One of the signs of the end times: Howard the Duck on DVD.

§ April 13th, 2009 § Filed under howard the duck, movie reviews Comments Off on One of the signs of the end times: Howard the Duck on DVD.

And now, another installment of “SPIN or SARCASM,” featuring the back cover of the recently released Howard the Duck: Special Edition DVD:

“One of the most talked-about movies of all time….”

“…This unbelievably funny comedy….”

“…A hidden treasure the whole family can enjoy.”

“…Groundbreaking special effects.”

“…Its transformation into a cultural phenomenon.”

Those particular quotes just kind of jumped out at me from the DVD cover…yes, this means I now own a copy of the DVD. Don’t you judge me. Anyway, I suppose “one of the most talked-about movies” is certainly true, as is the business about being a “cultural phenomenon.” Enormous cinematic bombs do tend to stick around in the public consciousness for a while…I couldn’t tell you who won the Best Picture Oscar last year, but by God, I remember Howard the Duck pretty much scene-for-scene.

The other quotes…”unbelievably funny comedy” is pushing it a bit. Let’s settle for “mildly amusing.” And while some of the special effects were nice, like the stop motion monster near the end of the film, I don’t know that I’d go for “groundbreaking.” But there is some nice soundwork, and the Howard suit is actually a lot more technologically complex than I realized, after getting a brief shot of its innards during one of the DVD extras. In addition, “fun for the whole family” apparently includes that scene at the beginning of the movie with naked duck breasts (er, what?). I forget where I saw it, but an online review noted that the “fun for the whole family” line was right above a warning on the back cover that read “certain portions of this picture may be unsuitable for younger children.” Granted, not much in the film is the type of the material that’ll warp Little Billy’s mind and turn him into a mass murderer, but there is a joke or two that might need some adult supervision.

Yeah, yeah, I’m nitpicking. Hey, it’s all in fun…I gotta admire whoever wrote the copy on this DVD cover for doing a good job putting a positive spin on a film that’s very famously a failure and a flop.

Now, about those special features…there’s nearly an hour’s worth of bonus material, which, when I first heard about it, surprised the hell out of me. I totally figured we’d get a barebones disc, with the movie and maybe the trailers, dumped on the market at a rock-bottom price. We do get the trailer (with actors talking about Howard as if he’s a real person), plus some other vintage behind-the-scenes shorts (including one with Thomas Dolby and his work on the soundtrack), but we also get new interviews with Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck (the folks who wrote/directed/produced the film), Lea Thompson (who played “Beverly”), Jeffrey Jones (“Jenning/Dark Overlord”) and Ed Gale (who was in the actual Howard costume). There is lots of vintage behind the scenes footage and stills accompanying the interviews, including several appearances by George Lucas his own self supervising the shooting, inspecting the effects, and very clearly pondering the creation of Jar Jar Binks. Or maybe I’m just reading into things, here.

Another element that surprised me, beyond the fact that there even were special features, is the honesty regarding the film’s impact. Granted, for most of the interviews, there is a very upbeat, positive spin on the film. Lots of tales of hard work and enormous effort and hurdles to be overcome and so on…can’t blame them for trying to defend the work they put into the film. Most folks don’t make a film trying for a disastrous flop. But then they have to admit that, yes, the film may not have performed up to expectations, to say the least. Well, it’s not like they could have denied it, right? They’re fully aware of the film’s place in cinematic and cultural history, and there is some discussion regarding how they reacted to the film’s reception at the time (hint: not entirely well).

Howard’s creator, the late Steve Gerber, is mentioned briefly, and there is a quick glimpse or two of the comics, plus a few mentions of how funny those comics were. Though, listening to the interviews, I sorta get the feeling that the folks making the film didn’t really grasp what it was that made Howard special. Well, okay, maybe the actual two hour movie established that already, but there’s still…nothing specific I can point to, but just a general sense from what was said that Howard’s essence eluded them. No real shame in that, however…Howard’s essence has pretty much eluded everyone whose name wasn’t “Steven Gerber.”

All that said…I’m not going to lie to you and tell you this is a good movie. It isn’t. But it’s not a horrible movie. It is, in a strange way, charmingly awful. It’s watchable, it’s dumb, it’s occasionally amusing, it has Jeffrey Jones putting teethmarks in the scenery, it has Tim Robbins in one of his earliest roles, and it has Lea Thompson. Boy, does it ever have Lea Thompson. And occasionally, for only the briefest moments, you do get a minuscule reminder of the Howard you know and love from the comics.

But this…this…is the final insult:

After everything else they’ve put Howard through, they stripped away his cigar, present in all the previous publicity and tie-in material for the film, for the DVD cover? Here’s the original:

Okay, he now has feet sticking out of the egg (which he didn’t have before in the above poster* this cover was based on, and appear to have been taken from this other poster and Photoshopped in), but still…to deprive a duck of his smokes. That’s a damn shame, that’s what that is.

ONE FINAL WARNING: If you do decide to watch, or rewatch, this movie, you will have the refrain from the “Howard the Duck” theme song, as performed by the in-movie band Cherry Bomb, running through your head, unbidden, in a constant loop. This is the price you pay for quality entertainment.

* I had a vague recollection of a series of posters with Howard slowly busting out of the egg, and perhaps one of them had his feet sticking out, too…but perhaps I’m imagining things. I can’t Google up any examples and there are no such posters at the IMDB entry. But I did find this awesome German poster for the film (“HOWARD – An Animal Hero,” if Babel Fish is not lying to me), so my internet search was not in vain!

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