Sunday, August 28, 2005

Lazy Sunday 80s Matinee: Howard the Duck


You remember those days, right? Sundays in the spring or summer well before digital cable, when a kid was forced to flip through the channels and find an oasis of entertainment between the dregs of tennis, church shows and 'Gimme a Break' reruns? For me, there are certain movies from the 80s that instantly zip me back to that time, one of which is 'Howard the Duck.' HBO was notorious in the late-80s (even moreso than it is now) for repeating certain movies at a bewildering pace. They weren't even necessarily good movies, either (the wonderfully bad 'Solar Babies' was a gold member of this club).

So this brings us to 'Howard the Duck,' which is becoming one of those movies that, when shown to one of today's teens, would elicit a 'what the hell?' look not seen since I walked out on 'Waking Life.' Watching it now, it's fun to imagine just what was going through George Lucas' mind with this project when describing it to his semi-friend Steven Spielberg:

Lucas: 'So Steve, "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" was pretty good, but my next project is even more daring'
Spielberg: 'More daring than a PG-13 movie where someone's heart gets ripped out and turns to flames before said heartless man is incinerated? Do tell.'
L: 'It's called "Howard the Duck," and it's going to blow audiences away with its hero's attitude and an infusion of rock 'n roll and sci-fi monsters.'
S: 'Sounds like a hit, but didn't you say it has "Duck" in the title?'
L: 'Ya, it's based on a comic book.'
S: 'I've never heard of it, do the kids read it?'
L: 'Highly unlikely, it's not very popular at all.'
S: 'But you're making a movie about it?'
L: 'Oh ya, and get this: the Duck, you know, Howard? He's so crass and in-your-face that he smokes cigars!'
S: 'I don't know Georgie, any stars in it?'
L: Well I've got Maggie McFly from "Back to the Future" and the principal from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off!" You'll love his part, in this one scene, a snake comes out of his mouth to suck the electricity out of a car's cigarette lighter!'

Okay, I better stop here, this could go on way too long. Looking at the poster above, doesn't it make perfect sense that it came out on August 1 in 1986? I mean this is the quintessential late-summer movie. I guessed I've bashed 'Howard' enough, because there were some good parts of this movie that made me watch it numerous times on HBO:

-- Jeffrey Jones: God I love this guy, if I was a director I would use him like Joe Dante uses Dick Miller. He's so great at playing Demented/Crazy Guy #2, and 'Howard' is no exception.

-- Better-than-usual 80s sci-fi effects: This is where Lucas' touch really shows, as the monster effects still hold up pretty well, and the snake coming out of Jones' mouth even looks good.

-- The Duck-isms: Lucas milked the duck element about as much as he could. Oh, look! He's reading Playduck! And he's sad that he doesn't fit in because he's the only duck walking around Los Angeles smoking a cigar!

-- The laser gun finale: This was always my favorite scene, when Howard finds a big laser gun in a closet at the lab (they're always lying around somewhere) and blasts the monsters from whence they came. Of course since this is a Lucas flick, this scene would not be complete without a Tarzan reference (i.e. Ewoks in 'Return of the Jedi,' Wookies in 'Episode III')

--The musical finale: Yes, Howard is onstage with Beverly. Her band managed to compose a song about him amazingly called 'Howard the Duck' and the credits roll. Beautiful.

1 comment:

Mike Sheffler said...

Apparantly, Kinka Usher (??) was ignorant of this conversation at late as 1999.

He directed Mystery Men, which was based off of (if I recall correctly) minor characters in the comic book The Flaming Carrot, which, ha(s/d?) a somewhat lower circulation than, say, Batman, or probably even Howard the Duck.

One important distinction, of course, is that I like Mystery Men, whereas reading your column on Howard the Duck threatened to un-suppress several Saturday afternoon viewings of HtD dangerously early on in my developmental years.