Ladyhawke (1985) movie poster

(1985) director Richard Donner
viewed: 09/23/2011

Back in 1985, when Ladyhawke was in its original release, I recall seeing it in the theater and liking it quite well.  In fact, I think my mom liked it too and I believe that we may have seen it more than once back then.

In thinking through a variety of films that I thought that the kids might enjoy,  I decided to queue it up and see how it flew.  It may well have been since 1985 that I had last seen it, so I wasn’t entirely sure how it would hold up.

Turns out it’s a really nice little fantasy adventure film, still, in this era of more and more of that stuff.  It’s something with more heart and story and character than some films that span multiple sequels and endless reams of special effects.  It stars Rutger Hauer at his most handsome, Michelle Pheiffer at her most luminous, and Matthew Broderick deep in his youthful charm.

Broderick plays “Mouse”, a thief of some repute, though of lowly status, who escapes from the prison of Aquila, where John Wood, the murderous Bishop of Aquila, has him sentenced to death, along with a slew of others.  In his escape he meets the former captain of the guard, the noble Navarre (Hauer), who is returning from two years of exile in order to assassinate the villainous Bishop.

It turns out that the bishop, in pretense of religion, used a black magic to cast a vile spell upon Navarre and his beautiful love, Isabeau (Pfeiffer), because he too loved the fair maiden, and if he couldn’t have her, then no one would.  The catch to this curse, and the key to the movie’s story, is that during the day, Isabeau is a hawk, and at night only, a woman.  And Navarre, by day a man, is by night a wolf.  Forever are they together, forever are they apart.

The movie is very 1980’s, though in no part more than its soundtrack, with its soaring pop keyboard sound, composed by Alan Parsons (Actually, Felix noted that he liked the music).  Directed by Richard Donner, who from Superman (1978), The Goonies (1985), the whole Lethal Weapon series, is quite the consummate 1980’s director, it’s a buoyant, noble adventure film.  And really, it’s quite good.

Felix noted that the special effects would have been handled differently in this day and age (the transformation scenes are more metaphorical than illustrative), I didn’t bother to note that the 1980’s were a kind of heyday of wolf-transformation effects.  I actually liked the emphasis on the adventure and love and story than on flashy visuals.

The kids liked it quite well.  I’d still speculate that Pfeiffer never looked more radiant.  And as earnest and neither under nor over-stated, Ladyhawke is a fantasy/adventure/love story quite as good as any out there.

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