Home > Reviews > LADYHAWKE – Andrew Powell

LADYHAWKE – Andrew Powell


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In 1985 the sword-and-sorcery genre was still very much at the height of its powers, with successful films like Dragonslayer, Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja and Krull having been released to popular acclaim during the preceding few years. Ladyhawke was less an action-adventure, and more a love story, telling the tale of two cursed lovers in twelfth century France: Etienne Navarre, a brave and noble knight, and Isabeau d’Anjou, a beautiful young noblewoman. The twist of the story comes due to the fact that, despite being in love, they can never truly be together until a curse is lifted – by day, Isabeau assumes the form of a hawk, while Etienne is human; at night, Etienne becomes a wolf, while Isabeau returns to her human form. With the help of a wisecracking thief named Philippe and a kindly priest, Etienne and Isabeau resolve to try to break the curse so they can finally be together. The film was directed by Richard Donner, and stars Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick.

The score for Ladyhawke remains controversial to this day. It was written by British composer and conductor Andrew Powell and produced by Alan Parsons, the legendary prog-rock producer who worked extensively with bands like Pink Floyd and The Hollies, and whose own band – The Alan Parsons Project – was successful in its own right, most notably with the 1982 album Eye in the Sky. Director Donner has stated on numerous occasions that he was listening to music by The Alan Parsons Project while he was scouting for shooting locations in Italy, and became unable to separate his visual ideas from the music, leading him to hire Powell and Parsons to score the film when the time came. It’s fair to say that Donner’s decision was not a universally popular one, even amongst other members of Ladyhawke’s crew – Donner’s producer and eventual wife, Lauren Shuler, was vehemently against the idea, and even Rutger Hauer himself has criticized it. The combination of traditional orchestral music with Gregorian chants and prog-rock proved to be divisive amongst fans and critics, many of whom labeled it as being anachronistic.

I have said on numerous occasions that 99% of all film scores ‘work’ within the context of the film for which they was written; Ladyhawke, unfortunately, is one of those few in the other 1%. The score sounds absolutely appalling in the film; most of it is spotted badly, it’s dreadfully overblown, and the synth and rock elements of the score sound especially out of place. They somehow manage to date the film, sound inappropriate in terms of the time period and location in which the film is set, and convey all the wrong emotions to the audience, all at the same time. The entire concept of the score is a complete mess, and I will happily go on record to state that, as heard in the film, Ladyhawke could come close to being one of the worst and most poorly-judged scores in history. Having this music in this film actually makes the film worse, and that breaks the cardinal rule of any composer working on a movie: whatever you do, don’t actively harm your film with your music.

However, on CD, things are slightly different. Andrew Powell was a classically trained musician who studied with Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, and had a fair amount of experience working in film; prior to him being hired to work on Ladyhawke, he worked as an assistant to composer Stanley Myers (a position which would be later taken by Hans Zimmer). As such, many of the more traditional symphonic ideas he develops in the film are excellent: it’s just that, when the wailing rock guitar, keyboard, and modern percussion section kicks in for the first time half way through the “Main Title,” your first instinct is to wonder what the hell just happened.

To be fair, as pure music, divorced from the film, the score does have several redeeming factors. The main theme, which is most often associated with Etienne himself, appears in cues like the “Main Title,” “Tavern Fight,” and “Navarre’s Ambush,” and is memorable and catchy, with a fanfare-like herald underpinned by swaggering rock rhythmic ideas, and with a sense of fun and adventure that is undeniable. The more laid-back, brash motif for the scoundrel Philippe sounds more like a funky blaxploitation tune, but gives cues like “The Search for Philippe” an unexpected sense of urban cool. The theme for Isabeau is the score’s most romantic, and first appears as a melody for elegant flutes, piano and acoustic guitars during “Philippe Describes Isabeau”. The culmination of Isabeau’s theme comes in the stunningly beautiful “She Was Sad at First,” where it interplays with a variation on Etienne’s theme for French horns to utterly sensational effect, and in the extended “Final Reunion/End Title” piece, which revisits all the score’s main themes as an all-encompassing suite.

