Essays, Games

The “Legend” of Zelda: What There is to Learn From Link’s 80s Movie

Did everyone already know this? Was I that last Zelda fan to discover that there is basically a Legend of Zelda movie? Legend, directed by Ridley Scott, staring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, and Tim Curry, debuted in the UK in 1985. It is a vision quest into the heart of the Kokiri Forest, complete with tiny, annoying fairy. Every movie adaptation of a video game should learn from this, and vice versa.

SPOILER WARNING: For a movie that came out in 1985.

Cruise from Ridley Scott's Legend and Link from Nintendo's Ocarina of Time

They’re about the same height too.

The Google description of Legend, with my notes in brackets: “A magical adventure [quest] which features elves [Kokiri], demons and other mythical creatures. Darkness, the personification of evil [or Ganondorf], plans to disperse eternal night in the land [Hyrule] where this story takes place, by killing every unicorn in the world [by manipulating the pure power of the Triforce]. Although he looks unbeatable, Jack [Link] and his friends [Navi, amongst others] are disposed to do everything to save the world and princess Lili [Zelda] (who Darkness intends to make his wife) from the hands of this evil monster.”

I won’t go into every detail about the parallel; Mike Damiani has listed most of the similarities on his site The Hylia. Something that Damiani doesn’t mention, but which struck me during the film, is the way they vanquish Ganon-I mean, the Darkness/Tim Curry. The heroes set up a series of reflective plates to shine sunlight onto the Big Bad because light=goodness. What a familiar idea. Oh! Like in Link to the Past when you bomb the floor to let light in and reveal the evil creature hiding inside of the old woman? Interesting.

Everyone’s favorite fairy to hate even makes an appearance, but pulls a Tinkerbell-from-Hook move that made me uncomfortable when I thought about Navi. Jack is not as alone as Link is, Cruise’s character has a Kokiri-esque sidekick named Gump, along with some less effective gnome creatures, but Jack, like every hero, must make the most important decisions on his own. Gump also acts as a kind of narrator, because Jack is very quiet, hmm… like another character I know.

In addition to the above comparisons, I will point you to the soundtrack:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfOWehvvuo0]

Tangerine Dream could definitely score a Zelda game or two.

I will say this: At first I was not convinced that Lili could even be the slightest inspiration for Zelda. Lili is a naughty royal who avoids being a lady by hanging out with the commoners. She plays tricks on people and does things she’s explicitly told not to do (like pet the unicorn and thus destroying the balance of nature). However, by the end of the movie I was ready to believe: she transforms from a spoiled brat to a true hero. Zelda has always been one of my favorite characters because of her cunning and kindness, and Lili’s character embodies these traits a bit by the end.

So, what can be learned from this translation between movie and game? A lot, really. One of the major problems with video games based on movies is that they go too literal. Part of the reason I think I’ve never heard of Legend before and the reason people don’t commonly accept it as the major influencing force of Zelda is the subtlety of the adaptation. Too many games try to make each scene of the movie into a level of the game, but we already watched that action, we want something new.

Let us enter the era of the “movie-influenced” games, and move away from straight adaptations. Let your creative teams be creative, let your games tell more of the story instead of the same story over again. With Mad Max’s video game just around the corner, this is something I hope is in everyone’s mind.

And, if nothing else, everyone should watch Tim Curry playing the best screen-Devil ever.

  1. Brenda Noiseux

    June 19, 2015 at 8:05 am

    I had no idea and I’m a huge fan of this movie. I agree with you; I’d like to see more inspired by movie-to-game translations.

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