My first reaction to Richard Donner’s movie, second to ‘Nat’s Best Shot series is back! Yay!’ is that I have now learned where that hipster singer’s name comes from, assuming of course that all musicians get their names out of thin air unless stated or informed of otherwise. And fortunately, the movie Ladyhawke isn’t as bad as the electro-whaetever musician. Little Boots is better.
An actor’s blocking and personality changes an image in a movie despite of how the camera sticks to the same frame boundaries. This shot of a dirty wall and a hand desperately trying to stick out comes after one that shows three men getting hanged. The first thing that comes to my mind is that this man faced another execution, of getting cemented within a wall or something, suggesting a brutality that the movie might have. It cuts to a scene when knights search for an imprisoned Philippe Gaston to be hanged next and it cuts back to the same muddy surface we see earlier.
And then we realize that it’s just Cooter Burger breaking out of that wall and we realize that he and we are just going to be fine. We see and hear Matthew Broderick’s luminous face and first words – comparing his current state to that of ‘escaping mother’s womb.’ Despite his and everyone else’s wobbly accents, he brings whimsy and youthful physicality to a movie that we’ll discover is anachronistically yet enjoyably cartoony, a Medieval adventure story viewed under a modern lens and a good God soundtrack.
Those are my favourite shots although there were many from which to choose, the movie simultaneously bringing my tendencies to compare the natural compositions with Brueghel, which is coincidental because Philippe’s unlikely road buddy in the cursed Navarre is played by Rutger Hauer, who will eventually play the painter three decades later. Other shots and the colour within them also remind me of Cezanne, Powell, Poussin and Cameron although the silhouettes makes a Western trope into its own thanks to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. The movie also features Michelle Pfeiffer as the titular love interest Ladyhawke/Isabeau and Alfred Molina as Cesare, a man who works for the three characters’ common and blasphemous enemy.
This is a blog post equivalent of Febulights, where I talk about a movie about the emotionally draining festival weeks after the fact. And this isn’t even about Christmas or a non-Christian holiday that also coincides with it. Why can’t the channel I tuned into broadcast one about the Maccabean revolt? I’m sure there’s many of those. Instead, we get the pre-Shrek Dreamworks offering called The Prince of Egypt. It’s a curious title that also hints at the complexities within the Biblical hero, Moses (Val Kilmer) who also happens to be the adopted brother of slave driving Pharaoh Ramses II (Ralph Fiennes). Fiennes lends his voice to a villain contending against the laws of nature, the latter of which is a force powered by good. Ramses also wears a lot of make-up and campy costumes and is sexually and species ambiguous like every other Fiennes character. Anyway, they still have contend with their relationship despite of the ethnic division wedged between them. Ramses is still in close contact with Moses, allowing the latter in his son’s wake, a sign of compassion from both ends. But Moses’ presence is still a reminder of the transaction that must take place in order for his kind of racist God to stop ravaging Ramses’ country.
There are some conventionally sub par parts in the animation like how hair, as beautiful as it looks, is fashioned in clumps as opposed to of strands. How gold looks more yellow. When light or fire comes out of the sky, which looks awesome yet artificial. Speaking of artificial, how about when it’s trying to replicate camera movement? The same artificiality also affects the scene with the parting of the Red Sea, looking like a tenth grade computer assignment. However, that part redeems itself when we see silhouettes of a whale trapped in the water while the Israelites pass through, showing us what they would have seen in this moment. It doesn’t distinguish itself from Disney although Disney movies will almost never have a predominantly dark-skinned characters and will never have Jewish protagonists. There are some new touches like recognizing Orion or how objects touch light or vice versa. But I mainly like how old school the movie looks, where the rocks or buildings are rugged on the foreground but looking painterly as they recede. Or during the Exodus when the Israelites, their carts and tents placed within the picture through brushstrokes. This movie also features the greatest looking eyes ever.
I will always remember this movie for how Moses has more sexual chemistry with his sister Mariam (Sandra Bullock) than with his taller and skinnier wife Tzipporah (Michelle Pfeiffer). The way their big eyes look at each other with the almost sighing expression, different from my experiences of friendly enmity that I see in other siblings. They are estranged and there have been other examples in other movies where people in that situation have the same reaction towards each other or more. Although personally I like the simpler looking Mariam better, Tzipporah looking too glamorous for me, even though her jewellery is a sign of class division within the enslaved Israelites. I don’t know what that says about my preferences about but enough about that.
And because this is an animated musical, Moses and the crew sing a song after being victorious against Ramses. Mariam and Tzipporah sing ‘When You Believe, made more famous by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, who are not the singing voices in the movie. The real character voices sing an octave higher than, what I imagine, the A-list actors would sound like. It’s not necessarily frustration and animation companies, under the veil of their drawn creations as opposed to real actors and sets, can hire as many people as they like to play a character. At the same, I never bought the ‘we chose a different singing voice to fit the character’ argument, even when MGM musicals of yore used the same justification. If they could express emotion through speaking, they can and should be able to do the same in music, and vice versa. I still want to know what Bullock and Pfeiffer’s voices sound like.
The movie ends with Moses with the Ten Commandments, bypassing the Golden Calf section because that scene would have soured the movie’s mood.
There’s nothing real about this movie. As Wesley Morris wrote of the spin and sweep and woosh of the camera, trying to depict a vast magical world, it’s all CGI. When the witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) fails to kill literally fallen star Yvaine (Claire Danes) and belts that big scream, the camera didn’t need to zoom and fly up. The movie turned a human moment – for a witch – into a technical exercise.
Fine, maybe a few things and real. First is the iceberg-laden beach scene with Prince Septimus (Mark Strong). This movie’s a great outing for him. His line read of ‘Do your work for my brother,’ is amazing, just evoking ruthlessness. Evil doesn’t break a sweat. He also fights out teenage hero Tristan while his body’s supposed to be dead, and I bought his physicality.
Then this scene where Tristan and Yvaine are just walking. There are other scenes like floating ships and craters that need CGI, or the latter just being shot in a set or something and again, no need to zoom out till later. Actual locations. Too much to ask? Just tone the CGI down, please.
I also totally didn’t get the Claire Danes hate until this movie. While she’s confessing her love to Tristan in the form of a mouse, she oversells it. Her face uncontrollably twists and she produces little bumps on her face that I never thought was humanly possible.
Other than the one scene and one b-roll, the movie had finer moments in Captain Shakespeare (Robert de Niro). His performance and hammy yet adorable. However, for British movie with a half-American cast, the accents aren’t that bad. Thank God for the generation of Carey Mullgan though, when British characters can be played by British actresses again.
I changed the channel 15 minutes before the end of the movie, and frankly, I can probably guess how it ends.
And oh hai, Ricky Gervais. I guess Andy Millman’s meeting with Robert de Niro worked out fine.