Monday Morning Critic – On The Dual Legacies of Ron Howard With In The Heart of the Sea Looming

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The big film coming out this weekend is In the Heart of the Sea, Ron Howard’s latest, and there’s something to be said about how Howard’s legacy is so widely different from his days as an actor to his days as a director. It’s crazy to think that Ron Howard the director and Ron Howard the actor have such wildly different legacies and yet he does.

Howard the actor was on two of the most iconic television shows of all time. A generation grew up with him as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show and then later as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. As an actor he had a fairly substantial career for over 30 years, one of the few child actors able to make the leap from childhood cuteness to adult professionalism, adding in some awkward teenage years to boot, as Howard the actor is a curious case that doesn’t come up when we discuss prominent child actors and their failure to transition to adult roles.

Howard did just that, parlaying a fairly substantial career as a child actor into a strong one as an adult that never took off because he didn’t allow it to.

The reason why he doesn’t come into the equation, I think, is that he left acting early in his adult career to focus on directing. We never think of him as an actor first these days because he’s been directing for so long that his acting career has been fairly limited over the years. The last role of note he’s had since the turn of the century was as the narrator on Arrested Development; it was an important role but not one you win awards for. The show was a cult hit, finding a second life with a revival on Netflix, but Howard was never the driving factor for the show’s critical success in the same way Bob Saget narrating How I Met Your Mother wasn’t critical to that show’s commercial staying power.

Howard as an actor is essentially identified with roles in two legacy series from the yesteryear of television, as well as an interesting side note about one of most critically acclaimed series of the past 20, but thinking of Howard as an actor is like remembering Ben Affleck as a tabloid star who also acted. It feels like a different era as now Affleck has reinvented himself as a actor/director in the vein of Clint Eastwood in a similar way to Howard reinventing himself from a prominent actor into a prominent director.

It’d be curious to see where Howard the adult actor would’ve done if he hadn’t had a substantive career as a director during his post Happy Days era, when he had the most cache. He was typecast in the Richie Cunningham role, as he was in American Graffiti in a similar role to Happy Days to much acclaim, but the success of both Night Shift and Splash altered that trajectory permanently.

It’s odd but an entire generation has grown with Ron Howard as a prominent director, balancing franchise material like The Da Vinci Code with prestige material like A Beautiful Mind. For 30 years Howard has sporadically popped up as an actor but now his legacy for a generation is that of being a director. It’s kind of odd in a way to think that Howard, an Oscar winning director, was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame alongside Dick Wolf and Les Moonves because he was a large part of two of television’s most prominent shows of their era.

Thirty plus years have passed since he was on Happy Days and Ron Howard’s legacy is more about his directorial career than his acting career. Yet it’s impossible to ignore because for almost 20 years he was on two of television’s most popular shows in substantial roles.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound

In the Heart of the Sea – The tale of the whale ship Essex, who’s sinking and tale of survivorship inspired Melville’s epic novel “Moby Dick.”

See it – Ron Howard can make an amazing film when he gets something to sink his teeth into. This looks like it could be it.

Legend – The legend of the Kray twins, two of London’s criminal princes in the 1960s.

See it – The film has been getting crapped on … but Tom Hardy’s performances are supposed to worth the watch.

The Big Short –A handful of guys wind up making insane amounts of money in the economic crash of 2008 by betting against the market; shenanigans ensue.

Skip it – There’s a great story to be mined here … but given everyone involved it feels like it’s going to turn into a lecture ala the end of The Other Guys over two hours.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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