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  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 55.36)
  • English: Dolby Digital 4.1 Surround
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20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 116 mins . PG . PAL


It might seem a little odd in hindsight that two major-studio fantasy films based on original screenplays (and both directed by men whose careers would later go supernova) would arrive in the same year, but back in 1985, there was a rather lucrative market for it. The Star Wars trilogy had captured imaginations and taken visual effects to a new level, two blockbuster Indiana Jones adventures had brought classic Hollywood and the effects boom together, and science fiction was breaking new ground with the likes of Blade Runner. After a ‘70s that seemed loaded with Oscar-winning films about people who stood around and talked at each other a lot, the cinema seemed at long last to have returned to the art of escapism with relish, creating entire mythical worlds and setting in motion that old standby of drama, the battle between good and evil (or, if you prefer the over-the-top-acting way of saying it, “eeevilllllllll”).

While Universal execs sat around scratching their heads in puzzlement and worry over Ridley Scott’s sumptuous and mystical Legend, Warner (along with 20th Century Fox in a rare collaboration) had taken the safer route into FantasyLand, signing on Superman director Richard Donner to take charge of a story that had its roots in fantasy, but which was still anchored in a familiar medieval world. With a cast that included then-stars Matthew Broderick and Rutger Hauer, rising star Michelle Pfeiffer (coming off Scarface, the wonderful Into the Night and, err, Grease 2) along with British veterans Leo McKern and John Wood (no, not the Blue Heelers John Wood!) and with script contributions from David Blade Runner Peoples and Tom Superman Mankiewicz, Ladyhawke always had more mainstream-audience-pleasing aspirations than its 1985 competitor and was, as it turned out, a modest hit.

It’s not hard to see why, either - this simple story of good versus eeevilllll, unrequited love and the odd magical curse is peppered with crowd-pleasing dialogue (particularly from Matthew Broderick, who as Philippe has more than a little bit of New York about him) along with sword fights aplenty, some very nice scenery (courtesy of the land of Italy as well as Apocalypse Now cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, whose fondness for coloured lens filters is at an all-time high here), Rutger Hauer doing that brooding thing that made him briefly famous, some neato special effects (that today, admittedly, look a little lame on occasion), an '80s-hair version of Michelle Pfeiffer, and Big do-or-die Romance. What more could you ask for in an evening’s escapism?

The actual plot? Well, for once we’re not going to spoil it one little bit for those of you who haven’t seen the movie before; watching it knowing full well from the outset what’s what, it does lose a little of its engaging mystery, and you’ll enjoy the film all the more for going on the journey unprepared.

There’s just one thing we do need to warn you about - the music. While Andrew Powell quite obviously wrote an orchestral score and recorded it with the peerless Philharmonia Orchestra in London, he also opted (or was asked by the studio) to bring along his buddy Alan Parsons for a spot of, err, “contemporary pop” music (yes, the man that brought you the Alan Parsons Project, which is more than just a tool for world annihilation developed by Dr Evil). So while Powell’s orchestral score tries very hard to be proper Classic Hollywood by being more doe-eyed nostalgic in 60 seconds than John Williams has been in his entire career, the “rock” score sounds like Parsons revisiting I Robot with the aid of that bloody brass preset on those infernal early-'80s digital synths, the heartbeat from Dark Side of the Moon and bits of the orchestra going “bwerp” for effect. It sounds so painfully outdated now it’s probably worth mentioning that it sounded almost as painfully outdated in 1985. The “rock” score is used nauseatingly over the opening credits and then punishingly for the next 40 or so minutes of the movie, fight scenes and all. Then it virtually vanishes, and you realise just how much more fun this movie is when you aren’t wishing for Eric Cartman singing Styx, Britney Spears singing the national anthem, anything, anything but this four-bar-boogie from the bad-trip side of the '70s.