Not only that, buried beneath all the funky rock rhythms, some of Powell’s interesting orchestral ideas occasionally come shining through. The vivid string writing in the second half of “Tavern Fight (Navarre)” is superb, as are the impressionistic orchestral textures in “Pitou’s Woods” and “Cezar’s Woods”. The eerie choral effects, brass harmonies and searching strings in “Navarre’s Ambush” and “Bishop’s Death” are very impressive, as is the strident, traditional orchestral action music of cues like “Wolf Trapped in Ice”. The traditional Gregorian chant, plainsong, and medieval dance music heard in cues like “Bishop’s Procession” and “Wedding Music” is authentic and sincere. Powell also does go some way in trying to develop and themes-and-variations concept for his central ideas, for example playing around with a woodwind version of Isabeau’s theme juxtaposed against an impressionistic synth version of Etienne’s theme in “Navarre and Isabeau’s Dual Transformation”.

Despite all this, it’s still difficult to reconcile this music with a romantic action film set in the European middle ages. Much of it sounds more like music from a 1970s cop show scored by Mike Post, and that is where it fails. However much one may enjoy listening to a score on CD – and, believe me, I do enjoy listening to Ladyhawke for pure enjoyment quite a lot – the fact that the score is so wrong for the film is it’s downfall. Quite how a director as tasteful as Richard Donner, who previously hired Jerry Goldsmith for The Omen and John Williams for Superman, could have felt this music was appropriate for this film is beyond me, and I honestly feel that it’s reputation as a laughable mistake is well deserved.

ladyhawke-lalalandThe score for Ladyhawke was first released on CD by GNP Crescendo Records in 1995, with 23 tracks of music running for just over an hour. A lavish 2-CD set, produced by Ford Thaxton, Mark Banning and James Nelson for La-La Land Records was released in early 2015, and features extensive liner notes by writer Tim Grieving, and more than an hour of additional music, bonus tracks and alternate cues, although to me none of them stood out as being especially essential. As a comprehensive look at the score in its fullest form, the La-La Land release is certainly an excellent product, and is recommended for those few who actually appreciate Ladyhawke’s music, and could stand to listen to more than two hours of it. Personally, I prefer the tighter condensed version of the GNP release, which covers all the score’s main bases without outstaying its welcome.

