A treat from BBC, with Howard The Duck (or Howard A New Breed of Hero as it was oddly renamed in the UK, despite this print, at least, having the original title.
Howard is a duck. Well, that’s what the movie would have us believe, despite him looking like a very short man in a badly designed duck suit.
It’s hard to know quite where they were pitching this movie. On the one hand, it’s a movie with a big puppet at its centre, which would seem to appeal to young children, but in the opening, set on Duckworld, Howard starts leching over the centrefold in Playduck, and there’s a topless lady duck in a bath as he’s being dragged into the vortex, complete with duck breasts. And when he lands on Earth, and meets Lea Thompson’s Beverley, she’s being attacked (presumably with intent to rape) by a couple of punks. And when Beverley looks through his wallet when he falls asleep, she finds a condom.
Then we meet Tim Robbins, as Phil Blumburtt (named after Ben?) whose performance is rooted deep in the kind of cheap puppy-based movies Disney churns out.
Then Howard gets a job in a massage parlour – again, they’re going out of their way to make this ‘adult themed’.
Lea Thompson has got some serious 80s hair going.
Meanwhile back at the plot, Howard’s arrival is linked to an experiment being run by Jeffrey Jones’ Dr Walter Jenning, who might also have a way to send him back.
John Barry’s score, perfect (if icky) in the ‘tender’ scenes between Howard and Beverley, goes into full Bond mode as they visit Jenning’s huge experiment, which has malfunctioned, and for unclear reasons, Howard becomes a fugitive. They escape with Dr Jenning, who’s been affected by the experiment – something from space has taken over his body. He starts talking about the end of the world in a strange voice, calling himself one of the dark overlords of the universe.
There’s some remarkably cheap looking special effects considering ILM were doing them.
Through a most unlikely series of coincidences, Howard and Phil end up in a small microlight aircraft to escape from the police and get to Jenning’s lab to stop him unleashing the hordes of dark overlords (and using Beverley as a host).
I’m reminded of Hudson Hawk – pointless aerial escapes in 80s movie flops featuring someone with a duck face.
John Barry’s score is less successful in the main action theme – Barry can’t really match John Williams on this score (if you’ll pardon the pun).
Once the dark overlord is freed from Jenning’s body, we get some nice old-school stop motion effects.
In fact, looking at the way it moves, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Phil Tippett’s go-motion animating it.
To be honest, it looks like they spent all their design and effects budget on this monster, which is brilliant, and then bought a duck suit at a local fancy dress .
The film ends with Beverley’s band playing a much bigger venue than we’ve seen before – suddenly her band can fill an arena – playing a song written by Thomas Dolby and George Clinton.
So much promise and talent in pursuit of such meagre results.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 21st December 1991 – 22:00
After this, recording switches to Bernard and the Genie, a one-off Christmas comedy from Richard Curtis starring Lenny Henry and Alan Cumming.
Cumming plays Bernard Bottle, whose life was going great until he’s fired from his job (for whom he’d just earned £50m) and finds out his girlfriend is cheating on him.
Then he rubs an old lamp, one of the few things left in his flat by his departing girlfriend, and releases Lenny Henry’s genie, who wants to kill him, but has to also grant his wishes. “I wish this chair were Melvyn Bragg”
There’s some remarkable McDonalds product placement that they’d never get through the BBC, and a scene in Piccadilly Circus that seems to exist only to show as many brands as possible.
Trying to get him another girlfriend, he wants to look a bit scruffy…
It’s all very fluffy, with the wishes not always going their way, and it ends up on a typically emotional Curtis note.
Still can’t believe all the brands, though.
BBC Genome: BBC One – 23rd December 1991 – 20:00
After the programme there’s a trailer for Christmas Day.
Then, the start of the news, leading with the resignation of President Gorbachev.
The recording ends here.