That said (and Alan Parsons fans, if you’re still with us, err, sorry), the movie’s winningly entertaining enough to enable most to forgive the bad musical decisions and enjoy the story regardless. None of this is anything groundbreaking, of course, and the story freely borrows from mythology, legends and old movies. But hey, it’s all supposed to be fun, not philosophy. And after all, it does have some really lovely scenery.


The US DVD release of Ladyhawke was handled by Warner Home Video two years ago, and from all anecdotal accounts of that disc it seems that region 1 customers got saddled with a recycled Laserdisc transfer, a non-anamorphic 4:3 monstrosity squeezed onto a single layer. No such ill treatment from Fox, who own the rights outside of America and have come up with the goods bigtime transfer-wise.

This 16:9 enhanced transfer of the movie, in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, is superb. This is a film that needs to be seen in its full widescreen format - it was filmed using anamorphic lenses, in the goofily-named process “Technovision” - but also needs to be seen with sufficient resolution and colour fidelity, as Storaro’s cinematography relies heavily on stylised colour and delicately-detailed widescreen compositions. This man could turn an educational film about accounting into pure eye candy if he were let loose as the cinematographer; needless to say, there are plenty of “ooh” and “ahhh” visual moments throughout.

Look, just throw away your region 1 version; this one looks remarkable. For a 17-year-old film that’s barely remembered by most, this is a stunning video transfer that belies the film’s age for the most part. You’ll still see some tell-tale signs of age - the occasional bit of negative damage, and the usual grain, scratches and loss of quality on optically-composited shots (including the opening credits) but let’s not be churlish - Ladyhawke has never looked this good. Just check put that colour saturation on the soldiers’ red uniforms. Look at the shadow detail in the night scenes. Gasp at the rich, saturated, vibrant image throughout. Be impressed.

Free of edge enhancement and other nasties, this transfer is let down only by a short “jump” in the picture early on in the film, as though a few frames had gone missing (and who knows - maybe they had when it came time to strike a new interpositive). It’s nothing at all critical, but perfectionists should be duly warned. Then again, they’d probably already have left the building during the opening credits’ grunginess.

The layer change, midway through, is well placed and unobtrusive.


The discrete magnetic master for 70mm theatrical prints of Ladyhawke appears to have been the source for this Dolby Digital 4.1 audio track, which reproduces the movie’s sound extremely well. Don’t expect big audio here; this was 1985, remember, and the head-thumping bass of today’s soundtracks was not yet in fashion. Hence the LFE channel is barely used throughout; in fact, it’s only called into action for a thunder sound effect that pops up from time to time, and otherwise remains silent. The dialogue is anchored to the centre channel (but bleeds to the sides a little), with music and effects spread across left and right. The mono surround offers some surprisingly over-the-top discrete moments for such a vintage, but otherwise provides general, non-specific ambience to pretty much everything. The “rock” music score sounds flat and lifeless; this appears to have been intentional.

There’s a two-second audio dropout just after the 70 minute mark that’s obviously a mastering fault; interestingly, it doesn’t happen on the widescreen VHS preview tape Fox sent us some weeks ago (but the frame-skip mentioned above does).


A bit disappointingly, the only extra is a 4:3 letterboxed trailer, narrated by someone who sounds like they’re reading a cereal box first thing in the morning. Video and audio quality is terrible, but does serve to remind you how far we’ve come in the last 15 years transfer-wise.


A mainstream adventure-fantasy film that was well liked in its time, Ladyhawke undoubtedly still has many fans (among them, we’re sure, producer Lauren Shuler and director Richard Donner, who met on this film and are still happily married today).

Fox ups the ante on the co-producing studio here with a brand spanking new and genuinely lovely video transfer and the best available audio, and while the lack of director commentary or other extras is a minor disappointment (especially given the fact that this is a full-price release), but just be thankful they didn’t give you an isolated music score track. There’s quite enough eeevilll going on in the story itself.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1867
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      And I quote...
    "It’s all supposed to be fun, not philosophy. And after all, it does have some really lovely scenery."
    - Anthony Horan
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