Unstrung Harp


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Films of High Adventure, Volume Six: The Classice Storye of a Knighte, a Birde, and a Thiefe
Unstrung Harp

My friend Molly Tanzer and I both like watching cheesy fantasy movies, and we both like talking trash about the same, and so we're going to start posting about our viewings of older "classics" each and every Friday. A lot of these were important childhood movies for at least one of us and so we'll be examining them with the oh-so-academic now-and-then approach, and, where possible, we will be cussing like sailors to show off how mature we are now. Feel free to offer suggestions/rebuttals/your own reminisces/cusses at either of our blogs.

The Film: Ladyhawke (1985)

No, not her.

Also known as: The Movie That Broke Molly (2010)

That's more like it

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Story by Edward Kharma (The Quaid epic Enemy Mine), screenplay by Kharma and three co-writers who boast such credits Blade Runner (David Peoples), The Hunger (Michael Thomas), and the Dragnet movie (Tom Mankiewicz). Oh, and Michael Thomas also co-wrote Molly’s favorite movie ever, Countryman, so check that out if you get the chance and remember to pass it on. Direction by Richard Donner of The Goonies fame, which could explain Molly’s allergic reaction to Ladyhawke. Painfully dated soundtrack by Alan Parsons Project alum Andrew Powell and, well, Alan Parsons, of all people. We were specifically warned about this element by Clint Harris and it still kicked our brains in the genitals, if you can imagine such a thing. Just awful. Oh, and acting by Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), Lothos from the Buffy movie (Rutger Hauer), the super-genius-turned-hermit from WarGames (John Wood), Number Two from the old Prisoner show (Leo McKern), and a rather grungy looking Doc Ock (Alfred Molina).

Quote: “This is not unlike escaping mother’s womb. God, what a memory.”

Alternate quote: “Do you know that hawks and wolves mate for life? The Bishop didn’t even leave us that. . . not even that.”

Molly’s reaction to hearing both of those lines, and most others: “What? What?! FUCK!”

First viewing by Molly: Last week.

First viewing by Jesse: Probably around seven years old.

Most recent viewing by both: Last week.

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Blissfully unaware of its very existence.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Moderate. Even as a kid I think I subconsciously recognized that the concept was much cooler than the execution and so my Ladyhawke make-believe was far superior to the actual thing. I mean, when you’re seven year old Jesse I don’t know if it’s possible to get a cooler scenario than knight-in-black-armor-with-rad-sword-who-is-also-a-werewolf-and-also-is-Michelle-Pfeiffer’s-boyfriend when it comes to running around the woods stabbing trees with a stick.

(Molly Aside: I keep saying this to Jesse but he won’t fucking listen: RUTGER HAUER IS NOT A WEREWOLF. He might be a gentlemanwolf or maybe a knightwolf but he is sure as fuck not cool enough to be a werewolf.)

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:


Molly’s thoughts prior to watching: I admit I was intrigued. Several years ago a friend alleged this movie was pretty cool. I like falconry. Whatever could go wrong? OH, WAIT. EVERYTHING.

Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: There’s a reason I hadn’t gone back and re-watched Ladyhawke since I was a kid, and that reason is that I suspected it would not withstand the test of time. I couple of times I’d come across Ladyhawke DVDs in the bargain bin at stores retailing for $1.99 and always put it back down, thinking it best to leave this particular film as a fond memory instead of a painful contemporary viewing experience. But Molly had never seen it, and when she heard the premise there was no going back—I suspected she would hate it, but hoped the nostalgia factor would be high enough to keep me from gouging my eyes out.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Fuck. Fuck and shit. Fuck and shit and I hope everyone involved with this movie got bunions. I loathed this movie. I loathed it from the moment I heard the inexplicable and troubling musical score during the opening scene. My loathing grew when Ye Olde Matthewe Brodericke showed up onscreen. I still loathe it, a week after watching it. Jesse was not exaggerating: this movie broke me. It hurt something precious inside my heart and soul that I don’t think I’ll ever get back.

