A Review by Noah Antwiler
This tour of old gamer movies has been a blast, but I've gone a long time without actually telling you what movie I enjoyed growing up as a kid that was most responsible for turning me into a gamer. It's not really tough to pick that movie out, considering most fantasy flicks have aged terribly over the years, what with their horribly anachronistic soundtracks, bad hand-drawn animation, and tendency to cast Jack Palance as the lead villain. One stands out in particular as the movie that brought me into the world of fantasy role-play, probably even more than Tolkien: Conan the Barbarian. You want to talk about brutal, badass hack-and-slash, you look no further than a bloodthirsty Cimmerian fighting Darth Vader who can turn into a giant snake.
Of course, I never got to actually watch Conan for years, partially because my parents felt I was too young for such violent content, mostly because my older brother and sister had Ladyhawke cycling through the firk ding VCR constantly. That was their gamer movie, one that remarkably even had my sister as a die-hard fan, and she was never a serious fan of this film genre. I, on the other hand, absolutely hated it and cursed every time they crammed it into the tape player. When I thought back on Ladyhawke for this review, my initial analysis was my distaste for it was grounded in the sense that the film is nearly the antithesis of everything Conan was: romantic instead of violent, PG-13 instead of a hard-R, Ferris Bueller instead of the Terminator. I don't disagree with this analysis, but I revised it to a much simpler and more correct one: Ladyhawke is flippin' terrible.
Oh yes, before he was Ferris Bueller, long before he rode the Godzilla bomb, and way before he decided to spend his remaining years hamming it up on Broadway watching Nathan Lane steal every scene he's in, Matthew Broderick starred as wuss rogue Philippe "The Mouse" Gaston, probably the least-dignified portrayal of an everyman thief in a movie until Marlon Wayans played a wisecracking pickpocket named Snails in the official Dungeons & Dragons movie. Truth be told, I find Broderick intolerable to the point of self-injury in nearly everything he's ever been in, save perhaps for the aforementioned Mr. Bueller's day of respite and the only good hacker movie ever made, WarGames. The first I attribute to John Hughes' excellent direction, the latter to a really cool talking computer in control of NORAD. Remember? "How. About. A. Nice. Game. Of. Chess?" The computer's voice alone blows The Forbin Project right out of the water.
High-five if you actually saw that movie. Now that's going back!
Anyway, Ladyhawke is a saccharine semi-historical fairy tale nominally set in medieval France, judging from the predominantly Franco-Spanish character names. Odd then, that most of the characters chose to affect English accents, including Broderick, whose accent will phase from British to American and back again several times in the same conversation. It rather reminds me of the Three Musketeers flick in the 90s, where Oliver Platt does a pretty solid English accent, Charlie Sheen sort of tries, and Kiefer Sutherland just figures to hell with it. I'm Jack Bauer protecting the king of France. None of the leads in this film even bother trying their hand (tongue?) at a French accent, probably because it would be the only way I can think of to make Matthew Broderick more annoying, except maybe giving him a clown horn and a chihuahua.
When I mentioned anachronistic pop soundtracks, in no other movie is this more evident than Ladyhawke. which is scored with the funky syntho-strains of the Alan Parsons Project. Lame wannabe disco really lends the movie an authentic historical feel. You think it doesn't hurt the movie? Imagine Lord of the Rings scored by Rush. On second thought, don't.
Gaston is known as the Mouse because of his slight frame, annoying squeaky voice, and ability to squirm through tight passages, a talent Broderick picked up from routinely being crammed into lockers as a child. He uses this ability to escape the infamously inescapable dungeons of Aquila, which angers Evil Bishop Man greatly. I'd tell you his name, but he's never given one. It's interesting to note that Evil Bishop Man is played by John Wood, who was Dr. Falken in WarGames! Okay, it's only interesting to me. WarGames was awesome.
The Bishop orders his main man, Captain Marquet to bring the thunder down on Gaston because nobody's ever escaped the dungeons before and he thinks news of the escape will spur rebellion. Sort of a medieval "Save Ferris" campaign. It doesn't help that he's an utterly incompetent thief who steals things in broad daylight, and his best "Bluff" move is a weak "look over there!" ploy. It helps even less that his first move when he reaches the nearest village is to go to a tavern and brag to everyone who will listen that he escaped. Maybe he was whoring for Fame points, but still not a bright idea when the heat's on.
Naturally Marquet is waiting for him with a full squad of soldiers, who proceed to kick Gaston's lily low-level ass until Rutger Hauer shows up with a wicked double-barreled crossbow. Before things boil over, Hauer notices a friend of his among the guardsmen and greets him—that is, until Marquet (who looks shockingly like Tom Savini) ) pushes one of his own men straight onto Navarre's sword!! Why the hell would he do that?! Talk about poor impulse control. If you want him dead that badly, just waste him with a crossbow or something. Way to undermine your men's loyalty. Even Kirk didn't treat his redshirts badly enough to shove them in front of phaser fire for giggles.
