Full Moon Features: Ladyhawke (1985)
by Craig J. Clark
May. 17, 2019
Matthew Broderick was a year away from his signature role at the time, but there are many ways in which Phillipe Gaston — the pickpocket he plays in Ladyhawke who goes by the nickname Mouse — is Ferris Bueller transported back to the Middle Ages, substituting his one-sided conversation with God for Ferris’s fourth-wall-breaking asides to the camera. Phillipe talks so much, in fact, that his nickname should have been Motormouth, but that may have been too anachronistic, even for a film with a hard-driving synth-rock soundtrack produced by Alan Parsons.
Often cited as one of Ladyhawke’s biggest flaws, its score (composed by Andrew Powell, who did the orchestral arrangements for the Alan Parsons Project) is far from the film’s only problem. For starters, it’s the kind of medieval epic where all the soldiers’ tunics look brand new (or at the very least freshly cleaned) and their swords all gleam, a marked contrast with Paul Verhoeven’s down and dirty Flesh + Blood, which second-billed Rutger Hauer starred in the very same year. Hauer, incidentally, plays the film’s lycanthrope, a knight named Navarre cursed to live as a wolf by night while Isabeau, his lady love, is a hawk by day. In her human form, she’s played by Michelle Pfeiffer, whose sudden arrival on the scene stuns Phillipe almost as much as the wolf that makes its first appearance (and kills a peasant) the first night he is traveling with Navarre. “There are strange forces at work in your life, magical things that surround you,” he tells the knight the next day, but it is a while before he finds out precisely how strange.
The second night passes without any sight of the wolf (which is no great loss because it is, after all, just a wolf), but on the third day of their journey the hawk is shot with a crossbow bolt (did I mention that Phillipe and Navarre are being pursued by a tyrannical bishop played by John Wood who has dispatched his guards to capture/kill them?) and Phillipe is sent with the wounded bird to the ruined castle of a monk (Leo McKern) who knows all about their curse (“Always together, eternally apart”) and believes he knows how to break it. Alas, there’s a great deal of wheel-spinning to be done before that can occur, stretching the running time to two full — nay, overstuffed — hours.
Since Ladyhawke arrived in the midst of the decade when in-camera transformations were all the rage (even the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” indulged in them), it can’t help but be disappointing that director Richard Donner opts for simple dissolves or cuts between flashes of lightning to change Hauer into a wolf and Pfeiffer into a hawk and back again. That’s the difference between horror and high fantasy, though. No need to make the transition seem physically painful since Navarre and Isabeau are enduring the emotional cruelty of being kept apart.