Back in July of last year, John ranked Howard the Duck as #9 on his list of bad movies he loves. Now Howard’s back with a new DVD release, and John has the review!
Starring: Ed Gale, Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins, Jeffrey Jones, and the voice of Chip Zien
Directed by: Willard Huyck
SYNOPSIS: Howard is any everyday Joe. A working stiff, a hit with the ladies, an avid appreciator of fine cigars and beer. He is the duck of his age, and of his world. Unfortunately, he is no longer on his world. Through a strange set of circumstances, Howard is transported from his Duckworld and brought into a very
hostile alleyway in Cleveland, Ohio, where he meets a foxy musician, Beverly. Together the two of them try to help Howard find a way back.
ANALYSIS: Ahhh, nostalgia. I remember being a kid in the 80s, watching this flick, and never once being cognizant of the rotten egg that this film laid upon its release. I just remember thinking Howard is kinda badass (not that I said “badass” as a kid). He was my size yet he was doing adult things. How cool is that? As I got older, and became more aware of such concepts as box office draw and critical reviews, you could imagine the surprise I got when I found out that this film was the biggest bomb of the 1980s. All I could think was, “That movie? No way.” After a later viewing I realized, well, this film may have expected a bit too much from its audience. Come to think of it, Howard’s incredibly mature demeanor definitely doesn’t lend itself toward younger audiences. This is evident in the opening scene in Howard’s apartment when he ogles a Playduck featuring fowl cleavage. Then there’s the scene where Beverly looks through Howard’s wallet and discovers a condom. I could imagine a bunch of uncomfortable parents who wind up getting asked by their kids “Why is she so surprised to find a balloon in Howard’s wallet?” Awkward? I think so.
The funny thing about this film is that I mention it to my fellow film buffs, and sure, we’ll heckle this film for its failure, not to mention the fact that this was George Lucas’s answer to 1941. But after we get the heckling out of the way, we find ourselves smiling with happy recollection of all the things we just had to love about this film. Interestingly, all the things we love come from Howard himself. Considering he is the title character, wouldn’t that mean “mission: accomplished?”
Watching this film after all these years is indeed a new kind of kitschy pleasure, because now the more mature aspects of the film are not lost on me. Suddenly Howard has become wittier. Beverly is more endearing as a character, and their love story reaches a strange balance between the bizarre and the beautiful. After seeing the insinuated love scene between Howard and Beverly, I chortled with a kind of sadistic glee as I pondered how many 80s conservatives’ heads must have exploded, trying to figure out if this counts as bestiality.
The film very clearly knew that the strengths of the story lay with the immediate charm of the two leads. Even Tim Robbins’ character Philsy is a portrayal of a geek that could never be imitated. The best parts of the film are, without a doubt, those in which Howard is trying to find out how to make his way in this very hostile world. The final resolution is, of course, inevitable, but no less moving. Strangely enough, the aspect that brings the film down is the one thing that I could’ve done without when I saw this film at a young age. Naturally I’m talking about the whole Dark Overlord subplot. It causes the essence of this story to get completely sidetracked. I’m not sure if it was because Lucas felt that we needed a villain for this flick, or because the writers couldn’t come up with any more ideas for the rest of the story. Hey, maybe this was the reason why it got destroyed by the critics. Perhaps it started off great until the scientists came in and threw the whole film out of whack. Watching it now I am indeed grateful that the characterizations of the two leads are so spot on that I probably would have shut it off after Jeffrey Jones started his evil voice.
DVD ASPECTS: A director’s commentary would have been lovely. It appears that despite the negative
reaction the film got, it’s clear that it still holds a place in his heart. You just have to love the DVD market when movie like this get brand new special features to go with the movie. With Howard The Duck we get two retrospective documentaries. One chronicles the making of, featuring new interviews with director Willard Huyck, producer Gloria Katz, and stars Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones, and Ed Gale. The second chronicles the film’s lackluster reception all the way to the resurrection and cult following via hardcore film enthusiasts. We also get two highly amusing teaser trailers, and a slew of vintage documentaries. These are extremely funny when we hear the voice over say stuff like “This Duck will make cinema history.” Or: “This film will be the biggest hit of the year!” Insert “Whoa boy, if we knew then what we know now” comments here.
ESSENTIALLY: This movie definitely deserves to be amongst the great DVD treatments given to lackluster films, right next to Hudson Hawk, The Monster Squad, Mallrats, Shock Treatment, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The film’s notoriously disastrous release and reception actually aids in the enjoyment a film buff can have watching it. Love it or hate it, it is indeed a pivotal piece of movie history that finally gets the DVD treatment it deserves.