Ladyhawke (1985)

Ladyhawke_ver1In terms of fantasy fare, Ladyhawke is an inoffensive and fairly standard film, not much when compared to some of the higher standards set by other fantasy films of the era like The Neverending Story or Conan the Barbarian, but what it does have is a certain kind of arrestingly likeable charm that makes this medieval fairy tale worth watching, especially for those who appreciate fantasy films.

The premise is intriguing to say the least. A young thief escapes from the dungeons beneath a bishop’s castle, and after being saved from capture by a former captain of the guard, he stumbles on a mysterious woman, and a tale of romance and jealousy. The driving force behind the plot is a former captain of the guard named Etienne Navarre, and his lover Isabeau d’Anjou. The latter is cursed to turn into a hawk when the sun rises, and the former is turned into a wolf when the sun sets. Apparently the Bishop of Aquila was so jealous of their love that he made a pact with Satan in order to curse them.

The writers seem to have used this curse in order to illustrate the idea of being always together and yet eternally apart. The story itself is pretty simple, yet it’s strangely compelling because of how well it’s told. The film’s avoidance of a fully serious tone works to good advantage, because with its kind of story, Ladyhawke would be very boring if it tried to be an overly serious film.

The characters seem to be rather hit or miss, at least in terms of the way they perform. Matthew Broderick’s performance seems to suit his character, but he’s pretty weak as an actor, which is why I found it odd that he got the lead role. Rutger Hauer fares much better as the true hero of the film, despite his often frosty personality, and Michelle Pfeiffer performed well as Isabeau, the role that she was an ideal fit for. Okay, the casting wasn’t particularly solid. They have the low-budget equivalent of Jeremy Irons playing the main villain, but on the whole I’d say the acting was very good.

Like many fantasy films of the 1980’s, Ladyhawke can easily boast fine visuals, sometimes to the point of scenery porn. Seriously, the film looks fantastic, except for those cheap-looking special effects. When you see close-up shots of Rutger and Michelle transforming, it looks as though they seriously cut corners in the SFX department. One notable aspect of the film is its famously synth-laden soundtrack. Sometimes it can be cheesy, but I actually like it. Then again, I have a major soft spot for synthesizers, even if the synths are sometimes misplaced.

At the very least the film has a good balance of romance, story, and swordplay (which there is a lot more of towards the end of the film). As a fantasy film, it isn’t as ambitious as it could have been, but on the other hand, it clearly benefits from not having too many ideas above its station. Even though it’s not as good as it could be, all the elements that are there seem to be in harmony with each other, and it’s generally a good film all-round.

  • Score: 72%
  • Grade: C

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