Dude Looks Like A Ladyhawke

Aah, the 80s; the heyday of the fantasy flick. From the success of Conan The Barbarian in 82 (surely the greatest year in movie history), to Willow in 88,  more sword and sorcery was abound in this decade than at any other time.

Of all these movies, perhaps the most forgotten is cult favourite Ladyhawke. As ridiculed as it is lauded, is this film worth resurrecting? Hit the jump to find out:

Ladyhawke is best contemplated as The Princess Bride, without any of the postmodern, tongue-in-cheek self awareness. Even the film's humour is po-faced; but this doesn't make it bad. Indeed, its sense of earnestness is part of its charm.

The story is classic fairytale romance as two star-crossed lovers are magically separated by a jealous suitor. Our story follows the attempts of gallant knight Rutger Hauer to avenge himself on the sinister Bishop John Wood and re-unite with his lover Michelle Pfeiffer. To say more would be to blow the film's twist, which, despite being obvious - to paraphrase Psycho's advertising - is the only one they have.

Richard Donner elegantly directs this tale against the backdrop of Southern France's stunning vistas and Hauer and Pfeiffer play this completely straight, without a hint of irony. As such, the main story does come across as rather dry, though it could have been very different. Snake Plissken himself, Kurt Russell, was originally down to play Hauer's role, and you can't help but feel his charisma would have added some more charm, and so, more success. Still, this would have sacrificed the dramatic heft that Hauer brings to the story.

Given Russell's absence, the movie could be completely overwraught were it not for its framing device. Princess Bride had Peter Falk narrate the tale to Fred Savage, while Ladyhawke, like all the best stories, ensures the hero is not the protagonist, and shows the action through the eyes of Matthew Broderick.

Broderick plays a thief on the run from our nefarious Bishop who teams up with Hauer and Pfeiffer. He's a mischievous, lovable, flawed rogue, who constantly talks to "God", offering exposition. Imagine a medieval Ferris Bueller without any of the self-pity or smugness, and you'll understand how this works. Broderick fights the villains, but is overshadowed by Hauer, and lusts after Pfeiffer, but never oversteps his bounds, keeping himself identifiable and bringing the viewer into the story. He remains the best reason to watch.

On the other hand, the film also earns plaudits from having its main villain as a leader of the Catholic Church. Whilst the majority of the characters in the film are openly Christian, there is a strong subtext of opposition to organised religion; something rather controversial for a family film.

It's not perfect, however; as the later parts of the film shift focus from Broderick, without Russell, the charm slides. Elsewhere, the effects are pretty dodgy, coming across like a BBC production, and that's without even mentioning the soundtrack. Yes, electro synth was all the rage in the 80s, but it does rather jar with a medieval setting; though, taken in its own right, it's not that bad.

Still, the cast are uniformly excellent, the direction is stunning and the plot will sweep you along, though it sags in the middle. Ladyhawke deserves a place amongst 80s fantasy, if only as a curio.

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