Saturday Review: Ladyhawke

Leprechaun films are in short supply, so we’re reviewing instead another kind of film about magic. It also features swords, a trickster, an evil bishop, and (possibly) the worst film soundtrack of all time.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Director: Richard Donner.

Writors: Edward Khmara, Tom Mackiewicz, et al.

Cast:

Matthew Broderick as Philipe “the Mouse” Gaston
Rutger Hauer as Etienne Navarre
Michelle Pfeiffer as Isabeau D’Anjou
Leo McKern as Father Imperius
John Wood as The Bishop of Aquila
Ken Hutchison as Marquet
Alfred Molina as Cezar

Available here.

Premise:

An escaped thief stumbles across a pair of lovers who have fallen under an evil curse, and must help them in order to redeem himself.

High Point:

The interplay among the leads makes this movie work as well as it does. Broderick plays the “Mouse” as an endearing trickster, and the cast sell the film’s cheesy trappings.

Low Point:

1. It’s possible that the Andrew Powell/Alan Parsons 80s soundtrack might have sounded like a cool idea at the time, but it’s the most dated thing about the film, and hideously out of place. Some critics have called it the worst film soundtrack of all time. I’m not certain I could refute the claim.

2. The film’s ending drags, and the overwrought “Isabeau! I love you!” curdles the cheese a little too much.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6. Khmara played no small part in pressuring the studio to finally remove the advertising lines that implied the story was adapted from a medieval legend, but that legend persists. Ladyhawke tells an original story. However, it echoes several mythic traditions, and the character types should be familiar to anyone versed in heroic tales.

Story: 4/6 The story holds up as unabashed heroic romance. Most viewers will see the twists coming well in advance, but the film features enough suspense, swordplay, and narrow escapes to keep the audience’s interest.

Effects: 3/6 The effects have been kept simple. Even at the time they seemed dated.

Acting. 5/6 The leads, which include early performances by Broderick and Pfeiffer, make the film memorable.

Production: 5/6. The shooting, mostly on location in Italy, looks great. Some problems occur with the critical day/night transitions. It is very bright in Imperius’s ruined castle, for example, before the sun actually rises.

Emotional Response: 5/6 You have to be in a frame of mind to meet the film on its own terms. This is trying to be heroic romance of a sort that had fallen out of fashion by 1985. Magic is real. Navarre is ridiculously skilled with his sword (and any other convenient weapon). If our heroes’ personalities contain moral ambiguities, the key villains are really evil. I’ll let you decide whether to bet on Good or Evil winning out in the final round.

Overall: 5/6 Y’know, in a world plagued by dubious leaders, dark heroes, and despicable pop celebrities, it can be good to see a fantasy film like this one.

Ladyhawke receives a total score of 31/42

4 replies on “Saturday Review: Ladyhawke”

  1. Jethro says:

    Soundtrack
    I completely agree about that. In fact, I agree about just about all the rest, too, but the soundtrack is a pet peeve of mine.

    That’s exactly why I can’t watch Labyrinth anymore, either. You make a fantasy movie, USE CLASSICAL MUSIC for the soundtrack. It might seem cool to use ‘current’ music by current hit musicians, and it might help sales in the short term, but even a couple of years later your movie just sounds stupid. Gah.

    • maxquordlepleen says:

      Re: Soundtrack

      That’s exactly why I can’t watch Labyrinth anymore, either. You make a fantasy movie, USE CLASSICAL MUSIC for the soundtrack.

      I must respectfully disagree on "Labyrinth". That film is first and foremost a children’s movie. Children’s movies very often have contemporary soundtracks and lots of musical numbers. From my perspective, "Labyrinth" has a lot in common, structurally, with "The Wizard of Oz", or a Disney animated feature. Those films generally have contemporary pop music soundtracks as well.

      My oldest daughter still loves the songs from "Labyrinth", even as an 18 year old. But I can completely understand why a male adult who likes fantasy and science fiction might feel like musical numbers are an interruption in a movie.

    • vanyel says:

      Re: Soundtrack
      The soundtrack was always the part I hated about the movie, with the "Isabeau" line being a distant second. Otherwise, I loved the movie though — a classic romantic tale with a great comic sidekick.

      I don’t agree it needed to be classical music, though that would probably be the best choice. I thought A Knight’s Tale did fine with Queen in it (though I don’t remember anything else about the music, it might be classical for all I remember at the moment). Alan Parsons just clashes with the tone of the movie though.

  2. Fozzy_Bear says:

    My High point:
    My High point:

    "I speak to the Lord all the time, and no offence Sir, but He never mentioned you."

    And I fully agree; the performances really were top notch.

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