Buy the Ladyhawke soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (2:59)
  • Phillippe’s Espace (1:40)
  • The Search for Philippe (3:25)
  • Tavern Fight (Philippe) (2:08)
  • Tavern Fight (Navarre) (2:38)
  • Pitou’s Woods (4:04)
  • Philippe Describes Isabeau (1:11)
  • Bishop’s Procession (2:50)
  • Wedding Music (1:41)
  • Navarre’s Ambush (4:53)
  • Imperius Removes Arrow (1:33)
  • Chase/Fall/Transformation (2:06)
  • Cezar’s Woods (5:29)
  • She Was Sad at First (2:06)
  • Navarre Returns to Aquila (1:36)
  • Turret Chase/The Fall – Film Version (2:46)
  • Wolf Trapped on Ice (2:34)
  • Navarre and Isabeau’s Dual Transformation (3:23)
  • Navarre and Marquet Duel (4:22)
  • Marquet’s Death (1:59)
  • Bishop’s Death (2:26)
  • Final Reunion/End Title (8:14)
  • Ladyhawke Theme: Single Version (3:35)
  • Main Title (3:00)
  • Phillipe’s Escape from Dungeon (1:49)
  • Phillipe’s Escape Through Sewer (1:43)
  • The Search for Phillipe (3:26)
  • Navarre at Sunset (0:21)
  • Tavern Fight/Phillipe (2:09)
  • Tavern Fight/Navarre (2:40)
  • Navarre’s Saddlebag (0:37)
  • Navarre Dreams of Isabeau (0:54)
  • Pitou’s Woods (4:05)
  • Marquet’s Return to Aquila, Part I (0:58)
  • Phillipe Describes Isabeau (1:13)
  • Marquet’s Return to Aquila, Part II (1:15)
  • Bishop’s Garden (0:44)
  • Navarre Has Returned (0:27)
  • Monks’ Chant in Bishop’s Garden (1:57)
  • Isabeau Chases a Rabbit (0:25)
  • Navarre’s Sunrise/Phillipe’s Capture (0:35)
  • Navarre Is Ambushed/Hawk Injured (4:55)
  • Phillipe and Imperius Enter Abbey (1:16)
  • Phillipe Discovers Isabeau’s Secret (1:27)
  • Imperius Removes Arrow From Isabeau (1:35)
  • The Bishop Interviews Cezar (1:31)
  • You Must Save This Hawk (1:06)
  • Chase Up The Turret/Isabeau’s Fall (Part II) (2:48)
  • Isabeau’s Transformation (0:37)
  • Isabeau Flies Free (1:12)
  • Navarre and Imperius (0:40)
  • Navarre and Phillipe Leave the Abbey (1:43)
  • Wedding Party (1:42)
  • Navarre’s Transformation (0:42)
  • Wedding Dance (2:35)
  • Cezar’s Woods (5:29)
  • She Was Sad At First (2:08)
  • Navarre Rides to Aquila (1:38)
  • Phillipe and Imperius (0:26)
  • Wolf Trapped in Ice Pool (2:35)
  • Navarre and Isabeau’s Dual Transformation (3:24)
  • Navarre Sees Phillipe’s Wounds (0:43)
  • Return to Aquila (2:44)
  • Phillipe’s Return Through Sewer (1:02)
  • Bishop’s Procession Chant I (1:31)
  • Bishop’s Procession Chant II (1:48)
  • The Service Begins, Part I (0:49)
  • Navarre’s Instruction to Kill Isabeau (0:48)
  • The Service Begins, Part II (0:39)
  • Navarre Enters the Cathedral (1:35)
  • Navarre and Marquet Cathedral Fight (4:25)
  • Marquet’s Death (2:01)
  • Isabeau Appears (0:48)
  • Bishop’s Death (2:28)
  • The Final Reunion/End Titles (6:00)
  • Chase Up the Turret/Isabeau’s Fall, Part I [BONUS] (0:51)
  • Chase/Fall/Transformation (Album Version) [BONUS] (2:08)
  • Phillipe Discovers Isabeau’s Secret [BONUS] (1:43)
  • Imperius Removes Arrow From Isabeau [BONUS] (1:33)
  • Navarre and Phillipe Leave The Abbey (Alternate Mix) [BONUS] (1:44)
  • Navarre’s Transformation (Alternate Mix) [BONUS] (0:42)
  • Wolf Trapped In Ice Pool [BONUS] (2:33)
  • Phillipe’s Jewel [BONUS] (0:49)
  • End Titles (Standalone Version) [BONUS] (4:57)
  • Spot 01–Radio Bed A–30 [BONUS] (0:33)
  • Spot 02–Radio Bed A–30 [BONUS] (0:33)
  • Spot 03–Radio Bed B–60 [BONUS] (1:03)
  • Spot 04–Radio Bed C–60 [BONUS] (0:54)
  • Spot 05–Radio Bed A–60 [BONUS] (1:01)
  • Spot 06–Radio Bed B–60 [BONUS] (1:07)
  • Spot 07–Radio Bed C–75 [BONUS] (1:13)
  • Spot 08–Radio Bed A–90 [BONUS] (1:29)
  • Spot 10–Radio Bed B–90 [BONUS] (1:36)
  • Spot 09–Radio Bed A–Full [BONUS] (3:29)
  • Ladyhawke Theme (Single Version) [BONUS] (3:36)

Running Time: 69 minutes 38 seconds (GNP Crescendo Release)
Running Time: 128 minutes 42 seconds (La-La Land Release)

GNP Crescendo GNPD-8042 (1985/1995)
La-La Land Records LLLCD 1318 (1985/2015)

Music composed and conducted by Andrew Powell. Performed by The Philharmonia Orchestra. Orchestrations by Andrew Powell. Recorded and mixed by Eric Tomlinson, Tony Richards, Alan Snelling and Robert Fernandez. Edited by Donald Harris. Score produced by Alan Parsons. Album produced by Ford A. Thaxton, Mark Banning and James Nelson.

  1. M
    October 21, 2017 at 3:45 am

    Amen brother! Testify!

  2. Paul Ruffolo
    August 3, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    “Ladyhawke” is One of the best movies and Greatest Soundtracks I have ever heard. I would love to buy the Score for symphony performance…………….Paul Ruffolo….pruffolo@bensenville.il.us

  3. dawn
    October 1, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    Soundtrack is great but where can I get the sheet music? I have a very talented son who would love piano and flute music for this,

    • Jason Burton
      August 22, 2019 at 1:23 pm

      I’m looking too, Did you ever find any?

  4. Mark
    April 8, 2022 at 5:02 am

    Have to agree completely. The soundtrack, in the context of the film, is complete rubbish. Taken aside of the film–not bad.

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