You'd think Gaston would be grateful for the rescue, considering the alternative was the gallows, but instead all he does is whine and complain in long-winded asides to God about how unfair it is that Navarre (Hauer) expects him to collect firewood in exchange for saving his life. These monologues are indicative of several things, primarily the complete uselessness of the character. Nominally he's there because Navarre needs his "expertise" to sneak back into Aquila, even though it should be apparent to a character as intelligent as Navarre that Gaston is completely incompetent and untrustworthy. He only escaped from Aquila by blind luck.
The only reason the Gaston character exists is to provide an everyman focus for the story, and a poorly-written one at that. The "are you there, God? It's me, Ferris" monologues are only there because neither the script or Broderick's acting are able to effectively transmit his character's motivations or thought process. Instead he goes on at length, talking aloud and explaining to nobody about what he's going to do and why he's going to do it. It's weak scripting. Asides might work well for the stage when you're doing Shakespeare, but not on the silver screen. When you're making a movie, the rule is show, not tell. Broderick's acting is absolutely atrocious throughout this movie. It's clear he hadn't perfected his instrument yet, and it takes more than his trademark 80s-sitcom "who, moi?" smirk to carry a dramatic lead role.
A wolf attacks the farm they're camped at during the night, and Gaston finds that Navarre is gone. Instead a mysterious woman in black is there who seems to have a kinship with the beast. Clearly, Navarre has a cursed girdle that turns him into Michelle Pfeiffer every night. Actually, it turns out that both are afflicted with a terrible curse inflicted on them by the Evil Bishop Guy. He was in love with the Lady Isabeau, but she was dating Navarre. Heartbroken, he vowed that if he couldn't have her, Rutger Hauer certainly wouldn't, so he cut a deal with the devil and had them cursed: Isabeau would become a hawk by day and Navarre a wolf every night. I might have asked the devil to just kill Navarre, but the wolf/hawk thing is... unique.
Gaston once again proves his master thievery by escaping from Navarre and getting about a mile before getting captured again. Navarre rides to the rescue, but the whole thing is an ambush. The French spring out from their hiding places with crossbows. Ferris tries to make the save, but in one of the more incredible botches in movie history, when he strikes one of the crossbowmen with a rock, the soldier's bolt flies into the air and strikes the hawk dead-center in mid-flight. One in a million shot.
Navarre puts Ferris on his horse and tells him to haul ass to a nearby ruined castle to get the hawk patched up by a monk named Imperius. Imperius is a boozed-up wandering monk who strangely does not display any of the supernatural hand-to-hand combat prowess inherent in his chosen character class. You can tell Imperius is a great surgeon because his solution is to rip the bolt straight out of her chest. I guess medieval field medicine treats arrow wounds like we do with Band-Aids: one motion, right off!!
Between drinking binges, Imperius has a vision that tells him a way that the curse might be broken: if both Navarre and Isabeau confront Evil Bishop Man in three days at a special ceremony when "there will be a night without a day, and a day without a night." You don't exactly need to be the Riddler to figure this one out. How many modern stories written in the Dark Ages involved medieval idiots being completely flummoxed by an eclipse? Entire kingdoms rise and fall when they occur. Rogue time rifts open up, spilling Connecticut Yankees all over Camelot. It's crazy! Heck, we could play Spot the Cliché all night. Between the Cardinal Richelieu villain and the drunken friar there's enough fun for the whole family.
Upon hearing that his long-time enemy is coming to kill him, Evil Bishop Man contracts an evil ranger named Cezar (played by a grungy Alfred Molina) to fill the forests with wolf traps. Barring the gates, increasing city patrols, and instructing them to look out for Rutger Hauer seems like a simpler plan, but again, I'm not an evil devil-worshipping despot pretending to be a Catholic priest (yet).
As it happens, Gaston's master plan to enter the city once again is to dress up in disguise and ride right through the front gate. Genius. They even bring Navarre in his giant black werewolf form in the back of a wagon. Oh, that reminds me, I would also instruct the city guard to look out for any 200 lbs. jet black wolves trying to sneak into the city. Once inside, Navarre's plan to get into the cathedral is even more brilliant: he decides to ride to the front gates of the cathedral, snarl in a badass fashion and demand entrance after literally bitchslapping the guard captain silly. And it works! The entire group of soldiers circling the cathedral take one look at their totally punked captain and stand aside.
Inside the cathedral Navarre and Tom Savini have a cool sword battle on horseback. Together, he and Isabeau confront Evil Bishop Man at the height of the eclipse, both in human form. This confuses the devil and ends their mutual enchantment. The curse broken, Evil Bishop Man is still unwilling to admit to himself that Isabeau just isn't interested in creepy devil-worshipping and attacks her with his golden holy symbol that has a deadly blade on the end! You have to special order those from the Vatican; they don't just hand those out to the clergy for free. Navarre intercepts the priest's charge with an overhead javelin throw of his two-handed sword, impaling him to his own pulpit! Daaaaaaamn! Medieval pwnage! Had to have been a -8 to hit at least, and that's before the range modifiers!