For starters, it is criminally miscast. Matthew Broderick is goddamn wretched in it—he is exactly everything I despise in a movie character (twee-ly annoying, wisecracking, cowardly, comic-relief-that-isn’t, ugh). His phony stupid accent made me want to die. His haircut made me want to break things. Michelle Pfeiffer is terrible, as well, starring as a classic MPDG, and, as I have now learned, this trope is even more repugnant when placed in a fantasy setting. And then we come to Rutger Hauer, an actor I have a distinctly love/hate relationship with: I love him as the creepy vampire Lothos in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, and I fucking hate him as I do everyone/everything that was involved with Flesh and Blood, a movie that is definitely another candidate for Most Hated Film in The Book of Tanzer. Let me just say this: I don’t mind adventure-movie dudes who are, you know, slightly less ‘roid-raged out than Conan. I mean, honestly, the standard of all adventure-movie dreamboats for me is Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride, dirtstache and being unable to actually fight the badguy at the end and all. I only mention this because I don’t want to be taken amiss if I say that Rutger Hauer’s character Etienne Navarre in Ladyhawke is such a god damn do-nothing wusspot boring piece of garbage that he makes Bow from She-Ra look hard. Jesus. What the fuck is he even doing in this movie?! Fuck, fuck, FUCK! I mean, OK seriously, seriously, when his fucking trueloveomgforeverz girlfriend—the titular and inexplicably old-timey extra e-ed Ladyhawke—is wounded by an arrow and needs medical attention, what does our brave knight errant Navarre do? OH SHIT. Well, fuck, instead of taking her for some first aid himself, he decides, for no reason whatsoever, to send her away with his coward dipshit sorta-squire Matthew Fucking Broderick. Really? How fucking noble! I’m sure she appreciated it! I’m sure she understood that he was just too goddamn busy hanging out in a field or something! And also! His character can’t fight good unless he has his dad’s sword! Call me crazy, but I’m really more awed by heroes who can pick up just about anything and kick ass—I’m not sure who Navarre’s swordmaster was, but he seriously dropped the ball.

And that’s just the casting—the plot sucks so hard I think all the trees around Jesse’s apartment are now permanently angled toward his windows. Fuck. NOTHING HAPPENS. I was so disengaged while watching this movie that it never even occurred to me that Navarre was disappearing at night and turning into a wolf (wolfe?)—when we see Ladyhawke (who has a name but I’m not going to look it up because I don’t care and I remember it sounding stupid) kinda petting the black German Shepard they cast as a wolf I just thought she had a way with animals cuz she’s the ladyhawke, after all. Nope, it turns out he’s cursed, too. So, OK. Whatevs? Gawd.

So here is the plot, for the record: Matthew Broderick (AKA “the mouse”) is a crappy thief who escapes from Azkaban, but he’s being pursued by an Evil Abbot (what other kind of religious figure is there in a fantasy movie, other than an affable drunken priest? Don’t worry, he shows up laterz). The Evil Abbot is sorta-kinda in charge of Azkaban and wants Broderick back because otherwise. . . uh. . . other people? Will try to escape? Or something? But things become even more “complicated” when Broderick falls in with Hauer/Ladyhawke because it turns out that Hauer/Ladyhawke are. . . both, uh, under a spell. . . that the Evil Abbot put on them? With the help of (really!) the devil. The spell is that she is a hawke in the day and he is a wolfe at night. For the middle part of the movie Broderick/Hauer/Ladyhawke run around for a while doing absolutely nothing, and then Ladyhawke is injured and they take her to the Drunken Affable Priest who has decided that there’s a way to break the curse when. . . an eclipse happens? Because it’s a day without a night and a night without a day? FUCK AND SHIT. So they go to confront the Evil Abbot, and fucking Hauer tells fucking Drunken Affable Priest to straight-up murder Ladyhawke if he fails to slay the Evil Abbot. This is, of course, the best part of the film, because ol’ Ladyhawke definitely never really mentions she’d rather die than live without Hauer’s milquetoast bargain-basement wannabe-Lancelot angst-filled bullshit; in fact, she seems to think that Broderick’s character is pretty OK and I’m guessing she would prefer to live a long and happy—if nocturnal—life together if Hauer got iced, instead of, you know, being murdered and stuff. But oh fucking noes Hauer can’t fight anyone adequately because Broderick lost his special sword in a ridiculous icy-lake scene I’ve forgotten, but it turns out that OH SHIT the sword is actually still around because Broderick just. . . hid it? Instead of giving it back? For no reason? So, using the ol’ fantasy-movie “I’m wearing a robe and thus no one notices I’m not really a priest” trick he retrieves the sword. . . from under their cart. . . and throws it to Hauer, who then throws it through the abbot’s chest because that’s all he can do as a hero and everything is OK because Ladyhawke turned back into a Lady instead of a Ladyhawke during the eclipse and she and Hauer kinda spin each other around and it’s OK! THE END! EVEN THOUGH ALL THE OTHER PRIESTS ARE HANGING AROUND JUST SORTA STARING AT THE PEOPLE WHO MURDERED THEIR ABBOT AND YOU THINK THEY’D BE PISSED! But they’re not! And also everyone kisses and touches Matthew Broderick on the face and it’s weird and uncomfortable to see Broderick and Hauer having A Moment Between Men while Ladyhawke looks on all like wheeeeeee my boyfriend told a priest to murder me but it’s OK because he’s handsome (?) and I’m not a bird!

