Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Howard The Duck

Duck To The Future

Howard The Duck
(aka Howard - A New Breed Of Hero)

USA 1986 Directed by Willard Huyck
101 Films  Blu Ray Zone B

I didn’t see Howard The Duck at the cinema when it was first released back in 1986. I probably should have, given some of the similar big budget franchise movies of a certain style I saw that were biting into the box office at the time but the character was not one I was all that familiar with. I’d never read a Howard The Duck comic (still haven’t that I can remember but, you know, that will change) and for some reason this just didn’t appeal to me. It was no tragedy for me at the time when I realised it had disappeared from cinemas, even though the main driving force behind the picture was über director George Lucas, who the world was about to find out ‘could’ bankroll a bad movie after all. Well, it’s not that bad but I’m sure most people reading this will know the reputation of this flick as being right up there with Plan 9 From Outer Space as being one of the worst movies ever made.

The reason I wanted to see this movie was because of the score or, rather, the partially rejected score. I already had a bootleg CD of the original LP release backed up with a bootleg of The Black Hole (both scores have now been commercially released in expanded and properly mastered versions... hooray!) but was happy to replace it towards the end of last year when music label Intrada released a definitive three CD set of, not just John Barry’s full score (including the stuff which never made it into the movie) but also the parts of the score rewritten by the likes of Sylvester Levay, who used Barry’s themes for the other parts to make everything in the final cut of the movie sound pretty seamless. And it’s a nice Barry score, typical of the decade in which he wrote it, sounding like the lush writing of the more romantic side of the composer juxtaposed with that hard hitting, heroic action scoring that the composer used in his scores for the James Bond films. It also sounded like it should be a total mismatch of a composer for that specific kind of project to me... so I wanted to see the film to experience how it was all meant to fit together. And, yeah, I was right... it is a bit of a mismatch in terms of the tone of the film, I think. Barry plays it dead straight a lot of the time when perhaps a more overtly comical score may have suited the material better.

Even so, I’d have to say that the score is absolutely much better than the movie it was composed for... but having seen the movie now I’m here to tell you that, you know, perhaps it really doesn’t live up to its reputation. Or rather, down to its reputation. I’m here to say quite positively, its not even close to being one of the worst movies ever made (I think I’ve seen lots of others which could perhaps hold that title) and it’s actually not all that different from many of the blockbusters which were doing the rounds at the time.

What it has got is an extra ‘adult’ sensibility which is presumably part of the original comics on which it was based but, since it was being released as a family film, the elements of sleaziness and adult humour have been toned down quite a bit. Instead, we have this weird alliance of kiddy flick and sex references that certainly make some sequences rather questionable... at least in terms of today's watered down, 'don’t be offending anyone with your art dude', silliness attitudes to practically everything going on in the world. Honestly, I take a stroll down my Twitter timeline these days and I’m almost convinced I’m living in Victorian times.

So when Howard finds himself a fish... er... duck out of water on the planet Earth, he goes to the employment agency and they give him a job working on maintenance in a local brothel. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. There’s also a scene where the lead female actress, Lea Thompson, finds a condom in Howard’s wallet and a long scene where she tries to seduce Howard in her lingerie. Except, it’s really weird because Howard is fighting her off in this scene and that goes against everything we’ve been told about the titular duck so far in the story. There’s not a lot of character continuity in this film folks, for sure.

I have to give a huge shout out to Lea Thompson in this, though. I’ve not seen her in much and never really thought that much of her but seeing her here where she’s practically carrying the movie and also looking very beautiful too (which is another word I might not have used about her in something like, for instance, her presence in Back To The Future), she really does an absolutely fantastic job. Maybe I should check her out in some other things... if anyone has any recommendations, drop them in the comments box below.

She’s also ably supported by Jeffrey Jones, playing a good guy mad scientist accidentally responsible for bringing Howard The Duck to our dimension, who halfway through the film becomes the host body to the film’s primary antagonist... and also a very young Tim Robbins, who really goes out of his way doing truly silly and embarrassing stuff so, power to him for going with it, I guess.

The film is a bunch of action set pieces, often kinda forced into scenes almost as padding, in between attempts at adult humour (without being allowed to show anything truly adult but getting real close to it on occasion and, when it comes to things like topless duck centre spreads in Howard’s issue of Playduck, I think it’s very much a matter of personal opinion as to whether this film was given the right rating), gazillions of duck puns and... not much else, it has to be said.

And I honestly didn’t hate it. Sure, there are some sequences with scientifically questionable moments filled with silliness that will make you cringe but, honestly, that’s most big budget 1980s movies isn’t it? It’s obviously not as good as, say, Back To The Future or the first Gremlins movie (although Howard walks all over Gremlins 2 - The Next batch, I reckon) but the style and presentation of the content really isn’t all that different from films like these and I have to wonder why this one bombed so badly at the box office. Like I said, it isn’t exactly the worst film ever made.

101 Films have done an amazing job bringing this to us in a new Blu Ray transfer (but why?) and there are a fair few extras on here too, not least of which is a second commentary track by soundtrack guru Charlie Brigden and Dan Whitehead, which is well worth a listen. I discovered from this commentary that, if you don’t count the ‘repackaged for cinema’ TV shows that Marvel had occasionally released overseas, that this was Marvel’s first live action film of one of their comic books. It’s fitting then that the duck in question has been getting a few cameos of late in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

All in all, I can’t say I’d recommend or even wish the movie version of Howard The Duck on anyone I know but if you do end up watching it, I don’t think you’ll actually hate it. You might question its values somewhat but it certainly won’t hurt you either, I think. I might even watch it again someday but, certainly, not for a long time.

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