Trail Mix takes a look at classic movie trailers from years past to explore their relationship (however sometimes tenuous) to the films themselves and to the movie promotion of today.
Hey there 80’s nostalgia fans! Chugging Ecto Cooler? Absolutely loving Stranger Things? Counting the days until the release of the NES Mini and wondering how many organs you’d have to sell to afford the Hot Toys DeLorean? I am one of you, as my annoyed wife could attest this morning as I mindlessly quoted Total Recall (Yeah, that was technically released in 1990. Who fucking cares?) on the walk to work. As a huge fan of Marvel’s recent cinematic output though, I can assuredly tell you that EVERYTHING wasn’t better in the 80’s. Case in point, the very first feature length, widely released film adaptation of a Marvel Comic: George Lucas’ much maligned 1986 dumpster fire Howard the Duck.
The trailer itself, surprisingly enough, is actually pretty good, at least when it comes to avoiding the modern cardinal sin of giving the whole goddamned movie away. Telling and not showing, waiting as long as possible to reveal “the monster” has always been a hallmark of genre entertainment, usually due to tight budget constraints but also to heighten narrative tension. Late 70’s masterpieces Jaws and Alien excelled in this regard, and Lucas, as a devout student of golden age horror and pulp serials, followed their lead accordingly. But as everybody knows, when it came to the film itself there wasn’t much that the “creative” team got right beyond that.
The strangest things to me about Howard The Duck when I saw it as a child were the odd sexual overtones, questionably added to a film that was obviously trying to piggyback on the success of 1985’s Back to the Future, right down to intentionally casting Lea Thompson as a Marty McFly-esque non-threatening rock n’ roller, complete with songs composed by Thomas “She Blinded Me With Science” Dolby. But while BTTF downplayed it’s carnal aspects in the service of mild cringe comedy, Howard puts them front and center. After oddly mentioning Howard’s love of sex in the trailer, he’s introduced in the film reading a “Playduck” magazine, and as he’s transported into our dimension he’s dragged through the apartment of the lovely woman pictured below. By the time Howard climbs into bed with a bra and panties clad Thompson to consummate their newfound relationship it’ll hit you pretty hard that the mind behind Star Wars and Indiana Jones now wants you to watch Marty McFly’s Mom fuck a duck. And people were surprised by Jar Jar Binks…
Take that, Brazzers!
Even recently re-watching the film as an adult, it comes off skin-crawlingly creepy and extremely off-putting. No wonder it was absolutely dead on arrival in theaters, caused the head of production at Universal to be ousted from his position, and is considered to be one of the very worst films of all time. Still, it’s definitely not the most embarrassing skeleton in 80’s character actor extraordinaire Jeffrey Jones’ closet, and it gave Marvel as a film entity nowhere to go but up. So the next time you’re thinking about Tobey Maguire’s whiny, ineffectual Peter Parker, that douche from Nip/Tuck ruining Dr. Doom or Vinnie Jones from Snatch screaming “I’m the Juggernaut, Bitch!”, remember that it could always be worse, they could be fucking a duck.