I hated this movie.

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing
: As it turns out the nostalgia factor was high enough to keep me from gouging my eyes out. My ears, however, were not so lucky—whoever thought fusing Gregorian chants with an Alan Parsons jam session should be publically flogged. That said, the movie itself was, while decidedly not good, really not so bad. In all fairness, I was paying more attention to Molly’s reactions than to the movie itself because it was far more interesting but the snatches I caught of the film between Molly’s outbursts looked like they were shot on location, which is cool, and Alfred Molina was looking all kinds of skeezy, which is also cool. Plus I think Kentaro Miura modeled young Gatsu’s armor on Rutger Hauer’s, which is maybe a point in its favor. Maybe?

Ladyhawke apparently has a large cult following, which makes less sense than the actual movie itself. It’s way too tame to appeal to the flesh and blood/Flesh and Blood audience, and seemingly way too fucked to appeal to a more romantic crowd—as Molly pointed out, the scene where Hauer orders Number Two to murder Ladyhawke if Hauer’s quest fails is downright creepy. Nice romantic lead you got there.

So the dialogue was spotty, the plot nonsensical, the motivations baffling/nonexistent, the soundtrack dreadful, the pacing slow, the action boring, and the overall tone dull. . . big deal. I’ve seen worse; I’ve seen a lot worse. And really, witnessing Molly’s suffering was both a hoot and a holler, as they used to say back in Pennsyltucky—though it did stretch a two hour movie into a four hour one as Molly kept pausing the film to scream at the television. Trust me, the diatribe above is positively restrained compared to the IRL meltdown this movie brought on. So while I agree with all of her points, I must say that re-watching it was a helluva lot of fun. Now, if I’d watched it by myself I might have a different opinion but this project is all about the experience of viewing it together.

High Points: None at all, according to Molly. Jesse liked the sets and filming locations, and Hauer’s sweet double-action crossbow.

Low Points: Every element of the film, according to Molly. Jesse would like to single out the music. The music, oh the music. For example, check out the opening credits, where the first minute or so is strictly whatevs but by minute two yours ears will be rupturing:

Would you send a thief to guard your treasure?

Final Verdict: A split! Jesse says he’s seen far worse and the movie is made of flesh and spirit, whereas Molly says it is made of pure sorrow (actually, I said “pure shit” but apparently Jesse’s on a cussing diet).


Next Week: Sunday is Raechel's birthday so she'll be joining us to offer her expert opinion on her selection, Nicolas Roeg's adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic The Witches.

[Cross-posted to Molly's website and to my website]

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I think I'm with J on this one. I saw this in college (shows you I'm old) and thought then that the soundtrack would date it horribly. (As did Dune's).

I wonder what would happen if they recorded a new, more-traditonal soundtrack. Just a thought.

Oddly, the bizarre Tangerine Dream soundtrack on Legend doesn't seem to date it at all....(and they have a 'standard soundtrack' version as well, which is plain wrong).

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Nothing is as bad as the Ladyhawke ST. Nothing.

Oh man, Tangerine Dream--they did the Eco-SF flick Silent Running, too. I think the director's cut of Legend has the Goldsmith and the theatrical cut has the TD, yeah? We're doing Legend at some point but I'm torn between my fondness for director's cuts and re-watching the film as it first appeared to my innocent eyes.

The DVD release has both, and I recently watched. I suggest going with your instinct--skip the director's cut.

Hmmm, I don't remember Dune's soundtrack as well--a lot of synthesizer, yeah? I think a new ST would go a long way to improving Ladyhawke but overall part of the charm for me is just how terrible the music is.

Dune's soundtrack was done by Toto, a rock group.

Oh man.

I wanted to like this movie so much when I was a kid, and I just couldn't. I could never really put my finger on it (I didn't want to think about it), but this made me realize the casting was definitely one of the big problems. That and having a cool ass double curse that is so mythologically archetypal and then just muddying it up with bad. Man.

