Ladyhawke (1985) – Richard Donner

I don’t think I’ve seen Ladyhawke since it came out in 1985, and re-watching it for the blog I was struck by a couple of things. With a few tweaks, this film could have been huge! The film looks gorgeous, and has a solid cast, led by Rutger Hauer, Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer, but the world doesn’t feel lived in, all of the cast in their outfits look like they are in period costume as opposed to clothes that have been worn through those same years. The same goes for the film’s props – everything looks brand new!

And then there’s the score, composed and conducted by Andrew Powell, and produced by Alan Parsons, and with the use of synths and guitars in what is basically a medieval fairy tale automatically dates the film. To the 80s. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the score, just not in context with the film – it rarely evokes the emotional requirements of the scene, there were a few moments when the emotions of the actors, and the nuances of the performance are completely lost or at odds with the score.

A more traditional orchestral score may have served the film better.

Using Broderick’s Gaston as the in for the audience, we are introduced to Navarre (Hauer) and Isabeau (Pfeiffer) two lovers that are separated by day and night and a curse laid on them by a villainous Bishop (John Wood) who wanted Isabeau for himself. During the day Isabeau becomes a hawk, forgetting her human life, but still travelling with Navarre and Gaston, and at night, when she transforms back to her human self, Navarre becomes a large black wolf.

More a love story than an action/adventure film, Gaston provides a running side commentary filled with not quite anachronistic humour – something I’m willing to overlook because the story is, after all, a fairy tale.

It’s interesting however, that the action sequences, when they do occur, aren’t quite as tightly choreographed or filmed as best as they could – I mean two years later, Donner shot Lethal Weapon. But I love the look of the film, the cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, is nothing short of epic and stunning, making use of lighting and location to beautiful effect.

Gently told, and filled with a sense of magic, love and wonder, Ladyhawke as a film, totally works, but I just have an itch over the score, costumes, and props. That being said, it’s a wonderful film for family viewing, and it was a joy to sit through this one again, and see it with adult eyes after last having seen them with a child’s (okay a teen’s).

Makes me want to revisit more of those ‘lesser known’ films from the 80s all over again.


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