Howard the Duck
LP: MCA 6173
This is a "what were you thinking?" movie. George Lucas had banked an incredible amount of good will with his Star Wars trilogy, and he followed it up with — this. Even though he didn't write or direct it, I remember clearly he was attached at the hip to it, and his name is first on the title credits so I hold him personally responsible.
I finally watched it after decades of avoiding it (easy to do since it rarely plays). I paid $4 to rent it just to write this review. $4 should have been the price to own it, not rent it. But I don't really want it showing up on my owned titles list on Amazon Prime. I can't imagine ever wanting to see it again.
In one respect it's not awful, certainly not what I thought it would be going in. Maybe because in 2022 we've got so many eccentric superhero movies that this doesn't seem much different than something I would see as an Amazon Original or at 8pm on the CW network. But that doesn't mean it's gotten better over time, it's just that the bar has been lowered to meet it.
The real problem is that it's disappointing on several levels. It just doesn't work. The humor is there but doesn't work. The actors are there but the performances don't quite work. The action sequences should be fun and humorous and exciting, but instead they're interminable. If you want a great comparison, Ghostbusters was everything this movie was also trying to be. It went for the same tone, they same level of fantasy and suspension of disbelief. But Ghostbusters worked and this thing does not. Some of it is the effects: the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man looks convincing, the big monster at the climax of Howard looked like a leftover from Ray Harryhousen that was photoshopped into the film. The ghosts in Ghostbusters looked convincing; Howard always looks like a little man in a duck costume. And so on and so forth. For a movie that was only 1 hour 45 minutes before the end credits rolled, it felt like I'd been watching twice that long.
You're better off with Disney's The Million Dollar Duck, which is saying something.
Long story short: Thomas Dolby was originally going to write the score as well as the songs, but his underscore didn't go over. Barry was hired and wrote a full original score. At 102 minutes, this was almost wall-to-wall music. But a couple of the big set-piece action scenes, the diner sequence and the ultralight aircraft chase, was discarded and re-scored by Sylvester Levay. I doubt very much that anyone other than a Barry-phile would notice, but to me it sounded like a Frankenscore and I kept thinking, that sounds like Barry—that doesn't; that sounds like Barry—that must be Levay. And again I'm obviously biased, but I don't think the problem with those two sequences was the music. I think the problem is a combination of the writing and the direction and the effects and the editing, and the fact that they just don't work, and you could have laid in Carl Stalling music and it wouldn't have made any difference.
The other thing that came to mind is how well the James Bond movies do at mixing Barry's music so that it doesn't get buried under the sound effects during the big action squences, while still keeping the sound effects clear and intact. The big action scenes in the second half of the film to me sounded like (mostly) Barry's music overlayed with Monty Python's "The Death of Mary Queen of Scots" and getting completely lost in the process.
To be honest, I have owned the LP for years and I think I played it maybe twice and didn't give much thought to it. Watching the end credits when they played a suite of Barry's music, I decided I wanted to buy Intrada's 3-CD special edition. Before I saw the movie, the thought of buying 3 CDs of Howard the Duck befuddled me. So this yet another one of those things where a very good Barry score is wasted in a movie that just doesn't deserve it. It's almost a shame they didn't get Sylvester Levay to do the whole thing. At least it would have been more internally consistent.
I remember shocking the guy in the record store when I bought it because I wanted it for the Barry music—I didn't even know who Thomas Dolby was. I thought he'd invented the noise reduction system on my stereo.
The LP came out, and when the movie tanked, the LP drifted into obscurity and there was no CD contemporary release. The LP became collectable because Thomas Dolby fans wanted the Dolby songs on the A side, and Barry fans wanted the Barry music on the B side. There were CD bootlegs floating around.
Intrada released a 3-CD set of music from the film in 2019. This includes Barry's score, including alternate and unused versions, as well as Sylvester Levay's rescore cues and alternate versions, plus Thomas Dolby's songs, both from the original OST album and extended versions. All told there should be more music on these CDs than there is in the movie. If you like the Howard the Duck music, whomever wrote it, this is the one to buy.
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