Howard The Duck~ 1986, Willard Huyck, USA
Howard the Duck is a film about an anthropomorphic duck from another planet who is accidentally brought to Earth where he befriends a young woman and sets off on a 1980’s movie adventure. It was produced by George Lucas, based on a Marvel Comics character, and is famously remembered as an enormous flop, as well as one of the worst movies of all time. Time to drop the bomb on you; it’s not that bad!
I mean, yes, it’s bad… It’s hard to be objective about a movie with this kind of reputation and almost thirty years worth of baggage attached to it, but Howard the Duck is consistently listed as one of the worst movies of all time, and this, absolutely, is undeserved. The Michael Bay Transformers films are all worse, as are all of the Resident Evil movies. Avatar was worse! Without question each summer the studios churn out at least one action stuffed popcorn film that is worse than Howard the Duck, so for poor Howard, I think the time has come for his name to be cleared.
Howard The Duck does have problems. It’s too long, almost two hours. It’s incredibly cheesey, and so, so 80’s, although at this point something like that is as likely to draw an audience as it is to repel one. How can we vilify Howard for being dumb and 80’s when that’s exactly why we love Big Trouble In Little China so much? Is there good 80’s stupid and bad 80’s stupid? I say no. All 80’s stupid is beautiful.
Another major failing of Howard the Duck? It’s a terrible adaptation of the source material, and is not very funny. The comic book garnered it’s cult following for it’s insight, it’s witty satire and it’s social commentary, as well as for the absurdities that talking alien ducks generate. The film has some of the absurdities down pat, but the satire has all been traded for bird puns, and not very good ones. Rolling Stone Magazine has become Rolling Egg, Raiders of the Lost Ark is Breeders of the Lost Stork… Stuff like that. I mean, Rolling Egg? Wouldn’t Crowing Stone have been better? Just off the top of my head. The humor just isn’t there like it needs to be, 90% of the jokes are some variation of “Howard is a duck, you guys!” over and over. Every now and again something legitimately funny happens, but only when the film chooses to focus more on the connection between the characters instead of harping on the obvious absurdities of the situation.
Maybe the biggest thing Howard the Duck has working against it is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s much too adult to be a children’s movie, and at the same time too childish to be for adults. The damn thing is rated PG, but is full of sexual themes and adult content, including boner jokes, and duck nudity. I’m not kidding, there is frontal female duck nudity in this movie. Duck boobs. What was going on back in 1986?!!? Then there is the much maligned romantic and sexual relationship hinted at between Howard and human Lea Thompson. I mean, I’m not being too puritanical about this, am I? It’s creepy.
The truth is that the kind of Howard the Duck movie that needed to be made in 1986 was never going to happen, it would have required subversive, anti-Hollywood sensibilities like those found in Frank Hennenlotter, Peter Jackson, or even Sam Raimi, and back then nobody was going to give that kind of director the money needed for this kind of project. Peter Jackson hadn’t even released Bad Taste yet. Hollywood wasn’t ready to gamble like that, we would have been better off had we just waited.
But we didn’t, and it’s no great tragedy. Howard The Duck is kinda fun! It’s meant to be lighthearted and goofy, and really, it is. George Lucas’ name being attached to the project may have brought on the high expectations that ultimately doomed the film to critical ire, but it also brought along with it top notch special effects and an incredible art and sound department. The cast is also mostly pretty good, with the one exception of Tim Robbins, who is way over the top. None of the reasons to hate this movie hold up, hindsight has shown us this, and in the last thirty years we have suffered through much worse with giant, brainless smiles on our dumb faces. How many Mission Impossible movies are there now?!? Do you know how much money X-Men Origins: Wolverine made? Or the Twilight franchise?!?!?!
Doesn’t Howard deserve some love, after all this time?