Saturday, 23 August 2014

Howard the Duck (1986)

Back in 1973 Howard the Duck was created and began life as a secondary character for the Man-Thing comic, a kind of grown-up adult version of Daffy Duck visually. Now I know nothing about the comicbook lore of Howard, absolutely zero, all I know of is the film which I am going to review for you. Although after a bit of homework it does appear that Howard has some of the most outrageous zany and bizarre comicbook roots I've come across with many many crossovers, masses of villains with silly names and a highly convoluted story line.

Now this was the first major Marvel movie adaptation of one of their characters and unfortunately it was a big flop. I've always been a bit of a fan of the movie since childhood but admittedly on a rewatch I can see how bad it places. The main sticky issue is the many various plot holes throughout and the fact its also been slapped together in a rather childish manner. Howard is apparently sucked from his home planet to Earth via this big ass laser beam thingy which is being worked on by white coats back on Earth. The first few big errors and questions being how in the hell does Howard survive flying through space and wouldn't this take rather a long time...crossing the universe. Plus how does he survive entry through Earth's atmosphere and that nasty landing? and why was he the only duck to be sucked up?

One thing that always bugged me was why Howard's planet was basically exactly the same to Earth accept ducks were the dominant species. The premise is fine just as it is with the Planet of the Apes franchise but why would their civilisation be exactly the same as ours with currency, store names, famous people etc...As far as I'm aware Howard's planet is just far off in the universe, another galaxy far far away, its not in an alternate dimension where this type of stuff would/might happen, so that whole aspect felt really stupid to me, just a few lame visual gag opportunities.

Now this laser is suppose to be measuring the density of gases around Alpha Centauri? why? Is that all it does cos I always thought it was some kind of space bridge for travelling across the universe...or whatever. Twas a huge piece of kit and it isn't really explained why it was built and for what purpose. The scientist characters mention the laser was taken over by an unknown force yet we never find out what, I presume the space demons did it. We do also get some back story for the space demons but its vague to say the least, they were banished to the 'Nexus of Sominus' by persons unknown, this is an area beyond the planets soooo...beyond the known universe? and what exactly do they wanna do with Earth?

You see this film is kinda a mixed bag really, you look at the poster for the movie and its visually striking, looks really cool. Its a really neat design idea with the fat smoking cigar and this tells you outright this isn't exactly a kids flick. And its not...this is not a kids flick in any sense which I like, I love that about it, they tried to stick to the comicbook source material which you know they wouldn't do today. Howard the Duck was always a grown-up comicbook character, a bit like TMNT in that aspect and this film does do a reasonable job in sticking to that although they jettisoned the dark satire and swearing. Its not hardcore material by any means but the film is quite dark, there are some edgy moments...some soft sexual moments, a hint of bestiality! and of course the infamous duck tit sequence including duck magazine porn.

So the movie generally is relatively dark and moody which is a plus point but its clearly more of a special effects extravaganza over plot. It might not look it now but back in the day it was, the effects were there to try and lure in the recently acquired Star Wars fanbase...which it did. I do have to give kudos to the effects though, in particular the duck costume in the film which utilised an animatronic suit and actually looks pretty good to this day. Put it this way the 86 suit looks way better than the recent CGI version we see in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'. The makeup on Jeff Jones was also really well done and looked pretty intimidating and spooky truth be told, he looked like a demonic John Carpenter. Add to this the amazing Phil Tippet creation using stop motion which still looks awesome and again quite scary, easily the highlight of the whole movie...and some really nice glowing flashy lighting bolt type effects throughout which are just as good as what you see in 'Ghostbusters' (mostly).

Again I gotta question the dark overlord creature though, it looks like an insectoid type creature yet it can generate and expel massive charges of electric-esque energy bolts from it eyes, tail and claws/fingers (depending on form). I know it doesn't matter but it just doesn't look like a creature like that could do such a thing really, also how come it needs a human body to gestate in? how did it get inside 'Dr Jennings' body? how did it get out? how did it fit in there? When the other overlords come through the laser portal thingy they appear fully formed or grown they transform into some kind of energy or spirit when entering Earth's atmosphere which enables them to enter a human body?? Surely Jennings would have been killed after it had left his body down to the amount of abuse he suffered...I don't get it.

In general there are many many mistakes everywhere with this movie, some tiny and some not so. Like the fact Leah Thompson's character goes to Tim Robbin's character for help because they are good friends and she thought he was a scientist but he turns out to be a lab assistant...but wouldn't she know that already? Its also so stupid that no one seems to think a talking duck is weird because no one ever calls the police or army or whoever when they see Howard. They just laugh or abuse him or even treat him like a regular person despite the fact he's a talking duck....errr K.

Gotta be honest Leah does make up for a lot of the crapola in the film, she is truly lovely and has totally rebooted my crush. Leah (like 'The Goonies' and Kerri Green) did bewitch my fragile little mind when I was young and its happened again! the rest of her girly band aren't too bad either! Jones is also great fun and really does the whole body snatcher thing pretty well methinks, love his body movements when he throws out his powerful energy bolts. Robbin's...errrrrr lets not go there, he's the simple minded sidekick that attempts to offer comedic relief with immature slapstick, oh and he wears glasses because he's a nerd cliche.

Yes the film is chock full of nonsensical plot holes and errors which stand out like a duck at a giraffes only party. I think if you can overlook that and try and enjoy the film as a very loose fantasy with some fun performances from Leah and Jones alongside a reasonably heroic score then there is joy to be had here. I know there is a shit tonne of bad dialog, puns, innuendos and gags which really come across as infantile at times but the semi-crass twisted warped and perverse sense of humour and visuals that spring up here and there are quite fun.

Visually its a product of its time, you can tell its an 80's Lucasfilm production (just like those Ewok movies) and I kinda like that. Definitely not as cool as I remember it being but I still enjoyed some of it, its very uneven but the idea is quirky and fresh...well Howard is. Here's hoping for a solid reboot which remains faithful to the comicbook source.