Upon first viewing, I didn’t particularly like Ladyhawke. It had fans among my circle of friends however and so I saw it on more than one occasion when I was younger.
Lately, the pull of nostalgia sparked by reading Earnest Cline’s Ready Player One made me want to revisit this classic from the 1980’s and I was delighted to find it was currently streaming on HBO GO.
Within seconds of starting this up, I was immediately confronted with one of the more challenging aspects of this film, the anachronistic soundtrack composed by Alan Parsons. There are no words for how much I hate this score, it manages to somehow take every dramatic cue in this movie and turn it in to some epic cheese fest with it’s soft-rock, pop synthesizer nonsense. I would love to see this film re-released with a more traditional score that actually complimented the film instead of pulling you out of the moment every time those keyboards flare to life.
The other strike against it in my book was always the costumes and props. They aren’t just bad, they are perhaps some of the worst ever seen in a fantasy film. How this happened in the wake of such wonderful work in Conan and Excalibur is inexcusable. Not that fantasy has to be grim, take Willow or Labyrinth which followed for instance. It’s perhaps a blessing that those films didn’t follow Ladyhawke’s example and instead opted for the more realistic, actually used, look for the armor, weapons and clothing. Surprising how this continues to be an issue even today with some films despite it being fairly obvious that this can make or break a fantasy film.
Trying to push those biases aside this viewing, I opted to focus on the cast, the direction and the story this film had to tell.
Essentially a fairy tale romance, Ladyhawke‘s main story line does have a strong appeal and I can see why that would inspire fan loyalty. I’m certainly willing to be carried away on that kind of adventure if the film can sell me on it. To their credit, the film’s cast does a pretty remarkable job of remaining earnest despite a script that doesn’t give them much to work with. Matthew Broderick gives a fun performance as Mouse, a thief and in over his head sidekick, and shows the seeds of what will become his trademark snark in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s probably Leo McKern that gives the best work though. His portrayal of the disgraced priest, Imperius, is the only one to have any real weight behind it as the two main stars, Hauer and Pfeiffer, are left with speeches about undying love and hokey transition scenes.
There’s a tone problem with this film too, everything comes off as simply too easy. For us to accept the burden of the cursed lovers and share in their heartbreak, it would have been nice to have been put through a little more than the simple contrived inconveniences our devoted ones must face. We only know of their angst because they describe it to us. Without any real danger and little or no emotion, it all comes off as just very insincere.
Having said all of that, I guess I can still see what my friends enjoyed about this all those years ago. Ladyhawke is a light fantasy romance with a beautifully conceived back story and if you simply focus on those aspects, it can be a fun two hours.
If that’s good enough for you, then by all means seek this one out. However, if you’re like me and wish there was a little more substance to the story or need to make an emotional connection to the characters in order to be carried away, you might want to give this one a pass until you’ve seen a few of the other 1980’s classics.