The Alan Parsons music was less awful for me, 'cause my musically eclectic family had a phase for 'em (so they were a familiar misery).

I was the same way in re: to being a kid and knowing I should like it way more than I actually did. And yeah a tolerance for Alan Parsons will do wonders for you in this application--though layering it with Gregorian chants...*shudder*

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Thanks--glad you're liking the project!

I have no idea why this effected Molly the way it did, and every time I try to suss it out or rationalize to her that it isn't that bad she starts rending her hair and gnashing her teeth--it's goddamn spooky, and so I've stopped bringing up the subject. I suspect it is less about this movie and more a reaction to the realization that this movie is almost certainly going to be one of the better movies we watch for some time, which could drive anyone to drink.

And I'm with you on Hauer not being wussy--he's the opposite! The plot is basically driven by his all-consuming bloodlust:

Hauer: I'm gonna kill that bishop.
Mouse: But if you do you'll never break you're curse.
Hauer: Don't care. I'm gonna kill that fucker.
Drunk priest: But what if you fail in killing the bishop?
Hauer: Then kill my avian girlfriend.
Drunk priest: Jesus, that's harsh! How do you know she'd rather die than live without you?
Hauer: Just ask her.
Bird: ...caw
Hauer: See? K, gonna kill that bishop, brb

WHICH IS BASICALLY THE MOVIE VERBATIM. Or maybe not, but still. And fuck yeah, give that d-bag his jesses back! Because you're free now...

Fun fact--they wanted Kurt Russel to play Hauer's part but he got busy. Baffling.

I really did fear that I'd come off as an asshole by posting about my hatred for this film, unadulterated, on the internet. . . but think there is perhaps some overstatement here, by both myself and by Jesse. In my own defense, bombast aside, I disliked
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I really did fear that I'd come off as an asshole by posting about my hatred for this film, unadulterated, on the internet. . . but think there is perhaps some overstatement here, by both myself and by Jesse. In my own defense, bombast aside, I disliked <i. Ladyhawke for a few very simple reasons:

1. The plot makes no sense
2. The script is the stuff of nightmares
2. The acting is terrible
3. The soundtrack is vile
4. The characters are completely without depth or reason or comprehensible psychology or a basic sense of cause/effect
5. Rutger Hauer's character made me very uncomfortable just about every moment he was onscreen

I know I'd probably have loved this film as a teenager. It had all the elements I thought were awesome and romantic as a YA: dude who is so passionate he's murderous, lady who is cute and plucky, animals. But unfortunately, I had no residual affection to temper my loathing, like I do for, say, <i>Legend</i> (which features a homicidal, overly-possessive crazyperson, except instead of being a gallant knight-errant, he's the fucking devil, which shows at least a rudimentary level of self-awareness on the part of the scriptwriter), or even <i>The Princess Bride</i> (that scene where Westley is still pretending to be the Dread Pirate Roberts and feigns smacking Buttercup in the face--not OK!). I'm sure I'd defend this film if I had seen/loved it as a kid, but I didn't, so I can't. I have only my wounded sense of feminist righteousness on behalf of the female lead.

All that being said, I'd also like to defend myself by making the point that one can be a wuss <i>and</I> be consumed with bloodlust (any low-level who has ever been ganked by an 80 in World of Warcraft can vouch for this). I love me a flawed character, but Rutger Hauer's character was just broken, ruined by both script and plot. Why did he run away in the first place with the hawke? I mean, the priest gets all worried and stuff when it's reported he's "returned." From where? Why? Why does he abandon his ladyhawke when she's hurt? So he can roll up all bad-ass later? Why does he insist on killing the priest? Why does he want her to die rather than live without him? I'll amend my earlier statement: he's not just a wuss. I've made a diagram to show just what he is: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4071/4474469710_dacef21a86_o.png

And as to the jesses scene: the priest didn't even put those jesses on her! That would've been her trainer--her boyfriend, who was, apparently (why?), afraid she'd run away if he didn't tether her to his wrist. I mean. . . the priest just asked the devil to turn her into a hawke! Nowhere are we told that he asked the devil to turn her into a hawke with jesses attached to her leg! I would've forgiven so much of this movie if she'd thrown the jesses in Rutger Hauer's stupid face and gone off with the annoying but not murderous Matthew Broderick character, like Molly Ringwald should've done with Ducky in <i>Pretty in Pink.</>

So, about not wanting to come off as an asshole? I think I just failed again. . .

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