Howard the Duck

Howard the Duck cover

Now this is the way to handle a fan/cult favorite.

I picked up Howard the Duck today, and I’m impressed. In addition to the movie, available relatively cheaply, the DVD has a documentary (almost a half-hour) checking in with all the bits I remember about the film: how they found the comic, modern-day footage with Lea Thompson talking about her portrayal of Beverly (and her horrible hair), footage from back then of Thomas Dolby in the studio with the band doing the songs — who can forget the duck-quack guitar riff? — why they decided to do it as live action instead of animation, the stunt work and costumes… this feature covers all the basics.

In case you’ve somehow missed hearing about this movie, in addition to Thompson, it stars a young, overacting Tim Robbins (who doesn’t participate in the DVD) as nerdy best friend and Jeffrey Jones as the bad guy, a scientist who turns into a giant star-lizard-thing. The best part about this being such a notorious flop is that the crew and cast looking back can be a little more honest than they sometimes are in such cases. Which is more entertaining to see, and it means I appreciate the praise more in comparison. I also was happy to see Ed Gale, the little person who did most of the costume work, getting a chance to talk about his experience.

Howard the Duck cover

The second mini-doc (12 minutes) looks at the voice acting, reviews and reaction to the movie, and its later reevaluation. It’s kind of like a shared guilty pleasure. Plus, there are four “archival featurettes”, or promo footage/PR material they sent out at the time. One is about premise, one stunts, one special effects, and one music. That’s one of the film’s high points, between the Dolby songs and the impressive score by John Barry.

I also noticed, watching the film’s trailer and reading his answering machine (what? I’m weird that way), that Howard’s phone number, 555-2368, is the same as the Ghostbusters’. Apparently, that’s a popular one. Overall, this is a great Saturday night popcorn flick for friends with a sense of humor and history. It’s a shame that all the sci-fi chase stuff gets in the way of the fun cultural/rock’n’roll material that better characterized the original Steve Gerber comics, although the ultralight flight is pretty impressive from a stunt perspective.

Favorite quote: “the ducks were constantly exploding, losing feathers…” Yeah, the special effects were a problem, weren’t they? And if you don’t count a 1940s serial, this was the first Marvel comic film.

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