Ladyhawke [retro review]

“This is not unlike escaping my mother’s womb. God, what a memory.”

The Scoop: 1985 PG-13, directed by Richard Donner and starring Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, and Michelle Pfeiffer

Tagline: CURSED FOR ETERNITY…No force in Heaven will release them. No power on Earth can save them.

Summary Capsule: She’s a hawk by day, he’s a wolf by night, and I’m slightly nauseous all the time.

Justin’s Rating: The ironic thing is, if I tell people I have a thing for a French poodle, I’m the one who gets locked up!

Justin’s Review: During a certain era (say, 1985-1993), Ladyhawke became one of those die hard love affair movies that some girls — and we all were friends with at least one of them — would watch, quote and dream about non-stop. I, too, had a few lady friends enraptured by the very notion of this sappy love story that was reckless enough to put an “E” on the end of “hawk”; these were the same girls who would decorate their bedrooms in Late Post-Modern Unicorn and play that mall shopping board game where you use a pretend credit card to buy pretend objects. A daily viewing of Ladyhawke was a staple of their lives, which was bad enough, but I’ve rarely met more fervent people when it came to trying to convert people into the Church of the Hawke, as if a mere viewing of this extraordinary work would be enough to pave your life in happiness and flowers forever after.

I’d escaped many of these proposed viewings by coming up with creative excuses (including: sudden vomiting, an itching burning sensation between my toes, and Wrestlemania), but seeing as how we’re long past the era of the Hawke, I thought it might be safe to reexamine this classic slice of Hawkarama.

Let me set you straight right away — if it were not for the presence of a very young Matthew Broderick who spends most of the film muttering a conversation with God, this film would be irredeemable trash. This is pulp romance of the stupid order, where the whole notion of the plot setup is supposed to be romantic enough to cover for the fact that neither of the romantic leads are charismatic, interesting or sharing screen time for the most part. It does, however, make for excellent MST3K material, considering how the movie is festooned with long, looooong pauses.

Prepare to have your heart swoon! You see, in a nondescript medieval country, there’s this guy, Navarre (Rutger Hauer), who’s in love with a girl, Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer). Isabeau is pronounced “Isa-boooo”, and sounds best if you say it as if talking to a very small baby. However, their love is DOOMED because an evil bishop (John Wood) loves her too, and thus makes an unseen pact with Satan to separate the two forever — by day, Isabeau is transformed into a hawk(e), and by night, Navarre becomes a wolf(e). Always together, always apart, blah de blah blah. Let’s be honest: Satan’s had more evil days.

So while the story has a semi-tragic angle to it, which, in practical terms, means that we’re in for two hours of stoic brooding. This is just as fun to watch as you might imagine. Loads of “Oh, woe is me and my plight!” and sad looks at the sunrise/sunset. Navarre isn’t getting his sugar, so it makes him extra crabby toward newfound sidekick Phillipe (Broderick), who in turn is crabby because this entire fantasy world consists of one castle, one barn and a few unmowed fields. Isabeau does an admirable job looking like a young Michelle Pfeiffer, but other than that she’s a void walking around proclaiming her uselessness.

Although this film is PG-13, for the life of me I can’t imagine why. The battle scenes, such as they are, are as tame and tepid as stage fights between high school thespians. Navarre isn’t so much of a badass as he is the only semi-capable guy in a world full of buffoons.

And get me not started on the music! I will do that myself! Although The Princess Bride pulled it off, Ladyhawke made a horrible decision of scoring the film in full-blown synth electronica, which is far more reminiscent of an ESPN special report than a fantasy love tale. Andrew Powell of The Alan Parsons Project — a project doomed to failure from the get-go — was in charge of this audio abomination.

Up through the overlong end confrontation, Ladyhawke is completely ignorant of what makes a love story interesting and a movie compelling enough to keep my sarcasm at bay. I’m still at a loss why this became the shrine for many young teenage hearts, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Well, this does make kissing awkward. But not impossible!

Intermission!

  • Phillipe and the monk kissing and holding hands at the end… hur?
  • And are the two lovebirds having sex at the end in the church?
  • The waving monk at the end… he just keeps waving for no reason
  • Richard Donner originally wanted to cast Rutger Hauer as the evil captain of the guard while casting a younger actor, Kurt Russell, as Navarre. Rutger wasn’t interested in his offered role, but expressed interest in playing Navarre. When Russell dropped out a few days before principle photography began, the part was handed to Hauer.
  • Warner falsely marketed the movie as being based on a true medieval legend. Edward Khmara took the issue to the Writers Guild Association and was awarded a cash settlement from Warner, but the medieval legend claim wasn’t dropped.
  • In one scene, Navarre tells Philippe to ride his horse to Imperius’ castle and slaps the horse’s rear to make it ride. However, the first time the scene was filmed, Rutger Hauer (Navarre) slapped the horse too hard and it rode over the hill and into the horizon. The horse was too powerful for Matthew Broderick to stop and so all everyone could do was sit and wait for him to come back.

Groovy Quotes

Phillipe: [talking to God] I told the truth, Lord. How can I learn any moral lessons when you keep confusing me this way?

Phillipe: [escaping from the dungeon] This is not unlike escaping my mother’s womb. God, what a memory.

Phillipe: Are you flesh, or are you spirit?
Isabeau: I am sorrow.

Navarre: Do you know that hawks and wolves mate for life? The Bishop didn’t even leave us that… not even that.

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3 Comments

  1. I was especially annoyed that they used an evil bishop who was in league with the devil and practicing black magic. They had to insult the Catholic Church? They couldn’t come up with an evil wizard or sorceress or something?

  2. Seems to me like a fair assessment of the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, this is not the only review I’ve read where the reviewer admits that lots of folks love this movie — but they’re silly airheaded girls, so their opinion doesn’t count. I’m a reasonably intelligent middle-aged man, and I say their opinion counts — this is an emotionally resonant fairy tale, and a fine movie.

  3. Pingback: Louise does Hawk the Slayer « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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