


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