Remembering Ladyhawk

Remembering Ladyhawk
There was a moment - one bright, unforgettable moment - when three incandescent stars came together and blazed so brightly they eclipsed everyone else.

Those stars were Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick, and that moment was in 1985, when the movie Ladyhawke was released.

The 80s were a golden era for fantasy movies. Dark Crystal and Never Ending Story had preceded Ladyhawke, Labyrinth and Willow came after it, and as well there was Bladerunner, the Conan Movies, Krull, The Princess Bride and so many others.

Rutger Hauer was one of the hottest actors on the screen at that time. A strikingly handsome man, he also conveyed the passion and smoldering screen presence of the dedicated actor. His performance as the replicant Roy Batty in Blade Runner had made him a star. Few can revisit that movie without the inexplicable lump in the throat that comes with Batty's death scene.

Michelle Pfeiffer was, and always will be, one of the screen's most enchanting goddesses. In Ladyhawke, her character Isabeau is described as having `the face of love'. It could not be more accurate. Pfeiffer looks as if she has been drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in this movie, so ethereally and utterly beautiful that no action of the males for her sake seems far fetched. The closest she had come to fantasy was Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen, and a couple of episodes of Fantasy Island on TV. Why no one had thought of casting her as a legendary medieval beauty before Ladyhawke must remain a perpetual mystery.

On the other hand, Matthew Broderick was the last actor you would think of for a movie like this. The youngster hadn't even found Ferris Bueller yet. He'd been in three movies, he was so modern and urban it stood out a mile, and yet, he proved to be indispensable to director Richard Donner's perfect little triangle.

Broderick, as Philip Gaston, the `mouse', escapes hanging by slithering through the sewers of Aquila to freedom. But soon he is caught up in a tragedy brought about by the Bishop of Aquila (John Wood). The Bishop cursed two lovers, Etienne of Navarre, the Captain of the Guard (Hauer) and the lovely Isabeau (Pfeiffer) to the terrible fate of being `almost together - forever apart'. By day, Isabeau was a hawk, by night Etienne was a wolf. The Bishop's jealousy of Isabeau was so strong that he vowed if he could not have her, no man could.

Mouse is befriended by Etienne, who is human during the day. Etienne thinks the boy may be company for Isabeau during her lonely human nights. Broderick plays between the two of them beautifully, the perfect foil for both Etienne's irascible nature and Isabeau's transcendent courage.

Into this sad trilogy comes the monk Imperious (Leo McKern) with a plan to free the lovers from their captivity and confront the Bishop with his crime - it all hinges on the Mouse, and on a celestial event soon due to take place.

Those who first saw Ladyhawke in the 80s were immediately swept along by it - caught up in it, as Imperius says, with the rest of them. When Warner Brothers touted the story as based on a real legend, hardly anyone doubted that - it seemed so mythically right. But the author Edward Khamara was understandably upset that his own considerable imagination wasn't recognized by this claim, and sued the film company. No matter - by now, Ladyhawke was a legend, and Warner Brothers never dropped their claim.

What was it about Ladyhawke that made it stand out in an era when fantasy movies stretched our imaginations to new heights? Perhaps it was the sheer luminosity of the stars, perhaps the poetic nature of the story - perhaps we had all been hungering for a myth of our own, a legend handed to us on a golden plate - whatever the reason, Ladyhawke stole our hearts, as Isabeau stole every heart she encountered.

The only jarring note for some people was the score - it seemed almost too contemporary and hard edged to accompany such a beautiful story. But others understood that Donner was simply showing us that these were people who were, in their time and place, as young and hip as the movie goers. Decades later, Brian Helgeland used the same musical technique in A Knight's Tale.

Today, the music is as much part of the overall enchantment of Ladyhawke as the setting and the stars. If you want to see three amazing stars at their peak of beauty and charm, see this movie. If you want to be transported to a place and time where legend is as commonplace as the rising and setting sun - see this movie. In fact, just see this movie.

I bought this DVD with my own funds.


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