There has been a sudden resurgence in the interest of comic book fans for Marvel’s offbeat character Howard the Duck. We’re not sure why – well, actually we are, but we’re not about to spoil things here. But it did get us thinking back to Howard’s big screen debut in 1986, a film that got a thorough drubbing critics and aggressive indifference from ticket buyers.
Howard The Duck is a prime example of how no amount of production value can save a terrible script. Produced by George Lucas with special effects from his Industrial Light And Magic company behind him, the film is still remembered more for its wince-inducingly bad dialogue and the non-too-convincing duck costume for its titular character.
It is possible that co-writer and director Willard Huyck pinned his hopes for the film on human star Lea Thompson. Thompson was just coming off a big hit, co-starring opposite Michael J Fox in Back To The Future. Did he see some passing resemblance between Fox’s time-traveling hero struggling to find his way through a world that was a mixture of familiarity and alieness in the dimensional-lost Howard and his attempt to adapt to life on Earth?
Maybe. Maybe not.
But if the similarities are completely coincidental, it is still hard to believe that one sequence in Howard The Duck was not played up to accentuate its parallel with a scene in Back To The Future – the moment where each film’s hero picks up a guitar and performs a blazing guitar solo. In Back To The Future, Fox’s Marty McFly wails away at the Enchantment Under The Sea where he is trying to get his parents to meet and fall in love, while Howard finds himself on stage during his film’s closing moments, joining his girlfriend’s band, Cherry Bomb. Both guitars are red. Marty’s is a Gibson ES-345, although it was first manufactured in 1958, three years after the film’s 1955 setting. Howard’s is a prop built by `80s new wave musician Thomas Dolby who had been hired to provide film’s pop songs, scaled down to the character’s size. A Fender brand guitar can be seen on the wall of Howard’s apartment at the beginning of the film, though.
Visually, some of the shots in Howard are staged in a way that does generate feelings of similarity if you have happened to see Back To The Future, and that’s pretty much everyone. They’re not direct copies but there’s enough there to suggest that it is intentional. Take a look. What do you think?