directed by Richard Donner
(20th Century Fox, 1985)
Fantasy movies are hard to pull off. Too often reliant on special effects to tell the story, they live or die based on visual tricks in an industry where today's cutting-edge technology is tomorrow's old hat.
Ladyhawke, which came out in 1985, is still among my favorite fantasy films, perhaps in part because it relies on very little visual trickery and builds its fantasy around its characters. Foremost among them is Phillipe Gaston, a.k.a. the Mouse, a talented thief and liar played with cunning delight by a young Matthew Broderick. (His running dialogue with God no doubt inspired his running dialogue with the audience in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.) After a daring, if impossibly tight escape from prison, Phillipe runs afoul of Captain Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer), a man traveling with a hawk, and a curse. When the sun sets each day, Navarre is transformed into a wolf, while the hawk becomes Navarre's lover, Isabeau d'Anjou (Michelle Pfeiffer). Their curse -- to remain forever together but eternally apart -- was the work of an evil cleric, the Bishop of Aquila (John Wood), who wanted Isabeau for himself. Father Imperius (Leo McKern) is a priest turned monk who lives with the guilt of having inadvertently caused the curse -- and who may know the means for removing it.
Based on an ancient European legend, Ladyhawke is a simple, beautiful movie with only one major, fatal flaw: the soundtrack, which sounds like an instrumental album from the Alan Parsons Project -- no doubt because Alan Parsons wrote the score. Don't get me wrong, in the right mood I really enjoy Parson's music, but it is wholly inappropriate for setting the mood of this film, and it unfortunately dates the movie with its '80s pop-rock sound. I would love to see a new DVD version of Ladyhawke with a new score, to bring this classic fantasy movie to a modern audience.
[ by Tom Knapp ]